Monthly Archives: March 2015

Saved

detail from "John 3:16" by Robert T. Barrett. Oil on canvas

detail from “John 3:16” by Robert T. Barrett. Oil on canvas

I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined

Stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb

By his grace I have been touched, by His word I have been healed

By His hand I’ve been delivered, by His spirit I’ve been sealed

I’ve been saved by the blood of the Lamb

And I’m so glad… I want to thank you Lord

 

I’ve always thought that Bob Dylan is a living example of The Emperor’s New Clothes. I don’t care what anyone says, the guy can’t sing! So it’s extraordinary that he makes his living as a singer. Might as well be parading in front of us naked.

 

What Dylan is, is a poet and a damn good one. No one writes songs quite like his, which is perhaps why we forgive so much of his inability to carry a tune. He really does have a wonderful way with words.

 

album artwork "Saved" by Bob Dylan

album artwork “Saved” by Bob Dylan

Saved isn’t Dylan’s best song but we chose this song for obvious reasons – it’s his most Christian song, talking specifically about the saving work of Jesus. Most of the song uses cliché Christian phrases but the opening verse is a brilliant example of Dylan’s skill with a pen.

 

The idea that one steps out of the womb physically alive but spiritually dead is as dramatic an example of a need for a Saviour as there ever was. The use of the words “stone cold” and “womb” make the listener imagine the stone cold tomb from which Jesus emerges on Easter morning. This very Saviour who conquered death by his blood is now able to touch us by grace, heal us, deliver us, and seal us. Indeed there is much to be glad and thankful for!

 

Bob.

Bob.

Dylan’s recording of this song is rather frantic and we’ve worked pretty hard to give it more nuance so that the poetry of it emerges strongly. But the musical strength of the song is its celebratory nature and we haven’t lost any of that quality. We’ve been saved – freed from the pit and the fire that burns in it! If ever there was a reason to get up and party, this is it! So we’re saving this one for the end – and I keep sayin’ this, so it must be true: make sure you bring your dancin’ shoes.

We have one more rehearsal and then it’s happening! If you haven’t got your tickets yet, get them now – they’re going fast and we want to sell out so that we can bless Cyrus Centre and the great work they do there. See you next week!

 

 


Sweet by and by

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for… (Hebrews 11:1)

the beach at Martyr's Bay, Iona, Scotland

the beach at Martyr’s Bay, Iona, Scotland

There’s a land that is fairer than day,

And by faith we can see it afar,

For the Father waits over the way

To prepare us a dwelling place there.

 

In the sweet by and by,

We shall meet on that beautiful shore;

In the sweet by and by,

We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

 

The playwright, William Congreve, coined the phrase “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast” in his 1697 play, “The Mourning Bride.” It would appear that the lyricist, Sanford F. Bennett, knew this. Apparently he penned this sweet little hymn as a way to help his friend, Joseph P. Webster out of a bout of depression.

Sanford F. Bennet

Sanford F. Bennet

Joseph P. Webster

Joseph P. Webster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his autobiography, he writes that he could tell in an instant if Webster was in a state of melancholy and knew he could turn it around     by giving him a new song to work on. When Webster came to work in such a state one day, saying he’d be better “by and by”, that little phrase was enough inspiration for Bennett to write the text to the hymn in minutes. In half an hour, Webster had composed the melody on his violin and the two were singing it. The song is now a gospel standard, often performed in New Orleans at “jazz funerals”.

I was struck by two words in the first verse: by faith. Imagine what the disciples must have been thinking and feeling, watching their leader, the one in whom they had placed so much of their faith, hanging on a cross. Everything they’d hoped for was dying before their eyes. It must have been devastating, even faith-shattering. As folks living on this side of the resurrection, we have the benefit of knowing what happened on Sunday – and there’s a fair amount of faith required to accept that part of the story too. And there it is: by faith. We’re singing another rockin’ blues song – “I Believe” – that is in itself a declaration of faith and repeats that phrase over and over again:

By faith I believe it, By faith I receive it

By faith I can have it, By faith I can share it

By faith I will know it, by faith I will show it

By faith I will bear it and now I declare it

I believe just what He said!

 

By faith we believe. Chapter 11 of Hebrews gives a beautiful little history lesson on all those giants of faith who “died in faith without having received the promises.” Because of that, they received something even better – the true promised land of heaven. That witness is given to us as encouragement:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Iron Cross, Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Iron Cross, Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

We chose this song because we wanted something familiar that we could sing with all the fine folks who will attend the Good Friday Blues Services. It’s a song of hope, written by someone who saw his friend’s brow furrowed by trouble and woe and offered as a means of comfort. We hope that will be true for all who join us at Good Friday Blues too.


