On my previous post I asked what single song you would sing if you were lying out in the gutter dying and you had time to sing one song…One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on earth.  One song that would sum you up…

Whilst I often love clever lyrics, at the end of the day some things just need to be said as they are.  Whatever our life experience or standing in society, we all fall short and hide behind masks and ultimately there comes a time when we simply stop pretending…

Is there time when old hymnals come back to mind and we recite phrases like “amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me”?  How seldom many of us see ourselves in that light.  And yet for untold numbers of others, they see themselves simply in that light with no hope of restoration.

I’ve been thinking it over for a couple of days and have concluded that I’d choose the same song as Scott.  So, when it all boils down to it the song I’d choose is as follows:

“Well I have wandered away from the narrow path

Have I gone so far that you won’t have me back?

You see my reaction to the world’s distractions.

If the apple is sweet, then I am bound to eat…

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy on me.

Well I came to you from that lonely place

At the end of the season from the sea and the sun

If you’re really there and you really care

Surely you will understand the depths of my despair 

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy on me.

Will you listen to me in my moment of weakness?

I’m your prodigal son and I’m looking for rest


Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy

Lord, have mercy on me”.

From “Mercy” by Gena Rowlands Band.

The above comes from the “Flesh and Spirits” album which I consider my best find of 2007.  I now regard it as one of the most important albums I own.  Whilst, the language may not always be the way in which I would articulate things, this record has helped me view life, love, attraction, temptation, sex, death, God and the human condition in a way like precious little other music has done for a long time.  If that has got you intrigued, then you can listen to some of the tracks at their myspace page here or order the album here.

One of my friends saw Gena Rowlands Band play a gig in Brooklyn last year.  They finished the set with this song.  Bob Massey sung the song whilst the rest of the band packed up their gear around him and those gathered in the venue began to sing along the refrain, “Lord, have mercy on us”.  I love that picture –  a small bar full of people, many of whom, I expect, would never consider entering a church and yet singing words together that they can understand and own.  It makes me think about how little time Jesus spent in religious places compared with how much time he spent with ordinary people in their everyday lives.

As Scott also recently commented in an email to me – church is more like a hospital for sinners than a museum for saints.  There’s a lot of truth in that and yet I wonder how many churches that actually rings true for?


14 Responses to “Mercy”

  1. 1 brunettekoala November 27, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Church is more like a hospital for sinners than a museum for saints. How very true. And yet somehow we still feel the need to put on our saint masks every sunday…

  2. 2 thestatethatiamin November 27, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Do we? I feel less and less inclined to wear a mask and more and more driven to see authenticity. I know what you mean though…

  3. 3 bringonthejoy November 27, 2008 at 11:03 am

    I love this song too. It’s funny how rare it can be to come upon a song that just seems to echo from one heart to another. Truth and authenticity are, I guess, in fairly short supply a lot of the time.

    My saint mask is rubbish, I never did get good at wearing it properly. I seem to prefer hiding to wearing a mask.

  4. 4 scottgladstone November 27, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    That Scott fellow is pretty smart.
    And that line of talking about myself in the third person is over-used.

    The Gena Rowlands Band have to my mind only ever produced great material. Some of it, this song particularly, is just superb.
    In saying that my favourite couplet of GRB comes from The Joke I Play on Washington
    “I wake up Sunday, I’ve missed communion / So I fake it with the party dregs.”

    Regarding how many churches that rings true for, not many in my experience. Problems are closeted, achievements are not. I think some of it comes from our limitations as humans, we don’t really know how to deal with certain sins and we get worried about being honest.

  5. 5 thestatethatiamin November 27, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Gena Rowlands Band have been a joy of a discovery for me in recnt years…

    As regards your remarks on church, I would tend to agree with you at large, Scott. That’s why I reckon so many of my friends, colleagues and contemporarties have so little time for the church or have written it off after they felt let down or disillusioned at some point in time.

    I reckon all of those things (and others) drove Jesus to spend little time with organised religion. The opening track on Gena Rowlands Band’s “Flesh & Spirits” made me see that vividly and, yet, paradoxically I have recently been reminded about how the church is “the Bride of Christ”. What does it say about the Bridegroom when we criticise or write off his bride? Isn’t she meant to be the hands and feet of Christ? I find it easy to look at churches or what we often misconceive as Christianity itself and echo the Easter question, “He is not here – Where did you hide Him?”

    Conversely, though,I hear more and more stories of people who are finding that their faith is awakening as they discover what grace, mercy and restoration are really about. Churches in whatever format (congregations, small groups, etc) seem in some cases to be awakening from slumber or being raised to life as they (read I)dispense with some of the pharasaic notions that we (I) held to as holiness and begin to try and get in tune with a bigger symphony and in step with a different rhythm of life and grasp a picture that is so much bigger than: creation; the fall; the cross; happy ever after.

