Monday, July 28, 2014

theologians who say "I don't know"

When faced with puzzling information,
 one of the most important statements a
 scientist can make is 
                  "I don't know." 
Similarly, one of the most important statements a
 theologian can make is
                  "I don't know."

--In the Eye of the Storm: The Autobiograthy of Sir John Houghton By John Houghton, p 85

unscripted Salvation Army church


Tina Turner..hurt by church as a girl..sings Amazing Grace

Tina Turner Sings ‘Amazing Grace’ By Chaplain Jim Linzey (Ret.)Special to ASSIST News ServiceSAN DIEGO, CA (ANS) -- Take little Anna Mae Bullock as an example of a marvelous creation of God who was badly hurt by a small rural local church when she was a young girl. As depicted in the feature film “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, Anna Mae was the only little girl in the church choir, consisting of older teens and adults in an African-American church.

Reared in the broken home of “party girls” with the exception of her grandmother who was truly a righteous woman of God, the only music Anna Mae understood in the home was bar ...continued here

church as a nonhectic, episodic event which fractures time

William Stringfellow:
..The Kingdom is, I believe, temporal as much as spatial...the event of the church constantly, repeatedly fractures time. This is to say, the church as an institution or nation is, first of all, an event of the moment, gathered here or there, but that does not predetermine whether or how the church will appear again. The church is episodic in history; the church lives in imminence so that the church has no permanent locale or organization which predicates its authenticity as the church. This may seem a hectic doctrine of the church to the Constantinian mentality. It is. But it is so because it suggests the necessity of breaking away from Constantinian indoctrination in order to affirm the poise of the church awaiting the second advent of Jesus Christ. .. William Stringfellow, Conscience and Obedience: The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming. (ht, Richard Beck)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn Lyrics Part 16-Nothing But a Burning Light

by Don Berg
Evolution of Bruce Cockburn (Part 16):
Nothing But a Burning Light (1991)

My first Bruce Cockburn concert came with the release of this album. We had been trying to get to one for years, but the stars never could align. Finally he was coming to a city within driving distance (4 hrs) on a weekday. I took a personal day and we drove there and back on the same day. Took in the concert with Colin Linden and the full band. Slept an hour or two, got up and taught the next day, and it was awesome! The band led off with a song that Bruce did not write, but it set a very spiritual tone for the evening and for the new album. It was this version of “Soul of a Man,” except that he may have modified it slightly for national television. In our concert the song began with the drummer alone on stage playing a giant bass drum and each musician came out and joined the song one at a time.

At this concert the band played the song “Mighty Trucks of Midnight.” During this song, something happened that confirmed in my mind that Cockburn’s fans listen to the lyrics and “get” what he means. After Bruce finished the last line in this next quote, a cheer went up from about half of the crowd. Being a progressive Christian can seem lonely at times. I realized in that moment that I was surrounded by a crowd of similar faith.

Mighty Trucks of Midnight

Wave a flag, wave the bible, wave your sex or your business degree
Whatever you want -- but don't wave that thing at me
The tide of love can leave your prizes scattered
But when you get to the bottom it's the only thing that matters

Mighty trucks of midnight
Moving on
Moving on

I believe it's a sin to try and make things last forever
Everything that exists in time runs out of time some day
Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered
Take your place with grace and then be on your way

Letting go of the things that keep you tethered; perhaps the prizes that the mighty trucks have scattered. Cockburn seems to be finally able to let go of the anger and pain and accept the love and grace of God. In “Great Big Love” Bruce refers to Mathew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden,” indicating that while Christians are reflecting this love and grace, it is too hard to find. Nonetheless he has found it and is back to singing a song of praise.

Great Big Love

Seen a lot of things in the world outside
Some bad but some good stuff too
Felt the touch of love in the works of God
And now and then in what people do
Never had a lot of faith in human beings
But sometimes we manage to shine
Like a light on a hill beaming out to space
From somewhere hard to find

Great big love
Sweeping across the sky

Cockburn’s next album would turn out to be a Christmas album. He foreshadows that with the song “Cry of a Tiny Babe.” It tells the Advent story, but with enough of a modern translation to emphasize the transformational story that it is. In it Bruce also refers back to an image from his more Evangelical days, that of a stone landing in a river, the ripples expanding outward. He sings: “Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.” I need to explain this next link a bit. Bruce used to host a radio show for Columbia records. (He also hosted a Christmas special each year on CBC television in Canada) One one show, he performed this song with Lou Reed and Roseanne Cash (Johnny’s daughter). When I first heard this version, I thought that Lou Reed had just ruined a beautify performance, and I am a fan of Lou Reed. Now I feel that Lou only brings more realism to the story, so listen at your own risk.

Cry of a Tiny Babe

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph gets upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says God did this and your part of his scheme

Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says, forgive me, I thought you'd been with some other man
She says what if I had been, but I wasn't anyway
And guess what, I felt the baby kick today

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever,
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything

Cause the governing body of the Holy land,
Is that of Herod a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born, King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two

But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and getaway clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever,
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe

And there are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepards and street people, hookers and bums

And the message is clear if you have ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fears
It's a Christmas gift that you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eye

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever,
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever,
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe

He concludes his album with this autobiographical declaration:

Child of the Wind

Little round planet
In a big universe
Sometimes it looks blessed
Sometimes it looks cursed
Depends on what you look at obviously
But even more it depends on the way that you see
Hear the wind moan
In the bright diamond sky
These mountains are waiting
Brown-green and dry
I'm too old for the term
But I'll use it anyway
I'll be a child of the wind
Till the end of my days

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 15: Big Circumstance

Evolution of Bruce Cockburn (Part 15):
Big Circumstance (1988)

In the song “Shipwrecked at the Stable Door” Bruce acknowledges that Big Circumstance (Divine Providence) has taken him on this life voyage. While he states that he would rather be home, being shipwrecked at the Bethlehem stable, living on the road for Jesus is probably the better thing.

Shipwrecked at the Stable Door

Big Circumstance has brought me here -
Wish it would send me home
Never was clear where home is
But it's nothing you can own
It can't be bought with cigarettes
Or nylons or perfume
And all the highest bidder gets
Is a voucher for a tomb

He concludes the song with a reworking of the Beatitudes of Jesus (Matt. 5):

Blessed are the poor in spirit -
Blessed are the meek
For theirs shall be the kingdom
That the power mongers seek
Blessed are the dead for love
And those who cry for peace
And those who love the gift of earth -
May their gene pool increase

Left like a shadow on the step
Where the body was before -
Shipwrecked at the stable door

Cockburn is still troubled by the visible face of Christianity active in the political world of that time. From the context of his travels in Central America, it is clear to him which side of American policy falls grace. Not from the “Gospel of Bondage”, but falling from above upon the people “Down Where the Death Squad Lives.”

