“In summer’s sting, as the sages say, the sand gave way,
My empire capsized at vanity’s cost, and all were lost.”
– Caedmon’s Call, from the song, Kingdom, from the album, Back Home
Buckle up, it’s a long one.
Apparently, St. Caedmon had an affinity for animals and for poetry, and his dedication to verse was passed down to a group of musicians, who, in the early 90s formed the folk/rock/awesome band, Caedmon’s Call. If you are not familiar with this band, shame on you (but there is grace to be had). In the tradition of the late (but great!) Rich Mullins, who valued solid, engaging, truthful lyrics, Caedmon’s Call remains one of the best, if not the best, Christian bands to integrate biblical truth into song without compromising the depth, nuance, and goodness of the Christian journey. So, this post is more of a soap-box than anything, an ode to creative, Christian music distilled in perhaps one of the best of the best Christian band’s albums, Back Home. Here are some of the meaty themes explored in the album.
Divine Sufficiency. Opening with bright acoustic guitars and clear percussion, Back Home‘s tone is set with the opening questions, “Depth of mercy, can there be mercy still reserved for me? Can my God your wrath forbear? Me the chief of sinners, spare?” Indeed, the entire opening song, “Only Hope”, is a plea for the mercy, love, and grace of God as only He can provide it. The supremacy and wonder of Christ is held up for all to see: “there for me the Savior stands, shows his wounds and spreads his hands. Face to face before the Son, and like Isaiah I’m undone.” This theme of divine sufficiency is carried on throughout the album, but it is explored not only in His grace and mercy but also in the satisfaction and pleasure that flow from Him as well. In track 2, “You Created,” the chorus makes it explicitly clear that, though humans seek for joy in a myriad of things, true life can only be found at the hand of our Maker: “But you created nothing that gives me more pleasure than you. And you won’t give me something that gives me more pleasure than you.” A portion of the center of this album lies in the plea of humanity for God to, as track 3, “Walk with Me” states, lead us “beside the still waters, where the oil, it runs over.” It is here that our “cup overflows” and our soul restored. It is in His presence, as the “Emptiest Day” attests, that “when you wrap your arms around me, I can walk away or face the emptiest day.”
Man’s Insufficiency and Sin. Where are the albums nowadays that harp on man’s utter insufficiency? Well, here’s one. With the lyrics from the “Emptiest Day”, we find a true and deep view of man: “And I’m looking for a well that won’t run dry, the rest that weary thoughts cannot deny.” All are desperately looking for this well; our explorations in man’s approval, the perfect body weight, pornography, and the perfect job are all markers of this. I need Him not just here and there and not just in random moments, but I need him in the mundane, the ordinary, in every moment of every day: “They say that I can find you in a flower, but I need you in the car.” The song “A Thousand Miles” is one examining both our rebellious hearts and the welcoming back of God’s people by the Savior in the story of the Prodigal Son: “I have stolen Lord; let me give. I have left your house a fugitive. And I have wandered in my own way, squandered everything you gave. But my dying heart you saved and let me live.” In simplest terms, the theologically packed song, “Awake My Soul,” exclaims, “No one is good enough to save himself.” Natural man is devoid of what God requires. He cannot bargain with God, for he is empty-handed. His heart is intent on keeping itself burning with fuel that can’t sustain. This truth is set forth in the powerful lyrics of “Manner and Means”: “The heart is a costly thing to sell in the prime of the years. My heart is thinly veiled in the usual fears. The heart is the dream and the kiss that there could be something more than this to keep it burning.” There is, indeed, something more to keep us burning, and He is more than sufficient to do so.
Divine Sovereignty and Mystery. Another central theme of the album is that of Divine Sovereignty and Mystery. What beauties to sing of! With the advent of track 4, “Hands of the Potter”, listeners will quickly get the sense that the God in whom Caedmon’s believes is rich, deep, and totally in control. This song is a plea for God to shape and mould us in his divine sovereignty and goodness: “Lord, if I’m the clay then lay me down on your spinning wheel. Shape me into something you can fill with something real.” We cannot remake ourselves but are wholly and completely at the mercy of His sovereignty. As “Awake My Soul” proclaims, we cannot even come to God unless God draws us, and we cannot procure what He asks of us unless He himself gives it to us: “I trust no other source or name. Nowhere else can I hide. This grace gives me fear, and this grace draws me near. And all that it asks, it provides.” In all of this, our sole boast becomes Him: “When I stand on the edges of Jordan with the saints and the angels beside, when my body is healed and the glory revealed, still I can boast only Christ.” He is the one who sustains and nourishes us, but He is also the one who tears down our kingdoms (vividly explored in the track, Kingdom) causing us to flee to Him: “I’m watching my kingdom crumble and fall. You’re building your kingdom over all.” In “Never Gonna Let Go,” Jesus speaks to us from the inside of the boat as the waters rage around us, gently reassuring us that He is completely and utterly in control of our lives: “But as the ocean rages, I am sleeping in the boat. And I have a plan, and I’m holding your hand. And I’m keeping you afloat.” His reassuring words penetrate our uneasiness and fear: “You are my beloved child, forever in my heart. After the fall and after it all, you’re safe within my arms.” The whole album upholds the mystery and wonder of God, as servant and king, deep and wide, gentle and strong. In the lyrics of “Beautiful Mystery”, this concept is beautifully illustrated: “‘Cause most things true are simple and complex. So it is with you. What else should I expect? You suffer the seeker. In you they abide.”
An Appearance of C.S Lewis. The great Christian thinker himself appears in a track on the album! Based on Lewis’ The Great Divorce, “High Countries” is an exploration of the question, “Would you fall to pieces in the high countries?” We are shadows and ghosts in our sin, naturally bound to our own darkness and “remorse”. As shadows, we stand on the brink of a great dawn with the threat of the coming morning and piercing light. It is a threat to our very existence. The words of the song haunt us as His appearing approaches: “Out on the green plains, I am but a ghost bound up with all that I call mine. Still, the light grows.”
The album ends with the track, “Mystery of Mercy,” as the band reflects on their participation in the story of Scripture: the woman at the well, the harlot, the seed that feel along the path, the prodigal son, the elder brother, the pharisees who wanted to stone the adulteress woman, the adulteress woman herself, the leper that gave thanks, and the nine lepers who went away. Back Home ends in a chorus of divine praise, thanksgiving, and confession that mirrors in direct contrast the words of Jesus on the cross : “My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me, when all my love was vinegar to a thirsty king? My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me? It’s a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing. My God, Lord, you are my God.” This song answers the questions posed in the opening track, making a wonderful book-end to the album as a whole. The implications are clear: because Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God, the divine reservoir of mercy and grace has been loosed upon those who did not deserve it.
So, where is Caedmon’s now? Apparently somewhere in the South. Nashville? Texas (although that can hardly be considered the South)? They released their last album in 2010 with the intent that it would be their last. Still, we need them. So if someone can fashion a Caedmon-like bat signal to illumine the night, maybe the band will dawn the creative cape once more to give us a better picture, in the form of song and lyric, of the beauty we call Gospel. Until then, buy this album (and every other Caedmon’s album you can get a hold of) and check out Andrew Peterson; he’s now the best out there (this is no mere opinion, but a fact of the highest order). Happy listening.