Friday, September 30, 2016

 

The Great American Novel: A Song by Larry Norman

Tonight as I have been hanging out with my family, I have had a song running through my head.  The song is by Larry Norman, something of a pioneer in Christian music.  Norman wasn't afraid to take on controversial topics in his songs, and in many ways he was a bold man.  I dearly loved his music, and I own several of his albums on actual vinyl records.  In some ways Larry Norman (along with DeGarmo and Key, Petra, Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, Bob Bennett, Sweet Comfort Band, Chuck Girard, Rich Mullins, and others) wrote the background music to my Christian life as a young man.  Nonetheless, there was one song that sticks with me.  That song is entitled "The Great American Novel."  Here are the lyrics:

i was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and i grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon

and when i was ten you murdered law
with courtroom politics
and you learned to make a lie sound just like truth
but i know you better now
and i don't fall for all your tricks
and you've lost the one advantage of my youth

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don't believe but still you keep on

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it

you are far across the ocean
but the war is not your own
and while you're winning theirs
you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exaggerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well i wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
from whispering through the fence
you know every move i make
or is that just coincidence
well you try to make my way of life
a little less like jail
if i promise to make tapes and slides
and send them through the mail

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answer i've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son
Although the issues he addresses in this song are predominantly issues of the 60s and 70s, the song still has a lot of relevance for today.  How often do we (as Christians, or even as Americans) think of our own needs first, putting our needs before the needs and suffering of others?  As Norman sings, our silos are full of grain, but we don't make a move to fill another person's empty spoon.  As Christians, we are called to feed the hungry, and yet so often we fail to do so (or we write a check or expect the government to do it because "we pay taxes").  Love for others should require us to consider the concerns of others as more important than our own (see Philippians 2).

And that is only ONE issue Norman addresses.  He addresses corrupt politics, racism, war, and a multitude of other issues, many of which still linger in our society.

I can almost see him, looking a bit prophetic in his long hair and faded jeans, singing his words of truth into my soul.  I remember seeing him in concert, and I remember wondering how he was able to read my heart and address my concerns so clearly.

I was young, I was idealistic.  And Larry Norman fed my soul things it needed to hear.  I needed to be reminded that the kingdom of God is more important than presidential elections.  I needed to be reminded that how I treat my neighbor says a lot more about my faith in God than how often I read my Bible.  I needed to be reminded that how I spend my money shows my real concerns and my true convictions.  I needed to be reminded that what I think of God often says more about me than it does about God.

I needed someone like Larry Norman to remind me--Christianity isn't necessarily a panacea for the world's problems.  It is a relationship with a living Lord who invades our lives with His amazing kindness and expects us to spread that love to others.  Christianity should be an ongoing journey into the Light, into the Truth, and a continuous connection and growing into the image of the One who made me and who laid down His life to save mine.

I needed to be reminded that Christianity isn't simply about creeds, belief systems, or doctrinal statements.  It is action.  God loved, and He acted.  How can we who follow Him expect to do anything less?  If we love as He loves, we will (indeed, we MUST) act.

Larry Norman wasn't perfect, but he was a good reminder for me at just the right time.  God used Norman to shore up my conscience, to remind me that in all my gaining of knowledge I needed to also gain wisdom to live life as God intended.  In some of his music, Norman shared that wisdom.

As he reminds us in the song above:  "you say all men are equal all men are brothers/then why are the rich more equal than others/don't ask me for the answer i've only got one/that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son."

How are we doing?  Are we walking out of darkness into God's great Light?  Are we moving in God's direction?  Where else can we go, Jesus alone holds the Words of Life . . .

Thanks, Larry Norman, for sticking in my head.  May your tribe increase!

Thanks for reading!

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