Gospel of Bondage

You read the Bible in your special ways
You're fond of quoting certain things it says -
Mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above
But when do we hear about forgiveness and love?

Sometimes you can hear the Spirit whispering to you,
But if God stays silent, what else can you do
Except listen to the silence? if you ever did you'd surely see
That God won't be reduced to an ideology
Such as the gospel of bondage...

 Where the Death Squad Lives

Where the Death Squad Lives
Like some kind of never-ending Easter passion,
From every agony a hero's fashioned.
Around every evil there gathers love --
Bombs aren't the only things that fall from above
Down where the dead squad lives
down where the dead squad lives

Sometimes I feel like there's a padlock on my soul.
If you opened up my heart you'd find a big black hole
But when the feeling comes through, it comes through strong --
If you think there's no difference between right and wrong
Just go down where the death squad lives

This world can be better than it is today
You can say I'm a dreamer but that's okay
Without the could-be and the might-have-been
All you've got left is your fragile skin
And that ain't worth much down where the death squad lives

Throughout all of these songs runs the common theme that greed is the cause of the evils of our day. An essential step toward salvation is the letting go of possession. Like the Old Testament prophets, Bruce cries out for Creation, which groans under the curse of human greed. Are we deaf?

Hosea 4:1-3

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
2 There is only cursing,[a] lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.

Isaiah 24:4-6
4 The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth.5 The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws,violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt.Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.
If a Tree Falls

Through thinning ozone,
Waves fall on wrinkled earth -
Gravity, light, ancient refuse of stars,
Speak of a drowning -
But this, this is something other.
Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
Where wild things have to go
To disappear

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics - part 14

Evolution of Bruce Cockburn (Part 14):
World of Wonders (1983)

This was the first newly released Bruce Cockburn album that I had purchased, and at this point of my life I was a diehard Cockburn fan and loved the newer political content of his songs. Unlike many of his more recent fans, I was also a huge fan of the deep spiritual content of his earlier work that touched me “deep down where I lived.” Can this spirituality still be found in World of Wonders, if had Bruce become a secular Canadian music star. Lest one think that Bruce is little known, when this album was released, his picture was plastered across every inch of the window to the record store across from the University of Winnipeg, where I was attending.
During this time, Bruce had a problem. That is, if he identified himself as a Christian artist, he would be associating himself with the Moral Majority, who were supporting policies in Central America that were subsidizing the horrors that he had witnessed while there. He would not condone oppression wrapped up in an angelic shroud.

Call It Democracy

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament -
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
Idolatry of ideology

Bruce is beginning to find his hope though. It is in the faces and the faith of those who are living under these appalling conditions. Shining out from behind the bad stuff is some good stuff too. “Dancing In Paradise” describes an oppressive vignette in each stanza, but concludes each with “and there’s dancing in paradise,” indicating that the people find a way to live on.

Dancing In Paradise

Biggy Dread gunned down by police at Big Bridge March 16
Riding a mule cart to Sav-la-Mar pulled out a cutlass and they had to shoot
That's what they say
Something tells me they like to shoot
Something in the eyes of the ones at the road block
Where they searched the car and tried to get us to confess to whatever...
There's truncheons and gas down in Harbour St.
Typical response where life isn't so sweet
And somebody gets desperate enough to say so
Price of fish price of flour
Going up up up almost by the hour
And they throw away money on spectacular shows
To show the world the right likes the right music
And the Prime Minister sucks ice cream in the company of a happy band of children
While a naked man, sores on his neck,
Lies for days in Washington Blvd. gnawing chicken bones
And the Chamber of Commerce thinks there's too much crime
And there's a kung fu movie in every town
And there's Dancing in Paradise...

World of Wonders

There's a rainbow shining in a bead of spittle
Falling diamonds in rattling rain
Light flexed on moving muscle
I stand here dazzled with my heart in flames (at this...)
World of wonders...

Moment of peace like brief arctic bloom
Red/gold ripple of the sun going down
Line of black hills makes my bed
Sky full of love pulled over my head
World of wonders...

Grace abounds in these songs. This is was Bruce has said about it: “Grace lives in the dirt you know?...If you’ve got to wait until you’re sitting out on a mountaintop somewhere to experience grace, you’re probably going to miss it. It’s not really grace then. You’ve constructed an atmosphere for yourself to get in touch with an aspect of yourself. But it’s that gleam in a ‘bead of spittle.’ That’s where the grace is. It’s all over the place.”

The imagery of “Down Here Tonight” conveys a prayer to the “Lord of the starfields” that thanks to the fire and the light, we are doing ok down here tonight even in this hour of darkness.

Down Here Tonight

Pans gonna play and the fire burn bright
Talking drums say everything's all right
Beating of the sea sends a message
To the far starlight
"We're doing okay down here tonight"

The end of the road's still far away
But the travelling's better by the light of day
This hour of darkness is the time to dance
Lay down your burdens -- give the beat a chance

E. Stanley Jones' dangerous prayer suggestion for the gathered church

E. Stanley Jones... always timely, incurably ahead of his time..wrote in 1970:

Suppose on Sunday morning ten minutes were set aside for the [congregation] to listen to God, listen to what God would say in answer to the question, 'What would you have us as individuals and as a collective body to do?'  Then have a church meeting to prayerfully listen to the suggestions that emerge.  It would bring a sense of expectancy into the Sunday morning service.  Now we listen to a sermon from man and leave it at that. And that is the result--it is left at that, nothing happens. -The Reconstruction of the Church: On What Pattern? p, 133

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pope Francis and the World Cup


"Stephen Colbert and the Ancient Pulpit of Satire" video: Ethan Richardson

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 12: Stealing Fire

Stealing Fire (1984)

During the 1980’s unspeakable horrors were being perpetrated upon the common people of Central America. Most Americans new only of the “communist threat” from south of our border and voted for more money to arm the oppressive military regimes of the region. Bruce experienced first hand the conditions that this money helped to create. He did not sing explicitly much about his faith in these times, but make no mistake. his faith was the driving force behind what he did sing about. He hints at this in the song “Maybe the Poet,” along with an obvious Biblical allusion to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe the Poet

Maybe the voice of the spirit
In which case you'd better hear it

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

While Cockburn was visiting a Guatemalan refugee camp on the Southern border of Mexico, the refugees were strafed by military helicopters. Like the psalmist, Bruce is filled with rage, and in the moment sees no alternative but to strike back in righteous anger. Many have discussed whether or not he is advocating violence or merely expressing his rage and despair. Bruce has been quoted to say that Rocket Launcher "is not a call to arms; this is a cry."

