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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Favorite Songs - Zoo Station by U2



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

The last several songs I posted about in this series of favorites were all written by Christians and were also very far from rock and roll in their style. This one is the almost the polar opposite. I say "almost" because the words can be understood to convey biblical truth, as I'll explain below. But first let me warn you that if you are a Christian who doesn't like rock music or you don't have a clear conscience about listening to music made by unbelievers, then the video above is not for you. I believe, however, that your conscience could possibly be changed at some point by considering the idea that the style of music itself is not right or wrong, and this style is more appropriate for certain lyrical topics than non-rock styles.

I've often used another song by U2 as an example: the throbbing and thrashing music of "Bullet the Blue Sky" fits the topics of hateful injustice, racial violence, and brutal oppression much better than a pretty piano played in a major key with lilting operatic soprano vocals. In fact, the latter wouldn't fit those topics at all, nor the righteous anger that we should feel about such evils. "See them burning crosses, see the flames higher and higher" and other similar lyrics call for a powerful emotional and visceral response from the artist and the audience.

Also, before I get to "Zoo Station," I want to say something about the professed faith of Bono and at least two of the other U2 band members. You may have noticed that I implied above that they are not Christians, and you might be surprised by that. They say they are, especially Bono, but they also have clearly expressed perspectives that are far from biblical on significant issues. They have denied (and even criticized and mocked) the Bible's teaching about sexual morality, for example, having consistently championed unmarried and homosexual relationships for several decades now. Bono is also rather famous for being a heavy drinker, without any remorse except for the consequences, as far as I can tell. I was a huge fan of U2 in my youth and I appreciate many things Bono has to say about faith, especially in his lyrics, so believe me I would love to think that he and his bandmates are true Christians. But unfortunately I have to admit their beliefs fall more into the category of "antinomianism," which according to the Scriptures is a damning false doctrine. One passage (among many) that speaks to this issue is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

My love for U2 music definitely has cooled somewhat since I realized that Bono is promoting an unbiblical version of Christianity, but I still appreciate some of the band's lyrics and music as an example of "God-haunted" art that often rises above the weaknesses of the artists themselves (like Mozart's and Beethoven's do in the classical realm). The best example for me personally is the song "Zoo Station," which is actually inspiring to me as a Christian, in addition to being really catchy and enjoyable.

Bono was in Germany around the time that the Berlin Wall fell, saw a sign for a train stop called Zoo Station, and thought that was a fitting metaphor for the wild ride that is life in this world. His lyrics capture and elaborate on that metaphor so well that I can't help but smile every time I hear them, and I often put the song on and sing along when I'm down about my circumstances or need some motivation to get back in the fray in some way. This song is about facing and embracing life in this crazy, broken world, but I think it also hints at Someone who is with us on the ride and will give us an even better life one day...

Zoo Station

I'm ready, ready for the laughing gas
I'm ready, ready for what's next
Ready to duck, ready to dive
Ready to say I'm glad to be alive
I'm ready for the push

In the cool of the night
In the warmth of the breeze
I'll be crawling around
On my hands and knees

Oh yeah... Zoo Station
Oh... Zoo Station

I'm ready, ready for the gridlock
I'm ready to take it to the street
Ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal
Ready to let go of the steering wheel
I'm ready for the crush

Oh... Zoo Station
Oh... Zoo Station

It's alright, it's alright, it's alright...

Time is a train
Makes the future the past
Leaves you standing in the station 
Your face pressed up against the glass

Oh... Zoo Station

I'm just down the line from your love
Under the sign of your love
I'm gonna be there
Tracing the line
I'm gonna make it on time
Just two stops down the line
Just a stop down the line

The last group of lines (listed on U2's website) are barely audible on the original recording, but in concert Bono almost always emphasizes "Gonna be there! I'm just down the line." He has said repeatedly that the lyrics on Achtung Baby were actually the most spiritually deep that he had ever written, though for various reasons that depth was intentionally hidden under a veneer of rock and roll tropes that made it seem like the band was abandoning the faith they formerly sang about. So I don't think it's much of stretch to think that one of the reasons the narrator of the song can have excitement and hope in this crazy, broken world is because it's not the last world we'll be living in. And I think it's likely that "ready to let go of the steering wheel" is a reference to the spiritual surrender that U2 has explored in other songs, both before and after this one.

