Unchanging one

Last year was my first time at Spirit West Coast (SWC is a large music and culture festival for Christian bands and speakers–sort of like Ozzfest, but without most of the wordly trappings, like drugs, alcohol, and tattoo stands, not to mention the rampant occult…influences).  Early on in the afternoon, a guy came on that I’d never heard, or heard of before.  Todd Agnew.  His lead guitarist sat down in a chair and placed his guitar across his lap.

Great, I thought. Country.  He tore into his first song, Reached Down.  Not country at all–more like a fusion of electric blues and rock, and it woke up the crowd pretty quickly.  Todd’s just a normal looking guy–jeans, t-shirt, standing on the huge stage barefoot, with an acoustic guitar in his hands.  And he seemed very humble.  After that first song, he spoke for a minute, telling the crowd that he and his band had just come from the airport, and had not even had time for a sound check–they just came on and played that first song.  Then he stopped and prayed for several minutes.  I don’t remember exactly the words he used, but it moved me deeply, and after his set (which was incredible), I purchased a couple of his CDs at the merchandise table. 

Todd affected me like no Christian artist I’d ever heard.  It wasn’t just about lifting up your hands to heaven (though it was that, too).  He looks at God, and his relationship with Him, the way I try to (and don’t always succeed at doing).  He talks about the constancy and sureness of God’s love, in the way you don’t hear about it from a lot of Christian bands.  His pictures aren’t always pretty, but they’re always real.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of Christian music, or just a fan of really good blues-rock (or a fan of both), I suggest checking out Todd Agnew.  His first CD, Grace Like Rain,  had several hits.  The following song is from his follow-up, Reflection of Something, and I recommend that, too.  This is a good example of his lyrical style…

Unchanging One

I looked for love in every single situation
For something, someone
That would last a lifetime, a love that never dies
And I find


You know when I wake, when I rise, when I pray, when I curse You
And You love me the same
You know when I stumble and fall, and You’re there through it all
The only unchanging one

I looked for faith on the edge of my roof
No fear, daddy’s here
Still I struggle to trust You with the rest of my life
When I could just fly


You know when I wake, when I rise, when I pray, when I curse You
And You love me the same
You know when I stumble and fall, and You’re there through it all
The only unchanging one
I looked for God.


You know when I wake, when I rise, when I pray, when I curse You
And You love me the same
You know when I stumble and fall, and You’re there through it all
The only unchanging one

You know my inmost being
You know my deepest scars
You know my darkest secrets
You know and You love and You love



I’ve always been fascinated by worship music, even before I was a Christian.   I liked the contemporary style Christian music, too—there were several groups when I was growing up in the 80’s that weren’t too bad.  Well, Petra wasn’t too bad, or Barren Cross—but there were quite a few groups that were not very…well thought of. Stryper comes to mind. A great many people bought their records in droves, but most people outside of Christianity (and many within) condemned them for many things. Too hard. Too soft. Poor singing and playing. I thought they were ok, and no doubt they were successful, but…they took a lot of heat.    Where was I?  Oh, yeah.

 Worship music.

 It’s always impacted me, even when I didn’t understand it. I think maybe the first worship song I ever heard was toward the end of the movie The Color Purple, where Shug Avery is trying to lift Miss Celie’s spirits by singing to her at the neighborhood juke joint.  The scene cuts to her estranged father’s church, where the people worshipping hear the music start up at the juke (Shug’s father hasn’t spoken to her since her adolescence, when she began singing, and leading a…colorful life).  The choir huddles briefly and then begins singing God is Trying to Tell You Something.

     Shug hears the song begin, and the young soloist’s voice begin to soar, and she stops singing Miss Celie’s Blues.

“…can’t sleep and night, and you wonder why

     maybe God is trying to tell you something…”

    She closes her eyes for a moment and then begins to sing the hymn, softly at first, then with more and more power.  She leaves the juke, and begins the short walk to the church, with the juke patrons following in her wake.  She is resplendent in a yellow dress, and with her arms flung out, she walks into the church, her voice huge, powerful, feeling the words, feeling the power of the song, and getting it. 

     The young soloist steps back into the choir, recognizing that the moment is not about her; it’s about the two people before her: Pastor, and “fallen” woman, the prodigal daughter at last returned.

