Category Archives: Songs

Why I Carry On

Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more–Kerry Livgren

A friend of mine likes to say, “Everyone has problems.” I agree in principle, but some seem to get more than their fair share.

For instance, this morning  I was listening to a radio program which reads letters from listeners before beginning the message of the pastor whose sermons they play. This man in his correspondence talked about how his home had burned down, he had lost his job and he had been in a car accident. I would say that’s quite a lineup of adversity that most people don’t have to face.

Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion
I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high
Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I’m dreamin’, I can hear them say
Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more
The words above from Kerry Livgren, a lyricist most known as a performer with the band Kansas, brings to mind Job–the poster boy of trials to mind. He is the biblical character who just for starters lost his fortune and 10 kids, as well as his health.
Job lived in an ancient land called Uz, which today sounds more like a potato chip. However, although scholars don’t know exactly where it is, it is presumed the country was somewhere in the Middle East.
Job was quite a businessman, caught up in the hubub of his day. He had much livestock: his herds numbered in the thousands. Think of a car dealer like the one in my hometown. This fellow’s property and name dominate the whole center of the city. Even the local civic center is named after him.
Unfortunately for Job, he got caught up in a celestial contest between God and Satan and lost everything in the battle. He caught the attention of the Evil One because he was a godly man. Because of this the Devil wanted to bring him down a peg or two. He accused Job of only following God because of the benefits. God therefore took Satan up on his suggestion that Job would falter in his faith if all the good stuff in his life was taken away.
What follows is cycle after cycle of suffering for Job. The Old Testament book that carries this patriarch’s name tells of his questioning of  God after Satan was given permission to smack him down.
It also details the poor advice of his friends. They meant well I suppose. They were a little bit like friends today who don’t know what to say during another’s misfortune and instead of being silent, come up with all sorts of (usually bad) remedies.
Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, well
It surely means I don’t know.
We humans are a bunch of posers. I suppose there are a few select people like Albert Einstein with an unusual cerebral cortex, but most of us do not carry much wisdom around in our brains, even though we claim to.
I have  friends who are counselors who, after they give me advice, like to tell me in half jest to trust them because  “hey I am a licensed clinical social worker.”  I listen to these folks because I love them and they are my friends. Not only that, they DO have good judgement. We all need friends like that in our lives.
However, as a rule, the insight of humankind is clouded by a fallen nature and lack of knowledge. Only we know the intimate details of our personal lives and desires. Ultimately, we have to decide how to live our lives for ourselves.
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about I’m like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune, but I hear the voices say
Carry on my wayward son…
In my own life I have made plan after plan and charted my way. I have gotten excited by what seemed to be a sure and certain and exciting path, only to have my dreams end up disappearing in the mist through no fault of my own.
In such circumstances, I have become  like an agitated bee who has been swatted at with a folded up newspaper. I do not know which way to turn and mainly I am just trying to survive.
But I  have pressed on. Perseverance is one of my virtues.
In that keeping on, though, I have also questioned God. One of my  counselor friends, when I relay a difficult circumstance in my life to him, likes to say “Where are you in this God?”  In my own way I have asked God the same thing.
But now, I don’t. Not anymore. I have finally gotten to the place Job reached after his awful suffering.
At the end of the Book of Job it is God who asks the questions. He begins thus:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.”
He asks Job where he was when, for example, He laid the Earth’s foundations. After a couple of  chapters of such questions, he says to Job:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
    Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Job replies:
 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
    I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
    twice, but I will say no more.”
God doesn’t let Job off the hook so easily, however.
“Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.”
But after a couple more chapters of God questioning Job, the man admits he has no answer. He says to God:

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

“You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

 

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.’

“My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.

“Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
Now your life’s no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you

I have reached the point, like Job, where I realize that God has His own agenda in my life. Does that agenda involve building my character? Yes. Does it include my involvement in some extra-dimensional spiritual warfare I cannot see? I presume so.

Could there be some judgement of past sin going on? Perhaps. Mostly, I think He is answering my lifelong prayer to know Him.

I became a follower of Jesus Christ out of a desire to have a purpose in life. Sadly, I think I have spent a lot of it seeking to carry out my own devices.