If I Had a Rocket Launcher

Here comes the helicopter
Second time today
Everybody scatters
And hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered
Only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders
And I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals
Or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors
Of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun
100,000 wait
To fall down from starvation
Or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala
With a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice
At least I've got to try
Every time I think about it
Water rises to my eyes
Situation desperate
Echoes of the victims' cry
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
Some son of a bitch would die

I have made a couple of connections between Bruce Cockburn and U2 already in these blogs, as they both make frequent Christian spiritual allusions and have a largely secular audience. There is a direct connection between the two. In the context of the darkness of those days in Latin America Cockburn sings:

Lovers in a Dangerous Time

When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

This last line is quoted (and attributed to Bruce Cockburn in the lyric sheet) by U2. The song is God Part II. That song is a response to the Jon Lennon song “God”, in which Lennon sings that he does not believe in the many manifestations of God, but instead believes only in himself and Yoko. Bono’s version describes ironic stanzas, each contrasting what he doesn’t believe in to the Love that he does believe. It is worth noting that in Bono’s lyrics love is frequently a metaphor for Jesus. Here is the stanza that references Cockburn:

God Part II (U2)

I don't believe in the '60s
In the golden age of pop
You glorify the past
When the future dries up
I heard a singer on the radio
Late last night
Says he's gonna kick the darkness
Till it bleeds daylight
I believe in love

I feel like I'm falling
Like I'm spinning on a wheel
It always stops beside a name
A presence I can feel
I believe in love

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 11: The Trouble With Normal

by Don Berg
The Trouble With Normal (1983)

I remember hearing this album for the first time. I was still just developing as a Cockburn fan and was accompanying my good friend Joel to the recored store to buy his copy of this just-released album. When we got home we pulled out the vinyl, placed it on the turntable, and I had my first ever listen to newly released Cockburn... and I hated it. I couldn’t get past the stylistic change to his music and he even talked on on of the tracks. It wasn’t until I bought the album myself years later when I was filling out my Cockburn collection, that I gave it the 2nd, 3rd and 4th listen that it seems that it takes for me to appreciate a new Cockburn album. I will be honest, you have to look hard and read between the lines to find spirituality and theology in this album That in itself could be the evolution of his work, but there is more there than appears on the surface. This album came out during the height of the moral majority and the Reagan years. Bruce was working to distance himself from this brand of Christianity. He offers this critique of putting our faith in a supply-side God.

Candy Man’s Gone

In the bar, in the senate, in the alley, in the study
Pimping dreams of riches for everybody
'Something for nothing, new lamps for old
And the streets will be platinum, never mind gold'
Well, hey, pass it on
Misplaced your faith and the candy man's gone
I hate to tell you but the candy man's gone

Bruce is still calling out to the arrows of light to come and pierce his soul, but it doesn’t bring peace, but rather a prophetic vision to critique the “system of the world’s events.”

Civilization and It’s Discontents

So many people so lost you feel sorry
But too much pathos just makes you angry
And even though I know who loves me I'm not that much less lost

Black outline, sliding gray scale
Subtle variations of dark to pale
Pearl sky raining light like hail, come on and pierce me
Raining light like a vision of the holy grail, come on and pierce me

Civilization and its discontents
When all's been said and all the money spent
Trying to beat the system of the world's events
Gets you nowhere.

Bruce returns to the theme of a broken, but beautiful world; a broken, confused, but still beautiful humanity. About this time Cockburn had begun to make visits to Central and South America as a guest of Oxfam. He was awakened to the issues of oppression and injustice there. One day he was staring out over the ocean, the waves crashing in reminded him of jet fighters. His mind began to wander over the conditions under which the people there lived. How could such beauty happen to such beautiful people. As he continues to ponder the beauty of this broken world, he glances down to see the waves washing over his now sodden shoes, and he realizes he has a song.

Planet of the Clowns

Stare into the moonlight
Silver fingers press my eyes
Probing in my heart with longing

These footprints by the sea's edge
Disappearing grain by grain
Lose their form but keep their substance

As the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Government by outrage
Hunger camps and shanty towns
Dignity and love still holding

This bluegreen ball in black space
Filled with beauty even now
battered and abused and lovely

And the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Each one in our own heart
Desperate to know where we stand
Planet of the clowns in wet shoes

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 10: Inner City Front

Inner City Front (1981)

Bruce once sang “Oh Jesus, don’t let Toronto take my love away.” Now Bruce stares at us on the album cover with a hardened urban expression while sitting in a Toronto bar or cafe. The album represents the “inner city” realities of his new life after losing his marriage and maybe his faith. With commitment (covenant) broken he has trouble experiencing love through the numbness and pain. The evident pain in his life is reflected in such lyrics as this taken from songs with titles to match (You Pay Your Money and Take Your Chance, All’s Quiet on the Inner City Front, and Loner):

The numb and confused
The battered and bruised
The counters of cost
And the star-crossed
You pay your money and you take your chance
When you're dealing with love and romance

Sometimes, sometimes, doesn't the light seem to move so far away?

A thousand question marks over my head

Days of striving, nights of novocaine
Never going to bring them freedom from their pain

I'm a loner
With a loner's point of view
When I was a torn jacket hanging on the barbed wire
You cut me free
And sewed me up and here I am

The song “Justice” foreshadows the work that Cockburn will do for world relief and political change in settings of extreme injustice. He begins by critiquing ideologies beginning with his own as the source of violence perpetrated on the other. The third stanza provides his answer: accept this post-modern critique, accept the other with hospitality, then listen for the quiet voice of God to transcend ideology.