     Shug steps to her father, and he just looks at her for a long moment, then slowly takes her into his massive arms.  He has heard her, and finally gotten it himself.  He’s understood the most basic of truths about God; he will tell you something.  He will knock you off your high horse the moment you let him.  He will help you to forgive, and to repent.  And as Shug’s father, the fiery pastor, holds his beloved daughter, she whispers to him, “See Daddy, sinners have soul, too.”


     Darn! I got lost again.  Right, right. That was the first worship song I heard.  And it demonstrated to me—or allowed me to picture—the powerful changes that God can bring about in a person’s life.  That music can bring about in a person’s life.

     It’s impossible to count how many times I’ve been moved by the music since I’ve been at Canyon Viewand on the beach.  Ron is amazing, and we’re all so very lucky to have him, or any one of probably a dozen people on that worship team.  Of course, not every song will connect, but when they do, it’s truly like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.  There’ve been so many songs over the past three years, but I think the one that’s always really gotten to me the most—like God Is Trying To Tell You Something did for Shug’s father—is Be Thou My Vision.  And it isn’t just about being moved, though it is extremely moving.  Just look at some of the words:

 Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me save that thou art

Thou my best thought by day or by night

Waking or sleeping thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word

I ever with thee, thou with me, Lord

Thou my great Father, I thy true Son

Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.


Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise

Thou my inheritance now and always

Thou and thou only, first in my heart

High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art.

      The music is great, too—sometimes you’ll hear pipes, sometimes not—but always the same lilting melody.  Yet it’s the lyrics that get to me.  It’s just such a perfect, heartfelt expression of fealty and devotion.  It eloquently expresses the desires of probably every Christian heart:

“Thou my great Father, I thy true son

thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one…”


     So, like anyone in this enlightened day and age would do who wanted to know something about something he knew little about, I Googled it.  And I found out this:

    “Be Thou My Vision is a traditional Christian hymn (duh), which can be traced to Ireland but is now sung in English-Speaking churches around the world (kinda knew that part, too).

    The text (Rop tú mo baile) is often attributed to Dallan Forgaill in the 8th century; in any case, this text had been a part of Irish monastic tradition for centuries before the hymn itself was written. It is an example of a lorica, an incantation recited for protection. It was translated from Old Irish into English by Mary E. Byrne in “Eriú,” Journal of the School of Irish Learning, in 1905. The English text was first versified by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912.  ….Thus, the English translation of the hymn itself is fairly recent and the Elizabethan vocabulary and structure is somewhat an anachronism. Be Thou My Vision has become the quintessential Irish hymn in English-speaking churches and is often sung around St Patrick’s Day. Despite its traditional nature and the seemingly archaic quality of the text, Be Thou My Vision has become a popular song performed by many Contemporary Christian musicians, such as Rebecca St James and Ginny Owens.

    The tune the hymn is sung to is of Irish folk origin (from a song called Slane). It is named for a hill about ten miles from Tara hill in County Meath. It is on Slane hill, according to an account in the “Confessions of St. Patrick” that the Irish saint defied the command of the pagan king Loigaire by lighting the Pascal candle on Easter Eve. St. Patrick’s act was done in defiance of the king’s edict that no fire could be ignited before (emphasis added) the royal fire was lit by the king’s hand on Tara hill. The royal fire was kindled to celebrate the pagan Spring festival and symbolized the return of light and change of season following the darkness of winter.”

     So, St Patrick would have no other Gods before Jesus.  No small thing, considering the kind of things that would happen to people in those days if they defied kings, pagan or otherwise.  But other than that connection, the song has little to do with Slane Hill, or Irish mythology. 

     OK.  Patrick was a brave and Godly man.  But what about the guy that supposedly wrote Be Thou My Vision?

    “Saint Dallan Forgaill (Dallan Forchella; Dallan Forgaill; Dallan of Cluain Dallain; Eochaidh) was a Catholic Irish Poet. Dallan was born around 530 AD in Magh Slécht, County Cavan, Ireland, and studied so intensively that he literally became blind from writing poetry and studying. He was a first cousin of St. Mogue. Dallan was martyred in 598, when pirates broke into the island monastery of Inniskeel, Donegal, where he is buried, and was beheaded. It is also said that God reattached his head to his body after being martyred.”