It has been said that God will not give His glory to another. My job from here to eternity is to make sure God gets glorified in my life: nothing more, nothing less. So…

Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

 

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The only true source of empathy in a toxic world

The other day I walked into my local Starbucks and began talking to this young Latino barista. She’s maybe the friendliest of the ones that work there. (I might add that I am an older white guy.)

I asked her how she was doing.  She replied, “I am recuperating.”

I asked, “From what?”.

She explained that she had been off work for a while.

“I’ve been taking care of my father who has Alzheimer’s for two years. The stress got to me. Then, I was hospitalized from my pedestrian-vehicle accident.”

She told me she was walking and got hit by a car. Everybody has a story I guess but a lot don’t have this sad combination.

When a friend of mine posted on Instagram the old adage, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about-be kind”, I replied with her story. My friend responded by saying, “Empathy in action. Great story brother. Thank you for sharing it. You may have been like an angel to her that day just in how you showed that you care.”

My interaction with the barista was not an accident. I learned from the teachings of author and coach Brendon Burchard about using “triggers” to influence my surroundings. One he calls a “door” trigger. As you walk in the door of a place you ask yourself how you can be of benefit there.

In the current toxic environment in the US, such empathy is needed. Thankfully, there are folks out there trying to promote it.

For instance, one local group called Walk the Ridge is seeking to encourage civility and respect among people with different opinions. Another example, is author and researcher Brene’ Brown, who has written book about belonging.

One of the problems she outlines is that we’re so broken up into camps in the US that we aren’t willing to break out and be who we really are among folks on the other side. Brown encourages people to “brave the wilderness” (which is the title of her work) and first and foremost belong to ourselves.

If you pay attention to the media it seems we Americans are more into putting people down than showing respect. Even though I believe  that like a lot of other hype from that source, the problem is overblown, the issue needs to be addressed.

In a chapter called “Holding Hands with Strangers”, Brown makes the case that one reason we should be civil and respect one another is because we all have a spiritual connection due to all being part of the human family.

As much of the world is tuned into the World Cup, at least outside MY country, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of her examples of overcoming division is the respect garnered for Liverpool fans in Australia when a whole stadium full of them sang the club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” These thousands of people showed what Brown calls “collective joy”.

While I get her drift, I notice when watching the YouTube video that  no one is holding hands among the 95,000 people in that stadium. Most of them seem to be using their hands to stretch out banners.

Of course, one of the most famous songs of all time about that subject is the Beatles song “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Here’s an excerpt:

Oh please say to me
You’ll let me be your man
And please say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand

Those lyrics are pretty shallow. In fact, one theory is that such songs  of that era, ones in which there was whining about not being loved, spawned the 60s hit “Somebody to Love” in reaction, most notably covered by Jefferson Airplane, featuring Grace Slick. Her husband Darby wrote these lyrics excerpted from the song:

When the truth is found to be lies
And all the joy within you dies
Don’t you want somebody to love
Don’t you need somebody to love
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love
You better find somebody to love

In her autiobiography Grace Slick said the song  is not sexual in nature but has more to do with practically serving others with a heart of concern for their welfare. She wrote:

“Rather than the loving you’re whining about getting or not getting, a more satisfying state of heart might be the loving you’re ‘giving’. Suggesting that adhering to the old Puritan cliche, ‘It’s better to give than to receive’, might actually make you a happier person. The idea of service and selflessness may sound like a tedious task reserved for bald monks, but the way Darby wrote the lyrics, altruism didn’t seem like such a lofty and unattainable state. He gave the impression that giving could even be an enjoyable adventure.”

I thought today that having an inner focus on someone else is a healing potion. It takes the mind off of my own emotional pain. I would imagine that a lot of  heartache  comes not so much from not being loved, but in not having someone to love.

I have concluded that I can’t love everyone, but I can love some. I also have determined that I can at least respect all people because they are created in the image of God.

While in some ways I can generate this love and respect, I can’t really manufacture it completely on my own. I need a power I don’t have to do it fully.

Any capacity I have to care for others effectively really comes from God. In fact, the God-Man Jesus is truly the only Person who perfectly loved and respected others.

