Archive for the ‘Music’ category

Theology of the Blues

April 11, 2017

Here’s a copy of my final paper in seminary on the Theology of the Blues from 1993, plus a bonus transcript of my conversation that winter with the incomparable Chicago gospel singer, Robert Anderson.

Plans for a Sabbatical in 2018

March 16, 2017

Here is a summary of my plans for a sabbatical in 2018.

http://ow.ly/SscS309YUkJ

Tribute to “Doc” West – As Long As The River Flows Free

April 14, 2015

When my dad died a few years back, I inherited a whole stack of sheet music – songs he’d played in bands growing up, songs he’d written, even a love song for mom.

But buried deep at the bottom, were a dozen or so songs written by dad’s friend, “Doc” West, most of which were never published or even set to music, as far as I know. I have the originals, yellowed a bit with time, hammered out on a typewriter.

This song I have recorded (written in 1975) is about a young man growing up under the burden of violence and racial tension. I can only imagine that the author (Dean was his real name) struggled with the same questions of identity, depression, or possibly mental illness that Johnny Ray Eagle did.

Doc was the first person I ever knew who committed suicide. He was my next-door-neighbor at the time, and ended his own life a couple years after writing these songs. I spoke with his widow a couple years ago and asked if it would be okay to write some music to go along with them. She gave me her blessing to put some of these songs out there. So I did.

I hope you enjoy it. But even moreso, if you or someone you know has had suicidal thoughts or concerns please seek help. A great place to start is the NAMI website (National Alliance on Mental Illness) right here: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Suicide

Makin’ Music

April 1, 2015

I’ve been writing music again.  Here’s a song I recorded this week. More on SoundCloud.

Singing the Blues with Baby Jesus

January 7, 2011

Matthew 2:13-23
13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from God our father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s lessons are a rude awakening to the Silent Night we recalled as we gathered on Christmas Eve. In Matthew chapter 2 we are told that no sooner than Jesus was born, that he was a refugee. His parents had to flee to Egypt to save him from King Herod, who was threatened by the news that a child had been born who would be the King of the Jews. He sent his soldiers to kill all the children 2 years old & under in that region.

It was a horrifying experience – a blood bath of war and oppression – of foreign occupation and corruption. And sadly, it was the most innocent of all people caught under the heel of Herod: the children.

And, on top of all that, today (Dec 26th) marks The Feast of Stephen: St. Stephen, the Martyr. He was the first of Jesus’ disciples to be killed for his faith. Stephen was put to death by stoning when the religious leaders in Jerusalem set up false witnesses against him. This story is told in Acts 6-7. You’ve probably heard the familiar carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about deep and crisp and even

The Feast of Stephen was about being murdered for your faith. The flight to Egypt sent a clear message to Jesus and his family: “You’d better get used to hardship and heartache.”

So, I thought today I’d share with you some music I prepared for the Blue Christmas service last year. [Cue track 1: BLUES BOYS TUNE] I don’t know about you, but sometimes when things are going bad, music seems to help make the journey bearable. If we could not sing our way through this walk of faith… many of us would never take that first step.

That’s the legendary BB King, playing his guitar “Lucille.” The holidays can be an especially difficult time with all the smiles of Christmas and the expectation that we create this sort of “atmosphere” that is warm and cheerful and, well… really not anything at all like that first Christmas was. Last night, just as we were singing “Silent Night” one of the children conked her head against the pew – and just hollered! …just as we were singing: “All is calm… all is bright… Holy infant so tender and mild…” I bet she was tender after that!

Mary and Joseph were huddled in the hay with no place to stay. Baby Jesus, born in a barn. King Herod chasing them out of town with an order to kill all the firstborn… hardly the makings of a postcard perfect Christmas!

So, we make room for the martyrs and those who carry burdens and sufferings this Christmas season. Where do the blues come from? One place is heartache… [Cue track 2: “I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE”] (click on “preview this track”)

HEARTACHE
Both women and men sang the blues in the early days… That last one was Memphis Minnie singing, “I got to make a change.” This music was born out of the deep South and the experience of slavery and the Negro Spirituals… sung on the plantations and in the cotton fields of oppression. The blues gave people a way to “sing themselves out of a bad situation.” Here’s one by Buddy Guy entitled: [Cue track 3: “DID SOMEBODY MAKE A FOOL OUT OF YOU?”]

Maybe you’ve been hurt in the past by someone… and that hurt is keeping you from living a life after loss. They say it takes about 2 weeks just to get over the initial shock of losing your job – whatever loss you face, you might feel paralyzed and unable to move on. How long is long enough to grieve the death of a loved one before “moving on” and laughing again? Loving again? No one sets that down for us in stone… but through prayer and a song we find our way.