    I want truth, I want authenticity, I want something I can really believe in and devote my life to. That’s not always easy, but I reckon my faith is the thing that drives me to journey on and to try and challenge the mindsets (even if I find that easier to do through blogging or to those already inside church buildings through leading music times or helping host a small group).

  6. 6 brunettekoala November 28, 2008 at 12:28 am

    I think we still wear our masks. We want to be honest, but at the same time we often would like others to think that we’ve got it sorted, because it seems like everyone else does. Or maybe that’s just me.

    We were talking about this at SU group the other day when we were looking at some of Amy Winehouse’s songs (‘I’m no Good’ and ‘Rehab’). And we came to that same conclusion – that we care about what other people think of us even when we try to pretend we don’t.

  7. 7 thestatethatiamin November 28, 2008 at 6:15 am

    Sometimes I wonder we if we also wear a mask that makes us out to have it less together than we do to fake dependency?

  8. 8 brunettekoala November 28, 2008 at 10:41 am

    That’s an interesting concept. can you explain it further?

  9. 9 thestatethatiamin November 28, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    My own experience in my teenage years was that everyone pursued “holiness” and beat themselves up whenever they failed. It became a bit of a witch-hunt at times as we all sought to spur one another on, but sometimes I wonder if, whilst well meaning, our focus was on things that were actually of less concern to God than some other things we ought to have been pursuing (the great commission for example…) Was it really all about Jesus or was it actually really all about US? How good OUR prayer life was, OUR quiet times, OUR avoiding of temptation, how many events WE attended, how many folks WE had tried to share our faith with? Did we feel like failures when we acknowledged the true state of each or any of the above at times? Maybe, that’s just me…

    I wonder at times, if we let the pendulum swing too much the other way? As I get older I recognise the contradictions within me. I try not to let that be an excuse for not trying to live in line with biblical principles and I love the realisation that actually we are all wretches, but that God wants to make something beautiful out of that.

    I just wonder if sometimes we make ourselves out to be unholy as a knee jerk reaction to the “holier than thou” stance of some folks. It is easy to think that the strictness of a previous generation suffocated the message and, as we try to live it out now in a culturally relevant and engaging way, do we go too far in watering it down to cope with the expectation of tolerance within society? Do we try too hard to dress it up in cool clothes and cool sounds – to package it in a way that tries too hard to say “I am just like you” even if our behaviour in certain areas and outlook has been changed?

    I don’t know the answer and I’m probably not expressing it very well, but I kinda like that I’m wrestling with a notion and trying to persevere and be true to myself and to God, even if I fail at it regularly…does that make any sense???

  10. 10 scottgladstone November 28, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    I think that this can maybe be summed up succinctly by saying that part of the human condition is a complete inability to call a spade a spade. There is not enough of, this is this way and that is that way and this is how I want to get things better.
    Maybe I am over-simplifying.

  11. 11 brunettekoala November 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    @TSTIAI – I get what you mean. I think my experience has been a lot like the teenage years you talk about, and I guess that’s what I meant by the agreeing with ‘museum of saints’ – we like to give that impression. Also, I get what you are saying about the second part of what you said…so as not to be associated with such ‘religiousness’ and ‘irrelevancy’ we water down the gospel to a nice comfortable level for us we can look ‘cool’ and ‘with it’.

    @Scott – I’m not sure if it’s the human condition, but I think increasingly in the society that we live in we like to make things very complicated and sound intelligent leading to a complete inability to call a spade a spade.

    So we have to give it a new label…a new concept…a fancy diagram…


  12. 12 thestatethatiamin December 2, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Scott – I think you have nailed it. I can often pussyfoot around for fear of offending and there is a time and place to act that way. At other times it is right to say it as it is.

    I want to be sensitive enough to know which response is approporiate at which point in time and not to shy away from being bold when I need to be.

    I have been struggling with one issue for most of the last year and often wrestle with it when I am at church. About two weeks ago toward the end of the service I had a moment of clarity which has shifted my perception, but alo means that I need to tell someone close to me something that may not be easy to say…

  13. 13 J. M. Halverson June 20, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I wrote that “Mercy” song – which is to say it was given to me, from some source beyond me, certainly, before I passed it on to Bob. I have always felt it as a Jonah song, expressing the feeling that you’ve gone out on a limb and only a major intervention can get you back. That you’re carrying the condemnation of your wickedness and the only thing tying you to hope is that mercy. Somehow the song seems to find people who are in a similar situation, or it speaks to them from somewhere to wherever they are. I want to tell you I am thankful to have been one small channel at one moment for those words and that music to pass through, and to Bob and the GRB for breathing life into it.

  14. 14 thestatethatiamin June 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Thanks SO much for that comment. That song has spoken volumes even over here in Scotland as you can see from the small number of comments on this little blog.

    Deep peace.


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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