Visiting family in Fort Erie
I don’t get to see my extended family as much as I would dearly love. But there are times where you just need to make the effort to travel two in a half hours to be with the people who matter most to you. We decided to go and visit Lori-Anne’s brother, Rob and his dear wife, Tracy and their daughter Olivia and go and chill out with them. Saturday evening, Rob and his band were opening for one of the living legends of “Jesus Music,” Randy Stonehill. So it was a bonus weekend for Lori-Anne and I as we have wanted to reconnect more often with Rob and Tracy, and to do so on their home turf was especially welcomed at it always feels like “a home away from home.” Nothing like homespun hospitality from those who love you and cherish you as members of their family. They are the most incredible hosts, and the coffee is always brewing, and in the evening, there is always good conversation over a cold beer. There is nothing like it. We talk to the wee hours of the morning and it is always a joy and a delight to just hang out with each other. There is nothing like getting away from your own routine, and hanging out with loved ones like this.
More than just a Saturday get-away
This particular Saturday, was extra special, as we were going to see Rob perform, open up for Randy Stonehill. It was something that both Lori-Anne and I wanted to do, to go and support Rob, who is a terrific musician and is especially gifted on his “axe” and to hear him play with his band was extra special. These guys had last played together over 10 years ago. They got together earlier in the day, for about an hour to rehearse a few songs. Being so familiar with each other it took little time for the band to find their groove and be ready for the evening. It was a double feature for Lori-Anne and I, as we not only had the opportunity to see Rob, but we also had not seen Randy Stonehill in a long time. I had not seen him since 1988. Lori-Anne had not seen him since 1979. So we were pretty jacked to him play and sing in Fort Erie.
Way back when “Christian rock” was evolving
Randy Stonehill started out in that music scene in 1970 when it was in its infancy. He wasn’t even 18 yet. Stonehill was discipled and mentored by Larry Norman in California and became a prophetic voice and balladeer to the spread of Evangelical faith in North America, and as Randy has aged and matured, so has his music in lyrical and musical composition. He would go on to support, mentor, and sing with the likes of Keith Green, Phil Keagy, Daniel Amos, Tom Howard, Mark Heard and others. Over the last few decades Stonehill partnered with Phil Keagy as well as with Buck Storm. Stonehill continues to evolve and develop as a person, and a devoted Jesus follower, and as a musician. You really seen how much he continues to develop when you see the creative and talented output from his cooperative creations he has made with the likes of Phil Keaggy (Together Live (2006) and Mystery Highway (2009)) and Buck Storm (Breath of God I (2012), and Breath of God II (2015)). You really find here an edgy rocker and a balladeer and master story teller at work in the lyrical composition as well as the beautiful melodies and hard edged guitar instrumentation that Stonehill brings to his craft.
Seeing “Sir Stonehill” was an incredible and momentous event for me personally. Stonehill was such an influence in my life. Just thinking about going to Fort Erie last week just stirred my heart and awakened so many wonderful and cherished moments of my adolescent youth and how impactful the man’s music was to me. He is only six years my senior but I always found him to be a person of great influence.
The power of music can shape and form our identity and how we see ourselves
Over the decades, reflecting on my youth, I have always cherished my 17th year, a year in which so much happened in my life, where I was in the crux of self-discovery, and awakening to the world and what was going on in the world around me, and trying to understand my place in the world, and what it meant to be a follower of Jesus living in this world at this particular time. Being 17 was not an easy year for me. So much change. So much going on in the world. It was a tumultuous decade. 1975 was the year. America had exited South East Asia and was in a state of isolation internationally. Emotionally and spiritually the American scene impacted the English speaking West in profound ways, and it was no less so with the Evangelical church scene of that time.
The Jesus People movement had exploded on the scene in 1972 and had continued to spread within the culture at large, and not just in the Christian sub-culture. The Hippie Movement had come to screeching collision with society that culminated with Woodstock and the end of the Beatles, and all the social upheavals of 1968 that impacted Europe and North America were still sending shock waves across the social fabric of the Western culture at large. It was in this decade that Randy Stonehill emerged as a “voice crying in the Wilderness” as did Keith Green and other song writers, the modern poets of the emerging generation. It was not just the likes of Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Gene MacLellan, Leonard Cohen, Joanie Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn who were poetically and musically calling the current generation to embrace the culture and be agents of change. The “Christian” voices grew as well with the likes of Randy Stonehill, Keith Green and Phil Keaggy and Larry Norman and other passionate Christians.