Although He is God, He also is fully human. He lived 33 years down here, where he experienced all the toxicity of mankind as we have, but without sin.

As one who has received Him and trusted in  Him to deliver me from my selfish sinfulness, I believe what the Bible says about Jesus dwelling in my heart.

He can empathize with people’s weaknesses and struggles through me. Living in my heart, Jesus can use me to show the same concern He has to those in my sphere.

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My real “Founding Father”

The Founding Fathers of America are taking a real hit these days.

Woke fellow citizens (and perhaps even non-citizens) are taking shots at George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others because they were slave owners.

I guess I’m not much of an SJW. I don’t really care about the weaker points of men who I never knew and who lived two hundred or more years ago. I’m more interested in more practical modern things like health care.

If some of these folks get their way, our country’s heroes will have their reputations totally besmirched and they will be completely banished from our history.

Perhaps because of my disgust with the way things are going in the US, yesterday my thoughts turned toward a personal hero, not the guys who started a revolution in 1776. I’m referring to my maternal grandfather.

I was depressed yesterday for a lot of reasons. To mitigate the effects of my downer mood, I rested on my bed and listened to some hymns on YouTube.

As happens a lot when I am horizontal and try to listen to something, I began to snooze. I woke up to a stirring rendition of “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.” It was like an electrical charge surged through my bloodstream. “Let angels prostrate fall, let angels prostrate fall…”. I began to worship.

I decided to go back and listen to some of the songs I missed while I slumbered. The playlist tossed me a song I had never heard before called “The Wayside Cross.”  The lyrics were sung by a male choir. The music was accompanied on YouTube by images of streams, forests and forked trails.

Which way shall I take shouts a voice in the night,
I’m a pilgrim awearied, and spent is my light;
And I seek for a palace, that rests on the hill,
But between us, a stream lieth sullen and chill.

Near, near thee, my son, is the old wayside cross,
Like a gray friar cowled, in lichens and moss;
And its crossbeam will point to the bright golden span,
That bridges the waters so safely for man;
That bridges the waters so safely for man.

I relished the old time descriptive language. My mind wandered back to my days of sharing the Gospel using an illustration called the Bridge to Life.  It too used the cross of Jesus to reveal the way to life.

The lyrics also reminded me of the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.”

To the right. To the left. Ah me–if I knew. The night is so dark and the passers are few.

Which way shall I take?  I’m a stranger from home. And sin has enticed me and caused me to roam.

My fortune, my all, for one gleam of light, that will banish the darkness and lead me aright.

Another hymn called “I Know Who I Have Believed” came next. It took me back to some of my roots in a church I attended when I graduated from college. This song was a standard there.

Soon I understood where I got my desire to listen to these old hymns. It was some lyrics from a couple of songs on the playlist that told me.

He took my burdens all away up to a brighter day. He gave me a song, a wonderful song.

AND

God never moves without purpose or plan
When trying His servant or molding a man.
Give thanks to the Lord though your testing seems long
In darkness He giveth a song.

These lyricists of course are referring to God as the giver of songs. But to me, He used my grandfather to convey them to me.

Willie H. Ball was a coal miner in the hills of West Virginia. He would come home from work covered in black dust.

Grandpa Ball was a wonderful man. He had a great sense of humor. For example,we youthful visitors to his home would be the recipient of a prank he liked to pull. While we were sleeping he would sneak up with a small disc that would emit a cow’s “moo” when turned over.

Willie was also a song leader in his back country Methodist church. At home, he constantly played the Gospel music he had taped using old reel to reel recorders.

His funeral was the most meaningful one I have ever attended. The service was mainly (by his request) one filled with Christian music.

Willie Ball lived what he preached. This is why my unbelieving father called him the best man he had ever known.

I still have a tangible treasure from him. Once he sent me a cassette with some Christian music on it.  Grandpa Ball had recorded it for me. His voice introduces the songs to come.

An even greater gift, however, was his legacy. He did leave me a song, one which communicates his faith in Jesus Christ and his worship of God via music.

As I lay in my bed I thought of my coal miner grandfather’s legacy. His life and its impact on me speaks of the lyrics of the old hymn “Faith of our Fathers.”

