Late last night as I was scanning Facebook my friend Gar Seeger posted about the death of Jay Swartzendruber. I took a double take. Surely not. There have been far too many deaths of friends in recent months, so many younger than me, and Jay’s rattled me more than most. Jay death was sudden. He was only 52.
Jay Swartzendruber was a man of real authenticy and integrity. He was a man of God of the very best kind. He was a creative. Like me he used his creativity to promote creatives. He was a writer who enthused about music and propelled artists with his journalistic skills into the wider conscious.
When I met Jay he was editor of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) magazine that in the mid 90s was the voice of a huge industry. He was the friend of the artist. He was passionate about both the "music" and the "Christian" parts of the title.
Soon he was helping Steve Taylor launch Squint Entertainment and launching artists like Sixpence None The Richer out of that CCM ghetto and into the mainstream charts. I remember him sending me the video of Kiss Me that I showed to my students long before they were all singing along to it. It gave me some cred!
It was his place in that world of musicians with a Christian faith that got him his mention in my book Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2. In 2005 Jay was a conduit for Bono meeting up with some of CCM’s most influential musicians in the Art House in Nashville.
While trying to convince President George W Bush to contribute more help to the HIV crisis in sub Sahara Africa, Bush had encouraged Bono to reach out to the evangelical Christian community of America. Bono did six weeks in the heartland and the Nashville meeting was an influential part of that. Jay was at the heart of it.
Jay was probably more conservative than I was both theologically and politically. For the last ten years he has been Copywriter at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He also liked George W Bush. We discussed that a few times.
With Jay, though there was never an argument. He held his views. He held them strongly. Yet, he shared them gently. As I spend time in the sacred space of reminiscing Jay’s passing it is that that rises to the top. Oh I loved that we loved music, the same music and how he enthused.
Yet, it was his openness to listen and the gracious way he shared his views and never belittled the opinion of others that I treasure and am most inspired by. Jay was the epitome of grace, not grace as a theological concept so much as a way to live. The tributes from a wide range of friends is testament to a man who was consumed by the grace of God in fun, laughter, love and enthusiasm.
Now, here is the final twist. I only met Jay once in person. We were both involved in the marriage of our friends David Dark and Sarah Masen. Jay might have been the reason they got together.
Jay is one of the reasons that I argue that social media is not an alternative to real life connection. It is a supplement. Indeed, there are many like Jay whom I meet rarely, if ever, but feel a spiritual kinship. Originally Jay and I were on an email community called Time Being set up by our mutual friend Lee Smithey. Then it was Facebook. Friendship continued.
In the last 24 hours I have read endless tributes to Jay. I recognise every one. The man I felt I knew thousands of miles away on social media is the same human being thanked and loved by those who knew him better. Love and prayers tonight to his close friends and to his wife Jaimie who will be most heartbroken of all.