|The Wisdom of Age | Posted November 22, 2013
Everyone loves an underdog. We welcome the topsy-turvy triumph of the "David" over the "Goliath." But when it comes to the prodigal, we are often too quick to judge and too slow to forgive. We cry foul at God's upside-down grace.
Enter Gary Chapman, a Texas-raised preacher's son with a rebellious streak seemingly a country mile wide. He's been judged by many according to a bad boy reputation, partly earned but never wholly deserved. He's widely recognized as a funny man, but seldom is seen for who he is behind the joke – a candid, whip-smart, worldly-wise, big-hearted, fiercely loyal friend, family man, and follower of Christ.
There is no better place to discover and understand Gary Chapman than on The Truth, his first recording of new music since 2002. To date, the sixteen tracks on this album are the most personal and honest reflections of his life, philosophy, and values.
Life can be messy, and Chapman's never pretended to be perfect. His mistakes and missteps are well-documented. "This road that I am traveling is steep and it is rough / and I wonder every morning if I'll have strength enough," confesses Chapman on "Freedom." So begins the album, with Chapman "choos[ing] to lean into [God], forsaking all the rest," and finding freedom.
"Where You're Going" gives voice to Chapman's gratitude for the purposeful direction that this God-found freedom provides, while encouraging the listener to do the same: "Stop and thank God for the day / for every step along the way / ‘cause not one goes to waste."
On The Truth, God is not a theological construct represented by clichés. Rather, He is a living presence that can be understood in everyday terms. Chapman enlists Alison Krauss on "If God Had a Front Porch," a standout song that demonstrates God's nature through tangible, realistic hypotheticals: "If God had a telephone / it'd be a number everybody knows / You'd never fail to get Him on the line / You could call in the middle of the night / Just to laugh or just to cry / And He'd never be the first to say goodbye."
"Ain't Got a Prayer" relates that in hard times, community is stronger than government. However, while we all "do our best to do our part...we ain't got a prayer without Jesus."
"How Great a God" is quintessential Gary Chapman. The clearly autobiographical song is an unashamedly honest account of an imperfect man, as well as a testament to an infallible, but merciful God. And since, invariably, we've all failed God, we can relate to Chapman as he sings, "I can't help but sing / How great a God do we serve / that we don't get what we deserve."
Experience informs faith on verses that more than hold their own alongside a magnificent chorus on another classic Chapman tune, "Safe From The Wind": "Life is mostly so uncertain / I'm most certain that's the case / And I know that most of what I'm seeing will soon be replaced / But I still believe that true love never fails / and that you and I could weather any gale."
Between the atmospheric tale of an antebellum spirit, "Widow of the South," and the Christmas-focused duet between Gary and wife Cassie, "All About a Baby," lies "Put It in His Hands," a song inspired by Gary's father's frequent response to his boy's vocalized concerns: "Son, put that in God's hands." Daughter Sarah's voice beautifully supports Gary's on this emotional song about surrender. Gary succinctly captures how God cares for his children: "Little boy with a toy, broke it like little boys do / Daddy can't fix it ‘til the little boy's willing to / Put it in His hands."
"The Wisdom of Age" is an homage to Jesus that embraces the knowledge gained through experience: "He's in every breath / He's in every touch / When we receive the Lord's saving grace / We walk the road to glory in the wisdom of age." The song is peppered with life lessons, as is the stunner "Everything I Know," in which Chapman avows, "every stupid thing I've done so far has taught me nearly everything I know." While space limitations prevent me from sharing too many lyrics—I could quote nearly the whole song!—suffice it to say Gary's words of wisdom, earned through struggle, failure, and heartache, are immeasurably valuable and comforting.
Rebecca Lynn Howard guests on "When I Say," Chapman's exploration of what he means when he professes to be a Christian. It's an unpretentious, humble acceptance and declaration of his own need: "When I say I am a Christian / I'm not shouting, ‘I am Saved' / I am whispering, ‘I get lost sometimes' / That why I chose this way." It feels at once like an apologetic to his detractors, as well a song that lets a jaded soul who views Christians as judgmental hypocrites see the truth: We are all broken people in need of a Savior.
The remainder of the album's songs remain grounded in real life and venture beyond the walls of the traditional church. "I Didn't Find Jesus" is a story song that teaches us that God sometimes shows Himself in unusual ways or through unexpected people. "That's God" finds God in the every day, using numerous ways to show He cares: "There's nothing He won't do to say, 'I love you.'" "Twenty Bucks Away" urges us to live more simply, reminding that security is found in God, not money.
Chapman calls upon his friends one last time for the final track, "The Rough Crowd." Tanya Tucker and John Rich effectively lend their weather-beaten, world-weary voices to this number that ends with the words, "I thank God Jesus runs with the rough crowd," significantly recalling, lest we forget, that Jesus came for the lost and the broken, not the righteous.
Few sing with as much sincerity and conviction as Gary Chapman. And vocally, the seven-time Dove Award winner is still at the top of his game. He's always had a special kind of voice with an inviting warmth that pulls you in, reminding you that you're not alone. Over the last few years, with his A Hymn a Week project, Chapman has used his voice to encourage many by singing hymns. Forty of those hymns are available for download on four volumes titled Simple Truth.
Though it's been over a decade since his last studio offering, Gary Chapman's songwriting pen is as sharp as ever. Perhaps inspired by the hymn writers in whose work he has been immersed, on The Truth he reaches out specifically to the searching and the hurting, sharing the truth in everyday language. Christian music needs more albums like this, songs that look beyond the church pews to offer shelter to people on the margins. So, Gary Winther Chapman, I entreat you, "Don't be a stranger."
Song to Download Now:
"If God Had a Front Porch" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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