You Gotta Move

Sunrise-set, June, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Sunrise-set, June, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

 

And do this, understanding the present time, the hour has come for you to wake up from you slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over, the day is almost here…– Romans 13:11,12

I’m not a fan of end-times stuff. I figure my end-time could be any time – I may live to 100, I might get hit by a bus tomorrow. You just never know, so you always have to be ready – ready to move.

By the same token, I also don’t like the idea that my salvation only matters for my future – my get into heaven free card, if you will. If Jesus doesn’t matter in my everyday life, then I’m not really interested. It’s too hard to live in the future, I want to live in the present, to BE present. Jesus does matter in my life today – I have come so that you have life in abundance – not life in the future.

You gotta move, you gotta move,

You gotta move child, ‘cause when the Lord gets ready

You gotta move, you gotta move…

 

Hope-filled Sunset South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Hope-filled Sunset South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

One of the things I love about Spirituals is their simplicity and the way their authors are so hopeful despite the circumstances of life.

 

You may be up, you may be down

You may be six feet underground

You may be high, you may be low

You may be rich, you may be poor

But when the Lord gets ready

You gotta move, you gotta move…

 

This traditional spiritual was first recorded in the 1940s. When you consider that the original writer was quite likely a slave (and if not a slave, then certainly an oppressed person) it’s remarkable how someone in that context is able to see him/herself equal in the eyes of the Lord. It doesn’t really matter what your status, when the Lord gets ready, then honey, you better be ready to move! The way I look at it, it means being ready to listen and respond to whatever the Lord is asking of you, every day, not just your last day. What is Jesus prompting me to do today? Think of this in light of Good Friday: even in death, he was listening to the prompting of the Spirit – taking care of his friends, taking care of his mother, taking care of the thieves crucified with him, forgiving every blasted person around him. Jesus life was so abundant that even in death, he was giving life to those around him, just like he’d done throughout his earthly life.

 

put on your dancin' shoes, cause you gotta move!

put on your dancin’ shoes, cause you gotta move!

I think the Romans passage above can be read in that context too – we need to live out our salvation every day, not live like sleepwalkers waiting for the end.

 

And this song, people, is going to make you move. Seriously. I dare you to sit still.

 

 

 


Spirit in the Sky

sky over North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

sky over North Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

When I die and they lay me to rest, gonna go to the place that’s the best

When they lay me down to die, goin’ up to the Spirit in the Sky

 

We’re doing a few songs this time ‘round that reference the afterlife. I guess that’s not unusual, given that Good Friday is the one day of the year when we’re collectively compelled to think about death in a bigger context than our own specific mortality. Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to even imagine a heaven.

sky over Oliver, BC. photo by band member, Benita Warkentin

sky over Oliver, BC. photo by band member, Benita Warkentin

Prepare yourself, you know that you must, you gotta have a friend named Jesus

So you know that when you die, He’s gonna recommend you to the Spirit in the Sky.

 

When my dad died a little over a year ago now, there was great concern amongst our family members about his salvation. Dad didn’t go to church, didn’t profess to be a Christian but acknowledged that there was a God. I think dad’s biggest problem was not God or Jesus, per se, but the church and the hypocrisy he experienced there. (He often gave that as an excuse for not going to church, saying it was full of hypocrites. I told him he should come anyway, that one more wouldn’t make a difference.) (Right?) But the day before he died we had a chat about his impending death and the afterlife and he said he was ready, ready to meet his Maker, that he was at peace. Dad was a complex guy and what I’ve just written isn’t enough to truly tell you why I fully expect to see Dad when I get to heaven. I’ve had repeat visions of him and Jesus sitting side-by-side in matching Lazy Boys, sharing a beer and some healing conversation. I think dad was prepared and was recommended, if you will, to the Spirit in the Sky.

Crucified Jesus outside the Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

Crucified Jesus outside the Italian Chapel, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, Scotland

When I think of Jesus hanging on the cross I’m struck again about how Jesus had to live a complete human life – from birth to death. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes that Jesus came to us in the form of a human and was obedient, even unto death. Even Jesus had to be prepared for that to which he had been called. Good Friday gives us an opportunity to focus on the crucified Jesus and reflect – not just on eternity but on our calling here on earth. Are we prepared for either?

This is the second gospel song we’re singing that was written by someone who is not Christian (the first is Trouble and Woe, written by Ruth Moody). Norm Greenbaum’ was raised as and remains an observant Jew. He apparently was inspired to write this gospel song because he was influenced by southern gospel music and westerns – he liked the idea of “dying with your boots on”. I guess one could think of Jesus that way too, eh? It does explain the shaky theology of the song’s third verse where it references the singer as having never been a sinner. We’ve taken the liberty of changing that lyric slightly to reflect the Christian belief that we are, in fact, all born sinners, which is why we need a friend named Jesus.