Buddy Greene

Commentary

 

Commentary on the album SOMEDAY (June 2016)

 

The songs on Someday, both contemporary and traditional, resonate with themes that are important to me – creation, redemption, hope, grace in the midst of trials, the welcome of God.

 

This album is a bit of a culmination of thirty years of being in the world of gospel and contemporary Christian music, evangelical culture, and my own spiritual journey. As I approached the milestone of a 30-year recording career, I found myself reflecting on the aspect of my career that has involved me as a song leader… at churches, Christian retreats, family camps, or other such gatherings, where congregational singing was more or less the order of the day.

 

My approach to congregational singing is a bit like that of a curator. That is, I draw from hymnody and contemporary sources, but not necessarily the popular praise and worship songs of the day. What I’m looking for is poetic lyrics, sound theology, and beautiful melodies. And after a lifetime of being involved with the church I find that there is no shortage of really good material.

 

The other day, Gloria Gaither told me she loved Someday and said “Thank you for rescuing these songs.” She had in mind the songs of writers like Michael Kelly Blanchard, who is not that “current” or well known, but in my opinion, and Gloria’s, he’s one of the best.  The same might be said about Chris Rice and Fernando Ortega, but because they are not currently heard much on the radio they tend to be forgotten.

 

So, on this project I’m doing my small part to try and keep these writers and their songs out there. I think their songs are great.

 

 

Commentary on recording A Few More Years...

 

One day, during the recording of A Few More Years, Annie Campbell, my assistant and office manager, asked me to explain why I was so excited about this batch of songs. I reflected for a moment over the last 2 to 3 years - a period which involved buying and selling houses, moving, experiencing our first child leaving the nest, walking with more and more friends and family who were suffering from disease and other hardships, and knowing the grief of not a few loved ones dying. I then told Annie that during this period these songs helped me hear what I needed to hear, that is, aspects of the gospel that shored me up and helped me deal with the stress and emotional upheaval that was accompanying all of our circumstances. They were a balm for the weariness I felt, reminders of the steadfast love of God for his children, and the hope that comes from trusting in that love to bring me through whatever life in this fallen world may bring. They were also reminders of the things to come, of the new heaven and the new earth, and the New Jerusalem, the city of God, coming down. They were reminders of a God who sets things right, finally and completely in the age to come, but also even today as his children pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" and act accordingly. With that in mind I'd like to offer some brief commentary on each of these songs.

 

Introduction

 

I grew up in a church tradition that emphasized our heavenly destination through songs and preaching that described heaven based on a literal reading of things - you know, streets of gold, pearly gates and such. By the time I was a teenager, I had a growing awareness of a world gone wrong. There were race riots in our cities' streets, an unpopular war, a cultural revolution that was pitting father against son and mother against daughter. Beacons of hope, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, were being snuffed out, while young rebels full of promise, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, were dying as a result of their own reckless behavior. In the face of all this, somehow the promise of a heavenly reward and songs like I'll Fly Away offered little comfort. In fact, they seemed escapist and indifferent to the world my generation was inheriting. The church, as it was being presented to me, seemed entirely irrelevant, an enclave for people trying to be nice while the world went to hell in a hand basket.

 

Years later, when I began to believe the gospel, heaven still wasn't a motivating factor. Escaping hell on earth - which, by this time, my life had become – was, however, the big motivator. I just wanted to know how to live a better life here and now, and the promise of the resurrection life that Jesus offered was my last hope. Slowly, my life did begin to improve as I learned to make better decisions based on God's will for me as revealed in the scriptures. I began to associate and make friends with fellow believers, and the fellowship with such good folk reinforced my attitude and desire to be a better person. I was learning to be a disciple of Jesus, or was I?

 

Actually I was, but not without some serious missteps along the way. What has been revealed to me throughout my 25+ years of trying to be a follower of Jesus is my tendency to make salvation about me, as opposed to God's great plan to restore his creation, that is, to make all things new. "For God so loved the world" goes one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. Does God offer me eternal life through his son? Certainly - that's what the verse says. Will he forgive the repentant sinner? Of course - the scriptures make this promise over and over. But why do we repent? Why does God forgive? To what end are we being saved? Is it for some forestalled, future state of bliss that, in the meantime, has very little, if anything, to do with the here and now? Are we, at best, to just hang on in the midst of ours, and everybody else's suffering, till we get our reward in heaven? Or worse, are we to live indifferently to the suffering and injustice all around us, insulated and preoccupied by our quest for the American dream, assuring ourselves that God wants us to prosper, avoid suffering, and be evacuated before the "tribulation" gets here?