    Interesting, indeed.  An Irishman, writer of obscure, Gaelic poetry, composes (or allegedly composes) a song that affects people all over the world hundreds of years later.  Shows you a thing or two about the power of God to change lives.  Also makes me think about John Newton, the Englishman (and former slave trader) who wrote Amazing Grace.  And I thought about St Patrick, the person who likely inspired Forgaill to write it through his lorica.  What’s a lorica?  Glad you asked.

    “In the Christian monastic tradition, a lorica is an incantation recited for protection. In addition to being recited by monks, loricas could also be found inscribed on the shields or armorial trappings of a knight, who might recite them before going into battle.

    Notable loricas include Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride, which in its English translation provides the text for the hymn Be Thou My Vision, and the Lorica of Saint Patrick”:

    So a lorica is something that monks would recite for protection from probably simply the world, from evil, from temptation.  And warriors would recite them before battles.  Even more interesting—brings to mind King David, singing psalms before battles (or after battles, for that matter).  But what, exactly, was the Lorica of St Patrick?

“I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.


I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.







I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.


I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

Now look at the complete lyrics for Be Thou My Vision:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart

Naught be all else to me save that thou art

Thou my best thought by day or by night

Waking or sleeping thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word

I ever with thee, thou with me, Lord

Thou my great Father, I thy true Son

Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.


Be thou my battle shield, sword for the fight

Be thou my dignity, thou my delight

Thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower

Raise thou me heavenward, O power of my power.


Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise

Thou mine inheritance, now and always

Thou and thou only, first in my heart

High King of heaven, my treasure thou art.


High King of heaven, after victory won

May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s sun

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall

Still be my vision, O ruler of all.


     Let me just say that I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with expressing fealty and devotion to the Lord—we should.  And even if you only ever take Be Thou My Vision, or any other worship song or hymn we sing in that regard, it’s completely worthwhile and deserved.  But consider that all those songs, and this one in particular, are loricas, to some extent.  And while we are praising Him, and lifting our hands in worship, I think we should also be mindful that we are inscribing the words not just in our hearts, but on the insides of our shields, and we are reciting them before battle.


Be thou my battleshield, sword for the fight

Be thou my dignity, thou my delight

Thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower

Raise thou me heavenward, O power of my power


     I think we forget that sometimes.  And that’s a shame.  It brings to mind a scene in Return of the King, when Aragorn is trying to convince Theoden to commit the Rohirrim to aiding Gondor.  Theoden is loath to endanger his men, when he feels he was slighted by Gondor when Rohan needed aid.

     “I would not risk open war,” he says.

    “Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not,” replies Aragorn.


     I know I talk about the whole warfare angle a lot, but really, is that a bad thing?  It’s just so easy to get caught up in the somewhat misguided New Testament ideal of Jesus that so many people have—the kindly man in the robe patting little kids on the head, and sharing water with Samaritan women.  Of course, Jesus was those things, and so much more.  But that wasn’t all he was.  Yes, he wept for us, and died for us, but he also fought for us—and continues to.  And that’s the thing: I think open war is upon us, whether we would risk it or not, and whether or not we admit it to ourselves or anyone else.  I think we need to be reciting loricas, and not just asking the Lord for a good day, though I am admittedly as guilty of that as anyone.  We need to put on the armor daily.  I need to put on the armor.…


can’t sleep at night, and you wonder why

maybe God is trying to tell you something…”







Give me apathy, or give me death

Sometimes I wish I cared about things a little bit less.  I think about that  a lot when I have to listen to giant-sized portions of political rhetoric, which is fairly prominent around this time of year, especially what with the Presidential race and all.

I never thought of myself as politically-minded prior to fairly recently.  And I still can’t think of many things I dislike more than talking about politics.  But with that said, I still want the best for my country, because I love it.  I just think some of the people that live here get a little confused sometimes.  All I’m really hearing about this current election is “change,” and “end the war.”  All that.  OK, what change?  And sure, I’d love to end the war, and bring the troops home.   But at what cost? Look what happened in Somalia in the early 1990’s.  We sent in the Marines, and they did their job.  People ate, and lived, and some small measure of order was restored.  Yet right after they were pulled out, the country fell once again into disorder, and Mohammed Farah Aidid started slaughtering and starving his own people to further his own agenda.  So we sent in the Rangers to restore order yet again, but we did not allow them to do what needed to be done.  Instead, we hamstrung them with rules of engament, and a bunch of them died.   But what if we’d maintained a Marine presence for a little longer?  What if there had not been such ridiculous rules?  What if we’d better trained the UN troops that were there to do things like, oh, fight (but don’t even get me started on the darn United Nations). 

