Friday, October 17, 2014

Musicians' Gambit: Petra

From the September 2011 E-Block.
**
For this Musicians' Gambit entry, we'll take a step back in time to one of the more classic bands, Petra. I once read this group described as a "meat and potatoes" band, which might suggest that we'll see a lot less fluff than we do in many of the groups we have reviewed so far. That does seem indeed to be the case.

Consider first this set of lyrics:

This thirsting within my soul
Won't cease till I've been made whole
To know You, to walk with You
To please You in all I do
You uphold the righteous and Your faithfulness shall endure
Adonai, Master of the earth and sky
You alone are worthy, Adonai
Adonai, let creation testify
Let Your majesty be magnified in me
Adonai you are an endless mystery
Unchanging consuming fire
Lift me up from mud and mire
Set my feet on Your rock, let me dwell in Your righteousness
When the storms surround me, speak the word and they will be still
And this thirst and hunger is a longing only You can fill

Although there are certainly touches of what we would come to see as an over-focus on a too-personal relationship, the balance of these lyrics is weighted overwhelmingly towards the attributes and majesty of God, and the references to our own experience, even so, are the minimum necessary to express the inevitable I-thou aspect of interaction with God. In short, there is a transcendence here that has been missing from so many of the groups we have previously surveyed.

And where before have we seen doctrinal matters so clearly laid out, than with words like these?

When our labor all retire
there will be a trial by fire
Will your treasure pass the test
Or will it burn up with the rest
You may build upon a sure foundation
With your building in delapidation
When it all comes down to rubble
Will it be wood hay and stubble
Or precious stones, gold and silver--
Are you really sure
And we all will stand at the Bema Seat
All will be revealed--it will be complete
Will there be reward in the fiery heat
When we see our lives at the Bema Seat
Every talent will be surely counted
Every word will have to be accounted
Not a story will be left untold
We will stand and watch the truth unfold
Every score--will be evened--nothing to defend
Every building will be shaken
Every motive will be tried
He'll give reward to the faithful
Will you recieve or be denied

Apart from Casting Crowns, we have seen no group put such a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility -- but not even CC laid the weight this heavily upon the listener, and placed their focus in the main on the experience of the one who suffered, as opposed to the process of judgment. Arguably one might say that there was a balance that needed to be struck between both, and that this is a case of a pendulum swung too far, reactionarily, in the wrong direction.

Petra was, as I recall, not a group that considered themselves beneath a little humor. To this day, "Breakfast" by the Newsboys remains one of my favorite songs, and this one by Petra seems to have been of the same type:

Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
We're beginnin' to think you're touched
We hear ya got religion
Ya ain't been 'round to see us much
Ya threw away your corncob pipe
And your jug of moonshine brew
And we hear ya ain't been doin'
All those things you used to do
Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
You're shavin' ev'ry day
You ain't been chasin' women
And you kissed your wife today
You went to church last Sunday
And you shook the preacher's hand
And they say that you been talkin'
'Bout a home beyond this land
Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
Ya never cuss no more
We hear you ain't been feudin'
You hung your rifle by the door
Ya take a bath each Sunday
If ya need it or not
And ya go to work on Monday
Even when it's hot
Lucas McGraw, what's come over you?
We're beginnin' to think you're touched
We hear ya got religion
Ya ain't been 'round to see us much
But ya know we've all been wonderin'
If what ya got just might be real
And all the while we're laughin'
Is it really God, Is it really God
Is it really God you feel?

I must confess to have never heard this one before, on Christian radio or anywhere else! But we probably should have. The emphasis on personal testimony, which I normally consider out of place, likely has its best expression in settings like these where it becomes a sort of self-effacing mechanism (as opposed to a sort of "tell all scandal" format).

Even more amazingly, Petra offered a similar song based on an incident in the life of St. Augustine:

...one night I heard a knock at the door
The boys were really painting the town
I was just another bored teenage boy
Kickin' up and actin' the clown... Yeah
One dare led to another dare
Then things were getting out of control
We hopped the fence and we stole the pears
And I threw away a part of my soul
Yes, I threw away a part of my soul (now it's)
Haunting me how I stole those pears
'Cause I loved the wrong
Even though I knew a better way
Not for hunger or poverty

It is hard to imagine some of our current groups (aside from CC) making use of what is a relatively obscure story like this one; but there is perhaps a connection to be made here between depth of theological knowledge and awareness and "meatiness" of lyrics. Those who make themselves earnest disciples will bear fruit (not pears!) in accord with that.

Petra was also not afraid to be critical of the brethren for misplaced priorities:

Everybody look there's a new bandwagon in town
Hop on board and let the wind carry you around
Seems like there's not enough to keep us busy till the Lord comes back
Don Quixote's gotta have another windmill to attack
Another Witch Hunt looking for evil wherever we can find it
Off on a tangent, hope the Lord won't mind it
Another Witch Hunt, takin' a break from all our gospel labor
On a crusade but we forgot our saber
There's a new way to spend all our energies
We're up in arms instead of down on our knees
Walkin' over dollars trying to find another dime So send out the dogs and tally ho
Before we sleep tonight we've got miles to go
No one is safe, no stones left unturned
And we won't stop until somebody gets burned
Bro Bro Bro Bro Bro Bro Brothers

My one reservation is that I have no idea where Petra would draw the line between a "witch hunt" and a genuine doctrinal dispute worthy of attention. I can only say based on their lyrics that I tend to think they'd draw a line that was a responsible one.

Did I find anything that looked too familiar, like so much of today's music? This came closest to crossing the line:

Why should the Father bother to call us His children?,
Why should the Spirit hear it when we pray?,
Why should the Father bother to be concerned with all our needs?
It's all Because of what the Son has done.
Once we were lost out on the Ocean with no direction or devotion,
tossed about by every wind & wave , Now we are in the world not of it,
and we can surely rise above it, Because the Lord has risen from the grave
And we cry "Abba Father", "Abba Father" ,"Abba Father" , "Abba Father"
We cry "Abba Father", "Abba Father", "Abba Father" , "Abba Father",
Once we were strangers from the Promise, We were doubters worse than Thomas,
Till the Spirit opened up our eyes, Now he has offered us Adoption & we have taken up the option, To be His family Eternally.
It's all Because of what the Son has done.

It came closest....but was ambiguous enough to not cross the line into the problematic "buddy God" treatment. In that regard I found Petra to be entirely sound and never lacking in reverence.

For our next few entries in this series, we'll continue to look at older groups, and perhaps there will be some sort of identifiable trend in which we find that the overfamiliarity of the most recent Christian music can be seen as a relatively recent aberration. It's hard not to wax nostalgic here -- I still recall such favorites as Petra, Stryper, and David Meece, and they now seem so reverent compared to what we have today.

That I describe Stryper as reverent in comparative terms might speak enough for itself!


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