What's been done in the name of Jesus?
What's been done in the name of Buddha?
What's been done in the name of Islam?
What's been done in the name of man?
What's been done in the name of liberation?
And in the name of civilization?
And in the name of race?
And in the name of peace?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Can you tell me how much bleeding
It takes to fill a word with meaning?
And how much, how much death
It takes to give a slogan breath?
And how much, how much, how much flame
Gives light to a name
For the hollow darkness
In which nations dress?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Everybody's seen the things they've seen
We all have to live with what we've been
When they say charity begins at home
They're not just talking about a toilet and a telephone
Got to search the silence of the soul's wild places
For a voice that can cross the spaces
These definitions that we love create --
These names for heaven, hero, tribe and state
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Cockburn returns to an image of creation. But this time the creation is not celebrated, but broken. The Earth itself is broken, and we are the culprits. Before he looked up to God and found his answer, but now he calls out to the Lord to “spit on our eyes so that we can see.” The third verse contains no answer as it returns to the original theme of brokenness without healing. Our “Trial comes before truth's revealed.” Faith is the answer, but will it be enough?

Broken Wheel
Way out on the rim of the galaxy
The gifts of the Lord lie torn
Into whose charge the gifts were given
Have made it a curse for so many to be born
This is my trouble --
These were my fathers
So how am I supposed to feel?
Way out on the rim of the broken wheel

Water of life is going to flow again
Changed from the blood of heroes and knaves
The word mercy's going to have a new meaning
When we are judged by the children of our slaves
No adult of sound mind
Can be an innocent bystander
Trial comes before truth's revealed
Out here on the rim of the broken wheel

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 9: Humans

Humans (1980)

This was the first album of Bruce Cockburn that I ever really listened to. Like every album of Bruce’s I have ever listened to, it took several listens before I had decided whether it was really worth listening to. Now it is one of my all time favorite albums. This album signals a transition in Cockburn’s music, in his personal life, and of course in his theology. We saw that in his previous three albums the beauty of nature pointed him towards God, even saying that “The earth is bread, the sun is wine.” In Humans, he sees himself as a grim traveller no longer satisfied with his answers of before.

Grim Travellers
Grim travellers in dawn skies
See the beauty -- makes you cry inside
Makes you angry and you don't know why
Grim travellers in dawn skies

Down on the plain of 10,000 smokestacks
Trucks butt each other to establish dominance
The newspaper next to me leans over and says matter-of-factly
'Sacred mountains towers above meadows' - uh huh - and above us

Grim travellers in dawn skies
I see the beauty -- makes me cry inside
It makes me angry and I don't know why
We're grim travellers in dawn skies

The newspaper leans over and gives him a glib answer of the hope he sang about but one short year before and he responds with a sarcastic “uh huh.” His pain cannot be assuaged by pat answers. His prior theology has come up short. Song after song speaks to his pain and disillusionment. He even sings “I'd like to put a bullet through the world.” He sang in the song “Gavin’s wood pile” that “there’s no human answer here,” but his human world has crashed in around him. A recurring theme in his music is the divine spark/fallen nature within each of us. Humans were created in the image of God, but to Cockburn that is now merely a “rumour of glory.”

Rumours of Glory

You see the extremes
Of what humans can be?
In that distance some tension's born
Energy surging like a storm
You plunge your hand in
And draw it back scorched
Beneath it's shining like
Gold but better

Rumours of glory

The lighter songs of this album were written on tour, while the darker songs were written later back home in Ontario. What has happened in between to cause all of this pain?. We get the answer to this in the song “What about the Bond.” His marriage has fallen apart.

What About the Bond

What about the the bond?
What about the mystical unity?
What about the bond
Sealed in the loving presence of the Father?

Of the institutions
That should give a frame to work in
Got to find our own solutions

I used to hear this song as a guilt trip upon his wife, but then saw it as a man struggling with not just his belief system about marriage, but also his legalistic belief system. The following song , “Fascist Architecture,” speaks of the facades we build up between each other, but also of the belief systems that are based on the Law, rather than grace and love. Hope finally breaks through in this song as he accepts God’s grace and love and is “OK.”

Fascist Architecture
Fascist architecture of my own design
Too long been keeping my love confined
You tore me out of myself alive

Those fingers drawing out blood like sweat
While the magnificent facades crumble and burn
The billion facets of brilliant love
The billion facets of freedom turning in the light

Bloody nose and burning eyes
Raised in laughter to the skies
I've been in trouble but I'm ok
Been through the wringer but I'm ok
Walls are falling and I'm ok
Under the mercy and I'm ok

Gonna tell my old lady
Gonna tell my little girl
There isn't anything in the world
That can lock up my love again

Finally, the album ends with this song of healing love:

The Rose Above the Sun
Something jewelled slips away
Round the next bend with a splash
Laughing at the hands I hold out
Only air within their grasp
All you can do is praise the razor
For the fineness of the slash

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Gutless arrogance and rage
Burn apart the best of tries
You carry the weight of inherited sorrow
From your first day till you die
Toward that hilltop where the road
Forever becomes one with the sky

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 8: Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws

Don Berg
Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws (1979)

I have a friend who has a sister who was a poet laureate and has become a somewhat well known author, who when hearing this album, back when I was college, said upon hearing the song “Creation Dream”, “this is some serious poetry.” I may not know a lot about serious poetry, but I do love imagery, metaphor and symbolism. This is one reason why I like the music of Bruce Cockburn so much. In the Genesis account, God solemnly speaks the world into existence. Is there room in our theology for a creation account filled with a holy liturgical song and dance?

Creation Dream
Centred on silence
Counting on nothing
I saw you standing on the sea
And everything was
Dark except for
Sparks the wind struck from your hair
Sparks that turned to
Wings around you
Angel voices mixed with seabird cries
Fields of motion
Surging outward
Questions that contain their own replies...

You were dancing
I saw you dancing
Throwing your arms toward the sky
Fingers opening
Like flares
Stars were shooting everywhere
Lines of power
Bursting outward
Along the channels of your song
Mercury waves flashed
Under your feet
Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn...

In the song, “Hills of Morning,” Bruce paints an allegorical picture of Jesus that preaches the Gospel of Mark and John in one song. A world in crisis, filled with ordinary people, living ordinary lives encounter the playful, glittering joker.