 

It's no wonder that kind of Christianity had no appeal to me as a disenfranchised prodigal son over thirty years ago. Thank God, it has also become as tasteless and dissatisfying to Buddy, the recovering Pharisee. I, too, like the God in whose image I've been created, love this world, and did so even in my pre-Jesus days. I loved God's creation, all that He had made and called "good". And I hated the way we, I, had screwed it up. I hated the way I was living, because I knew life was supposed to be so much better. I wanted to see the world put right, and I wanted to find my place in it. So when someone said to me, "it's all gonna burn, so don't get left behind", I didn't hear an invitation; I heard just another form of escapism.

 

But the call to follow Jesus is first of all an opportunity to repent, that is, change directions, in one's thinking and one's actions, not once, but daily, hourly, minute by minute, if necessary, in order to have eyes and ears that see and hear more rightly the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus came preaching and demonstrating. And that gospel has to do with God, not deserting His world, but rescuing, redeeming, and re-creating His world.

 

THE SONGS

 

Twelve Gates To The City

 

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee have been favorites of mine since I first discovered them nearly 40 years ago. At the time they were still alive and touring as a duet. Sonny's harmonica playing was amazing, and Brownie's guitar playing, a very sophisticated Piedmont blues style, was the perfect compliment. Both were unique and highly expressive vocalists. I heard this song for the first time on a collection of gospel songs of theirs. Sonny sang it with such joy and abandon that it made me consider why. For African Americans who had grown up in the land of Jim Crow, been denied civil liberties and a place at the table in the land of the free, the prospect of gates thrown wide open, with access for all those who had been kept out, would be something worth shouting about. Their version was similar to those of other blues contemporaries, like Rev. Gary Davis, with simple verses: "If you see my mother up there/ Would you tell her this for me/ Say I'm on my way to the city/ Hallelu, amen!"

 

Revelation 21 and 22, an amazing distillation of Old Testament prophesy, provides a culmination of all of scripture that fittingly ends the New Testament. One day I got carried away while playing 12 Gates, and a half hour later had written three new verses that allowed me to include some of the powerful imagery from this passage, rendered in a way that would, hopefully, meet Sonny's and Brownie's approval.

 

Twelve Gates To The City (traditional; with additional words and music by Buddy Greene)

 

I saw the new Jerusalem city

 

Long and deep as it was wide

 

Coming down out of heaven, beautiful and holy

 

Prepared to be God's bride

 

 

And there's no more crying in the city

 

No more death or pain

 

Everything's made new, it's the Gospel truth

 

The old things are passed away

 

 

Chorus:

 

Oh, what a beautiful city

 

Oh, what a beautiful city

 

God knows, it's a beautiful city

 

Twelve gates to the city, hallelujah, Amen!

 

 

I didn't see no temple in the city,

 

I saw God and the Lamb instead

 

I saw the glory of God giving light

 

And the Lamb was the lamp like the revelator said

 

 

Every tribe, nation and tongue

 

They're walking together as one

 

And all the kings of the earth

 

Were bringing their worth

 

Into the city that needs no sun.

 

 

Chorus

 

 

The Alpha and the Omega,

 

The Beginning and the End

 

The Lion and the Lamb, the Great "I Am"

 

Has got a message for every kind o' men

 

 

Headed For The Promised Land

 

One morning last October, I picked up my guitar and started strumming, and a melody came immediately to my head, along with the somewhat predictable first line, "I'm headed for the promised land". I decided I ought to stick with this one, see if I could finish it before lunch – and I did! It's no great song, just another little celebration from another little pilgrim, stumbling after the resurrected Jesus into the world he's come to reclaim for his Father.

 

I think this song was an attempt to work through some of the grief I was feeling over the loss of my dad, a kind of therapy, really. It helped to get me beyond the doldrums that had set in, because as soon as I wrote it I was imagining the friends I'd love to hear playing it. Musicians like Bryan Sutton (guitar), Byron House (bass), Aubrey Hayney (mandolin), and Luke Bulla (fiddle, harmony vocal) are all artists in their own right; it's absolutely amazing what they bring to a song. And they all live here in Nashville. I love this town.

