Out of Your Horn

Eric Clapton’s From the Cradle blues album reverberated around the pool table as my son Tyler and I played one night.  Clapton listened to the blues from a young age.[1] The couplets of loving and leaving, laughing and loathing, longing and languishing are both true at the same time in The Blues.  The Blues is the perfect musical complement to reflection.  As Charlie Parker pointed out “Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.  If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”[2]

Steve Turner makes it clear that Negro Spirituals are the soil from which the roots of blues, jazz, and even rock ‘n’ roll get their nourishment.[3] It was the deep lament of slaves coupled with their high hope of Jesus’ return which provided fertilizer for The Blues.  James H. Horn’s The Spirituals and The Blues is an invaluable resource for understanding the history and theology of slave music in America.

The black experience in America is a history of servitude and resistance, of survival in the land of death.  It is the story of black life in chains and of what that meant for the souls and bodies of black people.  This is the experience that created the spirituals, and it must be recognized if we are to render a valid theological interpretation of these black songs . . .[4]

There is humanness in the blues where pain and praise are partners.  Life is messy.  How we reflect about life,[5] necessitates rough ground, a friction so we can walk, not slip.   Slogging through the swamp gets us to the other side. [6] It seems that the most difficult lessons, those that “take,” lessons that matter, that move us on in life, are born of hardship and travail.[7]

The spiritual, then, is the spirit of the people struggling to be free; it is their religion, their source of strength in a time of trouble.   And if one does not know what trouble is, then the spiritual cannot be understood . . . [8]

“Nobody knows the trouble I seen” is a verse born of travail, words from the birth canal of pain.[9] Reflection takes on new meaning when we give delivery to suffering.  “Fly away and be at rest” is the song of those who hope for escape and relief.[10]

Bono of U2 fame has castigated Evangelical Christians for their sick-sweet songs sung on Sundays.  Worship music is too happy.  It does not reflect the realities of life.  Instead, Bono maintains, our vocal worship should sound more like The Psalms which the rocker terms “The Blues of the Old Testament.”[11]

But the spiritual is more than dealing with trouble.  It is a joyful experience, a vibrant affirmation of life and its possibilities in an appropriate esthetic form . . . The slave’s view of God embraced the whole of life—his joys and hopes, his sorrows and disappointments, and his basic belief was that God had not left him alone, and that his God would set him free from human bondage.  That is the central theological idea in black slave religion as reflected in the spirituals.[12]

C. S. Lewis thought a great deal about joy, what he called sehnsucht or “longing.”  Clyde S. Kilby reports,

One day as young Lewis stood beside a currant bush in flower there suddenly and mysteriously arose in him “as if from a depth not of years but of centuries” the memory of an earlier happy morning.  Though it happened in an instant of time, he felt that “in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.”  It was the beginning of his search for Joy.[13]

The longing for God Lewis believed to inhabit every man’s soul, “a signpost pointing toward Him.”  Dissatisfaction so consumes a person, the heart cries out as it searches to relieve “the gnawing” which remains when “no adequate substitute is possible.”[14]Sehnsucht or the longing which haunts every man . . . entices him toward God.”[15]

Since my earliest years of teaching high school, I reminded my students of Lewis’ famed quote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[16] Lewis attacks what thoughtful Christian educators know to be true: our education system seeks to rob students of the “shy, persistent inner voice.”[17] All opportunities to teach, write, and communicate in any way must nurture the fragile seed of transcendence which is planted in us all.[18]

“I reflected on all of this” is both a recurring and summary statement from Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:1.  “I thought to myself” and “I thought in my heart” are constantly repeated phrases in my favorite book of The Bible.[19] Leaving no stone unturned, life was “tested by wisdom.”[20] Solomon declares, “Look, this is what I have discovered…this is what I have found.”[21] And what did he conclude?  Ecclesiastes 8:15 tells us:

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.

Here is Eric Clapton.  Here are the slaves singing in the fields.  Here is sehnsucht.  Here is Bono.  Here is the internal mark of longing on us all.  Charlie Parker’s reflection was right: “if you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

While country is Mark’s favorite music, he believes one can only lift weights to 80’s rock.  His students like this idea at Crossroads Bible College.


[1] Eric Clapton. 2007. Clapton: The Autobiography. (Broadway): 3-26.

[2] As quoted by James H. Cone. 1972. The Spiritual & The Blues: An Interpretation. (Seabury): 6.

[3] Steve Turner. 1988, 1995. Hungry for Heaven: Rock ‘n’ Roll & the Search for Redemption. (IVP): 40-42.

[4] Ibid, Cone, pp. 20, 32.

[5] Brookfield, Stephen D. 1995.  Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. (Jossey-Bass).  Mezirow, Jack.

2000. “Learning to Think Like an Adult: Core Concepts of Transformation Theory.  Learning as

Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress.  Ed. Jack Mezirow and Associates. (Jossey-

Bass): 3-33.

[6] Metaphors are used by Donald Schön and Joseph Dunne quoted in Doug Blomberg, 2007, Wisdom and Curriculum, (Dordt Press): 7-8.

[7] Romans 5:1-5.

[8] Ibid., Cone, p. 32.

[9] Compare the spiritual with Psalm 31:9-13.

[10] The song comes from Psalm 55, specifically verse six.

[11] http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/8091949/the_rolling_stone_interview_bono

[12] Ibid., Cone, pp. 32-33, 46.

[13] Clyde S. Kilby. 1964, 1978. The Christian World of C. S. Lewis. (Reprint, Eerdmans): 14.  I would most recommend Kilby who sees innate human longing as a major theme in Lewis’ writing.  For an in-depth analysis of the concept of sehnsucht see Douglas T. Hyatt. 1997. “Joy, The Call of God in Man: A Critical Appraisal of Lewis’s Argument from Desire.” In C. S. Lewis: Lightbearer in the Shadowlands, ed. by Angus J. L. Menuge. (Crossway): 305-28.

[14] Ibid.,Kilby, p. 29.

[15] Ibid., Kilby, p. 36.

[16] C. S. Lewis. 1943, 1960. Mere Christianity. (Reprint, Collier) :120.

[17] C. S. Lewis. 1949, 1980. “The Weight of Glory.” The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. (Revised, Harper): 31.  “In the final analysis, a reflective culture is about bringing a Christian school back to its fundamental principles, which in turn, are ultimately rooted in the faith commitments of the supporting community.  As Times, cultural contexts, and insights change, new pressures inescapably emerge.  New questions arise.  New challenges spring up.  As a result, a renewed need to reflect continually confronts us not only at Maplewood, but in every Christian school that wants to be true to its calling” (246).  Van Dyk (247-285) gives the research basis for his homey writing style throughout the rest of the book.  John took a sabbatical year to live out his teaching on reflection.  John van Dyk. 2007. The Maplewood Story: Fostering a Reflective Culture in the Christian School. (Dordt Press).

[18] Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 1:18-32.  By this I do not mean “the god within” of eastern religions but the hole in the soul which can only be filled by The One who made us.

[19] Ecclesiastes 1:16; 2:1, 15, etc.

[20] Ecclesiastes 7:23.

[21] Ecclesiastes 7:27, 29; 12:9; 6:11-12.  See Mark Eckel. 2008. A Story of Transformation: Ecclesiastes as an Example of Adult Learning Processes. Intégrité 7:2 (Fall): 42-52.

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