Hills of Morning
Underneath the mask of the sulphur sky
A bunch of us were busy waiting,
Watching the people looking ill-at-ease,
Watching the fraying rope get closer to breaking

Women and men moved back and forth
In between effect and cause
And just beyond the range of normal sight
This glittering joker was dancing in the dragon's jaws

We discover that this joker, who turns the wisdom of this world on it’s head, is dancing with death. The chorus informs us that this joker is in fact the creator God, hovering over the deep, pronouncing “let there be light.” Whose breath brings life, who through Bruce, calls us to dance with him bringing light to this hanging-by-a-thread world:

Let me be a little of your breath
Moving over the face of the deep --
I want to be a particle of your light
Flowing over the hills of morning

I carry a wound within me. Cockburn sings about this wound in “Northern Lights.” I have been cut by the beauty of the Sierras and have seen the northern lights, and felt the love of God. He weaves these together in:

Northern Lights
Ahead where there should be the thickness of night
Stars are pinned on a shimmering curtain of light

Sky full of rippling cliffs and chasms
That shine like signs on the road to heaven...

I've been cut by the beauty of jagged mountains
And cut by the love that flows like a fountain from God.

So I carry these scars, precious and rare,
And tonight I feel like I'm made of air...

Bono has this scar too. He sings it in his Magnificat:

Magnificent (U2)
Only love
Only love can leave such a markBut only love
Only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die
You and I will magnify
Oh, the magnificent

Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love unites our hearts

(BTW: I love the way the images of this video match the imagery of “Dancing in the Dragons jaws”-- a dancer lifting the shroud from a similar place where the people were waiting for the glittering joker.

Finally, I couldn’t write about this album without referencing Cockburn’s biggest hit of all time. It starts with another dream. The lions of this dream are not the good lions of Narnia, they are the bad lions of Rome. They are a fitting conclusion to Bruce’s trilogy of “Evangelical” albums, for between this album and the next, the lions come with a vengeance, and his world falls apart at the seams. Will the ecstasy of this song be enough to weather the storm?

Wondering Where the Lions Are
I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me....

I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...

great men from the past paying a time travel visit to institutions that were named after them..

Meme by Quaid Ens, see Quaid Approved Memes
Douglas Wilson:
...I have sometimes entertained myself with thoughts of great men from the past paying a time travel visit to institutions that were named after them. Many of these thought experiments end with furniture scattered around waiting rooms, broken glass, and police sirens in the background. And if you doubt that there could be actual mayhem — for that doesn’t sound as pious as we would like — reflect on what happened when Jesus, the name of God, showed up at the place where God made his name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12:11). First he made a whip, and then he made a commotion.  link

a tale of two Christian leaders: Alice Cooper didn't pull a Piper and say,"Adios, White Castle"

White Castle Honors Alice Cooper for His Unwavering Dedication to Burgers


: John Piper ( "Goodbye, Burger King") ..

More on Alice Cooper's faith here

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

"There has been little interest in friendship in the history of Christendom"

 Leonard Sweet:
There has been little interest in friendship in the history of Christendom. The move from philia to agape in the Christian tradition was so dramatic that philia was almost left behind. 'A book on friendship now means, quite often, a collection of little sayings, attractively illustrated, meant as a gift, and sold in a drugstore' is how Gilbert  Meilaender puts it. About the only forms of relationships that have received sustained theological reflection in Christian literature are the two missing from this book: the erotic dimensions of relationships and marriage. Page 11 of 11: Indispensable Relationships You Can't Be Without

Levites from other nations?

Great catch from Pasha:

The Lord revealed some down right controversial things to Isaiah. So controversial in fact that it got him sawed in half. How about this excerpt from chapter 66.

And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem.... And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites," says the LORD.

Levites from other nations? How can that even be possible. Aren't they supposed to be from the tribe of Levi. It just goes to show how serious the Lord is about people from all nations worshiping him in his kingdom is.  link

Monday, July 07, 2014

"Matthew's Temple Tax as Ransom: Interpretation of the Second Passion Prediction"by Rob Haskell


This paper expands on an idea mentioned by William Thompson in his study
Matthew’s Advice to a Divided Community, namely, that Matthew intended the temple
tax pericope (17:24-27) to be read with the second passion prediction (17:22-23) and so
to function as an interpretation of the death of Jesus. As such this pericope suggests that
Jesus’ death is a replacement for the temple tax and the sacrifices that it funded.
Thompson’s observations were brief and have not been incorporated into subsequent
scholarly discussion of this passage, but it is my contention that this is an extremely
fruitful approach and that there are several reasons for adopting it which go beyond those
noted by Thompson.
I present the following evidence. First, in the first century the temple tax was seen
as a “ransom for life” based on Exodus 30:11-16 and was thought to give its payer
representation in the sacrifices it funded. Second, various exegetical details, including the
parallel introductions of the second passion prediction and the temple tax pericope, and
the use of ἀ in 17:27, seem to point in this direction. Third, a similar pattern, also
noted by Thompson, can be discerned in Matthew’s two other passion predictions. Each
one is followed by a pericope that mentions ransom. The entire pattern climaxes in 20:28
where Jesus is said to give his live as a ransom for many. Finally, this approach also helps
explain the otherwise puzzling use of the phrase “the kings of the earth,” from Psalm 2:2,
in 17:26. I argue that this phrase refers to the chief priests of the Jerusalem Temple, thus
bringing the pericope into the thematic stream of Jesus’ impending death.

Full paper here

Two great posts by Paul Leader..head over there now

  • The Traveller’s Rest- Tiny Temple.
  • This post concludes:
  • " How dare anyone sit at a table with Gentiles? God does not do stuff like that. He cannot work outside the revelation that I have of Him. My God is the God of the tiny temple."
  • -----------------------------
  • The Traveller’s Rest- Listen with Your Eyes.
  • one quick insight on the role of pastor-types in our day:
  • "Gatherings do not have speakers and leaders but they may have hosts and organisers who draw it all together."

Astral Weeks: a 'heaven and earth" cloud that came along "to beg Christ the Lord to give back the soul I had"

 Some have called it the greatest rock  or pop album ever..

..even though there really is no  pop or rock on it:

Recording  of [Van Morrisson's Astral Weeks] took place at Century Sound Studios in New York City during three sessions in September and October 1968, although most participants and biographers agree that the eight songs were culled from the first and last early evening sessions. Except for John Payne, Morrison and the assembled jazz musicians had never played together before and the recordings commenced without rehearsals or lead sheets handed out.
The cover art, music and lyrics of the album portray the symbolism equating earthly love and heaven that would often feature in Morrison's work. With a blending of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music, it was a complete departure from his previous pop hit, "Brown Eyed Girl" (1967). Astral Weeks is often referred to as a song cycle or concept album with lyrics described as impressionistic, hypnotic, and stream-of-consciousness.