 

Headed for the Promised Land (words & music by Buddy Greene)

 

I'm headed for the Promised Land

On this rough and narrow way

The tempter's lure I must withstand

Keep living for a brighter day

 

Was many years ago I heard

The voice that called me from on high

"Come, follow me" was the clear word

Come, taste and see and never die

 

I turned away from all that bound me

I turned and saw my Savior's face

Fell to my knees, received forgiveness

And understood amazing grace

 

Through many trials the Lord has led me

Down this road that leads one way

But he has promised ne'er to leave me

He gives me grace to help me obey

 

Though I may falter, and I may stumble

He will not let go of my hand

He will be faithful, I'll be humble

And headed for the Promised Land

 

And headed for the Promised Land

 

 

A Few More Years

 

I first heard this song on Tim O'Brien's Grammy award- winning album, Fiddler's Green. I've also heard that Ralph Stanley and Hazel Dickens have each done great versions of this old hymn. Its lyrics are credited to Horatius Bonar, a 19th century Scottish preacher and hymn writer with whom I'm vaguely familiar, but like most of his hymns, you won't find it except maybe in an old Presbyterian hymnal. I just love what it says and how it says it.

 

I had been thinking about this song for some time as a possible addition to this project, when finally, just the night before recording, I came up with a partial arrangement. The next day in the studio Bryan, Aubrey, Byron, and Jeff breathed new life into this old gem, with great ideas brilliantly conceived and performed. I was also extremely grateful and proud to have Vince Gill stop by several days later and lend his enormous vocal talent to the track.

 

By the end of tracking it became clear that this song summed up the project best, and it became our title cut.

 

A Few More Years Shall Roll (words by Haratio Bonar, music by George W. Martin)

 

A few more years shall roll,

 

A few more seasons come,

 

And we shall be with those that rest

 

Asleep within the tomb;

Then, O my Lord, prepare

 

My soul for that great day.

 

O wash me in Thy precious blood,

 

And take my sins away.

 

A few more suns shall set

 

O'er these dark hills of time,

 

And we shall be where suns are not

 

A far serener clime:

 

A few more storms shall beat

 

On this wild rocky shore,

 

And we shall be where tempests cease,

 

And surges swell no more;

 

A few more struggles here,

 

A few more partings o'er,

 

A few more toils, a few more tears,

 

And we shall weep no more:

 

A few more Sabbaths here

 

Shall cheer us on our way,

 

And we shall reach the endless rest,

 

The eternal Sabbath day.

 

 

How Can I Keep From Singing

 

“What though my joys and comforts die, the Lord, my savior liveth.

What though the darkness gather round, songs in the night He giveth

 

Sometimes there’s nothing like a song to help you get through the hard times. This song came to my attention 7 or 8 years ago when my good friend, Jack Pearson, played it one summer at Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center. Since 1996 Vicki, the girls and I had been going every summer to family camp at this haven among the coastal redwoods of California, and one of the delights of the experience was always Jack and his music. Jack had been a summer musician at Mt. Hermon for many years already, leading campfire sing-a-longs, family concerts, and teaching the children songs, storytelling, and the joys of making music with small folk instruments such as the spoons or jaw harp. He and I hit it off from the get go, and I marveled at Jack’s abilities, broad talents, and big, tender heart, especially for children.

 

I’ve learned many songs from Jack, but this old hymn is special. Its origin is obscure, dating back at least to the late 19th century. The earliest versions that I’ve found in late 19th and early 20th century hymnals contain most of the lyrics of this version here, though set in ¾ time rather than my 4/4 rendering. It became a favorite song of folk singers like Pete Seeger during the mid 20th century, an anthem for hard-pressed workers during the labor movement, and again during the McCarthy era, but as far as I can tell it was altered and de-Christianized. As a Christ-centered lyric, I’ve found it immensely comforting and reassuring.

 

 

My life flows on in endless song;

 

Above earth's lamentation

 

I hear the sweet though far off hymn

 

That hails a new creation.

 

 

Refrain:

 

No storm can shake my inmost calm

 

While to that Rock I'm clinging;

 

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

 

How can I keep from singing?

 

 

Through all the tumult and the strife

 

I hear the music ringing;

 

It finds an echo in my soul

 

How can I keep from singing?

 

 

What though my joys and comforts die?

 

The Lord my Savior liveth;

 

What though the darkness gather round!

 

Songs in the night He giveth.

 

 

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;

 

I see the blue above it;

 

And day by day this pathway smoothes

 

Since first I learned to love it:

 

 

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,

 

A fountain ever springing:

 

All things are mine since I am His

 

How can I keep from singing?

