Thursday, March 30, 2006

On music written after God's own heart ...

My wife Donia asked me as soon as I walked in the door, "Did you read Colson's article in Christianity Today?" I hadn't, so she said, "Here, check it out." Wow. There really are more out there than just me who have become disgusted with self-absorbed, meaningless, endlessly repeated little ditties that work people into a Grateful Dead-Like trance in the name of worship. If you haven't read it, the article is called "Soothing Ourselves to Death," and though the rest of the current issue lacks much of interest, this one-page article is worth your reading it.

Colson says, "[O]ne Sunday morning I cracked. We'd been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless little ditty called 'Draw Me Close To You,' which has zero theological content and could just as easily be sung in any nightclub. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed. 'Let's sing that again, shall we?' he asked. 'No!' I shouted, loudly enough to send heads all around me spinning while my wife, Patty, cringed."

Where can we find a voice being lifted to really reflect God's own heart if not in the church? Well, I have stumbled on one source that may surprise you. Ever since the movie "Born on the Fourth of July" came out, I have reflected on the words that Edie Brickell hauntingly sings on the remake of Bob Dylan's "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." I confess I would rather hear her sweet voice sing it than Dylan himself. I have always thought that this song had a powerful message.

In the IMB news I received in email, I found another voice of agreement. Erich Bridges writes about how this song paints graphic pictures of the lost and broken world in which we live. If you have been blessed to travel outside American borders, you can relate to the imagery (lyrics in italics; my commentary in plain-type):

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one? I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains, I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways, I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests, I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans, I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard, And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard, And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

As I hear these words, I think about a dozen prayerwalks I have been on across this planet. And when I return, people say to me (I do have blue eyes, by the way), "Where have you been?" Can words even relate it? Can I with words make them feel the instability of rocks and dirt sliding beneath your feet? Can I tell them of the "roads" I travelled to reach villages where no white man had ever been seen, and no Christian witness had ever been presented? Can you describe with words what it is like to put your feet in the Atlantic and watch the sun go DOWN, with the stench of a mountainous garbage heap to your back? Or how it feels to walk in the footsteps of camels on the shores of the Indian Ocean? Or to gaze across a roughshod cemetery where what few stones there are have crescents instead of crosses adorning them? To walk across a parched town that is being invaded by the Sahara desert?

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son? Oh, what did you see, my darling young one? I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it, I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin', I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin', I saw a white ladder all covered with water, I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken, I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children, And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Yes, I have seen all these things and more. The world is saturated with monuments to our depravity. And if you only read about it in the paper or watch it on television, you are safe. But if you see it with your eyes, if you smell what they smell, if you eat what they eat, it will affect you to the core. "Pastor," they say, "Why do you care so much about the lost people in Africa?" Oh, it is because I've been there. And I have looked them in the eye, and I have taken them by the hand. And I have done so knowing that they have never met a Christian before in their lives. And like Livingstone, the smoke of a thousand villages haunts me in my sleep. They are lost. And a judgment is coming.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son? And what did you hear, my darling young one? I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin', Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world, Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin', Heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin', Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin', Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter, Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley, And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

I always take a tape-recorder. I never want to forget the sounds. I have drummed with the drummers in Kenya. I have been out there whispering the gospel to deaf ears. I have put my hands on the sick and the dying and prayed in desperation for God to demonstrate His power to an entire village. I have visited shrines devoted to the artisans of a community, and without understanding a word of the language have seen the anguish in the songs, the poems, the stories. We were chastised for feeding a starving animal in one town because the people had less food than the dogs. That's what I heard. I never went to South Asia. I wasn't there to hear the sound of a wave that could drown the whole world. But as surely as that Tsunami wiped out an entire region, I know there is a hard rain gonna fall in the last days.

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son? Who did you meet, my darling young one? I met a young child beside a dead pony, I met a white man who walked a black dog, I met a young woman whose body was burning, I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow, I met one man who was wounded in love, I met another man who was wounded with hatred, And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

One after another you meet them. Broken people, like a parade of hurting and heartache. The innocence of a precious little child playing in his village, surrounded by signs warning of AIDS and landmines, eyes yellow from Malaria. I have talked to those with the amulets of the witch doctor tied tightly 'round their arms, and legs, and waists, and necks, and heads, and so on. I have talked to those who have said, "You know my religion says I can kill you if you don't believe the same as me." And the Talibe, the children of the street who are sent out to peddle for change, only to turn it over to some tyrannical slave-driver. Like the little boy who tried to sell me hard-boiled eggs on the streets of Malindi. When I refused to purchase an egg, he put his fingers to his mouth as if to say, "But I am so hungry." I said, "You should eat this egg." My guide says, "No, he cannot eat it. If he eats it, he will be beaten, for that is an egg he could have sold." And as Dylan says, "I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow." One village gave us a basket of mangoes that contained more food than their family ate all week. One merchant, when I didn't buy anything from him, gave me a necklace just so I wouldn't leave his stand empty-handed. But it is a hard rain that's gonna fall.

Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son? Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one?

What would you do if you have seen what I have seen?

I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin', I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest, Where the people are many and their hands are all empty, Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters, Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison, Where the executioner's face is always well hidden, Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten, Where black is the color, where none is the number,

And when I get there, you know what I'm going to do? I am going to take the soul-saving, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ ...

And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it, Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin', But I'll know my song well before I start singin', And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Click here to hear the song, as sung by Edie Brickell for the film "Born on the Fourth of July".
(Right click to open in a new window)

Thanks Chuck and Erich for reminding me that I am not alone. And Bob, wherever you are spiritually right now in your never-ending journey, I am thankful that you write songs that reflect the heart of a God whom you once claimed to know, and whom I pray you still do. And if there is anyone reading this, I pray that before the rain falls, you will tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it and reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it, and you'll know your song well before you start singing. Because it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.


Chris Eller said...

Thanks for such a vivid reminder of the diverse continent which we have had the privilege to serve our Lord in. Indeed this song captures the awesomeness of the task to which the Lord has called us, and captures many of the images, sounds, and events that I never want to forget from my days thus far in Africa. I recall crashing down the sides of mountains in Zambia on a mountain bike as we sought out a distant village in which he had been told that the gospel had not been preached ever before. Trekking through the rough roads and paths of Guinea-Bissau in search of villages that had never been visited, villages that were not on any map, but villages with many who were waiting for one to come to share the Truth of Jesus Christ with them. I could go on, but indeed this song, unlike the trite lyrics of many of the songs of the contemporary christian movement, presents an image of the lost world to which we have been called to share Christ. I had never heard or read these lyrics before, thanks for posting them, and allowing me to reflect yet again on both the awesome things the Lord has allowed us to be a part of in Africa, and the deep love that I have for the people across this continent, many of whom are living in the darkness of false teachings of Islam and animism, dying of HIV and other illnesses without ever having knowledge of our Lord.

Russ Reaves said...

Kudos Chris. Thanks for the comment. Hope all is well. The Tampa Summit was remarkable! Wish you could have been there. I will fill you in later.

Russ Reaves said...

Someone contacted me via email with the following comment after reading this post. I asked the individual if I could post it and preserve anonymity. The comment follows with as minimal editing as necessary:

"I just read your latest posting. I think that was one of the best articles I have read in a long time by anyone, period. It is easy for a person with the gift of written communication to build a facade either through "word-smithing" or melodrama. It is very difficult to be earnestly vulnerable, without being earnestly vulnerable for effect. We have both been overseas quite a bit, and come back with a wake up call. I have seen, heard, and smelled some of the worst things this world can offer in and out of combat. I know what it is like to be "the American" in a third world country. There is no doubt that the pain and suffering that these people experience on a daily basis makes our troubles look trivial. I have fed these people, and provided for their immediate physical needs. I have physically protected these people, and have some blood on my hands. I sometimes think about what it would be like to come to them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ versus the gospel of democracy. The simple fact is that we will never be able to police the world, or kill all the bad guys. At the end of the day I guess you could say that hoping I made a difference in their lives and possibly being used by the Lord to pave the way for the Gospel is what makes it all worth it. It damn sure isn't patriotism or valor or some other buzz word that helps me sleep at night. As hard as we try, atrocities cannot be kept at arm's length, and on an impersonal level, once they have been seen first hand. Once that bell is rung, it cannot be unrung. I think that is what addicts folks like you and I. Not a day goes by that I don't see, smell and hear the same things over again. I spent a lot of time wishing that I never experienced it. Now, a year later, I think I am starting to see a real, uncensored, un-churched version of what the Lord means when he says that he will manipulate bad circumstances to be good for Himself.
Anyways, I really liked your posting. If I am the only one who lets you know then so be it, but keep writing just like you are. I would 100 times rather read your personal writing than that of some guy who throws an idea down on paper and goes looking for a story to mold around it. In the spirit of song quotes, not quid pro quo, here is one from The Man in Black himself.

The Man Comes Around

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder: One of the four beasts saying: "Come and see." And I saw. And behold, a white horse.

There's a man goin' 'round takin' names. An' he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won't be treated all the same. There'll be a golden ladder reaching down. When the man comes around.

The hairs on your arm will stand up. At the terror in each sip and in each sup. For you partake of that last offered cup, Or disappear into the potter's ground. When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin'. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices callin', voices cryin'. Some are born an' some are dyin'. It's Alpha's and Omega's Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree. The virgins are all trimming their wicks. The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom. Then the father hen will call his chickens home. The wise men will bow down before the throne. And at his feet they'll cast their golden crown. When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still. Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still. Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still. Listen to the words long written down, When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin'. Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettle drum. Voices callin', voices cryin'. Some are born an' some are dyin'. It's Alpha's and Omega's Kingdom come.

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree. The virgins are all trimming their wicks. The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

In measured hundredweight and penny pound. When the man comes around.

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.