...Astral Weeks has stream of consciousness and poetic lyrics that evoke emotions and images instead of coherent, intellectual ideas and narratives.[40] A folk rock album,[1] it has been described as impressionistic,[41][42] as having a blend of folk, blues, jazz, and classical music[43] and as "genre-defying".[41]Although usually described as a song cycle[44] rather than a concept album, the songs do, when considered in their totality, seem to link together as one long song, forming an "intangible narrative of unreachable worlds"[45] and delivered with what one writer calls "a masterpiece of virtuoso singing".[46] According to Charlie Gillett, the album has meditative songs that combine themes of nostalgia, drama, and Morrison's personal mysticism and are performed in a white soul style.[2]The album embraces a form of symbolism that would eventually become a staple of Morrison's songs, equating earthly love and heaven, or as close as a living being can approach it. Morrison and Davis's upright bass can be interpreted as the earth opposing Kay's percussion and the string arrangement representing heaven and with Berliner's lead acoustic guitar residing on a plane in between.[47]  


Having read all that, it somehow seems sacrilegious that such an album can be reduced to a YouTube clip:

But it seems so appropriate that what is perhaps the greatest album has elicited what some have called “The greatest album review ever.”  Even the review of the review is a work of art.( That is my review of the review of the review.).  Here's an excerpt of  Phillip Francis making  the case that Lester Bangs' review is the greatest:
That’s right, I am saying that the best album reviews are premised on a confessional moment in which the reviewer lets the reader know that he or she is aware of the perversity of the task at hand and must be forgiven for the violation.  The reader is willing to forgive, at least I hope, because he or she knows that something must be said by someone, that silence too has its inadequacies when it comes to the experience of music.  In the best album reviews, the reader and the writer, I believe, enter into an unspoken agreement concerning the paradox of aesthetic experience—both parties recognizing that the album demands expression while remaining stridently resistant to all representation.  The greatest album reviewers are those who have somehow figured out a way to get something down on paper amidst the push and pull of these contrary demands and the windstorms of inevitable failure that they kick up..
 ..The inevitable inadequacy of all album reviews might sound like the recipe for a soup of frustrated reviewers.  But in fact the reviewers’ consciousness of their inability to succeed can cultivate in certain temperaments an explosive sense of creative freedom—a hot tamale, say, to follow the culinary metaphor.  I think this hot tamale experience is what Martin Luther was hoping to generate when he advised human beings to “sin boldly,” and to throw themselves on the mercy of God.  It is this feeling of having nothing to lose and nothing to hide that animates the greatest review writers of all time, and gives their writing the palpable sense of abandon that, as it turns out, is most adequate to the task at hand.  So, what is it that the greatest review writer manages to accomplish in the vast freedomous space generated by the sensation of the hot tamale?  What should they accomplish?  Can we generate a checklist?..
 One of the things that is striking about his review of Astral Weeks is that it required a different sort of ritual.  It was not based on a week long album-binge.  It was written on the ten year anniversary of the album’s release.  It is often said that Lester Bangs’ greatest gift was his prescience.  He seemed to know where things were headed culturally ten or twelve years before anyone else could figure it out.  He was the guy writing on the wall.  But, again, for this review of Astral Weeks—given that it was retrospective—Lester was unable to rely on his trademark skill.  He had to leave the crystal ball at home.  I believe that this is part of what heightens the vulnerability of this piece of writing—it's written by a man who for a moment cast aside his trademarks and his rituals.  …and is there anything more persistently human than such vulnerability? ..
Lester is touching on many, many things here.  But at the core he is suggesting that the man who made Astral Weeks, the one who sounds like he is in terrible pain, is the man who has just opened up the precious and terrible gift of life—and is holding its contrariness to his chest.  He is rapt in the pangs of beauty and the burdens of freedom.  He is eternally thankful and infinitely full of disgust.  The faculty of love, he discovers, is also the faculty of violence.  The God who made the lamb made thee.  link
Even though Van himself speaks in less mystical terms, note how a recording enegineer remembers the album being made:

"A cloud came along, and it was called the Van Morrison sessions. We all hopped upon that cloud, and the cloud took us away for awhile [sic], and we made this album, and we landed when it was done"(link)

 Just when you laugh at the hyperbole, he adds:

This is not an exaggeration, this is not just trying to be poetic."

So where to start?
Maybe the album itself..
Or the entire Bangs review:

Astral Weeks
by Lester Bangs
from "Stranded" (1979)

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks was released ten years, almost to the day, before this was written. It was particularly important to me because the fall of 1968 was such a terrible time: I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled to almost none; the presence of other people made me nervous and paranoid. I spent endless days and nights sunk in an armchair in my bedroom, reading magazines, watching TV, listening to records, staring into space. I had no idea how to improve the situation and probably wouldn't have done anything about it if I had.

Astral Weeks would be the subject of this piece - i.e., the rock record with the most significance in my life so far - no matter how I'd been feeling when it came out. But in the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what's more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. (My other big record of the day was White Light/White Heat.) It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison's previous works had only suggested; but like the later albums by the Velvet Underground, there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work

I don't really know how significant it might be that many others have reported variants on my initial encounter with Astral Weeks. I don't think there's anything guiding it to people enduring dark periods. It did come out at a time when a lot of things that a lot of people cared about passionately were beginning to disintegrate, and when the self-destructive undertow that always accompanied the great sixties party had an awful lot of ankles firmly in it's maw and was pulling straight down. so, as timeless as it finally is, perhaps Astral Weeks was also the product of an era. Better think that than ask just what sort of Irish churchwebbed haints Van Morrison might be product of.

Three television shows: A 1970 NET broadcast of a big all-star multiple bill at the Fillmore East. The Byrds, Sha Na Na, and Elvin Bishop have all done their respective things. Now we get to see three of four songs from a set by Van Morrison. He climaxes, as he always did in those days, with "Cyprus Avenue" from Astral Weeks. After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock 'n' roll set-closers. With consumate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of "It's too late to stop now!," and just when you think it's all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it's sensational: our guts are knotted up, we're crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we've seen and felt something.