 

 

Denomination Blues

 

I first heard a version of this song on a Ry Cooder record over 30 years ago. It was written and recorded by Washington Phillips in the 1920s. Mr. Phillips was not afraid of preaching, especially to Christians that needed to get beyond their particular brand of religion and on to following Jesus. His lyrics included verses about the Primitive Baptists and the African Methodists(AME), two groups with which I've had little contact. I began coming up with verses of my own about some groups I was familiar with, beginning with my own group, the Presbyterians. Pat Flynn is a good friend, and, over the years, someone I've performed with a lot. Seems like every time we do this song another group comes to mind that needs to be added to the list, so he must share the guilt on these alternate lyrics.

 

This is one of those songs that draws mixed reviews, depending on the listener's perspective. I've noticed that it doesn't go over too well at church meetings, but it's a hit in "worldly" settings, such as music clubs or house concerts - with the Christians present as well as the heathens. It's as if we have to get away from the church building and our own party affiliation in order to let our guards down and not take ourselves so seriously. So, if you've taken offense over this one and feel inclined to write me, just know that my response will probably be, "you really ought to get out more."

 

Denomination Blues (by Washington Phillips; alternate lyrics by Buddy Greene & Pat Flynn)

 

Well now I wanna tell you people it's a natural fact

Every man don't understand the bible alike

And that's all, well I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

Well, I tell you that's all

 

Well, denominations have no right to fight

You know they ought go on and treat each other right

And that's all, oh I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

Well, I tell you that's all

 

Well now it's hard to find a Presbyterian on his knees

He's too busy dottin' i's and crossing all his t's

And that's all, I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

Well, I tell you that's all

 

Now the Nazarenes say drinkin' is a crime,

But I know a Nazarene who turned water into wine

And that's all, I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

I tell you that's all

 

Now the Catholics say the Pope is never wrong

But Brother Martin Luther sang a different song

And that's all, I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

I tell you that's all

 

Now the Frisbeeterian is walkin' round with a frown

Cause his souls on the roof and he can't get it down

And that's all, I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

I tell you that's all

 

Now the Unitarian - you know he's cuttin' it close

You could say that he believes in one God at the most

And that's all, I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

I tell you that's all

 

Well, you can to your college, you can go to your school

But if you aint got Jesus, you's an educated fool

And that's all, I tell you that's all

But you better have Jesus

I tell you that's all

You know you better have Jesus

Well, I tell you that's all

 

 

Hard Times Come Again No More

 

Stephen Foster was the first successful American songwriter, with hugely popular songs like "Camptown Races", "Oh, Susannah!", "Beautiful Dreamer", and many, many more. Foster was able to make a living through royalties from sheet music sales, but, in a time of minstrel shows and fly-by-night publishing, it was a precarious one. After his initial success he encountered a series of personal and business setbacks that eventually left him broke, alcoholic, and estranged from his wife and family. He died at the age of 37, penniless and alone.

 

This is one of my favorite Stephen Foster songs, written in 1855, the year that both his parents died. It was the beginning of hard times that would lead to his own sad demise 9 years later. I've heard that toward the end of his life this became his favorite song, one that he was apt to sing in a tavern late at night after too much to drink. The words are haunting and timeless, expressing empathy for and solidarity with the poor, downtrodden sufferers of the world, reminding us, lest we forget, that they are always with us.

 

Hard Times Come Again No More (by Stephen Foster)

 

Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,

 

While we all sup sorrow with the poor;

 

There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;

 

Oh Hard times come again no more.

 

Chorus:

 

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,

 

Hard Times, hard times, come again no more

 

Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;

 

Oh hard times come again no more.

 

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,

 

There are frail forms fainting at the door;

 

Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say

 

Oh hard times come again no more.

 

There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,

 

With a worn heart whose better days are o'er:

 

Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,

 

Oh hard times come again no more.

 

Chorus

 

Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,

 

Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore

 

Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave

 

Oh hard times come again no more.

 

Chorus

 

 

Shall We Gather At The River

 

Robert Lowry is the author and composer of many well-known hymns, including Nothing But the Blood, He Arose, and Shall We Gather At the River. He also composed timeless melodies for classics such as I Need Thee Every Hour, Something For Thee, Marching to Zion, and How Can I Keep From Singing, also on this CD. He was a 19th century professor and Baptist minister from Brooklyn who would "rather preach than write", but whose lifelong love of music finally led to a rather late avocation as a hymn-writer after the age of 40. He wrote this hymn based on the vision of the new heaven and new earth in Rev. 21 & 22, especially 22:1,2. He wondered why so many hymn-writers had "said so much about the 'river of death' and so little about the 'pure water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb'", and then penned this classic.