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

I know Willie Ball is in heaven cheering me on. Because of him, I have a solid family history to lean on. Because of him, I am not giving up on leaving my own decent legacy before I depart this difficult life.

Grandpa Ball is my real founding father. In the whole scheme of things, in my universe at least, America’s don’t matter as much.

 

 

 

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The Divine Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has always been a bit of an enigma.

Like a lot of artists, he has “periods” where fans can identify certain emphases in his music and lyricism. For example, in the 60s he was thought of as a generational prophet. Then there was the “Christian” period of the late 70s and early 80s during which believers bought albums such as “Slow Train Coming.”

However, Ben Sisario of the New York Times has written of how Dylan resists study.

“Over the decades he has frustrated many an interviewer who wanted to penetrate his mind and method,” he says.

‘Dylan has never been at all revealing about those kinds of issues,’ the music critic and author Anthony DeCurtis said in an interview.

‘He has always been dismissive,’ Mr. DeCurtis said. ‘He has certainly said things that have minimized his lyrics in the attempt to fend off or downplay any attempt to see him as a prophet.’ So he’ll say, “Oh, I just wrote what came to my mind.”

Whatever kind of offhand thing you could say to try to deflate someone who is trying to inflate your lyrics with meaning.”

A 1991 interview with Paul Zollo further illustrates Dylan’s reluctance to be pigeonholed. He asked Zollo,”Songwriting? What do I know about Songwriting?” Though Dylan said this with laughter, the grain of truth, i.e., he is just your average Joe,  is there.

Despite his reticence to be acknowledged, Zollo points out one of the reasons Dylan is a landmark artist.  He says,“He broke all the rules of songwriting without abandoning the craft and care that holds songs together.”

I would admire Dylan without this desire for excellence with language.  But for this writer, an English teacher by trade, Dylan’s care for his use of the written word makes me revere him even more. Zollo compares the beauty of his poetry to Shakespeare, Byron, as well as modern greats.

Even though Dylan’s reference for his writings is hard to determine, Zollo’s piece hints at it.  He writes, “There’s an unmistakable elegance in Dylan’s words, an almost biblical beauty that has sustained in his songs throughout the years.”

The artist once known as Robert Zimmerman influenced the soul of other musicians in this regard. According to Zollo, John Lennon was inspired by the depth of Dylan’s music to write songs that concerned life and the soul and not just  “empty pop songs”.

Dylan’s approach to his vocation is not of the secular, lunch bucket, 9 to 5 variety. It has a more spiritual bent. He told Zollo that His songwriting has “never really been seriously a profession…It’s been more confessional than professional.”

Bishop Robert Barron, a Catholic prelate based in Los Angeles, is stronger in his assessment of the supernatural aspects of Dylan’s work.

“You have to read him as a spiritual poet,” says Barron. “You can read him politically. You can read him as a cultural commentator. All that is right, but I think ultimately the best way to read him is as a spiritual teacher.”

Barron notes that Dylan is like most artists in that they will be elusive in terms of explaining the meaning of their lyrics. “But I think you can see patterns in any great artist,” he says. “You see them clearly in Bob Dylan.”

“You know in the 80s he became explicitly biblical, explicitly Christian. But all throughout his career, from beginning to right now, the Bible has been the dominant influence.”

Dylan’s epoch song “Blowing in the Wind” exemplifies this effect of Scripture on his work. The hit tells the listener that the answers to our most abiding questions come only through the intervention of God, according to the bishop.

God’s influence on Bob Dylan is nothing new. Author Julia Cameron explains that channeling spiritual information has been a means of creating great works for hundreds of years. In her book “The Right to Write”, she quotes some other noted artists (past and present) who attribute their genius to God.

“Although we rarely talk about it in these terms, writing is a means of prayer,” she says. “It connects us to the invisible world. It gives us a gate or conduit for the other world to talk to us whether we call it the subconscious, the unconscious, the superconscious, the imagination or the Muse.”

While we may not seek to contact God as we write, as we actually engage in the process of putting ideas down we come into contact with the divine.

