Category: Music

The Ballad of Thomas Ryman


There are many reasons why people think that the Ryman Auditorium is called “the Mother Church of Country Music.” First, it looks like a church. Notice the arched windows and doorways, the American Gothic architecture, and the wooden pews inside.

Then, there’s the devoted, religious following of the Grand Ole Opry, which still closes most of its performances with a Gospel tune.

Finally, there’s the notion that you haven’t really arrived in Country Music until the “Mother Church” gives you her blessing, and you are invited to play the Opry (even if most of the performances are now held at the Opryland Resort.)

But how many realize that the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, was actually a church?

In 1885, Riverboat operator and saloon owner Thomas Ryman noticed that the ongoing Christian revival across Tennessee is cutting into his business. Looking to preserve his business ventures, Ryman decided to go to a revival meeting held by the great Evangelist Samuel Porter Jones for the purpose of disrupting and heckling the service.

Instead of stopping the revival, Ryman himself wound up converting to Christianity. So moved by the preaching of Jones, and his own redemption, Ryman endeavored to make sure everyone could hear the Gospel as spoken by Jones’ voice. So, he invested $100,000 ($2.7 million in today’s cash) to build the “Union Gospel Tabernacle,” a 6,000 seat chapel where Jones would be able to preach to multitudes.

Worship services were held, and Jones held many revivals in the facility. The tabernacle was renamed the “Ryman Auditorium” in 1904 by Jones as he preached Ryman’s funeral.

The Ryman Auditorium closed in the 1930s, and fell into disrepair before being taken over by WSM-AM in the 1960s to become the site of the Grand Ole Opry.

I read this story several years ago, and it continues to impress me that a hardened sinner was so moved with gratitude for his salvation, and concern for the eternal destiny of his fellow man, that he put his fortune to the test to build a place where everyone could come, hear the Gospel, and be saved.

When I think about this, I wonder what I have done to show my gratitude to God for my salvation. I also wonder what would happen if I did more. Furthermore, what if we had more Thomas Rymans in the world, hardened sinners broken and redeemed by the power of Christ who turned around and did everything in their power to reach those around them? If this happened, what kind of revival would we see in our country?

Right now, the entertainment industry politicizes everything, thinking that to legitimize their fame and popularity, they have to adopt a cause or message to change the world. Politicians legislate to leave their mark on the world. Athletes endorse ideas and causes.

The rest of the world uses its platform to advance a secular agenda. Isn’t it time that Christians use their platform to advance the Kingdom of God?

May God grant you the boldness to live out your faith and reach others with the Gospel.

Obey God and do as you please

Photo by Anthony Pepitone

Pete Seeger is probably the most influential man whose name you probably have never heard. A social activist of the 1960s, he wrote songs promoting environmentalism, civil rights, the counterculture, and songs opposing the Vietnam War.

He popularized the song, “We Shall Overcome,” which became the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, and his song “Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)” became a major hit for the Byrds, and a musical standard for the 1960s.

The song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” was taken almost verbatim from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James Bible. The song itself was used as an anthem to call for an end to the Vietnam War, with the final line stating, “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” Those who listen to the song can find themselves transported to a peaceful state of mind, relaxing and just enjoying the moment.

The irony of “Turn, Turn, Turn” is that Seeger rejected the Bible as scripture. He did not believe the Bible is God’s word, and he thought much of the book was a collection of folk tales and poetry. In an interview with Paul Zollo, which later appeared in the book, Songwriters on Songwriting, Seeger discussed his views on the Bible:

I don’t read the Bible that often. I leaf through it occasionally and I’m amazed by the foolishness at times and the wisdom at other times. I call it the greatest book of folklore ever given. Not that there isn’t a lot of wisdom in it. You can trace the history of people poetically.

Ironically, Seeger’s biggest hit came by setting music to the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3. The idea came after Seeger’s publisher complained that he was unable to sell the protest songs which he was writing. Seeger, a social activist at heart, put the music to the scripture, hoping that the publisher would hear a Top-40 hit, and that the listeners would hear a call for peace.

Further irony is that a song that became an anthem for peace in the 1960s also proclaimed there was a time for war, a time to kill, a time to hate, and a time to cast away stones. Also, there was a time for peace, a time to heal, a time to love and a time to gather stones together.

The opening lines say it all, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

Seeger rejected the Bible as God’s word, and as such rejected the one who could put more power into those lyrics than David Crosby or Roger McGuinn ever could.

Ecclesiastes is a popular book among atheists and agnostics because of its seemingly humanistic approach to life. In many places, the book claims that life is empty, and none of man’s works will last for eternity. Therefore, one should simply enjoy the simple pleasures of life and the fruit of his labor. That approach to Ecclesiastes is extremely dangerous, because it plays right into the error that the writer was warning against.

Taken in its context, words of wisdom from a King who wanted his people to live with the enlightenment of the Lord’s wisdom, Ecclesiastes teaches that life outside of God’s presence is empty. It’s pointless. It is temporary and the struggles of life are futile.

The lesson in all this is that God is in control, and there is nothing we can do to add to, or to take away from, the plan that He is working on this Earth. Therefore, we should be content to live with the blessings God has given us, to learn the purpose of the seasons of life we endure, and to obey and reverence God.

