Death Grief and Hope: Songs for the Shadows (2)

So, then, to continue from my last post, If we are not to grieve as those who have no hope, and not to hope as those who have no grief, then only one conclusion is left to us.  We should grieve as people of hopeso what does that mean?

Here is where grace enters in powerfully.  “Grieving as people of hope” means that God’s grace is in the picture with us as we sorrow in life.  Grace does not magically take away our pain or make it hunky-dory wonderful.  I have heard preachers stand up and talk about heaven and hope in a glib and superficial silliness that emotionally slaps the faces of the grieving ones sitting in front of him or her.  If it gives them a moment’s comfort, the dark shadow will soon come.  If Jesus wept over Lazarus, there is something important in it for us as well. Whatever we believe about the life to come, it is always in faith, in part, clouded by the contrast between the only reality we know with some certainty against a promise that is yet to be.

Paul helps us in a second passage from the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 he wrote, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; s_s_hopestruck down, but not destroyed; Afflicted but not crushed.”

  1. Perplexed but not driven to despair
  2. Persecuted but not forsaken
  3. Struck down but not destroyed

What sustains us in life is not to escape affliction, questions, persecution and suffering.  It is being rooted in the life that transcends it. This means accepting

  1. The reality of death—as well as the truthfulness of grace. It not only does not avoid the worst features of human life, it enters into them.  Grace is seeing the worst about us and still loving us. I once wrote a song to try to express the anguish of this, called,
  2. The necessity of grief— Grief is part of life just as death is on its path. If we are to imbibe life as a gift, we have also to taste its bittersweet transience.  In the nineteenth century, Ray Palmer wrote the great hymn, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” and penned these wonderful words:

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream shall o’er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

I have written about 110 songs at this point, bits and fragments of maybe 250 more, but looking over them, I realize how much time grieving has occupied in my mind. I am sure much of this has to do with my vocation–I cannot avoid walking through the valley of someone else’s shadow weekly–but I am also impressed with the massive  energy spent on avoiding the subject in our culture–and the price we pay for it. One song on this subject for today, “Trying to Remember” Continue reading “Death Grief and Hope: Songs for the Shadows (2)”

Death Grief and Hope: Songs for the Shadows

  We must face our losses.  Courage does not spare us from them. 

Courage’s work begins at the other end of honest acknowledgement.

          Grief can encompass many parts of life, not merely death.  It is, in many ways, our most universal experience.  It can be the death of dreams, grief of a way of life that ends, the end of a relationship, leaving home, moving to another town, divorce, a broken friendship.  The question is, “What are we to do with it?”

I can’t speak for people who have no faith in God, but I will admit that having faith in God doesn’t dispose of grief. It is just the same, just as overwhelming, the same disbelief followed by disintegration and despair and a long struggle to put life together again.

One verse of scripture I have found meaningful is  this one:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.   1 Thess. 4:13

 I take great comfort that it does not say, “Don’t grieve, you’re a Christian,” but I have heard many a well-meaning minister stand up and talk about death like it was a flu shot. Death is real, it is irreversible, it is disheartening. I don’t think dismissing reality is a good idea. It has a way of showing up again with reinforcements.

The denial of death is, as Ernest Becker said, the most pervasive of human failings, and the most futile. The Apostle Paul said, very intentionally, that we should not “grieve as those who have no hope.” Instead, I would assume, we should grieve as people who DO have hope. Continue reading “Death Grief and Hope: Songs for the Shadows”

“The Man I Didn’t Kill” and Paying Attention

In 2008 I wrote a song called “The Man I Didn’t Kill.”  The story of the song is pretty simple in a way.  I get song ideas all the time just from observations of life.  I never mind a drive to the hospital or the million other tasks I have to do in my work as a minister.  It is an ocean of songwriting material, because it’s simply life experience.  I really admire the great songwriters who live in Nashville, sit in an office all day and crank out lyrics.  I’m not sure I’m that imaginative.

