Joni Mitchell’s “River” and the “Christmas movement” of God

Joni Mitchell has long been my favorite female singer-songwriter. Her early song “River” from 1971 is undoubtedly one of her masterpieces. It is also a fitting song for a meditation on the meaning of Christmas.

The song begins and ends with Joni’s solo piano strains almost struggling in a minor rather than major key to play “Jingle Bells,” portending the dissonance between the season with songs of joy and the perennial sorrows of life. The sadness in her voice and the beautifully haunting music and lyrics immediately draw the listener into the melancholy that the advent of Christmas has created for her through its seeming inability to give her “joy and peace.”

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river

I could skate away on

Joni Mitchell has so beautifully juxtaposed joy and sorrow, peace and pain, that she simply melts the soul of the most hardened of us. The festive joys of the Christmas season have been annulled for her by the frozen winter that would provide hope, if only she could skate away on its cold hard ice. Christmas was lost for her as it was for all Narnia in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis, where it was “always winter, but never Christmas.”

She does not provide any critique though, of the biblical meaning of Christmas, but rather describes the dissonance in her own soul that the “traditional” season of joy brings to her. But is the fact that Christmas is simply, perhaps in the main the uncritically accepted “season of joy” the real problem? In other words, is Christmas actually “meant” to provide an easy solution to the perplexities and problems of life?

So the question, simply put is, what does Christmas mean? Is Christmas meant to remove all our problems and replace them with unending “joy and peace?” I think that to suppose so, is to mistake what Christmas is, at least in its initial interaction with the world.

Christmas is called the advent, the beginning of God’s movement toward the world in a new and unprecedented way. But Christmas did not annul, but rather fully entered the perplexities and sufferings of life. A young couple, the wife very pregnant, having to undergo severe inconvenience to comply with a governmental census for taxes. Sages traveling from distant lands following “signs” in their insatiable search for a viable hope for humanity. A King that so feared the loss of his power that he sent soldiers to slaughter the innocents, the contemporaries of the child who would be king and threaten his reign. The couple also then driven to become refugees in another country to escape Herod’s plan.

The mother herself was caught in difficulties and perplexities she could not begin to understand. For the child conceived in her womb was the beginning of a mysterious movement of God not only toward, but into the deepest parts of the world by “becoming flesh and dwelling among us,” and eventually to be “betrayed (to death) by the kiss” of a dear friend; to be abandoned in the end by all his disciples except the women; to “surrender” to the murderous political machinations of the “religious” authorities; to suffer the pains of torture and horrible execution at the hands of the Romans; and to seemingly have been abandoned and cursed by God himself.

So God become flesh in the infant Jesus was God’s movement toward and into the crucible of all human experience. Certainly there were simple pleasures, and the children came to Jesus because he was joyful, not austere! But there was also much suffering common to humanity just as “the sparks fly upward.”

But this is not to say that it is not perfectly natural for us to want to “skate away” from all the suffering. In Gethsemane with the prospect of the cross before him, Jesus agonized and sweat “great drops of blood,” desiring to escape the cup of suffering placed before him. For in this first Christmas movement of God into the world, the cup of suffering was to be fully drank to the bottom.

The proximate cause of Joni Mitchell’s sorrow in “River” is given in the narration, and can be summarized in a few lines:

I made my baby cry…

I made my baby say goodbye

Much of the sorrow we experience in life is due to our own failures, often inexplicable even to ourselves as we seem to be quite adept as saboteurs of even our own joy and peace. Joni Mitchell laments that

I’m so hard to handle

I’m selfish and I’m sad

Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby

That I ever had

Oh I wish I had a river…

These sorrows too, are part of the suffering that the Christmas movement has taken to the cross of Christ, bearing the guilt and shame of the manifold sins of humankind. There is no “river so long” that we could “skate away on,” that would enable us to escape not only from what we have done but who we are. For wherever we go, there we are. But part of the mystery of the suffering of Christ on the cross is that for those that believe it is the power of God that brings to us the very “righteousness, holiness and redemption” of God.

So Christmas is not annulled because it has not removed our sufferings or because we don’t have a river long or frozen enough to skate away on. Christmas is fulfilled because it is the river of God that flows to us and even within us if we believe. That river is what enables the people of the community it has created to “count it all joy” in trials,  and to have a “peace that passes understanding” because it is a community born into “fellowship with his sufferings.” Yet it is also the Christmas river whose lively water flows with songs of “joy and peace.”

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (from Psalm 46, ESV)

Christmas joy and peace to all!

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“You Can Never Go Home.” The Moody Blues and C. S. Lewis on why our best memories can actually break our hearts.

With this post I simply submit for the reader’s meditations two selections: One of the best songs by The Moody Blues, a Justin Hayward composition (who else), called “You Can Never Go Home;” and a short excerpt from one of the best sermons of C. S. Lewis called “The Weight of Glory.” So listen, read, and let these thought enzymes do the transformational mind work for which they were intended…

“You Can Never Go Home”

I don’t know what I’m searching for
I never have opened the door,
Tomorrow might find me at last,
Turning my back on the past,
But, time will tell, of stars that fell,
A million years ago.
Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home.
You can never go home anymore.