Furthermore, we should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all our labor, for it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:13). While we do that, we should give thanksgiving to God for that gift.

Or as one theologian put it, “Obey God and do as you please.”

Had Seeger understood this concept, he would not only have seen that the wars, conflicts, and times of peace and prosperity served God’s purpose, but he still would have been free to pursue his social agenda of equal rights and preserving God’s creation. Instead, he will be mildly remembered as the man behind a happy little ditty from the 1960s.

God created you with a purpose. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God before ordained that we should walk in them. In giving us that purpose, he gave us passion for that purpose and the talent to pursue it. Do not separate your spiritual/church life from your daily life. The whole of your persona was built in when God formed you in the womb.

The day a generation died

Tom_Petty_2016_-_Jun_20I don’t normally get emotional when news of celebrity deaths hits the airwaves. On my radio show, I often find myself putting together tributes to musical greats, movie legends and iconic performers whose time on this earth has come to an end. I do so with the understanding that time passes on, people age, the circle of life turns, and everyone faces that time when they “cross over Jordan.”

So, when Mary Tyler Moore died, I didn’t get emotional, even though I had watched every episode of Dick Van Dyke and the Mary Tyler Moore Show. When Glen Frey passed away, I put together an Eagles tribute for KXYL, but I didn’t shed a tear.

This is life. This is our ultimate destiny. It’s one we should be prepared for, Spiritually, mentally and financially.

However, when news broke Monday that Tom Petty had been found in full cardiac arrest, I knew what was coming next. There was no doubt in my mind that his time on this earth had come to a close.

For some reason, this time, I was emotional. I was overcome with sadness. I felt as though something special had been lost. The worst part is, I couldn’t explain my own emotion.

Explaining emotions is impossible, because emotions by nature are illogical. Still, it took days to explore this emotion so I could understand why I was so upset about the passing of Tom Petty, but not other performers.

So, I went home and pulled up the video of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Take the Highway Live” tour on YouTube.

As I sat watching Tom perform his classic hits that carried me through late childhood and adolescence, it dawned on me. Tom Petty was the icon of my generation.

He’s never been called this before. He has never been labeled as the voice of Generation X, the lost generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials that no one cares about. Seriously. For 40 years, marketers tried to figure out how to reach the Baby Boomers due to their numbers, before skipping over Gen-X,Y, Z,Whatever to reach the over-hyped Millennial generation, a generation defined by youth and whatever label commentators want to attach to the bearded kid in the coffee shop. I digress.

While Petty himself was a boomer, his songs played a key role in the upbringing of Gen-X. His own daughter posted online that she grew up to his songs, that everyone grew up to his songs. I did as well. From “Refugee” to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Petty’s music emanated from the speakers of my radio, and radios around me from childhood to young adult-hood.

His videos were creative and iconic, earning him the 1994 MTV Michael Jackson Music Video Vanguard award. He was one of the reasons my generation sat glued to MTV before it was overrun by episodes of “The Real World.”

Petty toured right up until his death. He continually worked on new projects and cranked out new music.

But we never considered him the voice of our generation, even though his music spoke directly into our life’s experiences.

“Refugee” taught us that life goes on even after we’ve been burned, that we don’t have to languish in the pain our past experiences have caused us.

“Won’t Back Down” tapped into our defiant attitudes. “King’s Highway” tapped into our desire to hit the open road and go “Running Down a Dream.”

“Learning to Fly” keyed into our struggle to overcome the daily rat race, and “Last Dance with Mary Jane” identified with our experiences of lost love.

Think of a moment in your life, and there’s probably a Tom Petty tune to match the occasion. And that’s why his passing hits us hard.

You see, we Gen-X’ers, the last generation to grow up before cell phones, smart phones, internet and social media, remember a simpler time. A time where concerts were safe venues to enjoy music and let your problems go for a while.

We remember a time when TV was funny, entertaining, and wasn’t trying to change our view of culture. We remember calling the local radio station to place our requests, Saturday nights at the skating rink, and the ability to leave home without having your day-off interrupted by cell phone calls from work.

We remember a time when we felt safe, long before 9/11 and mass shootings put us on edge. We remember when music was fresh, innovative and artistic. We remember music on MTV, and wasting hours staring at the screen as music videos from all genres aired.

Cruising. Road trips. Spring break at the beach before Girls Gone Wild turned it into a freak show. Bubble tape, Ecto-cooler, Crystal Pepsi, the Arch Deluxe, and the Isuzu Amigo.

We remember going to college to prepare for a fulfilling career.

Some of these experiences are still a staple of American life. Some aren’t. But no one can honestly say life today is as simple as it was, say, in 1993 when Tom Petty had his last major hit on commercial radio. And that’s why we’re sad.

The simple life of yesteryear no longer exists, and will never return. Tom Petty’s death reminds us that life changes, and the things we hold dear often fade into the backs of our collective memory.

Or, as Tom put it, “The good ole days may not return, and the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn.”




There is good news, however. The fact that the good ole days may not return does not mean that there aren’t better days ahead. Tom’s music was optimistic, so we too should be optimistic.

Photo credit: David W. Baker