The Jesus Movement impacted the church and more importantly society and culture
The music of that time period helped shape my life and my worldview. The music of my parents and their generation never resonated in my soul. It was a music style and format that was dated from a previous time period that never reflected my own time and space in my sub-culture. It did not speak my language and it did not stir me or move me inspirationally. I was alienated musically, and not so highlighted that alienation than hearing the music in “church.” It was horrific for me in my teens to find any of the music being played and sung in church. During these early 1970’s, I got my hands on Larry Norman’s LP’s, Upon This Rock (1969), Street Level (1970) and Bootleg (1972). These were digested daily in my room or the basement rec room on the family Hi-Fi stereo record player. I would pile them three records high and listen over and over and over again as I read books, or played chess, or worked on plastic model airplane kits, or oil and acrylic paintings. I was in my own space and my own little world. I craved for the sounds and lyrics I heard on the radio. Perhaps nothing reflected more of what I felt than Larry Norman’s “Why Should The Devil Have All the Good Music.”
My early beloved LP’s of Stonehill and Norman got me through high school
I got a copy of the LP Born Twice in 1972 (the year after its release) and a copy of Only Visiting this Planet the same day. Here I had the “dynamic duo” of Norman and Stonehill, a few years before Solid Rock Records were formed in 1975. I loved their sound and I loved their lyrics. They spoke my language. This music informed and influenced my life more than any other Christian artist. These guys were tremendous musical talents who happened to also be devoted disciples of Christ. They had great talent for writing poignant lyrics about social issues facing society, and also oriented their responses to these issues through the lens of faith. They were among the balladeer prophets of my generation.
The apex of this transformative time for me came about in 1976 and 1977 when Stonehill’s Welcome To Paradise (1976) and The Sky is Falling (1977) came out, both produced by Larry Norman on the Solid Rock label. Norman’s album, In Another Land (1976). I really loved these early albums of Randy Stonehill’s music and to this day they are among my favorite albums of all time. “Keep Me Running” and “King of Hearts” are two of my favorite from Welcome to Paradise.
The Sky is Falling, is a great follow up album to Welcome to Paradise. There are so many great songs on this album, to the point that I have to play the whole album through and not skip any songs. It is one of those rare finds when you can find something to love in each song, be it the lyrics or the guitar and bass riffs. It is all so well produced and the recording sessions are superb. There is not one dull moment on this recording. It is an amazing array of songs with great lyrics and for me, it is not just about the tune, but the significant and impactful lyrics that are used to convey a story and narrative. All the songs really flow well together and weave a beautiful tapestry that makes it a joy to listen to over and over again. I always enjoy the blues style in song writing and composition, and this one by Stonehill is no exception. “Jamey’s Got the Blues” is a great song, and rather poignant in its lyrics.
The oddity of hearing music you loved but your theological perspective has moved on
No one can dispute the impact that this group of Evangelical Jesus Rockers has left on the music scene within North American Christianity, in particular Evangelicalism as a whole. The historical time frame for the emergence of these talented musicians and song writers helped shape their view of the world, their understanding of the Bible, and still does to this day. I know from re-listening to Norman and to Stonehill, their songs have been filled and saturated with dispensational eschatological lyrics and meaning, of the “rapture at any time” kind of belief. Hearing these songs now again refreshes for me the initial impact they had. I loved the musical composition, but not the lyrical underpinnings of these particular songs.
Although I must confess that yes, while I don’t agree with the “eschatalogical” lyrics, I do find a basis for the “rapture” in the sense in the end all people ever born will die and face their Maker. In that sense all people must be “ready for death” at any moment. As such, Stonehill’s and Norman’s lyrics calling people to be ready for Christ, are as poignant as ever, even if we don’t agree with the eschatology.
I was never an adherent or proponent of dispensational eschatology. That “stuff” they sang about that Jesus would be coming in the clouds and all believing and practicing Christians would go up in the air to “meet the Lord” in a “great escape from planet earth” was all nonsensical to me as a Christian believer. I never took that reading and understanding of the same treasured and revered “rapture” texts that prompted Stonehill and Norman to write their songs.
I believe that neither Norman nor Stonehill ever intended to manipulate or coerce people into embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they understood it. I have always believed that they were sincere and Stonehill very much is sincere about his views and beliefs. The dispensational understanding underpins how they understood and currently understand God and His interaction with humanity, and It is just part of the fabric of their belief and their conversion to Christ that came packaged in this theological frame of understanding. Dispensational eschatology was and is their grid for understanding what they say is “biblical eschatology” and the “times of the end.”
There are a good quantity of songs and embrace this belief and understanding and they are sung with a sense of urgency and foreboding, and this is intentional on their part. But their views are one of many, and no one can truly hold to an absolute understanding that their view is correct or the only biblical option for people to embrace. God is bigger than man made theological systems, no matter how convinced you and I might be about what we believe to be true at this time and place in our journeys with God. We cannot afford to be dogmatically arrogant and presume we are the only ones with the corner on truth on this matter.