Gary Nancy Greg

My ideas come from life.  I walk through, listening to people in trouble, solving problems, managing a congregation, dealing with budgets, praying for the sick.  All along, though, the artist in my brain tries to pay attention.  I’m not looking for songs, but I’m paying attention for things that interest me. Kate Campbell talked a lot about being curious—noting things you care about and trying to understand why.

So songs, or at least ideas, pop up everywhere.  Back about 2008 or 2009, I wrote a song that ended up on my cd “Overload of Bad News Blues.”  It’s called, “The Man I Didn’t Kill.”  It came from a close call.  One day a pedestrian walked out in front of me without looking.  I was watching him, so I hit the breaks and, for the first time, he saw me.  Small bit of life. Continue reading ““The Man I Didn’t Kill” and Paying Attention”

Thou Shalt Love Thy Bandmates

Anyway, riding in a van for a week turned us from “Friends

and Brothers” to angry inmates who couldn’t wait to bust out.

Fifteen Years.  That’s how long Shades Mountain Air has been together, at least the core of Greg and Nancy Womble, Gary Furr, and Don Wendorf.  We have spent a couple hours a week most of that fifteen years weekly at Greg and Nancy’s house, practicing, horsing around, composing, arranging, learning and growing from one another.  We’ve only had one personnel change in all that time–Don’s son, Paul, our outstanding fiddle player, left us to move on with wife, kids, career, to Texas, and so, we were four again for a while, then found Melanie Rodgers.  Mel has added dynamic new joy to our sound, and is now a part of our 15th Anniversary Live Album that is now available.     (Go to the website store for our new CD click here!)

Image
Shades Mountain Air at Moonlight, 2013

The album sounds great!  We hired Fred Miller of Knodding Off Music to record and engineer our live concert.  Fred did a fantastic job and we are so happy with the result.  He captured our live sound and energy.  It sounds like us!  There is NOTHING like live music, and though it’s fun to be in a studio and monkey around with something until you get it “perfect”, there is a corresponding loss of that spark that performers-audience and a venue provide.  We did it at our favorite gig–Moonlight On the Mountain in Bluff Park in Hoover, Alabama, with Keith Harrelson, as always, handling lights and sound.

I say all this because Shades Mountain Air is more than a band.  We have become family together.  We love playing together, singing, creating, whether anyone is listening or not.  Greg and Nancy’s kids grew up having to hear us every week in their house. We have been through life crises, griefs, and changes Continue reading “Thou Shalt Love Thy Bandmates”

Pat Terry and the Eye of the Artist

 If we learn to look at life with the eyes of the artist, we

will see an entire universe that is “a gift of mercy.”

Workshop
Pat pondering how to help a workshop participants song

It’s odd that a musical preacher who writes songs, cut his teeth and got called to ministry during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s would have met Pat Terry so late in life, but that’s the way life winds sometimes.  I had heard of the Pat Terry group back when he was starting out—Pat is just a bit older than me.  I heard his songs, but my musical journey got put on hold for a long time as marriage and children and years in graduate education and pastoral ministry took me in different directions.  I continued listening to music and playing and singing, sometimes in church and mostly by myself for my own pleasure.

Pat Terry, meanwhile, was on a journey of his own, too.  After many years, first in the very spontaneous and joyful Jesus Movement musical world, and then for a while in the increasingly industry-captivated contemporary Christian musical world, he moved on.  He had a good, long run as a commercial songwriter in Nashville, with a string of songs for many well-known artists like John Anderson, Travis Tritt, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Tanya Tucker and the Oak Ridge Boys.  He learned the Nashville craft and all the while continuing his own inner journey of writing from the heart.

So it was that a few years ago, Greg Womble, my friend and bandmate who plays the banjo publicly, and I, who play it out of earshot but love it, went to Atlanta to Continue reading “Pat Terry and the Eye of the Artist”

“The Blind Side” Gets Blindsided

We prefer a safe mediocrity to a persuasive truth telling.