All my life I never really knew me till today,
Now I know why, I’m just another step along the way,

I lie awake for hours, I’m just waiting for the sun.
When the journey we are making has begun,
Don’t deny the feeling that is stealing through your heart,
Every happy ending needs to have a start.

All my life I never really knew me till today,
Now I know why, I’m just another step along the way,

Weep no more for treasures you’ve been searching for in vain.
‘Cos the truth is gently falling with the rain,
High above the forest lie the pastures of the sun,
Where the two that learned the secret are now one.

I don’t know what I’m searching for
I never have opened the door,
Tomorrow might find me at last,
Turning my back on the past,
But, time will tell, of stars that fell,
A million years ago.
Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home.
You can never go home anymore.

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

‘God Save Arcade Fire’: an interview with Bryan Christman

church

Hi, Bryan. To begin with, would you like to introduce yourself and your blog? By vocation I’m a lifelong landscaper, my parents having had a landscape and nursery business. I’ve been very happily m…

Source: ‘God Save Arcade Fire’: an interview with Bryan Christman

On Understanding Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O'Connor

Illustration by Ande Cook

“Sometimes Flannery O ’Connor turns readers away bewildered by her violence and seemingly hostile attitude toward life. Perhaps in her writing she is like the peacock who does not present its glory when the observer wants it, nor, even when it spreads its tail, immediately displays the “best” side. What the viewer has to accept first is the peacock’s rear:

When the peacock has presented his back, the spectator will usually begin to walk around him to get a front view; but the peacock will continue to turn so that no front view is possible. The thing to do then is to stand still and wait until it pleases him to turn. When it suits him, the peacock will face you. Then you will see in a green-bronze arch around him a galaxy of gazing, haloed suns. (Flannery O’Connor: Mystery and Manners (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), pp. 9-10).

To seek out and demand the beautiful directly (or the happy or the edifying) does not bring results from Flannery O ’Connor either. Like the peacock she continues to present her awkward characters in their funda­mental weakness and need of salvation.” (Entire excerpt is from Flannery O’Connor and the Peacock by David R. Mayer)

Explanatory “footnote” from Manifest Propensity: This post aims to merely present a few hints for understanding Flannery O’Connor, for those interested, through the beautiful artwork of Ande Cook and the excerpt from an essay by David R. Mayer. An understanding of her life and mysterious writings are well worth pursuing and these two sources I’ve shared in this post seem to quite ably set one on the right course for that pursuit.

BMC @ Manifest propensity, 2016.

Questions & comments are always welcomed. Thanks for reading. (Now go read Flannery!)

 

Waiting in Neil Young’s “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” for the One to Lead the Nations

creation waits

With this blog post I’m simply presenting another “apocalyptic” song of Neil Young, along with several texts from the Christian New Testament. I trust that readers will be able to notice the correspondence of thought between them. I believe it is quite possible that Neil Young directly drew from Paul’s Letter to the Romans in the “questioning” section of the song.

I would like to add that the song “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” begins at the 26:25 minute mark in the movie “Le Noise.” I’d also like to add that I loved Neil Young’s Bruce Cockburn-esque guitar in this beautiful song.

I suppose that my point for this post is simply to say that as we find ourselves in this day and age wherein the technological abilities of humankind continue to develop both for good and for ill, we can find that our stewardship of the planet has long been the subject of the Hebrew and Christian Holy Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. My purpose is also to call attention to the outrageous claim of the early Christ followers that Jesus of Nazareth was the “second adam” through whom the God of the Hebrew people, believed to be the one and only true God of the Universe, had begun the process of restoring humankind to its stewardship of the earth. In other words, the project, process, and promise of a veritable New Creation has begun.

So perhaps the best-kept secret of Christian theology is that “redemption” was never mostly about “souls being saved to heaven” or about private and personal piety or peace. “Shalom” was always known to encompass “the big picture” of the entire creational existence – even though the ecclesiastical stewards of this truth sometimes seem to have done their best to not only bury that light under a basket, but to even perpetuate the horrible violences known in the wars of humans against humans, and exploitations of the creation by humans. The biblical view of the nature of life seems to agree with the empirical view of life, wherein we live our lives in the violent “Boulevard” where apocalyptic “shots ring out” in violent disruption of the intended  “Peaceful Valley” of Eden. But from that place we are encouraged to look to the Spirit of God’s recreation of humanity in Christ wherein human reconciliation and the renewed stewardship for the gift of earthly creation can be found. That may not seem to be “the gospel” we’ve heard before, but it is the “good news” that has come into the world. (Below is a valuable reference for further study.)


“Peaceful Valley Boulevard”

One day shots rang across the peaceful valley
God was crying tears that fell like rain
Before the railroad came from Kansas City
And the bullets hit the bison from the train
Shots rang across the peaceful valley
White man laid his foot upon the plain.