1974, a late night network TV rock concert: Van and his band come out, strike a few shimmering chords, and for about ten minutes he lingers over the words "Way over yonder in the clear blue sky / Where flamingos fly." No other lyrics. I don't think any instrumental solos. Just those words, repeated slowly again and again, distended, permutated, turned into scat, suspended in space and then scattered to the winds, muttered like a mantra till they turn into nonsense syllables, then back into the same soaring image as time seems to stop entirely. He stands there with eyes closed, singing, transported, while the band poises quivering over great open-tuned deep blue gulfs of their own.

 1977, spring-summer, same kind of show: he sings "Cold Wind in August", a song off his recently released album A Period of Transition, which also contains a considerably altered version of the flamingos song. "Cold Wind in August" is a ballad and Van gives it a fine, standard reading. The only trouble is that the whole time he's singing it he paces back and forth in a line on the stage, his eyes tightly shut, his little fireplug body kicking its way upstream against what must be a purgatorial nervousness that perhaps is being transferred to the cameraman.

 What this is about is a whole set of verbal tics - although many are bodily as well - which are there for reason enough to go a long way toward defining his style. They're all over Astral Weeks: four rushed repeats of the phrases "you breathe in, you breath out" and "you turn around" in "Beside You"; in "Cyprus Avenue," twelve "way up on"s, "baby" sung out thirteen times in a row sounding like someone running ecstatically downhill toward one's love, and the heartbreaking way he stretches "one by one" in the third verse; most of all in "Madame George" where he sings the word "dry" and then "your eye" twenty times in a twirling melodic arc so beautiful it steals your own breath, and then this occurs: "And the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves to love the love that loves to love the love that loves."

 Van Morrison is interested, obsessed with how much musical or verbal information he can compress into a small space, and, almost, conversely, how far he can spread one note, word, sound, or picture. To capture one moment, be it a caress or a twitch. He repeats certain phrases to extremes that from anybody else would seem ridiculous, because he's waiting for a vision to unfold, trying as unobtrusively as possible to nudge it along. Sometimes he gives it to you through silence, by choking off the song in midflight: "It's too late to stop now!"

 It's the great search, fueled by the belief that through these musical and mental processes illumination is attainable. Or may at least be glimpsed.

 When he tries for this he usually gets it more in the feeling than in the Revealed Word - perhaps much of the feeling comes from the reaching - but there is also, always, the sense of WHAT if he DID apprehend that Word; there are times when the Word seems to hover very near. And then there are times when we realize the Word was right next to us, when the most mundane overused phrases are transformed: I give you "love," from "Madame George." Out of relative silence, the Word: "Snow in San Anselmo." "That's where it's at," Van will say, and he means it (aren't his interviews fascinating?). What he doesn't say is that he is inside the snowflake, isolated by the song: "And it's almost Independence Day."

 you're probably wondering when I'm going to get around to telling you about Astral Weeks. As a matter of fact, there's a whole lot of Astral Weeks I don't even want to tell you about. Both because whether you've heard it or not it wouldn't be fair for me to impose my interpretation of such lapidarily subjective imagery on you, and because in many cases I don't really know what he's talking about. he doesn't either: "I'm not surprised that people get different meanings out of my songs," he told a Rolling Stone interviewer. "But I don't wanna give the impression that I know what everything means 'cause I don't. . . . There are times when I'm mystified. I look at some of the stuff that comes out, y'know. And like, there it is and it feels right, but I can't say for sure what it means:
There you go
Starin' with a look of avarice
Talking to Huddie Leadbetter
Showin' pictures on the walls
And whisperin' in the halls
And pointin' a finger at me
I haven't got the slightest idea what that "means," though on one level I'd like to approach it in a manner as indirect and evocative as the lyrics themselves. Because you're in trouble anyway when you sit yourself down to explicate just exactly what a mystical document, which is exactly what Astral Weeks is, means. For one thing, what it means is Richard Davis's bass playing, which complements the songs and singing all the way with a lyricism that's something more than just great musicianship: there is something about it that more than inspired, something that has been touched, that's in the realm of the miraculous. The whole ensemble - Larry Fallon's string section, Jay Berliner's guitar (he played on Mingus's Black Saint and the Sinner Lady), Connie Kay's drumming - is like that: they and Van sound like they're not just reading but dwelling inside of each other's minds. The facts may be far different. John Cale was making an album of his own in the adjacent studio at the time, and he has said that "Morrison couldn't work with anybody, so finally they just shut him in the studio by himself. He did all the songs with just an acoustic guitar, and later they overdubbed the rest of it around his tapes."
Cale's story might or might not be true - but facts are not going to be of much use here in any case. Fact: Van Morrison was twenty-two - or twenty-three - years old when he made this record; there are lifetimes behind it. What Astral Weeks deals in are not facts but truths. Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It's no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boiled down to is one moment's knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

 Transfixed between pure rapture and anguish. Wondering if they may not be the same thing, or at least possessed of an intimate relationship. In "T.B. Sheets", his last extended narrative before making this record, Van Morrison watched a girl he loved die of tuberculosis. the song was claustrophobic, suffocating, mostrously powerful: "innuendos, inadequacies, foreign bodies." A lot of people couldn't take it; the editor of this book has said that it's garbage, but I think it made him squeamish. Anyway, the point is that certain parts of Astral Weeks - "Madame George," "Cyprus Avenue" - take the pain in "T.B. Sheets" and root the world in it. Because the pain of watching a loved one die of however dread a disease may be awful, but it is at least something known, in a way understood, in a way measureable and even leading somewhere, because there is a process: sickness, decay, death, mourning, some emotional recovery. But the beautiful horror of "Madame George" and "Cyprus Avenue" is precisely that the people in these songs are not dying: we are looking at life, in its fullest, and what these people are suffering from is not disease but nature, unless nature is a disease.

A man sits in a car on a tree-lined street, watching a fourteen-year-old girl walking home from school, hopelessly in love with her. I've almost come to blows with friends because of my insistence that much of Van Morrison's early work had an obsessively reiterated theme of pedophilia, but here is something that at once may be taken as that and something far beyond it. He loves her. Because of that, he is helpless. Shaking. Paralyzed. Maddened. Hopeless. Nature mocks him. As only nature can mock nature. Or is love natural in the first place? No Matter. By the end of the song he has entered a kind of hallucinatory ecstasy; the music aches and yearns as it rolls on out. This is one supreme pain, that of being imprisoned a spectator. And perhaps no so very far from "T.B. Sheets," except that it must be far more romantically easy to sit and watch someone you love die than to watch them in the bloom of youth and health and know that you can never, ever have them, can never speak to them.