Here I am all these years removed, and Randy is still singing, and still singing about the times of the end. It is a burning theme in his heart that people be ready to meet God, and so he is compelled to speak and sing about being ready to be with Jesus. I understand that passion and it is a beautiful things to see and appreciate a person publicly declare his love for Christ, and the earnestness of discovering life in Christ, not just as a “fire policy” to escape “hell”, but as a discovery of the full measure of life God has made provision for through Jesus Christ for all of humanity. It is amazing to comprehend how much God loves us, and that theme is constant in the music of Randy Stonehill. One thing that I can clearly say about Randy Stonehill, he is one persistent, pressed in and persevering believer in Christ and he has held on tenaciously to his belief in Jesus and the beliefs that go along with being a dedicated disciple of Christ. He is authentic and real and transparent.
Stonehill went through some pretty rough periods in his life as a Christian, and suffered greatly through difficult times with his mentor, Larry Norman. What I found refreshing and most encouraging when I was at the concert last Saturday evening, was the freshness and honest engagement of Randy as a person with his audience. He was real and very present to the moment we were in. He focused on us, and took us along a journey of celebrating Jesus, the Gospel, and what it means to finish well as a believer. He left no stone unturned to testify to the goodness of God and His grace, and how that same grace is available to all of us. It was amazing to be a part of this evening.
Having had difficult relationships and broken marriages can turn a person into a very private and protective person. In his relationships with friends such as Keith Green and Larry Norman, Stonehill reveals a tender and healed heart in how he pays tribute to these two men who were incredibly talented people, who had equally strong personalities and who were very demanding and exacting in their interactions with others. Stonehill no less pays tribute to them and thanks them and God for though “life is tough, God is good.” You have to have a tender heart and thick skin to make it through life, and Sir Stonehill sure has persevered and inspires us to keep walking with Jesus and to keep trusting in him, no matter how difficult our human relationships become.
Life is tough, but God is good all the time
Randy Stonehill does not know this, I did not even bring it up when I came to speak with him at his product table. Lori-Anne and I were there, and we just wanted to thank him for coming to Canada, and to Fort Erie and for ministering to us that night. We both wanted to tell him how much of an impact he had on our lives as young believers. I had always wanted to say that to him, and I got to do that face to face. He took my hand and smiled and thanked me for my words and was so genuinely humble. He spoke of how much it means to him to know how God has used his music to impact the lives of people. I told him he did that again during that concert. Lori-Anne and I got some photos taken with him and I treasure those photos, captured in time and space.
I bought one of those t-shirts, “Life is tough… God is good.” My journey with cancer the last 16 months have been awkward, difficult, very trying, and also a great blessing to walk with God in a new and more profound way. The shortness of life, and our lifespans, be they 9 years or 99, are but a whiff of smoke. Time literally flies by. My mind may still feel like I am 17, but my body betrays me and reveals that I am 58 and that I am aging and having all the challenges that people have as they grow older. Life was really tough for me in 2015 and 2016. Life was really really tough. But, God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good. That summarizes well just how much I cherish life and cherish God who embraces exactly where I am and He never leaves me or forsakes me. I am never alone. There is perfect union with Him and there is no separation from Him. Whatever sense of “separation” I may feel, is my own self, my own ego, my own internal junk that separates me, and pushes me from God. God is always there. I praise Him for that truth, that truth that is constantly being written upon my heart and mind. Sir Stonehill sang about it and spoke it over all of us that night in Fort Erie.
Stonehill has his product table at these concerts and his wife, Leslie, manages the table with the CD’s, posters, and t-shirts. They really promote this t-shirt (yes I bought one) with those words, “Life is tough… God is good.” I find this to be a profound testimony to this balladeer, Randy Stonehill, who was an inspiration to me as a teenager, and who sang songs that really reflected my own journey with God in this world. It was the sound and the lyrics of my own generation, and I find his music resonates even more now than it did then. He has endeavored to live a “God honoring life” in all his ways, and has always wanted to use his incredible talent and gifts to the “glory of God.” Randy Stonehill models for me what that looks like.
Thank you Sir Stonehill and Lady Leslie
For all the heartache life has thrown his way, and for all the disappointments and broken relationships, he has modeled someone who no matter how many times he falls down, he picks himself up, turns to God, and God gives him strength, some more keen insights, and then God gives him more lyrics and melodies for more songs. He is indeed a balladeer and a troubadour of the King. He sings to the delight of His God, and to the honor of His Name, for the sake of Jesus His Son. There is no more nobler a thing anyone of us can do, than to do all we can, with who we are, and with all the talents and gifts we have, than to do all to the glory of God in Christ Jesus! Thank you Randy Stonehill for reigniting that 17 year old teenager’s heart in this 58 year old body. You blessed me tremendously. You touched my heart and Jesus renewed my spirit.
I leave you with the last song Stonehill performed for all of us. It was a powerful song calling all of us to “Finish well.” It is a real timely reminder about the importance of how we live our lives and that we live it well. As I have said many times, “A life is not measured in how long you live, but rather by a life that is well lived.” Sir Stonehill continues to remind all of us of this great kernel of truth.
God be with you and God speed.
In the bonds of Christ Jesus and His eternal grip!
~ Samuel M. Buick, a sojourner in a strange land