 

When I think about the time when this hymn was written, in the 1860s, I can't help but wonder about the state of our nation then - torn by civil war, grieving the loss of over 600,000 of her young men, President Lincoln assassinated, facing an uncertain future of reconstruction – and how that might have led Pastor Lowry to long all the more for a world set right.

 

I recorded this once before on my Hymns & Prayer Songs CD, but with quite a different feel than this version. I love everybody's playing on this one, and especially love hearing Ben and Sonya Isaacs' beautiful sibling harmony.

 

Shall We Gather At The River

 

Shall we gather at the river

Where bright angel feet have trod

With it's crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God

 

chorus:

Yes, we'll gather at the river

The beautiful, the beautiful river

Gather with the saints at the river

That flows by the throne of God

 

Soon we'll reach the shining river

Soon our pilgrimage will cease

Soon our happy hearts will quiver

With the melody of peace

 

On the margin of the river

Washing up its silver spray

We will walk and worship ever

All the happy golden day

 

 

The God Who Rescued Me

 

I've always liked this song. It's another deep catalog number of mine first recorded on my Minstrel of the Lord album, now out of print. Jeff Taylor and I have performed it regularly in concert, ever since we started playing together 5 years ago, so I wanted to include it here as my own testimonial. That squeezebox of his really helps to set the stage for my attempt to tell my own story of redemption, and continued renewal, in this fictitious sailor-turned-preacher tale.

 

I remember one night, after playing this song, as the applause died down, Jeffro exclaiming, in his best pirate's voice, "Aarr!! is for repentance!"

 

The God Who Rescued Me (words and music by Buddy Greene)

 

Now, I was a sailor and a reckless sort, and

I sailed my ship into countless ports

Looking for a good time, chasin' after thrills

Lovin' wine and women and my foolish will

 

Till I wound up shipwrecked, undone

Blind and beaten by the deeds I'd done

I cried out, "Lord, have mercy on me,

Can you help this blind man see?"

 

Then my eyes were opened and I saw my chains

And I heard a sweet voice calling my name

The chains were loosed as I fell to my knees,

for God had rescued me

 

Chorus: Now I raise my song to the Holy One

To the Father of Love and His only Son

To the Spirit of Life - the Three-in-One -

The God who rescued me

And, for all my days and in all my ways

May I live my life givin' all of the praise

To the one and only everlasting Love,

The God who rescued me

 

Then I became a preacher, and I knew my stuff

And I thought my preaching made me good enough.

Till I met a sinner and he was saved by grace

While I was patting my back, he was on his face.

 

How quickly I had fallen away

From unconditional love and grace

And traded a son's for an orphan's place

And my self righteous ways

Then I saw my rags when I saw His cross

And by His grace I counted His cost

And all my gains I counted but loss for God had rescued me

 

Repeat Chorus

 

 

All My Tears

 

Julie Miller wrote this fine song. It has been covered by several other artists (Emmylou Harris on her CD Wrecking Ball, for example). I first heard it on Julie's album about the time I met her. I had asked her to sing background vocals on a song of Mark Heard's I was recording at the time (I'm Crying Again, from Minstrel of the Lord, now available on the compilation CD Pilgrimage). As we talked about our admiration and love for Mark and his music, she mentioned having had Mark in mind when she wrote All My Tears not long after his untimely death in 1992.

 

To my ears this song does what a gospel song should do: it states the gospel in such a way that the irreligious and the religious can hear. The music is hauntingly beautiful, and the lyric is full of eternal longings. It's one of those songs I'd want someone to sing at my funeral. By the way, Julie's and husband Buddy Miller's great music can be found at www.buddyandjulie.com.

 

All My Tears (by Julie Miller)

 

When I go don't cry for me

 

In my Father's arms I'll be

 

The wounds this world left on my soul

 

Will all be healed and I'll be whole

 

 

Sun and moon will be replaced

 

With the light of Jesus' face

 

And I will not be ashamed

 

For my savior knows my name

 

 

chorus:

 

It don't matter where you bury me

 

I'll be home and I'll be free

 

It don't matter where I lay

 

All my tears be washed away

 

 

Gold and silver blind the eye

 

Temporary riches lie

 

Come and eat from heaven's store

 

Come and drink and thirst no more

 

 

chorus

 

So weep not for me my friend

 

When my time below does end

 

For my life belongs to Him

 

Who will raise the dead again

 

chorus

 

 

What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?

