Tag Archives: America

Taylor made

Theology pops up in unexpected places and it’s up to us to spot it. I often wonder if that’s how God prefers it.

In the last week it’s sneaked up on me in the new album from the utterly-brilliant James Taylor. Before This World is his first collection of new material since 2002 and, of course, is superb.

Taylor’s observant eye JTpaints pictures of life in an America that I’ve never experienced but feel as though it fits his warm vocal tones perfectly.

You get the sense that he’s so at home with his woodshed, quiet cup of coffee and simple trip into town. It’s about as far away from pop’s life in the fast lane as you could get. He sings in You and I Again about a wish that “I could slow the whole thing down”.

You were tending your own fire
We were biding our time
Both of us waiting for the moment when our backs would come together
You and I

I see how fierce You are
Never this world would drag us down
How serious You are
Standing on Holy Ground

And so Although I know we are only small
In the time We have here
Maybe We have it all

It’s not entirely an album of simple reflection. Far Afghanistan is a tough listen, about young Indiana troops facing the young Afghan soldiers in an age-long battle that goes back to Alexander the Great. He sings:

No matter what they tell you all soldiers talk to God
It’s a private conversation written in your blood
The enemy’s no different, badass holy wind
That crazy bastard talks to God and his God talks back to him

God pops up more than once, most memorably in the first single from the album, Montana, a song that will sit in the list of Taylor classics.

It’s both a eulogy to Montana and a reminder that sometimes it’s enough to celebrate what we have rather than strive for more.

I’m not smart enough for this life I’ve been living
[a] Little bit slow for the pace of the game
It’s not I’m ungrateful for all I’ve been given
But nevertheless just the same

The acceptance of what’s around us and the refusal to run beyond it to find the latest new thing is a golden thread spun through many of Taylor’s songs. It roots him in an America that believes better, even when the reality doesn’t always deliver it.

It’s a vision that looks up and sees God is the grandeur of where he is set and the variety of people he is set among.

Who can imagine the scale of the forces (that)
Pushed this old mountain range up in the sky
Tectonic creation erosion mutation
Something to pleasure God’s eye

The world is a wonder of lightning and thunder
The green of the ground as we fall from the sky
The old and new faces the tribes and the races
Thousands of places to try

Oooover the ocean from here
Oooover the mountains from there

While Taylor may sing of down home US of A, he has never had a narrow vision. His hope is always expansive, welcoming of The old and new faces the tribes and the races, Thousands of places to try. A powerful lyric for a world where it’s proving too tempting to sit at home, drink our own coffee and shut out everyone who is not like us.

Have guitar, will challenge. Taylor’s quiet manner and subtle style hide lyrics that carry messages we should listen to.

The album – his first in a decade and a half – went straight to the top of the Billboard album chart in the States so the man still has creative pull … and great depths.

Why is Jesus so difficult?

Jesus is so difficult to follow. The problem with him is that just when you want him to conveniently approve of something you do he says just the opposite.

So just as America – “one nation under God” – celebrates the death of Osama Bin Laden the words of Jesus, uttered on a middle-Eastern hillside and recorded in Luke’s Gospel in the Bible come back to haunt them.

27 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
    28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.
    29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.
    30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
    31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.
    33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.
    34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full.
    35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
    36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

That’s just not in the US rhetoric now, at least not in the public rhetoric.Obama image

“Rot in hell,” says the he

adline.

“It’s a good day for America,” says President Obama.

“Obama 1, Osama 0,” said one banner.

But Jesus won’t let it go; the Bible won’t let it go. As Brian McLaren says on his blog: ‘Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?’

I remember reading Barack Obama’s first book with a rising sense of hope that here was a leader who would be different; who would be a man of moral purpose. Now as I hear him utter the same things previous world leaders have said – including past and present British Prime Ministers – my heart sinks.

Where is the change I hoped for, and would have voted for if I was American?

And then a little voice whispers in my ear as I sit comfortably in a British coffee shop – well, ironically an American coffee shop in Britain! ‘Do you remember what the church in Corinth was told?’

1 Corinthians 10

Warnings From Israel’s History
 1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.
    2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
    3 They all ate the same spiritual food
    4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
    5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
    6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
    7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.
    8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did— and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
    9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did— and were killed by snakes.
    10 And do not grumble, as some of them did— and were killed by the destroying angel.
    11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.
    12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

It can be so easy to point the finger from the comfort of my coffee. I am still uneasy – more than uneasy, I am deeply disturbed by the kind of triumphal scenes being paraded at the death of Bin Laden.

I also know, however, that it’s too easy to point a finger and claim to be prophetic and at the same time be on the brink of an equally-catastrophic failure of my own. I may not have ordered anyone’s killing but I don’t have the weight of the Western world on my shoulders each day.

It is the duty of every follower of Christ to speak out against injustice and to remind the world that the crucified carpenter would not let violence be the answer. But we also have to guard our own hearts. As someone used to remind me – every time we point our finger at someone, three others point back at ourselves.