Cameron says, “Writing gives us a place to welcome more than the rational. It opens the door to inspiration.

“We are an open channel.”

One critic on the public forum Quora calls Cameron’s work “creepy”, presumably because of  her spiritual approach to writing.  In “The Right to Write” she addresses those who feel that her thoughts about inspiration are too “New Age” or “airy-fairy”.

“Channeling? Julia, that word is so…

“I know. I know and I do not care because the word is artistically accurate,” she responds.

The author as a channel of the thoughts of God has an impact on how we go about writing. It also has  some surprise consequences on the lives of those who are willing to accept this concept of divine inspiration at face value and apply it to their work.

I will explain these effects in a future post.

 

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Home?

An advertisement I heard today on the radio says that home is where our story begins. But what if I don’t have one? Where does my story begin?

I do not feel at home in this world. I agree with my grandmother’s sentiments about life on this mortal coil. According to my brother, she did not fight a terrible case of pneumonia and died because she felt the world was a bad place.

In the last few years I have returned to houses I lived in before.  Two of these visits caused me great angst. There was just too much pain associated with those places.

One was in the neighborhood where I grew up. I had made trips to this house before, but this time I passed the area by because a dark spirit came upon me.  I sensed the times where things in our family were not so great and a deep pall came over me.

Another journey I took last week was to the house where my own family and I lived over a decade ago. The surrounding hills and climate were just as appealing to me as ever. I really wanted to stay back then, but due to some reverses we had to leave. The years since have seen some very tough times.

Though I have a roof over my head in my current town, and have been there for almost two years now, it doesn’t feel like home. It’s just a place to hang out and sleep. This could be because I have not furnished it. I live in kind of a Spartan and minimalist fashion. But I think there is something more to my feeling of being adrift.

It has to do with what I construe as “home”. There are tons of songs about home which inform me of its nature. Bards have sung about home forever. Christian composer Chris Tomlin wrote lyrics which I think echo my grandmother’s idea:

This world is not what it was meant to be
All this pain, all this suffering
There’s a better place
Waiting for me
In Heaven

But I’m not in heaven. Like all of us I have to go on with life.  Is there some place called “home” on this planet? I think not.

One characteristic of home in this world is explained well by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, who popularized another song about it.

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave, wave is stringing us along

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

These lyrics tell me that in this life home is an unknown. This is because the future is also an unknown.

You never know where “home” will be. Many times I felt I would be in one place and I ended up in another. Some of these places I would have never dreamt of ever living.

Such uncertainty can cause fear, as Phillips notes:

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

As I have traveled down these unfriendly highways, I HAVE been filled with fear, which I know has come from evil, and trouble HAS dragged me down. In fact, there are times I feel like Humpty Dumpty. During those moments I believe no force on this planet can put me back together again.

Danny Gokey expresses how I feel at those times:

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Gokey advises me that the only thing to do when I get to this place in life is to willfully get up off the floor of my current “home”, lock up and move on to the next location in my journey.

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Furthermore, he tells of moving toward a new start in our trek here on Earth.

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through

So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
‘Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

These poets talk in vague terms of a Someone who is helping me along in my current walk here on Earth.  Who is the “me” who says to follow him or the person who will find me in Phillips lyrics? Love is a broad concept, not a person, so who is the one Gokey says will pull me through my troubles.

To me, the One helping me and loving me as I limp through this world is none other than God.

A well-known song from 55 years ago by Jim Reeves guides  me in deciphering why I feel restless and ill at ease in the present reality.

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then lord what will I do
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

What gives me hope is meeting  my friend Jesus at the end of life and being comforted by Him face to face. Tomlin speaks of the encounter I can expect once I depart from here.

I’m goin’ home
Where the streets are golden
Every chain is broken
Oh I wanna go
Oh I wanna go
Home
Where every fear is gone
I’m in your open arms
Where I belong
Home

Lay down my burdens, I lay down my past
I run to Jesus, no turning back
Thank God Almighty, I’ll be free at last
In Heaven
In Heaven

Heaven is my real home. Thus, my story begins there once I reach it. My story is is intertwined with His Story.  All that is happening to me in this life is just a prequel.

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