This CD yields an opportunity I'm going to take. Mike Scott and his wife Brenda are well regarded in the country/bluegrass and religious communities, and I've oft confessed to—though an atheist now and never a Christian even when I was Catholic—loving good Jesus music, but there are issues that need to be tackled in order to rescue that historical figure (who - it is no secret to those who have studied these things and has been well documented in DVDs like The God Who was Never There—actually may never have existed) back to what is exposed in scripture. The Scotts aren't doing that, and I must take issue. If you've ever read the Humanist Christian Shelby Spong or listened to now defunct AirAmerica's talk show host Welton Gaddy, another Humanist Christian in the lineage of Erasmus, then you'll have a clue where I'm coming from. Buckle up.
I'll start boldly: Jesus was an anarchist in a tradition that seems to have commenced with Socrates in the West (and Lao Tse and the Buddha in the East). There were undoubtedly antecedent freethinkers, but I'm either unaware of them or they never made it to the written record; regardless, it's a small matter: mavericks have existed since the morning after man developed his intellectual capacities millions of years ago. None of the later historically recorded gents, however, were abnegators, where too much of modern Christianity is, as this music enterprise well shows. Therein lies all the difference. Jesus was a bold, sincere, intelligent, highly moral individual whose lessons speak for themselves, unstained by the blood and carnage done in his name almost from the moment the man was crucified. The sad record of Christian bloodlust and madness—seen endlessly in the Inquisition, Crusades, and countless crimes right up to this very moment with Christianity's endless splinter groups' ceaseless approval of war after war after war—began with the tyrant Constantine, who subverted the community Jesus had given birth to, against which the Roman aristocracy was unsuccessfully struggling.
What we now call "Christianity" is actually almost exclusively Constantinianism, a method of governance far removed from spirituality. Never for a moment, even in the midst of my highly contentious relationship with the Church, did I ever, after reading his gospels in the Bible, get the least indication that Jesus wanted to use me (Take Me Lord and Use Me), demand or ask my worship (I Love to Praise Him), or suggest that I should slough my travails (Since I Laid my Burdens Down). Quite the opposite, the avatar only taught and imparted wisdom while making it plain that I had many trials to expect while resisting all the venalities of the temporal sphere, that I should gird my loins to do battle, and that by far the lion's share would take place within me.
Then there's the matter of imputed divine origins—a genesis shared by all, we may wish to note; Jesus said so himself, as does the Bible—and I think if the main figure of the New Testament ever heard me utter the line I Can't Make It, Lord, Without You, he'd smile and gently remonstrate that that wasn't the point at all, not even close. The philosopher from Galilee, you see, was a man who lived a zen life; embraced, mindfully or not, the taoist ideal; walked the Buddhist path; and produced men equally transcendent, such as Emerson and Thoreau, not Robertson, Buchanan, Falwell, and the myriad moneychanging monsters we see so profligately paraded in every media venue. The latter three and all their brethren reptiles in sin are Rome's spawn, not the Christ's. I have, in the past, written upon the marvelous Christian bluegrass groups Rural Rhythms has published, but there come those times when I cannot allow Christ's name to continue to be abused by artists…or by anyone.
That all said, this is a sober CD, a laid-back and oft mellifluous collection of bluegrass folk songs hard to resist, infectious when amped up into jig tempo, and well conceived, but it also, like the excesses of its demagoguing, is not quite up to the label's standards of untouchably pristine engineering, falling short as it leans outside the shadow of the Christ. This is not to say it's bad, most of it is very good, but that it tends to hamstring itself in a rush to fall to its knees—a slave's pose. Similarly, the roundly invoked joyous celebratory mood of previous RR bluegrass gospel releases is sometimes beheaded here for the same reason, in a laconic need to emotionally flagellate and diminish the self. This impacts the musicianship, which, though the release features Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, and others, is not precisely what one might expect. Nonetheless, cuts like When I Get to Glory stand as fine examples of just how this style of music is done up right despite all my objections upon other criteria.
I suspect 'Let go, let God' consciousness is responsible for all the negatives, the 'You're so heavenly minded, you're no Earthly good' way of thinking that has turned Jesus' example into a paternally skewed set of hard-edged authoritarianisms and irresponsibilities, call and response indoctrinations aimed not at the individual's betterment but only his/her obedience and subjugation to the so-called representatives of Christ on Earth, a set of pseudo-academics too often infested by megachurch jackals. Then there's the matter of doctrine. In Eastern modes, one of the key strivings is to not let the dharma, the teachings, become corrupted. Well, that corruption came to pass long ago in Christianity, so much so that the real Jesus is barely cognized anywhere. That element, and not the so-called unGodliness of the temporal world, is now so huge and so integral a part of our present national and global ills that one must stand breathtaken in its presence, trembling in shock and righteous anger. The discrepancy between Jesus' words and the example of the present day Christian deserves intense scrutiny, but that, brothers and sisters, is something they flee blindly from, here and elsewhere. More's the pity.
I apologize to the reader if this hasn't been much of a music review because it certainly hasn't. However, I think my prolific work on this site speaks for itself, and if I occasionally break the game plan, then it's a right I've earned…and then some. If the Scotts find themselves displeased with my words, perhaps they'll find comfort in the fact that, long 'ere this, I would've been a good deal more vehement, probably a mite abusive as well, than I am here. However, there's an upside ironically present: I take a bit of a lesson from the Christ because there's surpassing wisdom therein and I find much to keep in mind as I live my argumentative, contrarian, resistance-drenched life, admiring the example of a Jesus who also vigorously fought the retrogression inherent in all conservatisms. I must, I'm afraid, lament the total lack of symmetry so howling evident when I look upon Jesus and then upon Christians, who have not really taken his name but stolen it.
I strongly suspect he'd like it back.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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