Regardless of whether Bono is singing about facing and embracing this wild life with the help of God and the hope of heaven, that's the way I take it, and that's why I keep coming back to Zoo Station again and again.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Favorite Songs - A Mighty Fortress by Martin Luther



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

It's October 31, a special day, and I'm not talking about Halloween. A little over 500 years ago, on this date in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg, Germany, and the great movement that we call the Reformation officially began. So October 31 is Reformation Day, and I want to celebrate it by sharing this wonderful hymn written by Martin Luther himself.

Of course it wasn't sung back then like it is on the video above, but I've always loved this contemporary version by Glad, especially because I could use it to introduce my children to the great lyrics of the song and make them more memorable with the help of the catchy music.

Obviously the lyrics and the historical significance of the author are the main reasons why this is a favorite of mine. They speak for themselves and are especially meaningful when you know something of the context in which they were written.

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.


Here's a more traditional version of the song, if you prefer that...


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Favorite Songs - Lord, Have Mercy On This Town (Song for Sonoma) by a Pastor in the "Wild West" of the Wine Country



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

Since I started a trend of posting some favorite songs that I've written (I'm not saying they're the best songs, just my favorites:), here's another one. 

I wrote this song in 2001, when I was a church planting pastor in the "wild west" of the northern California Wine Country. I had a prayer and study office in the home of a friend who lived in the hills high above the Sonoma Valley, and I could sit on the deck and pray for the city of Sonoma (where my church was) while I enjoyed a view of it much like that in the picture on the video.

When I left the Wine Country in 2005 to move back to Pennsylvania, where I had grown up, I recorded some songs like this and "Shining Eyes" with our music minister to give as a parting gift to the congregation. I figured they had heard me preach too many times in the years I was there, and I had given them many books already, so me singing would be something new and memorable for them. Again, I'm not saying it was a good gift--just memorable, but I did hear that this song in particular was somewhat of a hit among some of the kids who heard it. 

If it encourages you to pray for the area where you live, and to reach out with the gospel in whatever way you can there, it will be worth a listen. And please pray specifically for Sonoma and the laborers in God's harvest there--that town is still in desperate need of His mercy!

Lord, Have Mercy On This Town

Lord, have mercy on this town
It’s so lost, can it be found?
Though I know I’m just one man
Won’t You use me if you can
Lord, have mercy on this town

Lord, have mercy on this town
Can You loose what has it bound?
Though I know I’m filled with flaws
I’m the long arm of Your law
Lord, have mercy on this town

I watch the vultures circle high above the valley floor
The life below that bids them stay one day will be no more
Descending with a lust for blood, by justice not delayed
They’ll feast upon the dead…
‘Til the penalty is paid

Lord, have mercy on this town
Break apart its fallow ground
Though I know I’m just a fool
Won’t You use me as Your tool
Lord, have mercy on this town

Stung by the summer heat I saw of a vision of this land
Saloon and bank and farm and stagecoach covered by the sand
But then the ground was moving and the dust was swirling high
The bones became a man…
And that man became alive!

He said, “Unless you die, you can never live.
“And before you can take...
you must learn to give.”

Lord, have mercy on this town
Spread Your gracious love around
Though I’m not sure where to go
Won’t You use my hands to sow
Lord, have mercy on this town

Lord, have mercy on this town
(I watch the vultures circle high above the valley floor)
Will its wounds yet be unwound?
(The life below that bids them stay one day will be no more)
Lord, it looks like harvest time
Grow some fruit among these vines
Lord, have mercy on this town
(Stung by the summer heat I saw a vision of this land)
Judgment day it’s going down
(Saloon and bank and farm and stagecoach covered by the sand)
When I stand before Your throne
I don’t want to stand alone
Lord, have mercy on this town
(I watch the vultures circle high above the valley floor…)

Yes, when I stand before Your throne
I don’t want to stand alone
Lord, have mercy on this town