Baptist news wires recently carried the story about a successful protest by a Baptist preacher to remove a movie from Lifeway stores.  The movie is “The Blind Side,” starring Sandra Bullock.  It was based on the book by the same name by Michael Lewis, who also wrote, Liar’s Poker and Moneyball.

Michael Lewis

I happened to meet Michael Lewis years ago when he was writing the book, and he told me he was working on a “really interesting story.”  It was about a young man from the meanest streets of Memphis who was adopted by a family and placed in a white private Christian school.  The story is well known by now—Michael Oher went on to be a football star at the University of Mississippi and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

I bought and read the book when it came out, and went to see the film.  Football movies are pretty well required viewing in Alabama.  So I was more than amused with all the other moral problems at the moment—debt, wars, racism, the disintegration of families, and do I need to go on?—that a PG-13 movie could cause such an uproar.  According to the report,

LifeWay Christian Stores will no longer sell videos of “The Blind Side” after a Florida pastor proposed a resolution for next week’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting protesting the sale of a PG-13 movie that contains profanity and a racial slur…[the stores decided to] pull the movie, an inspirational film starring Sandra Bullock that tells the true story of a white Christian family that adopted a homeless black teenager who went on to play in the NFL, to avoid controversy at the June 19-20 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans.  [The pastor who brought the resolution] said there is much about the film to be commended, but there is no place in a Christian bookstore for a movie that includes explicit language that includes taking God’s name in vain.

I get it.  It’s Baptist to speak your mind.  I know language has become debased and misused.  And, it’s the right of any store and its owners to sell or not sell what it wishes.  Still, it stirred a few thoughts about the mostly non-existent tie between Christians, especially evangelical ones, and the world of the arts.  And why fewer people want to be Baptists.

Walter Brueggemann once said that in the book of Leviticus, which for some odd reason has become a moral center for a lot of people today, there is an emphasis on holiness as “purity.”  There are other forms of holiness in scripture—moral and ethical righteousness, for one, that sometimes comes into conflict with the notion of purity.  Jesus encountered this among the Pharisees, who could not do the deeper right things for fear of disturbing their own ethic of remaining personally removed from what might compromise, taint and violate their ethic of purification holiness.

I have thought a lot about Brueggemann’s distinction since I first read it.  Somehow, a fully biblical notion requires more than avoiding “impurities.”  Yet purity is important.  An obsession seems to lead always to a rather puny moral energy that dispirits more than it inspires.  Inevitably, it ends up with an account of morality that is always boycotting, removing itself from sinners and sin, and circling the wagons.

Continue reading ““The Blind Side” Gets Blindsided”

The Artist and the Editor

There is a time for the Artist and a time for the Editor

The Editor worries about the audience, sales and attracting attention to the finished product

The Artist tries to listen to the deep, deep truth within, unfiltered and unfettered

The Editor wants it to be the best it can be and to have a chance to be heard.

The Artist wants the work to be true to what it was the first time she heard it

The Editor is outside the Artists heart and mind and often doesn’t “get” the artist’s vision

The Artist cannot leave himself and struggles to know how it will connect to others and sometimes what makes sense to the Artist doesn’t make sense to anyone else

The Editor is finally responsible to the publisher and the audience

The Artist is finally responsible to his Judge and Maker and himself and his art

The Editor respects the artist, may even be one herself, so it is not about bad and good.

The Artist respects the Editor, and understands that it is not just about money or pleasing others.  It is also about belonging to the community and the world and being heard

Sometimes they clash and tears are shed.

The Artist’s matters of conscience can turn into stubbornness and pride

The Editor’s insistence on practicality, marketability and being liked by large numbers of people can mask a desire to please and the willingness to sacrifice integrity for success.  They both labor with the burden of ego and control.

They always have to talk and pray about it and listen to each other for the best thing to happen, even when the Editor and the author live inside one person.