 

Another song recorded by the great Washington Phillips and often attributed to him as writer, but my research reveals that it goes back further, to the turn of the 20th century, when it was written and published by Charles Tindley, a former slave turned Methodist minister. After the Civil War, Tindley went about educating himself, eventually attending seminary. He became sexton at a Methodist church in Philadelphia during this time, and eventually the membership shrank so that the church was ready to expire. The pastorship was offered to Tindley, who became a gifted preacher and prolific songwriter and whose popularity helped to build the church back to a congregation of nearly 4000!

 

Besides Mr. Phillips' version it's been recorded many times. I first heard the song on Jorma Kaukenan's fine CD, My Blue Heart, a few years back. It's become a personal favorite in these ensuing years as more and more friends and family members have struggled with the effects of a fallen world where physical and mental disease, poverty, injustice, hurts of every kind, and that final enemy, death, afflict the human condition. The longing for a place where God will set everything right, where "peace abounds like a river", is felt keenly as the chorus is sung and the persistent question asked, "what are they doing there now?".

 

However, this song, unlike some "heaven" songs, is not escapist to me, anymore than a biblical understanding of heaven is escapist. It actually works to connect me with those "burdened with care", or those "full of disease", or the poor who are "often despised", in a way that makes me - in the midst of a "world gone wrong" - want to "pray heaven down", and in turn, be involved in the lives of those who are suffering. What else can it mean to pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven", than to not only long for the consummation of God's kingdom, but, in the meantime, to live and work for its demonstration today? Is this not why Jesus was called a man of sorrows acquainted with grief?

 

My pastor, Scotty Smith, upon hearing the song, had this to say: "This song contradicts a lot of the way people think about Christian spirituality today. It clearly says the gospel is not an anesthesia, [and that] to be a follower of Jesus does not mean that all of a sudden these kinds of pains go away… Songs like this help me to identify in my mind people I know who do have these 'minds burdened with care'…people that offer that currency as part of their worship. I think about those who were people of faith, whose bodies were full of disease.

 

"I think I hear the songwriter saying that he, too, is familiar with grief, and even a part of his longing is wanting, himself, to enjoy some of the relief (from death) that they are experiencing, because [in] his own heart - as the minstrel, the artist, the proclaimer - he's not a stranger to sorrow either, any more than Jesus was."

 

What Are They Doing in Heaven Today

 

I'm thinking today of some friends that I know

 

Who lived and suffered in this world below

 

They're gone off to heaven, but I want to know

 

What are they doing there now?

 

 

Oh, what are they doing in heaven today

 

Where sin and sorrow are all gone away

 

Peace abounds like a river they say

 

Oh, what are they doing there now

 

 

There's some whose minds were burdened with care

 

They paid for their moment with fighting and tears

 

But they clung to the cross in trembling and fear

 

Oh, what are they doing there now?

 

 

And there's some whose bodies were full of disease

 

Physicians and doctors couldn't give them much ease

 

They suffered 'til death brought a final release

 

Oh, what are they doing there now?

 

 

There's some who were poor and often despised

 

They looked up to heaven with tear-blinded eyes

 

While others were heedless and deaf to their cries

 

Oh, what are they doing there now?

 

 

O The Precious Blood Of Jesus

 

1998 was the year of the much publicized execution of Karla Faye Tucker, convicted of brutally murdering two people in Texas with a pick ax. She had come to faith in Christ while in prison, awaiting her sentence to be carried out, and had changed dramatically as a person. Thousands of people were appealing on her behalf for the Texas Board of Appeals and then Governor George W. Bush to commute her sentence. Bill and Gloria Gaither were on tour in Texas at the time, following the news coverage, and finding themselves, like most Christians, conflicted over all that was at stake. The commutation never came, Ms. Tucker was lethally injected, and Bill and Gloria flew shortly thereafter to Hawaii for a video shoot. There, watching the surf pound the lava cliffs of the island, Gloria couldn't stop thinking about the scandalous nature of God's mercy and grace, extended even to cold-blooded murderers. The cross became larger than ever as she put pen to paper and wrote these wonderful lyrics.