Anyway, what happened is that the Marines were yanked out, and all heck broke loose. Still is.  Mogadishu is the wild west (and does Hollywood even think about what would happen in Darfur if we pulled the troops from Iraq or Afghanistan and sent them there?  Oh, they’d stay for a while, and then leave.  And the crap would hit the fan.  And the cycle would begin again…)

People argue quite fervently that the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan serve no purpose other than dying for something that isn’t worthwhile, and fighting for a cause that has no direct consequence in the U.S.  Well, I’m sure the soldiers don’t feel that way, or at least most of them.  And the last time I checked, we still had a volunteer armed forces.  We do not have a despot at the helm, conscripting young men and women to exact personal vengeance, or fatten his personal coffers (like Aidid in Somalia).

And what about the Iraqi people?  The men I’ve talked do that have done tours in the gulf report an entirely different story than the liberal minded media would have all of us know.  These people do not think we’re there for no reason.  And who am I to question someone’s willingness to go across several oceans to ensure my way of life is protected?

So what if Saddam Hussein did not personally fly one of the planes into the World Trade Center.  All I know is that since our military has been enforcing peace through strength, there hasn’t been another attack on American soil.

Unless, of course, you count the ones by ultra-left organizations such as the reprehensible “Code Pink.”  These people are disgusting, and demean our armed forces by doing things like vandalizing recruiting centers, to name but one.  It makes me sick, but it also makes me angry.

These folks ignore the fact that the sole reason they have the legal and protected right to engage in that very act is because our armed forces have given it to them.  What shall we do?  Huddle in our nice warm country and wait for the war to come to us?  It already has.

and then you see so many celebrities pitching fits about Darfur.  Yes, that’s a terrible situation.  Yes, it’s genocide.  Yes, it should stop.  But does that fact make what was (and is) happening in Iraq and Afghanistan any less horrible?  Is murder and repression different in other parts of the world?  More acceptable in some places than others because it occurs in less dramatic numbers over a longer period of time, or does not involve as much starvation?

Anyway, the short version is that I care about my country.  And if you do, too, then you need to do what you can.  What you can do is vote, and you can ask questions of the people that are running the country.  They’re answerable.  Nothing wrong with asking questions.

But so much of the things you see happening now, both in the media and in the country at large, are not just people asking questions.  It’s attacking people that are willingly going into harm’s way on our behalf.  It politicians crying out for change, but not backing up their outcry with a specific solution. It’s misguided and half-assed judgements made based on parroting another’s opinion.

My God, I could go on for hours.  Just look into what’s going on, is all I’m saying.  Don’t take anyone’s word for anything.  Form your own opinion.  Don’t let your life be ran solely according to party lines.  Do the best you can for  yourself and your country.

to be continued….

Fear is Fear

I am not brave.   Never have been.  In fact, it would be fair to say that there are several things that really  scare me.  Probably they shouldn’t, but the thing about irrational fears is that they are still fears.  In my case, I think the thing I am most afraid of is the dentist.  I really, really hate going.  Not just because of the pain thing, because I think I have a decent enough tolerance for that.  Maybe it’s the unknown.   Whatever the reason, when I take my fear combined with no dental insurance for most of my life, I haven’t gone for many, many years.

Until a couple days ago.  Finally, I made an appointment for a check up.  There hasn’t been any pain, or other symptoms, but after a good deal of prompting, I had to admit it was time.

Of course I know intellectually that a dentist would not intentionally inflict pain on me, and does not mean me harm.  That in itself does not help.  My last memory of a visit to the dentist, I was very young.  I don’t remember the reason it happened, because I didn’t get any fillings at the time.  Probably, it was a routine checkup.  And what happened was that I ended up stuck in the chair waiting for the Dr for a very, very long time. 

