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Monday, November 18, 2019

Favorite Songs - Dead Man's Rope by Sting (and the letter I wrote to him)

(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.)

Keeping with the theme of "God-haunted" rock artists from my last post, here's one from Sting. He's been an important person in my life, starting with liking his music so much in my teen years that I actually tried to make my hair look like his (with little success, and thank God I never went as far as dying it blonde). As a young Christian, I tried to ignore his anti-God lyrics as much as I could and would not even listen to the blasphemous song on Synchronicity called "O My God" where he says things like, "O my God you take the biscuit treating me this way" and "my God you must be sleeping--wake up it's much too late." It was interesting, though, that even as he was railing at heaven, he still pleaded in the chorus, "Take this space between us and fill it up some way." (In the letter below I tried to explain to him how God had actually done that through His Son Jesus Christ.)

In 1992, upon the death of his father, it seemed like Sting was "God-haunted" even more than usual when he put out an album called The Soul Cages, which is one of my favorite albums and became even more meaningful to me when my own father passed away a few years later (much of the album is about that). The Soul Cages features songs about biblical characters like King David and the prophet Jeremiah, visiting priests and fallen angels, and other spiritual imagery like "when the bridge to heaven is broken" and "take your father's cross gently from the wall." Even the instrumental on the album is called "Saint Agnus and the Burning Train."

I was taking classes in seminary at the time and was given an assignment to write and send an evangelistic letter to an unbeliever, so I decided to address mine to Sting. I reproduced it below, and hopefully you can learn something from my approach, for better or worse. At the very least I hope you'll find it interesting, and no, I never heard back from him. But I'm including the letter primarily to show you one of the reasons "Dead Man's Rope" is one of my favorite songs.

Seven years later, in 1999, I was delighted to discover the gospel song "Fill Her Up" on Sting's album Brand New Day, and thought maybe my prayers for him were answered (and maybe by some longshot he had even read my letter!). But then I was disappointed to find out from an interview that he had never written a gospel song so he wanted to try it just once. However, in 2003 his next album Sacred Love had several songs about spiritual issues and included "Dead Man's Rope," which could have been written by a Christian artist (except that they don't often write songs this good:). The music is some of the best ever from Sting and the lyrics seemed to indicate that his interest in the Christian faith was something more enduring than just one song. He even seemed to imply that his perspective had changed from the Synchronicity days by using some lyrics from it in a new way ("walking in his footsteps"). Other lyrics on the album indicated that he was still not a believer, but my hope that he might become one someday was significantly increased, along with my nearly delusional fantasy that he had read my letter. It never hurts to dream, right?

Instead of reproducing the lyrics to the song like I usually do in these posts, in order to save room for the letter below, I chose a video that contains the words to the song. Whoever made it got the title of the song wrong, but the lyrics are correct and the accompanying pictures are nice. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you also will be blessed in some way by what I wrote to Sting all those years ago...

September 7, 1992

Dear Sting,

     I grew up listening to your music and still find it a breath of fresh air in an otherwise uninventive and mediocre era of popular art. So I'm writing to show my appreciation for your talent and to encourage you to continue rising above the norm in stylistic and lyrical depth.

     I'm also writing to you, however, to ask you to consider the logical end of some of the truths you have sung about. You have well said that "there is no political solution to our troubled evolution... because we are spirits in the material world." A profound observation, I believe, and one that has no doubt caused you to seek answers in that spiritual dimension of life. Have you found them? I doubt it, based on some of your other lyrics, so I want to suggest that you look with an open mind at the book that has provided those answers for me. It is a book that claims to have proceeded from God and the only such one with enough evidence to possibly substantiate that claim.

     That book is the Bible, and before you promptly throw this letter out thinking "How could anyone possibly consider that ancient anachronism to be from God?!", may I ask you whether you have ever read through it and made an objective study of it on your own? Before you resign your search for truth as futility and embrace existential relativism, you should at least consider a source that claims to contain absolute truth and has survived three millennia as the world's most read book. Here are some of its claims:

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

"No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21-22).

"Just as it is written, 'Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.'  For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.... But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:9-14). 

     The last verse in that passage explains why Christianity is "something we can't buy," Sting. God says that our minds have been corrupted by breaking His law (sin), and that we cannot humanly understand His truth unless it is revealed to us by His Spirit. But fortunately God has also promised, "You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). If we will be merely open to His truth rather than demanding our own way and deifying our own intellect, He will reveal it to us. 

     Was "Jeremiah Blues" based on the biblical Hebrew prophet who lamented the pathetic state of the Jewish nation? If so or if not, it would do you well to consider the answer he presented to that hypocritical, self-destructive people. As you may have noticed, he was the prophet who delivered the message from God I quoted in the last paragraph. The answer to the Jews' "troubled evolution" was to turn to God and obey His Word--then and only then would He heal them and their land (cf. Jeremiah 29:14).

     In "Jeremiah Blues" you refer to "seeing" yourself as a thief tied to a tree. Were you thinking of one of the thieves that was crucified beside Jesus Christ on the first Good Friday? In case you were not, let me recount that story for you:

    "And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, 'Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!'  But the other answered, and rebuking him said, 'Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.'  And he was saying, 'Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!'  And Jesus said to him, 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise'" (Luke 23:39-43). 

    One thief passed into eternal bliss upon his death, the other into eternal damnation. The difference was their response to the One who was dying with them. And the believing thief could receive forgiveness because Jesus Christ was dying to pay the penalty for the sin of all those who would believe in Him. Then He rose from the dead to prove that He has the power to forgive our sins. So "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved" (Romans 10:9).

    Sting, if anything in you is telling you that these things are true, please read the book I enclosed and give God a chance to speak to you through His Word (the italicized parts are Bible verses). I would welcome your response, even if it is brief.

    My prayer for you is that you will be like the thief who saw the majesty of the dying Savior beside him and believed, rather than the one who died with a defiant fist raised toward the God who would be his Judge.


Dave Swavely

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing what's haunting you. I can relate. "Remember When" sung by Alan Jackson has been whispering to me for a few days. It's as if there's a message being sung into the corners of my soul and the Sender won't stop until the right message is inculcated.

    Though the song is about a husband and wife relationship,the Spirit is prodding me to remember special times we've had together over the years. "Remember when...there was hurt and there was joy...learned to trust...lived and threw curves...found trust and vowed we'd never give it up...looking back, it was just a stepping stone to where we are and where we've been...and we'd do it all again."

    One of the Remember Whens was meeting you at a writer's conference in Philly. Just last night I was prompted to pray for you, Dave. Perhaps the Spirit will prompt you to pray for me. I stepped away from my writing for a season but it's time for me to pick up where I left off.

    One day I want to hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant". To hear those words, I need to finish what He commissioned me to do and write about the times that "I remember when..".

    Thank you for sharing a time that you 'remembered when'. You just never know what one heart-felt, Spirit led step will accomplish