The wagon train rolled through the dusty canyon
The settlers full of wonder as they crossed
A gentle creek where two old oaks were standing
Before the west was won there was a cost
A rain of fire came down upon the wagons
A mother screamed and every soul was lost.

Change hit the country like a thunderstorm
Ancient rivers soon began to boil
People rushed like water to California
At first they came for gold and then for oil
Fortunes were made and lost in lifetimes
Mother earth took poison in her soil.

An electro cruiser coasted towards the exit
And turned on Peaceful Valley Boulevard
“People make the difference” read a billboard
Above a long line of idling cars.

Who’ll be the one to lead this world
Who’ll be the beacon in the night
Who’ll be the one to lead this world
Who’ll be the beacon in the night
Who’ll be the one to lead the nations
And protect God’s creations

A polar bear was drifting on an ice floe
Sun beating down from the sky
Politicians gathered for a summit
And came away with nothing to decide
Storms thundered on, his tears of falling rain
A child was born and wondered why.

The Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 2:5-13

5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”
And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

were-the-ones

The Letter of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Chapter 8:18-22

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

For further reference, the book below is probably the best I know of to show the story “from Genesis to Revelation” that has been tragically missed for nearly two  millennia. Of course there have always been glimmers and glimpses in the thoughts and writings of many, but perhaps now as the stakes seem higher than ever, humanity is ready to rediscover the promise and responsibility included in what Jesus simply called “the good news of the reign of God.”

Middleton

Comments and questions are always welcomed. Thanks for reading.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016.

 

 

 

Neil Young’s Apocalyptic “Rumblin”

I was unable to find the song “Rumbling” by itself, and of course the entire film is magnificent, but if the listener wants to hear only the song Rumbling’ it begins at about the 33:55 minute mark. Enjoy!

I won’t go to great lengths with this post. I’m simply pointing out that Neil Young seems to be hearing the apocalyptic rumblin’ that is mentioned here in the New Testament:

Hebrews 12:26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

I think that the song shows his self-questioning in light of the nature of life in this era of world history, this side of the apocalyptic interruption of the world as is, the beginning of the new creation of God begun in Jesus of Nazareth. Neil Young is simply asking himself, and probably all who hear him, the immemorial human question “what shall I do to be saved?”

If the entire Le Noise movie is watched, it will be seen that all is filmed in black and white until the song rumblin’ where new and vibrant color signals a veritable new Genesis. I’d say that was a stroke of genius, because I think it shows that “apocalyptic” does not so merely signify “the removal of what can be shaken, but rather and even more-so, signifies the receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Neil Young seems to clearly see that rumblin’ signifies “birth pangs,” a term found in the Old and New Testaments. For in the normal course of events, birth pangs precede the arrival of a new life. Amen, Neil Young.

I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’.
I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’.
When Will I learn how to listen?
When will I learn how to feel?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to heal?
I can feel the weather changing.
I can see it all around.
Can’t you feel that new wind blowing?
Don’t you recognize that sound that sound?
And the earth is slowly spinning, spinning slowly, slowly changing.

I feel something in the air.
I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’
I feel the rumblin’ in her ground.
I feel the rumblin’
When will I learn?
When will I learn?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to give back?
When will I learn how to heal?

Written by BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016.

Questions, comments, apocalyptic rumblins, are always welcomed.

 

Fleetwood Mac’s “Lay it All Down” and the This-Worldliness of Redemption

In Fleetwood Mac’s 1971 album called “Future Games,” there was an interesting song about Moses and what his message basically amounted to in full. Perhaps a current Old Testament scholar may help us to understand the importance of the “message of Moses” in relation to understanding “redemption” as presented in the New Testament.

…we are prone to miss the amazing scope of God’s redemption, and especially its full bodied, this-worldly character, if we do not read the New Testament with the world view of the Old Testament as our basis and guide. (J. Richard Middleton, “A New Heaven and a New Earth“.)

So with that introduction in mind, presented in the video by Fleetwood Mac, is the “world view of the Old Testament” that can serve as our “basis and guide” to understanding “God’s full bodied, this worldly character.” I find it quite interesting that Fleetwood Mac, or at least one or more of the members of the group, seemed to have more insight into the “scope of redemption” than many Christian teachers and scholars had or have, even to this day.

Here are the lyrics:

Let me retell
A story of old
About a man named moses
Who lived long ago
He prophesied good
He prophesied bad
And now that prophecy’s
Coming to pass

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden calf
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

(Instrumental)

A whole lot of people, including myself
Thought the story of moses was just a tall tale
But all of the things that we see going on
Are just what moses set down

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden – yeah
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

(Instrumental)

Let me retell
A story I know
About a man named moses
Who lived long ago
He prophesied good
He prophesied bad
And now that prophecy’s
Coming to pass

Let all your sons, and your daughters
Of the golden – yeah
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay it down

(Instrumental)

Lay down, Lay down ….

Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt
You’ve got to lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of sorrow
Lay down your burden of hurt …

Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth

Any comments or questions are welcomed. Thanks for reading (and listening) – I hope you received something good from it all.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2016