I remember being scared because I didn’t know what they were going to do.  I could hear the noises of drilling and scraping and God only knows what else, and I could not imagine having to get any of that done, or what it would feel like.  I just knew it would hurt.  I remember nothing being explained to me, and no one coming to check on me.  It felt like hours, but in reality was probably no more than 30 minutes or so.

And of course, when I went on Tuesday, the same thing ended up happening again, but for even longer–almost 50 minutes this time.  But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

I mulled going to my appointment over and over again as I was waiting for it to come, trying to psych myself down rather than up, because for a while, I got kind of revved up about it, to a pretty big degree.  But in the end, I felt like I’d almost gotten my mind around it by Monday (which wasn’t the case, of course).  We did the usual soaking prayer (relaxing and reflecting while worship music is played live) before we met, and while I was trying to just sort of shake off the day, my worries about my dog, and going to the dentist, I found myself thinking about my childhood visit again, which made me think about being afraid (again).  I prayed while I was listening, of course, and found a little peace, but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to lead a prayer session.  Turns out I didn’t have to.

When we got into the Lighthouse Crew room, I was glad that we didn’t end up doing a normal, theophostic prayer session.  We just prayed for a few guys in the group that wanted or needed prayer, one of whom was me.  I hadn’t planned on it, but Steve just sort of looked at me and said, “Tom…” in that deep, Moses-like voice of his.  So I got prayer, and of all things that could have happened in that 15 minutes or so, I was surprised that I ended up laughing, due to an inane comment that I didn’t make myself for once.  I felt pretty good when I went home that night, and while I wasn’t exactly doing the happy dance about going, I was a little less freaky about it than I’d been before.

Of course, by the time I got there at 3, I ended up letting my mind wander places that weren’t very helpful.  They sat me down in this little alcove with an x-ray machine and took what seemed like a couple dozen x-rays, which ended up taking until about 330 (I’d gotten there at 3).  Then they took me to another small room in the back, and sat me in the chair, telling me the Dr would be in soon, and leaving me with a remote control, so I could watch a few short videos about the various procedures they did.  I only watched two, and then sat down the remote, because I figured the Dr would be coming.  And I waited, and waited, and waited some more.  I could hear people walking by, and water running, and what sounded like drills, and other unidentifiable noises.

And I began to think once again about the stuff that had come up intermittently over the past weeks, and then in living color the night before.  I didn’t have a vision, or anything that extreme. I was aware of who and when I was, but at the same time, I could also remember hearing similar noises when I was a kid, and sitting in the chair with the door open a couple inches, exactly like it was then.  And I started thinking those same thoughts, feeling those same feelings.  What were they going to do?  Were they going to remove or pull any of me teeth?  I knew they’d have to eventually.  Would I get stitches?  My mind and my heart began to race, so I tried to do the

“deep, cleansing breath” thing that people always talk about.  Only worked to an extent.  Where was the damn DR?

And then it finally occurred to me to pray. What God showed me was that I was not alone in that room.  I hadn’t been then, and I wasn’t now.  I didn’t see him, or hear a clear word, but after a few minutes,  I began to feel peaceful, or more peaceful, anyway.  Suddenly, I was taking those deep breaths without trying to.  I took out my phone to check the time, and thought about texting my friend, eventually deciding against it.  After a few more minutes, the Dr came in, and it was impossible to be afraid of her.  She was an extremely pleasant Vietnamese woman named Nguyen, and told me she was very sorry for the long wait–turns out my x-rays had gotten mixed up somehow.  She struggled with pulling them up on the computer as well.  They were mislabeled.  My upper x-rays were where the lower should be, and vice-versa.

Anyway, the point is that one, I should have been praying all along, instead of letting my imagination run wild.   Once I finally did pray, I began to feel less fear and more peace almost immediately.  And two, the Dr Nguyen had no intention of hurting me.  No dentist had, actually.  Did my fear go completely away?  Of course not.   It’ll always be scary, a little.  But I think the unknown was the worst part.  It doesn’t seem like  a big deal now, when I think about it.  It’s almost embarrassing thinking about how upset I allowed myself to get, and that I almost blew my friend’s ear off right afterward talking about it.

I think next time I’ll try and do things a little differently.  I’ll go in ready this time, and I’ll remember to put on my armor.  That’s the plan, anyway.  We’ll see how well I pull it off….