A couple of notes of introduction:
First, it could be that some have found their way to this blog via my profile on New Life Camp's website. I certainly want to be cautious in how I proceed with what is classically referred to as "secular" music. Certainly, there is music that is filled with filth that no person following after Jesus Christ should pursue or enjoy. I do not find any solid evidence in Josh Ritter's music that he is a Christian; I'm inclined to believe he is not, but that is between him and God. What I do find in his music is incredible stories and pictures painted through songwriting. This is a skill endowed to him by his Creator, and one I hope he will one day use to bring glory to Him. All that said, this is a personal music taste of my own and is not promoted by New Life Camp. Far be it from me that any should have the excuse to listen to any music because someone at New Life Camp listens to it.
Secondly, a far better article concerning Josh Ritter's music has been written by Andrew Peterson in the Rabbit Room. I simply want to give my take on him having been struck by a different song.
"Never heard of him." I get that response for so much of the music I listen to and love. I enjoy singer/songwriters because of their ability to churn a story out of carefully chosen words and timeless production and instrumentals. One day, I read a tweet concerning Josh Ritter, and I had a never-heard-of-him moment. Upon exploring iTunes, I enjoyed a lot of what I was hearing from his album So Runs the World Away. But the song that really got my attention was "Lantern". Verse by verse, he depicts the world we live in as correctly and originally as I've ever heard. He paints a bleak picture of it, noting that it's "no wonder that the babies come out crying in advance." All the while, he comes back to the chorus with a plea - "be the light in my lantern tonight." As the song continues, it is apparent that he is singing to the love of his life as he promises to hold his lantern high for her just as she holds it high for him. Together, they will find their way through the dark times and struggles that this world brings.
On the positive side, it is a far better written love song than most, even some that are written by Christians who should have a better perspective. He doesn't paint love as an easy thing nor a good feeling. He recognizes that the world is a hard place to live in and that their love for one another must stand strong and shine bright to face it. He recognizes his need for her to fill him up with love's light as well as his obligation to fill her lantern as well.
Conversely, though, I found it as somewhat of a let down for him as a person. This song could easily have been written to God. The world wreaks of sin and its havoc over mankind. Like Sherman's march through the South, it has left destruction in its wake and starvation for those who live in it, until "even the rocks are picked cleaned and the bones of small contention are the only food the hungry find." I have witnessed this darkness in my own heart and struggled to plot my way through it. What do we need? We need light in our lanterns - God's light. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. I cry out, "God, give me light in my lantern, light in my lantern, give me light!" But sadly, toward the middle of the song, he sings to his lover, "If there's a book of jubilations, we'll have to write it for ourselves." My heart went out to him. God's Word is our book of jubilations in such a dark sinful place! The very Author of life has written the incredible. Its pages carry the grand story of God's love for us as it centers around His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We find that the dark sin of our hearts was placed upon Him. He took the cup of God's wrath and drank it completely, leaving only a cup of loving remembrance to drink from and a book of wonderful jubilations for us to read over and over again. I couldn't help hearing these words and thinking, "You wrote a beautiful song of love that came so close to the Lover of our souls...and you missed."
I will enjoy Josh's music much like I enjoy Pixar movies - good story tellers beg to be heard. While I do not see a relationship with God in his writing, I do see God in his writing. We are all made in the image of our Maker. I am convinced that we have been given His ability to create, though only He can create something out of nothing. Josh has been given the ability to create songs quite descriptively and deft musically. That speaks to his Creator, whether he uses that ability for Him or not. How many of those who claim Christ as their own, myself included, are far less passionate to hone the abilities He has given us, even when we know from Whom we received them?
Here are the amazingly written lyrics to "Lantern." You can listen to the song in its entirety on Josh's website.
Give me light for my lantern
Give me light for my lantern give me light
Be the light in my lantern
The light in my lantern tonight
It’s a hungry world out there
Even the wind will take a bite
I can feel the world circling
Sniffing round me in the night
And the lost sheep grow teeth
Forsake the lambs and lie with the lions
Where the living is desperate
Precarious and mean
And getting by is so hard
That even the rocks are picked clean
And the bones of small contention
Are the only food the hungry find
Where the thistles eat the thorns
And the roses have no chance
And it no wonder that the babies
Come out crying in advance
And the children look for shelter
In the hollow of some lonesome cheek
And the sky’s so cold and clear
The stars might stick you where you stand
And you’re only glad its dark cause
You might see The Master’s hand
And you might cast around forever
And never find the peace you seek
For every cry in the night
Somebody says, “Have faith!”
“Be content inside your questions”
“Minotaurs inside a maze”
Tell me what’s the point of light
That you have to strike a match to find?
So throw away those Lamentations
We both know them all too well
If there’s a Book of Jubilations
We’ll have to write it for ourselves
And let’s write it while we still got time
So if you got a light hold it high for me
I need it bad tonight hold it high for me
Cause I’m face to face hold it high for me
In that lonesome place hold it high for me
With all the hurt that I’ve done hold it high for me
That can’t be undone hold it high for me
Light and guide me through hold it high for me
I’ll hold it high for you cause I know you’ve got
I’ll hold it high for you your own Valley to walk
I’ll hold it high for you though it’s dark as death
I’ll hold it high for you and then gets darker yet
I’ll hold it high for you though your path is blocked
I’ll hold it high for you through the thieves and the rocks
I’ll hold it high for you keep you safe from harm
I’ll hold it high for you until you’re back in my arms