Here’s a classic from blues singer, Billie Holiday entitled: [Cue track 4: “GOOD MORNING HEARTACHE”] – where she has a conversation with her heartache… As people of faith, we know there’s more to life than simply singing a song to feel better. That’s especially true if your blues aren’t caused by heartache. Another source of grief was the the injustice experienced by those who wrote the blues…

OPPRESSION
Noted author James Cone once said: “No theological interpretation of the black spirituals can be valid that ignores the cultural environment that created them. The black experience in America is a history of servitude and resistance, of survival in the land of death. It is the story of black life in chains and of what that meant for the souls and bodies of black people. This is the experience that created the spirituals…” –James Cone, The Spirituals and the Blues

One such song had these simple words of hope in the face of oppression:

Oh Freedom! Oh Freedom!
Oh Freedom, I love thee!
And before I’ll be a slave,
I’ll be buried in my grave,
And go home to my Lord and be free.

Listen to Michael Card’s rendition of one such spiritual [Cue track 5: “WALK WITH ME, LORD”]
LIFE’S CIRCUMSTANCES
What life experiences weigh you down this Christmas? What heavy burden have you had to carry for as long as you can remember?

Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to let it go. Like Mary and Joseph we need to follow our dreams, and get on that donkey, and keep moving and providing as best as we can for our families.

We’re not bad people… we just sometimes forget ourselves when the blues batter down on us. It’s easy to become bitter and vengeful. That’s when this song by Bonnie Raitt comes in handy… [Cue track 6: “THE VALLEY OF PAIN”]

Sometimes when we’re hurting we have dangerous tongues…. And we use them and lose them like a gun… And, maybe the verse that follows can be your prayer when you find yourself in the valley of pain:
Don’t let me grow bitter, I pray.
Give me strength to carry on my way.
I’m leaning on you like a wooden cane.
When, I’m walkin’ through the valley of pain.

One of my favorite blues artists is BB King. And I love this story he tells from his autobiography The Blues All Around Me. It’s about a time his cousin hurt his feelings when he was young boy:
My cousin hurt me in a way I’ll never forget. We’re coming back from school, making that long walk, feeling tired and cranky and especially hungry. You know how hungry kids get after school. We stopped at his house and he asked his mom, my aunt, if he could have his dinner. “Your food’s in the safe,” she said. The “safe” was a closed compartment, something like a closet, where the insects couldn’t get in. He reached in, grabbed his dinner and began to eat. I waited a few seconds, hoping there’d be food for me, when he asked, “Where’s your dinner?”

“Where’s your dinner?” is a question that’s haunted me all my life. I keep hearing it in my mind. The question cut me deep. My cousin knew there was no one at my house except me. He knew I didn’t have any dinner waiting in any safe. It was his way of reminding me that I was stone alone, and too bad. I could have killed him… But me being me, I did nothing. Didn’t say a word to my cousin or my aunt. Didn’t give either of ‘em the slightest notion that I felt like the most useless, worthless thing on earth. I watched him eat and left.

…I learned [one] thing from the hurt my cousin gave me – never to give that kind of hurt to anyone else. My revenge was to change a bad feeling into a good one. If I’m working with you and I sense you’re feeling a little insecure, I try to make you feel great. That’s how I get rid of my old hurt. If I don’t do that, my hurt grows and makes me mean and vengeful. But if hurt can change to kindness – that’s something Mama showed me – the world becomes a little less cruel.” (38-39)

FAITHFUL RESPONSE
Oh, if we could just be that way as the people of God. You know it’s a cruel world out there… but it doesn’t have to be that way. As followers of Jesus, we fight hatred with love – and turn cruelty into kindness. We’ve been schooled in it every time we come to worship. Let that faithful response frame all we say and do this Christmas – not letting the griefs we bear weigh us down… but overcoming them by the power of the Holy Spirit.
[Cue track 7: “BLUES MAN”]

This Sunday after Christmas is the day we gather to remember that all was not well with Mary and Joseph and the little baby Jesus in those early days. We all bring various hurts to this place – loss of a job – loss of a dream – the loss of a loved one – the hurt caused by another person letting us down, perhaps someone we trusted with out whole heart.

Today we bring it all to the throne of God’s Amazing Grace and lay it down with hope that he will pick it up. Because the good news is we don’t have to carry that burden alone. Through God’s Word-made-flesh, in this baby Jesus we come to adore, we find the fulfillment of the hopes and fears of all the years.

As Isaiah comforted the Israelites in captivity just before they were about to go home, with those words: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…”

I want to close with this spiritual sung by Mahalia Jackson.
[Cue track 8: “NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I’VE SEEN”]

When all else fails, we know that Jesus knows… even when it seems the whole world is against you… take comfort in the assurance that you are known and loved by Jesus – and he will carry your burden – and turn your sorrows into joy… weeping may last through the night – but joy comes in the morning. Praise God from whom all blessings flow – and the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

(Note: I don’t hold the rights to any of the songs or images linked above. If you are the owner and wish them removed please let me know.)