"Madame George" is the album's whirlpool. Possibly one of the most compassionate pieces of music ever made, it asks us, no, arranges that we see the plight of what I'll be brutal and call a lovelorn drag queen with such intense empathy that when the singer hurts him, we do too. (Morrison has said in at least one interview that the song has nothing to do with any kind of transvestite - at least as far as he knows, he is quick to add - but that's bullshit.) The beauty, sensitivity, holiness of the song is that there's nothing at all sensationalistic, exploitative, or tawdry about it; in a way Van is right when he insists it's not about a drag queen, as my friends were right and I was wrong about the "pedophelia" - it's about a person, like all the best songs, all the greatest literature.

 The setting is that same as that of the previous song - "Cyprus Avenue", apparently a place where people drift, impelled by desire, into moments of flesh-wracking, sight-curdling confrontation with their destinies. It's an elemental place of pitiless judgement - wind and rain figure in both songs - and, interestingly enough, it's a place of the even crueler judgement of adults by children, in both cases love objects absolutely indifferent to their would-be adult lovers. Madame George's little boys are downright contemptuous - like the street urchins who end up cannibalizing the homosexual cousin in Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer, they're only too happy to come around as long as there's music, party times, free drinks and smokes, and only too gleefully spit on George's affections when all the other stuff runs out, the entombing winter settling in with not only wind and rain but hail, sleet, and snow.

 What might seem strangest of all but really isn't is that it's exactly those characteristics which supposedly should make George most pathetic - age, drunkenness, the way the boys take his money and trash his love - that awakens something for George in the heart of the kid whose song this is. Obviously the kid hasn't simply "fallen in love with love," or something like that, but rather - what? Why just exactly that only sunk in the foulest perversions could one human being love another for anything other than their humanness: love him for his weakness, his flaws, finally perhaps his decay. Decay is human - that's one of the ultimate messages here, and I don't by any stretch of the lexicon mean decadence. I mean that in this song or whatever inspired it Van Morrison saw the absolute possibility of loving human beings at the farthest extreme of wretchedness, and that the implications of that are terrible indeed, far more terrible than the mere sight of bodies made ugly by age or the seeming absurdity of a man devoting his life to the wobbly artifice of trying to look like a woman.
 You can say to love the questions you have to love the answers which quicken the end of love that's loved to love the awful inequality of human experience that loves to say we tower over these the lost that love to love the love that freedom could have been, the train to freedom, but we never get on, we'd rather wave generously walking away from those who are victims of themselves. But who is to say that someone who victimizes himself or herself is not as worthy of total compassion as the most down and out Third World orphan in a New Yorker magazine ad? Nah, better to step over the bodies, at least that gives them the respect they might have once deserved. where I love, in New York (not to make it more than it is, which is hard), everyone I know often steps over bodies which might well be dead or dying as a matter of course, without pain. and I wonder in what scheme it was originally conceived that such an action is showing human refuse the ultimate respect it deserves.

There is of course a rationale - what else are you going to do - but it holds no more than our fear of our own helplessness in the face of the plain of life as it truly is: a plain which extends into an infinity beyond the horizons we have only invented. Come on, die it. As I write this, I can read in the Village Voice the blurbs of people opening heterosexual S&M clubs in Manhattan, saying things like, "S&M is just another equally valid form of love. Why people can't accept that we'll never know." Makes you want to jump out a fifth floor window rather than even read about it, but it's hardly the end of the world; it's not nearly as bad as the hurts that go on everywhere everyday that are taken to casually by all of us as facts of life. Maybe it boiled down to how much you actually want to subject yourself to. If you accept for even a moment the idea that each human life is as precious and delicate as a snowflake and then you look at a wino in a doorway, you've got to hurt until you feel like a sponge for all those other assholes' problems, until you feel like an asshole yourself, so you draw all the appropriate lines. You stop feeling. But you know that then you begin to die. So you tussle with yourself. how much of this horror can I actually allow myself to think about? Perhaps the numbest mannekin is wiser than somebody who only allows their sensitivity to drive them to destroy everything they touch - but then again, to tilt Madame George's hat a hair, just to recognize that that person exists, just to touch his cheek and then probably expire because the realization that you must share the world with him is ultimately unbearable is to only go the first mile. The realization of living is just about that low and that exalted and that unbearable and that sought-after. Please come back and leave me alone. But when we're along together we can talk all we want about the universality of this abyss: it doesn't make any difference, the highest only meets the lowest for some lying succor, UNICEF to relatives, so you scratch and spit and curse in violent resignation at the strict fact that there is absolutely nothing you can do but finally reject anyone in greater pain than you. At such a moment, another breath is treason. that's why you leave your liberal causes, leave suffering humanity to die in worse squalor than they knew before you happened along. You got their hopes up. Which makes you viler than the most scrofulous carrion. viler than the ignorant boys who would take Madame George for a couple of cigarettes. because you have committed the crime of knowledge, and thereby not only walked past or over someone you knew to be suffering, but also violated their privacy, the last possession of the dispossessed.

Such knowledge is possibly the worst thing that can happen to a person (a lucky person), so it's no wonder that Morrison's protagonist turned away from Madame George, fled to the train station, trying to run as far away from what he'd seen as a lifetime could get him. And no wonder, too, that Van Morrison never came this close to looking life square in the face again, no wonder he turned to Tupelo Honey and even Hard Nose the Highway with it's entire side of songs about falling leaves. In Astral Weeks and "T.B. Sheets" he confronted enough for any man's lifetime. Of course, having been offered this immeasurably stirring and equally frightening gift from Morrison, one can hardly be blamed for not caring terribly much about Old, Old Woodstock and little homilies like "You've got to Make It Through This World On Your Own" and "Take It Where You Find It."

 On the other hand, it might also be pointed out that desolation, hurt, and anguish are hardly the only things in life, or in Astral Weeks. They're just the things, perhaps, that we can most easily grasp and explicate, which I suppose shows about what level our souls have evolved to. I said I wouldn't reduce the other songs on this album by trying to explain them, and I won't. But that doesn't mean that, all thing considered, a juxtaposition of poets might not be in order.

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where the mobile steel rims crack
And the ditch and the backroads stop
Could you find me
Would you kiss my eyes
And lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
Van Morrison
My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to beg Christ the Lord
to give back the soul I had
of old, when I was a child,
ripened with legends,
with a feathered cap
and a wooden sword.
Federico Garcia Lorca