 

After hearing Gloria tell this story and read her poem to an audience, I asked her for a copy. Shortly afterward I was on vacation at the beach. I read Gloria's lyric again - with all of its sea imagery - and began my own meditation while observing the crashing surf, the teal blue ocean stretching into the distance, and the wide, endless sky. It's no wonder the sea has inspired so much in the annals of literature and music, and in no time I, too, was trying to evoke the sea in my musical setting for Gloria's words.

 

On this and several other songs I'm privileged to have my good friend Kelly Willard providing her exquisite harmony vocals. Kelly has sung on many of my past albums, and I'm a huge fan of hers, both for her vocal talent and songwriting. Well known as an outstanding vocalist in the field of gospel/contemporary Christian music, Kelly has sung on countless recordings of others and has produced many of her own solo efforts (kellywillard.com).

 

O, The Precious Blood of Jesus (words by Gloria Gaither, music by Buddy Greene)

 

Fathomless the depths of mercy

Endless flow the tides of grace

Shore to shore His arms of welcome

Sky to Sky His warm embrace

 

As no stone escapes the tempest

There's no sin Love's waves can't find

Hiding in the buried crevice

Deep within the human mind

 

chorus:

O, the precious blood of Jesus

O, the sea of His great love

This shall be my song forever

Earth is mine and heav'n above

 

His dear blood so free and costly

Restless, rolling like the sea

Washes over my dark spirit

Cleansing and transforming me

 

 

Where Cross The Crowded Ways of Life

 

I first encountered this song in an early 20th century Methodist hymnal. Written around the turn of the century by Frank North, a Methodist minister from Philadelphia, its lyrics deal poignantly and powerfully with the plight of the urban poor. It's interesting to me to think how few songs like this are being written today, when homelessness, crime, poverty, and all kinds of social injustice plague our major cities.

 

This hymn is ultimately a prayer and a call to the church to serve Christ in this world with the love and mercy that she's received from the Savior. This happens day in and day out through ministries like those of the Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, Room In The Inn, soup kitchens in downtown churches, charity medical clinics, and many, many more. However, as a suburbanite Christian, it's easy for me to ignore or neglect this gospel work among the least of these, unless, that is, I'm intentional about following Jesus into a broken and needy world. When I do, I'm usually amazed at what God has to reveal to me about my own needs.

 

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life (words by Frank North, music by Buddy Greene)

 

Where cross the crowded ways of life,

 

Where sound the cries of race and clan

 

Above the noise of selfish strife,

 

We hear your voice, O Son of man.

 

 

In haunts of wretchedness and need,

 

On shadowed thresholds dark with fears,

 

From paths where hide the lures of greed,

 

We catch the vision of Your tears.

 

 

From tender childhood's helplessness,

 

From woman's grief, man's burdened toil,

 

From famished souls, from sorrow's stress,

 

Your heart has never known recoil.

 

 

The cup of water given for You,

 

Still holds the freshness of Your grace;

 

Yet long these multitudes to view

 

The sweet compassion of Your face.

 

 

O Master, from the mountainside

 

Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;

 

Among these restless throngs abide;

 

O tread the city's streets again.

 

 

Till sons of men shall learn Your love

 

And follow where Your feet have trod,

 

Till, glorious from Your Heaven above,

 

Shall come the city of our God!

 

 

Twelve Gates (reprise)

 

After the last line of the last song ("…shall come the city of our God."), it seemed that a reprise of Twelve Gates to the City would be appropriate. Keith Compton had this little snippet saved of my rehearsal with Odessa Settles, her brother Calvin, and Todd Suttles, captured just before recording the background vocals for Twelve Gates. These great singers form half of The Settles Connection, which is completed by Wayne and Shirley Settles, and Calvin's wife, Sarah. It has been a blessing to discover, perform and become friends with the Settles Connection over these last few years. To learn more about Odessa and this unique family of singers, visit myspace and search for Odessa/Princely Players/Settles Connection.

 

 

In The New Jerusalem

 

This is a song that celebrates the church's mission to the world as envisioned in the final two chapters of Revelation and initiated in the first few chapters of the book of Acts. It begins with an allusion to Psalm 116:8,9, which states: "For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living."

 

I love the vision of the New Jerusalem. It's described in detail in Revelation 21 and 22, and prophesied, alluded to, or hinted at in numerous other places in scripture (see for example Psalms 46:4,5; 48; 87; Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; 13:14). It's the last of John's visions, a picture that sums up all of history, or rather God's story, as it has to do with this world and all that's in it (see Scotty Smith's comments on Rev. 21 & 22 at the end of this commentary).

