Category Archives: Prophetic Notes

Prophetic Notes: Vision 3 – Half the World

rush

I have long been a fan of the Canadian rock band, Rush. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart are all virtuosic musicians. My appreciation of this band comes from my father, who fell in love with Rush in the years of his youth. I grew up singing along to “Closer to the Heart” and “the Trees.” For a long time, no road trip was complete without my father and I air-drumming to Peart’s insane drum riffs in “Tom Sawyer” and “YYZ.” In the past year or two, my father and I have seen Rush twice and I continue to be amazed at the sheer magnificence of their musical ability.

This next “vision” in my series, Prophetic Notes, is inspired by a Rush song that was never considered “classic.” It is called “Half the World” and was included in their 1996 album, “Test of Echo.”

test for echo

The lyrics are below and you can listen to the song here.

Half the World by Rush (1996, Test for Echo)

Half the world hates
What half the world does every day
Half the world waits
While half gets on with it anyway

Half the world lives
Half the world makes
Half the world gives
While the other half takes

Half the world is
Half the world was
Half the world thinks
While the other half does

Half the world talks
With half a mind on what they say
Half the world walks
With half a mind to run away

Half the world lies
Half the world learns
Half the world flies
As half the world turns

Half the world cries
Half the world laughs
Half the world tries
To be the other half

Half of us divided
Like a torn-up photograph
Half of us are trying
To reach the other half

Half the world cares
While half the world is wasting the day
Half the world shares
While half the world is stealing away

For those who are familiar with the discography of Rush, this song stands in contrast to the technically intricate and rhythmically diverse tunes of their work in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. For me, the simplicity of the melody allows me to focus more on the lyrics which are composed by drummer Neil Peart (who is considered by many to be one of the most talented drummers in the history of rock).

This song is first and foremost driven not only by the rhythm and the melody but by the verbs as well. As we are taught in seminary to engage in scripture, we are told by many a professor to look at the verbs in the text. Many times, as I am preparing a sermon, I will simply take a separate sheet of paper and write down each of the verbs in the passage to get a feel of the action of the text.

The brilliant lyrics of this song provide verbs which give voice to the separation in this world. It is clear that the members who make up the band Rush see the world as a world of divisions (for more on this theme, see their song “Subdivisions” to get an idea of this familiar Rush motif). Half of the world gives, half of the world takes. Half cries, half laughs, half tries to be the other half. It almost sounds as if this text belongs in the book of Amos rather than in a 1996 rock song!

What are the divisions in your life? What half of the world are you in? The one that laughs or the one that cries? The one that gives or the one that takes? Food for thought…

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Prophetic Notes: Vision 2 – I Hung My Head

     For some reason, perhaps some mixture of the rain that is falling outside on this drizzly December afternoon in Atlanta and the haunting recollection of last Friday’s horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, I am reminded this day of a particularly prophetic (and poetic) song by Sting. As a warning, this will most likely be the first of several blog posts on this artist for he has long captured my imagination and monopolized my music library. 

Sting
     The song which comes to mind this cold and dreary afternoon is “I Hung My Head” from his album Mercury Falling (an album which I have known like the back of my hand since childhood thanks to my father).

Mercury Falling is perhaps my favorite Sting album. Released in 1996.

     Sting is perhaps the best storyteller I know. And the story he tells in this particular piece of art has been carved into my soul for many years and I wish to share it with you this day. Before I reflect upon the dark beauty of this song, it is best to listen to it so as to let its magnificence speak for itself. You can listen to it here or below.

Early one morning with time to kill
I borrowed Jeb’s rifle and sat on the hill
I saw a lone rider crossing the plain
I drew a bead on him to practice my aim
My brother’s rifle went off in my hand
A shot rang out across the land
The horse he kept running, the rider was dead
I hung my head, I hung my head
I set off running to wake from the dream
My brother’s rifle went into the stream
I kept on running into the salt lands
And that’s where they found me, my head in my hands
The sheriff he asked me “Why had I run”
Then it came to me just what I had done
And all for no reason, just one piece of lead
I hung my head, I hung my head
Here in the courthouse, the whole town is there
I see the judge high up in his chair
“Explain to the courtroom what went through your mind
And we’ll ask the jury what verdict they find”
I said “I felt the power of death over life
I orphaned his children I widowed his wife
I beg their forgiveness I wish I was dead”
I hung my head, I hung my head
Early one morning with time to kill
I see the gallows up on the hill
And out in the distance a trick of the brain
I see a lone rider crossing the plain
He’s come to fetch me to see what they done
We’ll ride together til Kingdom come
I pray for God’s mercy for soon I’ll be dead
I hung my head, I hung my head

     I struggle, even now after listening to this song my entire life, to put into words what I receive from this beautiful piece of art.  In all honesty, I find that its meaning to me is nuanced by what page I find myself in the book of my life (stay tuned for a future blog post on this song).  That being said, what fascinates (and haunts) me most is the tension that Sting holds between irony on one hand and grace in the other.

