Listen To Article
By Brian Keepers
The photograph slips out from inside the front cover of the book. It glides, twists, and somersaults a few times before it lands on the floor. I reach down to pick it up.
It’s been years since I’ve seen it. Now that the world has turned digital, you don’t see photographs like this much anymore. Its edges are curling. I wipe away the thin film of dust on the surface with my shirt sleeve and flatten out the photo.
I smile. It’s a picture of Kent Brinkley. He’s sitting at one of those electric organs from the 1960’s and wearing his favorite stocking cap—blue with red and white stripes and a pompom ball on the end. I met Kent when I was serving my first congregation right out of seminary.
Kent was in his early fifties but had the cognitive abilities of a first grader. He was barely five-feet tall, exuberant with life. Big, fulsome cheeks and bright eyes behind those thick-rimmed glasses. The only thing more delightful than Kent’s grin was his infectious laugh.
I remember taking this photograph. My mind goes back to the day I snapped it with my camera.
Kent and I were having coffee together. Actually, I was having coffee and he was having his usual diet Coke with a straw. After a while, Kent suddenly leans in and says to me in his nasally, high-pitched voice: “Pastor Brian, I have a surprise for you!” He’s so excited I think he’s going to jump out of his skin. “I wrote a song for you!”
“You wrote a song for me, Kent?” I reply. “I didn’t even know that you were a musician!”
“Yep, I am.” he says. “I wrote a song for you. On my organ. You see….” Kent pushes his glasses back up the ridge of his nose and he gets a pensive look on his face as he tries to explain the mystery of his inspiration. “The love of Jesus goes in my heart, and the notes just come out. Yep, just like that! The love of Jesus goes in, the notes come out.”
He pauses. Then raises his eyebrows and grins: “Do you want to hear it?”
“Do I want to hear it?” I say. “Of course I want to hear it!”
We finish our drinks and walk over to the waver home nearby where Kent lives. I can barely keep up with him. He leads me to a small room with a little brown electric organ—the one in the photograph. Its keys are stained yellow, its four legs so wobbly it seems at any minute it might topple over. Kent flips the “On” switch. Then he pulls up the rickety little bench and positions himself.
He looks at me. “I wrote this for you.” And he repeats what he told me earlier. “The love of Jesus goes in, and the song comes out.” He places his stubby index finger on the lowest key of the organ, closes his eyes, breathes in a deep breath, and starts playing.
Key by key. One note after another, he moves his index finger up the keyboard. Deliberate. Unrushed. All the way until he reaches the last and highest key. And then he goes all the way back down.
That was it. That was the song. The love of Jesus went into his heart, and this song came out. I close my eyes and listen to Kent play for me. When he finishes, I notice my cheeks are damp.
“Did you like it?” Kent turns and faces me, beaming from ear to ear.
“Oh, Kent,” I whisper. “I loved it. It is the most beautiful song I have ever heard.”
Kent claps his hands and lets out a squeal: “Oh good! I hoped you would like it. It wrote it for you, Pastor Brian. The love of Jesus goes in, and the notes come out.”
I hold the photograph in my hand and memory does it work. Oh, Kent. Precious child of God. My brother, my friend, my teacher. About a year after the photo was taken, Kent went to be with the Lord as a result of kidney failure. It’s sentimental, even cliché I know, but I can’t help but picture him in the presence of Jesus now, on his little electronic organ, that grin on his face, the love of Jesus going into his heart and the notes coming out.
Kent is among the beautiful saints in my life who have taught me to receive. Receiving a gift is not easy for me; I’d much rather play the role of giver. It’s probably a control thing. Receiving is so vulnerable. And yet it’s in that place of vulnerability, of both receiving and giving, that we encounter God and discover one another in love. Kent Brinkley was my teacher in this.
The love of Jesus goes in, and the notes of God’s shalom come out. A song of beauty, hope, new creation.
Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, IA.
Thank you for your memory and your photograph!
Brought back a memory from 1970 fresh out of school myself when a young music major sat with me and my infant son on my front porch after a few weeks of attending our campus worship with a question he finally dared ask out loud: “Why does God condemn people like me in the first chapter of Romans?”
I told him that Paul was talking about people sated with heterosexual promiscuity and were looking for some new excitement, not about people born with same sex attraction. God has not given you over “to a depraved mind. . . filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity,”
Near the end of the school year, with tears in his eyes, he gave me a cassette tape of a organ piece he had composed and recorded for me thanking me for our conversation,
Sadly I do not even remember his name. I think I might still have the recording. Now I want to thank him for opening my eyes to how desperate people can feel.
Brian, Thanks for sharing. Having a younger special ed sister this hits particular close to home. Shalom…..
Brian, thank you for giving us this beautiful story (and picture) about you and Kent. Indeed, we have much to learn from one another, but often our reluctance to become vulnerable gets in the way. That’s even more the case when it comes to receiving from people with disabilities, particularly intellectual disabilities. I’m always delighted to read about a transformation of ministry that is “by,” “with,” or “from” people with disabilities instead of primarily “to” and “for.” To learn more about that posture, I commend a 2008 paper by the RCA Commission on Theology titled, “Spirituality and Hospitality: What the Church Can Learn by Welcoming Persons with Disabilities” (https://network.crcna.org/disability-concerns/spirituality-hospitality-and-disability-0).
Brian, thanks for sharing this. The song was a gift to you, and so was the explanation. “The love of Jesus goes in, and the notes come out.” What a lovely mission statement for all of life. I pray that I might be able to do the same with my words and actions.
Thanks Brian. As one of Brian’s “flock” and having known Kent, I appreciate this story because of what it says about about both of them. Kent’s exuberance and child-like faith as experienced by the more ‘learned’ pastor should spur us to be ‘joyful in all circumstances’ and to humbly love and accept the ‘presence and the presents’ of all God’s children.
Brian, thank you for this article. We used to live on your circle in Sheldon 🙂 I think you had more hair then. I remember Kent as the usher of all ushers, always in a suit. I also remember seeing the name Brian Keepers in a guest book in the home of missionaries in Chiapas! Sue Meyers
Thank you for sharing this story of Kent. You captured his personality and his love for the Lord perfectly. Kent was my cousin and one of my favorite people on earth.Kent loved to tell us kids jokes and after a very craftily delivered punny punchline, we often would say, “Oh Kent.” There is so much to be learned from Kent’s wisdom. It is an amazing thing when you let Jesus in-and what can come pouring out. On a different note, I am so glad to see that you are still leading people in their faith.You were such an inspirational FCA leader back at ole Spencer High School. God’s Blessings to you as you continue on God’s Path. Makala