 

For some time now I have been captivated by this biblical vision of heaven coming down. It's such a better understanding of our destiny and purpose than getting saved so we can one day fly away. When Jesus commanded us to pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven", I believe he had this vision in mind and meant for us to literally pray heaven down. Evidence of "kingdom come" begins to occur when God's people act on the fact that God is indeed THE king, on his throne NOW, committed to bring peace and justice on the earth, ready and able to bring peace and reconcile enemies, to turn swords into plowshares - in other words, he is making all things new (Rev. 21:5).

 

An example of this faith-based action would be when abolitionists protested and prayed till slavery was abolished in 19th century America; or when, a century later, civil rights activists prayed and sang their way to seeing the waters part and the Jim Crow laws changed. The fall of communism in eastern Europe, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, not to mention the truth and reconciliation commission that allowed the perpetrators and victims of apartheid to acknowledge guilt and give/receive forgiveness, are, I believe, further examples of faith-based action based on an eschatology of God "making all things new".

 

A favorite author and kingdom-thinker I like to quote, N.T. Wright, states it well: "If the church isn't prepared to subvert the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of God, the only honest thing would be to give up praying [the Lord's Prayer] altogether, especially it's final doxology."

 

In the New Jerusalem (words & music by Buddy Greene)

 

I'm alive in the land of the living

Delivered by the hand of God

Resting in the love of my savior

Walking down the path He trod

 

He's leading me beside still waters

And through the valley of the shadow of death

And He promises to never leave me

Till I'm home in His heavenly rest

 

Then I'll join that congregation

 

We'll all be together as one

 

Every tribe, tongue and nation

 

Singing praise to the Father and the Son:

 

"To God be the power and the glory

 

To Jesus, the Lion and the Lamb"

 

Forever we'll be living His story

 

There in the New Jerusalem

 

We read about the Lord's disciples

Gathered in the upper room that day

Praying for the Spirit to come down

Giving power for the Jesus way

 

So let's get in step with the Spirit

And love like the Father and the Son

Till we all learn to love one another

And the whole wide world is one

 

 

 

Thanks for reading this commentary. This project has meant a lot to me, mainly because of what these songs are trying to convey. I've hoped that they would be vehicles of hope and encouragement for people as they listen. I really do believe that we all share a universal longing to see this world set right, and I also believe that is exactly what God has promised to do through his son Jesus Christ.

 

Some final thoughts from my pastor, Scotty Smith:

 

I can offer no better concluding words, admonition or application to this series of reflections on our future than these from the Apostle Paul. Let's join him in living like heaven is a real place.

 

Romans 8:18-23 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

 

* * * *

 

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." Revelation 21:5

 

-- There are few verses in the Book of Revelation, no, make that in the whole Bible, that offer more encouragement and hope than Rev. 21:5. Take a good close look at what's being affirmed in this one verse:

 

-- There's an occupied throne in heaven. God is "large and is in charge!" Random doesn't reign, God does! "Accident" is not the defining word in our lives, "providence" is.

 

-- Jesus is making all things new, NOT all new things. God's story, the one grand narrative that unfolds from Genesis through Revelation, is a story of restoration, not replacement! God has not given up on his creation or his people. In the gospel, Jesus has signed on for the most incredible reclamation and renewal project imaginable.

 

-- Jesus is making ALL, not some things new. There is not one thing God made in the first creation that will "go to waste." I don't know what a renewed animal kingdom will be like, or a renewed Swiss Alps, or renewed chocolate, or …. You fill in the blank. But I can hardly wait to see!

 

-- Jesus says that he "is making" not "will make" all things new! This grand project of gospel-restoration is already underway! We are not waiting for Jesus to come back so he can begin this longed for restoration; he is on the job right now! Though we may not be able to perceive very much yet, currently and presently, the kingdom of God is in our midst, bringing the firstfruits of the final restoration of all things. Oh, for eyes to see what God is up to everywhere!

 

--This promise of restoration is "trustworthy and true." God is not hyping us but hoping us! We can take Jesus at his word, and therefore engage full bore in missional loving and living. To realize with in-the-gut-certainty that nothing can derail, slow down or alter God's restoration plan for his world and his people means that our labors in the Lord are not, in the least bit, in vain! Hallelujah! What a Savior! Hallelujah! What a salvation!.

© 2015 Buddy Greene, All Rights Reserved - site design by: bvc web design

photography: David Braud Photography - Illustrations: Paul Soupiset