    The beautiful and dark irony of this song is that the one who “had time to kill” did a deed that caused him to hang his head in shame.  As the narrative progresses he quite literally hung his head on a morning with time to kill.  This play on words leaves the listener haunted at the “end” of the story (though I don’t think Sting would use that word so easily).  
     I believe that this song is chiefly about the precious and delicate nature of life.  It is because of this reality that the end of this song is so beautiful.  We all yearn for redemption and grace.  We all hope that the day will come when our wrongs will be righted and our sins will be removed.  That being said, what fascinates me even more about this song is that Sting leaves us with a fleeting (though nonetheless tangible) image of redemption and grace without ignoring the reality of death; at the “end” of the song, the rider is still dead and the main character is about to be hanged.  
     However, Sting (who, by the way, is a self-proclaimed agnostic) nonetheless prophecies that this world in which we live does not have the final word.  Yes, death is real.  Yes, evil is present in our lives.  Yes, we have reason to hang our heads in shame in our brokenness.  Yes, we feel the power of death over life when we watch the funerals of the six and seven year old children murdered last week in Newtown, Connecticut.  
    But this song gives me the vocabulary to speak of grace and of beauty and of life.  And although Sting and I might differ somewhat on our religious convictions, I have a feeling that he and I both see a higher power whose love and life will not run and hide at the sound of a gun.  For the Kingdom will come and until then, you and I will ride together in God’s mercy!  
                             Grace and peace,
                             Stephen

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Prophetic Notes: Vision 1 – Peace Be Upon Us

     I have been a musician my entire life.  Of late, I have been fascinated by music, both “religious” and “secular” (although I’m beginning to feel that we often put too much of a barrier between the two), that is essentially prophetic.  By “prophetic” I mean to suggest that the artist in question invites the listener to join him or her on a journey.  This journey may or may not be to a place that exists; for really, the “reality” of the place is not all that important.  What is important in prophecy is that it at the same time disorients our current worldview while reorienting us to another (thank you Brueggemann for this terminology!).

     Therefore, I have decided to begin a new series in my blog entitled “Prophetic Notes.”  It is my desire through this journey to share with you the prophetic utterances that are all around us, especially in music of all kinds.  Furthermore, rather than organizing this series into “parts,” I will post “Visions.”  It is my hope that such terminology will better grasp the open-ended and unpredictable nature of such artistic imaginations.  As we begin this journey together, I welcome my readers to submit their own suggestions for “Prophetic Notes” that we might all be reoriented to the truth that God would have us do.  
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Sheryl Crow
     I have always been the most casual of Sheryl Crow listeners.  My first memories of listening to her are in the car traveling with my family.  We would listen to her early songs “All I Wanna Do,” “You’re My Favorite Mistake,” and “I Wanna Soak Up the Sun.”  While these are lovely songs, they have never inspired me to describe their prophetic natures (although someone else’s ears and heart might certainly disagree!).  However, as I was driving up to Dalton a few weeks ago for Thanksgiving holidays, I stumbled across her album, “Detours,” while passing the warm fall colors of Northwest Georgia.  
     Have you ever been so obsessed with a song that you put it on repeat and listen to it over and over and over and over again? Have you ever had a piece of music touch something deep inside of you that makes you want to simmer in it for as long as possible, as though you and the music were two ingredients in a crock-pot that compliment each other better the longer you enjoy each other’s company? Hopefully you know exactly what this feels like and know that it feels best when it jumps up out of nowhere.
     I was caught off guard in this manner by Sheryl Crow’s song “Peace Be Upon Us” (see link below).  I love everything about this song: the tempo, the texture, and the text. From the opening notes, the listener is invited into a dream by a soft but insistent tempo that is matched by a warm and welcoming texture. The simple melody is easy to listen to and is simple though not simplistic; it allows the listener to focus on the text which she offers to describe her vision.
     What made this piece of art stand out to me as prophetic is first and foremost its responsive nature.  I am a liturgist at heart and, as such, love how she calls out to everyone (“all you sinners and saints, all you creatures of faith, don’t need to be afraid”).  I could very easily imagine using those words in the context of worship to invite congregants into the warm embrace of God’s love.
     As she brings us to the chorus, she “breaks the fourth wall” by inviting you and me to join her in proclaiming, “peace be upon us, be upon us all!”  What is prophetic about this piece of music is that it calls you and me to join together in a dream when peace will truly be upon us all.  It is prophetic because this is not the current reality.  I am reminded of my previous post “The Defiance of Prayer” (http://our1wildandpreciouslife.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-defiance-of-prayer.html).  Sheryl Crow’s prophetic utterances of peace amid a world ridden with hatred, violence, and intolerance are nothing short of bold and perhaps even dangerous; dangerous to those people (perhaps even you and me) who either by their action or lack thereof promote a world that stands in contrast to God’s desire for all of creation to gather at the Table to live in love.
                                                Peace be upon us, be upon us all!
                                                Stephen

 

The music can be found here; please ignore the stupid video :). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYfHFOLTX4A

Walking down the street of dreams, Eating from the fruits of lifeTripping out on the smallest things, Trying to reach the light, trying to reach the light


Pick the key up off the floor, Put the key into the lockTurn the lock, open up the doorLook at all you’ve got, look at all you’ve got


All the sinners and saintsAll you creatures of faithDon’t need to be afraidIf you know what I meanLet me hear you say


Peace be upon us, Peace be upon us, Be upon us allPeace be upon us, Peace be upon us, Be upon us all


If we speak in tongues of loveBut we kill in the name of GodHow can we profess to own his nameAnd still be so lost and still be so lost


The world will turn even when we’re goneThe earth will host many souls to comeWho will write the history, tales ofWisemen, villains and innocent ones


All you shepherds and sheepWhen you wake from your sleepIt will be a new dayIf you know what I meanLet me hear you say


Peace be upon us, Peace be upon us, Be upon us allPeace be upon us, Peace be upon us, Be upon us all


As-salaamu alykumWa-alaykum assalaamAssalaam alykumWa-alaykum assalaam

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