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Favorite Songs - Shining Eyes (Song for Jill) by some (very undeserving) guy



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

I've been doing this series about favorite songs of mine, and this one is occasioned by the date today (October 6). On this day 29 years ago, a most blessed man hit the jackpot by marrying the girl of his dreams, and he wrote this song as a wedding present for her. He had noticed while gazing repeatedly into her eyes that there were bright gold streaks inside the blue of her irises that made it look like some kind of light was bursting forth from inside. So he riffed on that theme and Voila!, one of my favorite songs was created. About fifteen years later he recorded it with a musician friend who accompanied him on piano. It was far from the full professional production with a full band and strings (and much better vocals) that he hears in his mind, but it would have to do because it was his only opportunity to get it on tape.

Through the years that light of Jesus inside her has shone to and through many other blessed people, especially her seven children, so the video for the song (also a gift for her) celebrates that as well. This amateur songwriter is even more grateful for her now than he was 29 years ago because she has graciously stuck with him through thick and thin, and by that he means much more than his weight fluctuations.

Shining Eyes (Song for Jill)

When I look in your eyes I see sunlight
and I wonder what makes them shine
You say "The Son of God, the Light of the World"
It's Jesus living deep inside

Now I know what makes you seem so
beautiful to me
Jillian, I knew something about you
had to be heavenly

Shining eyes
a sure-fire sign of a Son-kissed life
Eyes that shine
from the Light of the World inside

When I look in your eyes I see love
and I can't believe it's for me
But by His plan you took my hand
Together from eternity

If you don't know what you mean to me,
those eyes they must be blind
I'm gonna pour my love out for you
until the end of time

Shining eyes
Girl of my dreams, the only one with those
eyes that shine
from the Light of the World inside

Eyes that shine
from the Light of the World inside



Sunday, September 29, 2019

Favorite Songs - O Sacred Head Now Wounded (and American Tune)



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

Not only does this classic hymn have one of my favorite tunes, which was used repeatedly by Johann Sebastian Bach in his music, but it also has one of my two all-time favorite hymn verses...

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest friend
For this, Thy dying sorrow
Thy pity without end

Oh, make me Thine forever
And should I fainting be
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee

Wow. Try to beat that.

(In case you're wondering, my other favorite hymn verse is from "Rock of Ages," by Augustus Toplady:

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling
Naked, come to Thee for dress
Helpless, look to Thee for grace
Foul, I to the fountain fly
Wash me Savior or I die

That's the only verse that can rival the final one of O Sacred Head, IMHO.)

The music from O Sacred Head Now Wounded was also the inspiration and foundation for another of my favorite songs--American Tune by Paul Simon...



Friday, September 13, 2019

Favorite Songs - Cautionary Tale by Wake Up John



To hear "Cautionary Tale" click here. (For some reason Blogger wouldn't let me import the video.) To order Wake Up John's new EP click here.

(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

I wanted to post this right now because today is the release day for Wake Up John's new EP Fugitive Closure. So this will be shorter than my other Favorite Songs posts in order to get it out on time and get back to work on things I actually get paid for.

I'm sure it has something to do with the fact that the singer/songwriter is my son Nathan, but I try to be as unbiased and critical as I can of his music, and this is still one of my favorite songs after many, many listens. And I'm thrilled to hear the polished production touches that have been added to it for the EP, especially the strings section that makes the climactic ending even more powerful. They remind me of a similar use in "Comfortably Numb" and "The Final Cut" by Pink Floyd, but unlike those songs the lyrics of this one are actually congruent with the feeling of hope created by the music.

That's one of the things I love about this song--the emotional and spiritual "rags to riches" story arc traced by it. It accurately depicts the real struggles that we face but also rightly suggests that there is a solution--not necessarily in finding all the answers we've been seeking but in surrendering to the light we have been given, and specifically to the life that is in Jesus Christ. That's what I hear when I listen to the song, anyway (not being sure which word is actually in the lyrics, I hear both of them:).

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). The ancient writer named John woke up to the fact that Jesus was "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), and I pray that everyone who plays the song will wake up to that as well.

