Saturday, June 5, 2010

Willie Nelson, Spiritual Troubador

I've really been enjoying Willie Nelson's latest CD, Country Music. I've never been a huge Willie Nelson fan, but this CD is amazing. I didn't expect it to be so inspiring.

My favorite aspect of the album is his covers of old, traditional country music and spirituals. "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down" haunts me. I love "I Am a Pilgrim" and "Gotta Walk Alone."

It's not all spiritual. There are songs of drinking and loss, songs of the sea and trains, songs of rejoicing that bad times are gone, at least for a night. To me, it's a microcosm of the type of culture which birthed some of the more interesting artistic movements of the 20th century, as well as giving rise to some of the more dynamic social movements of the 20th century. It's also an interesting romp through the wide variety of country music that came to the forefront during the 20th century, although it's refreshingly clear of the pippy-poppy country music that I find tiresome after awhile.

What am I really saying? It's authentic. It's roots music, as roots music should be. Sure, it doesn't cover everyone's roots, but one CD can't do that.

I'm as surprised as anyone that Willie Nelson has put out this CD that I find so spiritually comforting and nourishing. Perhaps I shouldn't be. I see many musical artists follow this trajectory, taking a spiritual/back to the roots turn as they age (see Cash, Johnny). We've got a generation of very interesting artists careening towards old age, which makes me hopeful about a rich musical age ahead (or an extension of the one that we're in).


Roger said...

I am a semi-retired LCMS pastor pushing age 70 (I won’t say from which side). I guess I experience life and faith from a postmodern perspective but never realized it until I read Dale Meyer’s article in the recent Concordia Journal.

I have written that poets and musicians can accomplish much more than politicians and clergy to share the Gospel of Jesus with hurting people who don’t realize they are sinners, and to bring about change for the better in our troubled and sinful world. And I have even written that the so-called “secular” musicians and poets will influence their listeners’ and readers’ lives and beliefs more powerfully than the explicitly religious artists because they write and sing songs that hit people “where they live.”

While I was starting to prepare a sermon for Trinity Sunday, I happened to be watching a country music channel when a music video by Carrie Underwood came on. The song was titled “Temporary Home” and the lyrics hit me “where I live” because I sensed that the words would help me to present the Trinity in a way that would strike home for people whom Meyer's article would describe as “postmodern.” Postmodern people want the Trinity to reach out to them in their day-to-day struggles. “Temporary Home” seemed so appropriate for my message that I went right out and bought the CD (titled “Play On”) so that I could study the song more closely. There are three stanzas and a recurring refrain about each situation being merely the person’s temporary home, not where he or she belongs. The little boy in the first stanza moves from foster home to foster home and desperately needs a Father to give him a permanent home. The single mother in the second stanza is lost and desperately needs guidance to enable her to care for her little girl. The Holy Spirit will answer this one. The old man in the hospital bed in the third stanza is about to die and he needs Jesus the Son, Who died for him and Who promised to lead him to the house of the Father, Whose face the old man begins to see.

Several people came up to me after my sermon and said the song had given them a new appreciation of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And during the post-worship fellowship, someone found a CD player and I played the Carrie Underwood song for them as we shared coffee and snacks. Hopefully those people, among whom I was merely a guest preacher that day, will be able to share the Gospel of the Triune God with others in a more personal way after hearing that song.

The same CD contains another inspiring song titled “Change.” When I first heard it, I chuckled at the play on words between “change” as the 36 cents on the floor of the car and “change” as the transformation of our lives that the poet and the musicians hope to inspire. In the song’s three stanzas the poet expands the scope of change from (1) my immediate experience (I see a homeless woman shivering in the cold and decide whether to give her the 36 cents) to (2) my response to a TV ad asking me to contribute to save the life of a child whom I will never see, and finally to (3) my prayer in the dark for the whole huge world that breaks my heart. “Don’t listen to ‘em,” Carrie sings in the refrain, “when they say you’re just a fool to believe you can change the world.” I was reminded of Meyer’s closing remark, “Just don’t tell me what a friend I have in Jesus until I see what a friend I have in you.”

Kristin said...

Thanks for these thoughtful comments--one more artist to check out!