Tall and lanky, he ambled towards my table and slapped down his Bible, thin black note-book and his copy of the “Valley of Vision.” Ladies and gentlemen, meet Spencer Harmon.
Surprisingly this bright and amiable 18-year-old was once a shy child who wept and fled to the comfort of his mother’s knees each time his family sang “Happy Birthday.” Maybe it was the result of his father’s time away in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm during Harmon’s first year on this earth or perhaps it was his super-sensitive ears. Either way, things have changed.
Harmon grew up playing baseball, a sport he not only enjoyed but also excelled at. When Harmon was nine, his coach, who once played baseball for the Cincinnati Reds and just happened to room with the great pitcher Randy Johnson, possessed a team so impressive that Sports Illustrated considered dispatching a writer to cover their success. His foray into sports continued through middle school and into his high school years. After middle school, Harmon ended his home-schooling years and entered the local high for the varsity team. However, an injured arm forced him to quit baseball for one year. It was during therapy and rehab he lost his passion for baseball.
“I remember going to my mom and saying to her ‘I’m done with baseball,’” Harmon said with a sheepish grin. She just gave a look that seemed to say she knew it might be coming to this. “Are you sure?” she asked.
He was, and suddenly the dream that included scholarships and strikeouts ended. He walked into his coach’s office and broke the news: he wasn’t called to baseball. He was called to the ministry.
And apparently it was to rap music as well.
Poems for posterity
“It was three weeks later that I came out with my first rap song,” Harmon told me. “I had been writing poetry since I was 12 years old.” But he wasn’t very proud of it at the time. “I thought writing poetry was really feminine,” he said. “So I would wait up at night and wait until my brother was asleep, turn on my book light, and I would hang my arm off the side of my bed and I would write poems.”
Before he knew it, he had an overflowing black book full of embarrassing poems just waiting for posterity to discover. “I remember thinking I really wanted to put these poems to beat, and I wanted to share them with people,” he said.
At first his idea was to simply use spoken word to share his work, but he talked to his DJ, Todd Banks, who gave him some beats — and Spencer Harmon’s first rap song was born. He found himself thrown onto a stage, which just happened to be at a youth conference with 5,000 people. Since then he has played shows in almost every state along the East coast, and has written and recorded five albums including Empathy Apathy (2005), Empty Chairs LP (2006), and is currently slated to release a conceptual album Gypsy Project. His latest album “Beats and Babbles” dropped this past month.
“I’m no FLAME,” said Harmon, “but I try to stay faithful to the ministry through rap music.” He’s been influenced by the likes of C.S. Lewis, John Piper and Ravi Zacharias. When it comes to writing, Spencer’s other passion, he loves Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson, Robert Frost and E.E. Cummings. Lately, the “Valley of Vision” has had a huge impact on both his music and life. These days he’s excitedly preparing for the release of his conceptual album, Gypsy Project, which is written from the perspective of being a missionary in a village of gypsies and attempting to penetrate their hearts with the gospel — but this story doesn’t end like a fairy tale. He penned this album at age 17, but it had yet to be recorded until now.
Harmon has had a lot of difficulty evaluating his musical interests and getting some-where with his gifts, and the call to ministry that he says can keep him up at night. “I’ll be doing one and thinking about the other,” he said, smiling. “But ministry is the main focus.”
Harmon has been dreaming of coming to Bible college since he was a freshman in high school, sitting in his friend Jon’s truck outside of his house, dreaming well into the morning about the days when they would come to Bible college and how incredible it would be. His dream finally came to fruition when he started at Boyce College last semester. “I’ll still be in hermeneutics class and be thinking ‘I can’t believe I get to do this. I get to study the Bible. I get to go to theology class and read Wayne Grudem and the Bible for homework.”
It keeps things in perspective for him, he said. “This kind of school isn’t a place where you should complain. This is a big choice to come to a place like this … If you are going to come here you should love what you do.” All that to say, Harmon isn’t anything necessarily spectacular or new. But that certainly doesn’t mean he’s sitting on the bench watching the big-hitters swing.
“I think the Lord is saying to take the opportunities he gives you no matter how small they are,” Harmon said. The fear of being thought of as someone who only does good deeds for human praise often makes Harmon leery of doing small things that mean much. But even through his own failures each day, he is concerned about being faithful whether it is in his music, schooling, or just life in general. For example, there are students at Boyce whom people don’t really know, Harmon said with deep concern in his voice. He wants to sit down with them and have meaningful and intentional conversations and encourage others to do the same.
“I don’t want talking about the Gospel to be an anomaly around here,” he said. That includes putting that Gospel into action in the very small things in life, whether that is those intentional conversations, or simply thanking those who are serving him in the cafeteria.
To be sure, Harmon isn’t a “somebody.” But it is obvious that when he walks into a room and slaps down his Bible, notebook, and copy of the “Valley of Vision,” he is serious about his faith.
Above all, Harmon realizes this truth: “His faithfulness is greater than my faithfulness.”
For more information about Harmon visit www.beatsandbabbles.com.
Originally published in The Towers, a publication of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. By Tim Sweetman.