The Songs Wear Well

Their Songs Wear Well

I was channel surfing when I came across a performance by James Taylor with the Utah Symphony Orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  It’s replaying several times this month on www.byutv.org and it’s well worth watching.

Taylor is one year younger than I am.  He’s bald, now, and the wrinkles in his face bear the signs of the wear and tear of his younger life.  But the guy just gets better as he gets older.  His voice is as clear and strong as it ever was, but there is a calm warmth, personal depth, and something like genuine humility that comes through in both his singing and the way he relates to the audience and the other performers on the stage.

One of the best musical events Marsha and I have ever experienced was seeing Taylor and Carole King when they performed together in Tampa.  Wow! What a night!  Taylor told the story of how King gave him her song, “You’ve Got a Friend,” and he’s been singing it ever since.  One of the things that made the concert so powerful was the energy of the long friendship they shared.

Getting Bitter or Getting Better

I had a sudden reminder that I must be getting older in spite of how I feel, when Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stokey were on Morning Joe last week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” Fifty years?  You’ve got to be kidding!  Mary died several years ago.  Like Taylor, both Yarrow and Stokey are bald.  (At least I still have some hair!) But like Taylor, they and their songs have aged very well. The convictions behind the songs are just as strong today as they were when we were all young.

Watching these aging singers reminded me of a poster that hung on the wall of my college dorm room with the words of Dag Hammarskjold: “If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.”

We might as well face it: getting older isn’t for wimps.  The question is whether we get bitter or get better.  We get to choose whether we will continue singing our songs or stop singing along the way.  We can continue to hold onto the biblical vision of the Kingdom of God, coming on earth as it is in heaven, or we can give in to the brokenness of the culture around us.

A Song of Ascents

I’ve been re-reading the spiritual autobiography of E. Stanley Jones.  The title, “A Song of Ascents,” comes from the Psalms 120-134.  They are called the “songs of ascent” because they are the songs pilgrims sang on their way up to the Temple.  Read through them, you will see that they are not all cheerful little ditties to whistle in the dark.  Some are painful songs that cry out for mercy, strength, and peace.  But they are always moving forward; always looking toward the fulfillment of their journey when they reach Mt. Zion and are (in the words of Charles Wesley) “lost in wonder, love and praise.”

Jones wrote:“My song is of the pilgrimage I am making from what I was to what God is making of me. I say ‘what God is making of me,’ for the best that I can say about myself is that I’m a Christian-in-the-making. Not yet ‘made,’ but only in the making at eighty-three.”

In worship yesterday I realized that my singing voice isn’t what it used to be, but the songs wear well.

Grace and peace,

Jim

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7 thoughts on “The Songs Wear Well

  1. “Bitter or Better?” That sums it up! Aging is definitely a challenge but thank God for offering us the “Better” option!! :o) Thanks for saying it all so well!

  2. As my mom always said, “Age is not for the faint of heart.” But I have lived longer than many of my relatives and friends and find that music always is part of my devotional life. Such wonderous music, even when my voice is not what it used to be, and what a blessing to be able to hear the songs of the church in reality and in our minds. I love James Taylor, too.

  3. Jim

    My mom, who is 93, and I share a similar phrase – “getting old ain’t for wimps”. It’s so true on so many levels.  From the physical toll that aging takes on our bodies to the emotional toll that the loss of friends, family and loved ones takes. It’s not easy getting older. 

    I like how E Stanley Jones put it that he is a “Christian in the making”. It reminds me of the story you’ve told about the farmer at your church in Orlando.  To paraphrase – He’s not the man God wants him to be, but he’s a better man than he was yesterday” I guess that’s a pretty good attitude to have. “Growing” older instead of “getting” older.

    Carrie and I also enjoyed the James Taylor/Carol King concert. We have probably seen him in concert 3 times dating back to our days at Tennessee.  We will be seeing him this Friday at the Ice Palace.  Hopefully you and Marsha will be there too.  

    I think you often and hope that you are enjoying retirement.  I’m jealous of cruise you are taking in the fall. It looks like a lot of fun. Take care. 

    Fred

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

    • Fred: Thanks for remembering the guy in Crescent City. I really ought to pay him royalties for it. The direct quote is: I’m not the man I used to be, and I’m not yet the man I’d like to be, but I’m more the man God wants me to be than I’ve ever been before.

      We did not get back to see Taylor again, but I’m sure it was a great night.

      Hope to see you to serve at Met Min with the Monday morning guys!

      Peace,

      Jim

  4. Jim:
    Thanks for the thought provoker today. I have been traveling from Michigan to upstate New York of late to offer some care and encouragement to my 99 year old aunt. She broke a hip a couple months ago, received a full hip replacement, and is now doing re-hab. Our most recent trip gave me a lifetime memory of singing her most favorite hymns and watching her join in on the choruses. There was a delight in her face and a joy in her heart that I had not seen in some time. She knows the painful challenges of aging. They have brought her low on many occasions. But the songs of her faith serve to renew her spirit. James Taylor sings another song that fits your thoughts. “Secret of Life” includes the lyrics:
    The secret of life is in opening up your heart
    It’s OK to feel afraid
    But don’t let that stand in your way
    ‘Cause anyone knows that love is the only road.
    And since we’re only here for awhile
    Might as well show some style
    Give us a smile.

    Continue your song on the journey!
    Shalom,
    Tim Woycik

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