As our daughters grew up, I wanted them to appreciate all kinds of art and music. My own musical tastes run the gamut and I’ve found that every genre has a place in the soundtrack of my life journey, if even for a moment. I wanted that for them, as well.
As the girls grew I started making compilation CDs for them. I wanted to pass on a few of the things I learned and appreciated about my favorite genres of music, expose them to a few of the classic artists and songs, as well as share with them a few of my favorite tunes and how they connect to my life. It’s still an unfinished project. I have two or three CDs still on my task list to compile for them.
Most of the time I simply wrote out some liner notes for the CD in which I shared a paragraph or two about every cut on the CD. When it came to my Blues compilation, I had been playing around with learning an eBook publishing app, so I thought it would be fun to experiment and turn my liner notes for the CD into a graphic eBook.
A few weeks ago Wendy and I were in Mexico for the wedding of her sister, Suzanna. Suzanna lived with Wendy and me for a few years as she finished high school. During her time with us, I had shared my blues compilation, Papa’s Got the Blues with her, as well. The night before her wedding she went out of her way to tell me she still had the CD and loved it.
So, that got me thinking that it might be a fun thing to post that others might also enjoy. So, Merry Christmas! Here you go. Be sure to download the eBook and follow along. If you have Spotify, you should be able to find the playlist and add it to your own set of playlists, if you so desire.
All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah, and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a custom in Israel; they are recorded in the Laments. 2 Chronicles 35:24-25 (NRSVCE)
We don’t talk much about lament anymore which is a reality that I, well, lament. Lament is a great word that can either be used as a noun or a verb. When used in its verb form, it means to grieve and feel sorrow or loss. When used in its noun form, it points to a particular expression of grief. In history a lament was typically a song or a poetic lyric used during periods of grief. It’s the ancient ancestor of the blues.
In today’s chapter, the Chronicler adds a curious detail to the death of Josiah that he has used with no other King in all the biographical accounts he’s provided in the previous 34 chapters. He explains that the prophet Jeremiah (an all-star prophet) had uttered a lament for Josiah and that the choirs of Judah had sung laments for Josiah even to the Chronicler’s day. Generations later, they felt Josiah’s loss and continued to sing the blues.
This morning in the quiet the Chroniclers detail brought to mind an old-timey bluegrass ballad called Who Will Sing for Me? It’s got me thinking and meditating on the idea that how we live our daily lives in the present will affect how others will feel our loss when this earthly journey is over. How interesting that Josiah was lamented, but the Chronicler didn’t say that of Asa, or Manasseh, or Hezekiah. Josiah was lamented for generations.
As I begin this week I’m enter into the task list asking myself how I’m living this journey and what kind of difference I’m making. It has me mulling over a simple question in the back of my head: Who Will Sing for Me?
Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar! Psalm 120:5 (NIV)
When I was a kid, our family of six made regular road trips to northwest Iowa to visit my grandparents, and each year we made our annual vacation trek in the ol’ Mercury station wagon (complete with faux wood paneling). I can remember music always being a big part of the journey. In those days, the in dash eight-track cassette player boomed the songs of Simon and Garfunkel and the Carpenters from those tapes that were about the size of a pop tart twin-pack. By my teen years, the tapes had gotten smaller and the music on those family road trips had switched to southern rock. By my college years, the Compact Disc had become the rage and the regular five hour road trip to and from school found me listening to a young Irish band called U2. Now, when I go on a business trip, I have my entire music library on a phone that is a fraction of the size of those old eight track tapes. I still make sure I have a good mix of music on a playlist ready for any trip.
Music for the journey is as old as mankind. The liner notes in the introduction of today’s psalm identifies it as a “song of ascents.” In ancient Jewish tradition, the center of worship was in Jerusalem on the temple mount. When people made a pilgrimage there, the songs of ascent were their music mix to sing along the way. The songs were intended to prepare their hearts to ascend to the temple and worship.
The songwriter identifies himself as living far from Jerusalem among foreign people. He is out of sorts and singing the blues. It struck a chord with me this morning as I sit in a hotel room far from home and prepare for a three hour road trip. There is a melancholy that sets in when your heart longs for home far away.
But, I’ve got my music with me and that is always a good thing.
The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes. He is close to those who trust in him. Nahum 1:7 (NLT)
Life’s journey takes each one of us through many different emotional terrains. Mountaintop passes offer breathtaking vistas. They are wonderful and inspiring, but the reality is that the path leading to the mountains usually contain long stretches of flat, barren plain in which each day seems much like the last, leaving you to wonder daily if you’re moving or making any progress at all. In contrast to the mountain tops, each life’s path eventually (often repeatedly) descends through dark valleys and rocky terrain that test our faith, will and perseverance.