Here's a live acoustic version of the end of the song, before the other band members joined Nathan and Hannah:



Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Favorite Songs - Eden and How You've Grown by Natalie Merchant



(Are there some songs that never get old for you? You can listen to them over and over again, even after you've just listened to them, and you still enjoy them? When they also make you think about interesting and important stuff, you get the kinds of songs I'm talking about in this series of blog posts.)

I couldn't decide which of these two songs to post about, so I'm doing both. They're from the same album, which also happens to be one of my all-time favorites. All the songs on Our Time In Eden by 10,000 Maniacs are really good (something I can't say about very many albums), but the best among them, besides these two, are Noah's Dove, Gold Rush Brides, and Jezebel. My only complaint about it is the name of the band...has there ever been one that is more incongruent with the nature of the music and the leading member? Thankfully Natalie Merchant went on to make the rest of her albums under her own name, including another of my all-time favorites, Ophelia

"Eden" literally sends chills up my spine every time I listen to it, and my emotions always pinball. From the most beautiful and satisfying one-sound chorus ever recorded to the profound poetry of lyrics that always conjure interesting ideas (you can read them below), this is the rare perfect song (IMHO).

One of the reasons it's so great is that the lyrics can be understand in various ways and have different meanings depending on the listener. But considering the title itself and other biblical allusions in the song, I think I'm well-entitled to hear it with Christian ears and allow it to lead me into regret and repentance for my own participation in the Fall, but also into the ecstatic hope of the promised restoration of our world (both universally and personally). I don't know exactly how the song moves so subtly but inexorably from one to the other, from ennui to euphoria, but by the end of it I've always experienced both.


"How You've Grown" also makes me smile and cry, often at the same time. If there ever was a song that captures the conflicting feelings of time passing us by, this is it. And when it finally launches into its chorus, and then again the second time after a gorgeous violin solo, it has a kick that to me is as powerful as any ear-piercing hard rock anthem. This is a testimony not only to its subtly catchy riff of notes, of course, but to the effectiveness of five words that capture the quintessential emotional experience we could call "the sweet sorrow of parting."

Every time we say goodbye...

Like "Eden," "How You've Grown" also draws my mind and heart toward the wonderful truth that one day God will separate the bitter from the sweet, so that the latter will be all that remains. As Romans 8:18-23 says, "The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us....the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God....For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as son, the redemption of our bodies."

And Revelation 21:1-5: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth....He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said...'these words are trustworthy and true.'"

We are the roses in the garden, beauty with thorns among our leaves
To pick a rose you ask your hands to bleed
What is the reason for having roses when your blood is shed carelessly?
It must be for something more than vanity
Believe me, the truth is we're not honest, not the people that we dream
We're not as close as we could be
Willing to grow but rains are shallow
Barren and wind-scattered seed on stone and dry land, we will be
Waiting for the light arisen to flood inside the prison
And in that time kind words alone will teach us, no bitterness will reach us
Reason will be guided another way
All in time, but the clock is another demon that devours our time in Eden, in our Paradise
Will our eyes see well beneath us, flowers all divine?
Is there still time?
If we wake and discover in life a precious love, will that waking become more heavenly?
Songwriters: DENNIS DREW, JEROME AUGUSTYNIAK, ROBERT BUCK, STEVEN GUSTAFSON, NATALIE MERCHANT
© WORDS & MUSIC A DIV OF BIG DEAL MUSIC LLC

How You’ve Grown

"My, how you've grown."
I remember that phrase from my childhood days too.
"Just wait and see."
I remember those words and how they chided me, when patient was the hardest thing to be.
Because we can't make up for the time that we've lost, I must let these memories provide.
No little girl can stop her world to wait for me.
I should have known.
At your age, in a string of days the year is gone.
But in that space of time, it takes so long.
Because we can't make up for the time that we've lost, I must let those memories provide.
No little girl can stop her world to wait for me.
Every time we say goodbye you're frozen in my mind as the child that you never will be, you never will be again.
I'll never be more to you than a stranger could be.
Every time we say goodbye you're frozen in my mind as a child that you never will be, will be again.
Songwriters: NATALIE MERCHANT
© Downtown Music Publishing