We should not marvel at this. This is life. It’s a journey and a pilgrimage. If we don’t experience the emotional breadth of it, we’re not really living and making progress.
I have to be honest. I found today’s chapter to read like a dark valley through rocky terrain of anger, wrath, and judgment. I laughed to myself as I began to read. There’s no real reason why I picked the ancient prophet Nahum to start reading today. It has three chapters and there are three days left in the week. No big spiritual discernment in that choice. Still, the vitriol and dark words of judgement seem an emotional enmeshment for my own path in recent weeks. Just great. It’s not enough that I’ve got an acute case of the blues, I thought to myself, now God has to pile on.
Then, as I’m reading through the haunting words of Nahum’s message to Nineveh and groaning under the weight of my spirit, I run headlong into the verse above which sits nestled in the middle of a message of woe. An oasis of fresh living water in the midst of a desolate, barren wilderness. Just when we need it most, we find a life giving way-station for the soul. A message of refreshment. A reminder of the reality that if we have faith, God is a true place of refuge amidst the difficult stretches of our journey.
Listen as Wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice! On the hilltop along the road, she takes her stand at the crossroads. Proverbs 8:1-2 (NLT)
There was a collision in my head and heart this morning. Literary device and music legend met at the crossroads and slammed headlong into one another.
This morning’s chapter is amazing as Solomon anthropomorphizes (e.g. cloaks an impersonal concept in human form) wisdom. He morphs wisdom into a woman, no less, and juxtaposes her agains the harlot and adulteress described in the previous two chapters. Wisdom calls out, just as the adulteress did, but her message is all together different. While getting entangled with the harlot led to the grave, darkening Wisdom’s doorway ushers a person to life and God’s favor.
How fascinating that Solomon places Wisdom at the crossroads. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of the blues knows that it was at the crossroads where the folk story of blues pioneer Robert Johnson is rooted. The legend goes that at the crossroads Johnson met and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for making him a great blues player. He is known for some of the great songs we still recognize today such as Crossroads Blues and Sweet Home Chicago.
So it was this morning that I stood at the crossroads. I saw Wisdom standing there and heard her calling out, but there I witnessed Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil.
How many times in life do we find ourselves at the crossroads and hear competing voices calling our name, whispering in our ear, and laying before us a choice? How many times today will we find ourselves at the crossroads making a choice between Wisdom and her nemesis?
Robert Johnson sang “Went down to the crossroads, got down on my knee.”
Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Psalm 44:23 (NLT)
Go through almost any CD and you’ll generally find a wide mixture music. A fast paced, energetic song will be followed by an introspective ballad. The next song will have driving intensity and a powerful social message, but the following track will be a sweet song of love. Record producers know that you can’t put together a CD with ten tracks that all sound the same. Variety is the spice of life. As life’s journey contains both peaks and valleys, we need music to express the breadth of the human experience.
When reading through the book of Psalms, we can never forget that it is a catalog of musical lyrics. It was carefully compiled by ancient record producers. Like the CD that slides into the dashboard of our car stereo, the psalms contain a diverse selection of songs which speak to an immense variety of life circumstances.
Everyone experiences crushing defeat from time to time. The greatest sports teams of all time still lose some of the time. Watch the Biography Channel and you’ll see that every person who has reached the heights of success has had to experience tremendous loss on their way up. There is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory, and there is a time for defeat.
The lyric of today’s psalm come out of the confusion and questions which rise up in our hearts and minds after a crushing loss. In those acute moments of despair we remember past victories and when things were good. We feel the injustice of the defeat in light of our self-righteousness. We feel alone and abandoned as if God decided to sleep in and forget about us.
Music reminds us that we’re not alone. Turn up the blues and we find encouragement that others have been there before us. We sing along and our negative emotions find a healthy outlet of expression. Keep listening. Keep singing. The next track on the CD reminds us that these feelings of abandonment and despair are momentary. Better times are just a song away.
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! Psalm 42:11 (NLT)
It’s not only Monday morning as I write this post, but it’s also the first morning back from a week of vacation. Wendy and I did what we hardly ever do, which is to try and unplug from work. Despite a few frantic e-mails and phone calls from work that I couldn’t ignore, I did pretty well at pushing the tyranny of the urgent to the back burner. It was refreshing, and I would be lying to you if I told you that I was really excited about the pile of e-mails, the pressing deadlines, and the dropped balls which I am facing this morning.
The thing that I noticed about today’s chapter is the juxtaposition of the questions “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” with the clear statements of determination “I will put my hope in God. I will praise him again.” The truth of the matter is that life is full of Monday mornings. The “back to work blues” is a familiar emotion. The important thing is not to exclude God from these moments, but to recognize God within them. When we choose to realize God’s presence in every moment – even a Monday morning back from vacation – and consciously decide to praise God in and through every circumstance, we find ourselves on the path toward both maturity and wisdom.