Everything I Own - A reflection on the song by Bread (David Gates), by Brian Moodie
(Matthew 13:44-46, Mark 9:2-8, Psalm 91:1-2)
Today we come to explore another well know song from the past, called “Everything I own”. The Song was first released in 1972 by Bread. It very quickly climbed to the top of the charts in the US and other parts of the world, but only reached number 32 in the UK. It was however redone in 1974 by the Jamaican Reggae artist Ken Boothe and very quickly reached number 1 in the UK charts as a result.
The Song has been covered by numerous artists since then including UK artists Rod Stewart and Boy George.
The song is mostly interpreted to be about romance and a broken relationship. It appears straightforward: boy loses the love of his life, expresses deep regret, longs for her return. But, there is a lot more to the song than that.
The intention of David Gates was in fact much more specific when he first wrote it. In an interview after the song became a hit, he revealed that in fact the song was written in memory of his father who had died in 1963 before David Gates had achieved success in his musical career with the band Bread.
According to the book 1000 UK No. 1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, at his father's funeral, a friend took David Gates aside and said, "Your dad was so proud of what you were doing." David agreed saying, "My success would have been so special to him as he was my greatest influence.”
And so it was that the song 'Everything I Own' came to be written and recorded in honour of his father. The songs lyrics take on a whole new meaning when read or listened to in light of this:
You sheltered me from harm
Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me
Set me free, set me free
The finest years I ever knew
Were all the years I had with you
And I would give anything I own
Would give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again
You taught me how to love
What it's of, what it's of
You never said too much
But still you showed the way
And I knew from watching you
Nobody else could ever know
The part of me that can't let go
And I would give anything I own
Would give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again
Is there someone you know
You're loving them so
But taking them all for granted?
You may lose them one day
Someone takes them away
And they don't hear the words
You long to say
I would give anything I own
Would give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again
Just to touch you once again
As for the title of the song, this also had a very specific reference, this time to his Mother. David Gates shared that before his father died and before David had any real musical success, when he was still struggling financially, he had sent an orchid to his mother for her birthday at a time when he could barely afford it. Writing back to David, his father told him just how much his mother appreciated the gift and that she had said that he could have “anything she owned” in return for his gift to her.
And so despite the fact that the song is often interpreted as a romantic love song about loved found and lost the song is in fact a very personal expression of David Gate’s love and affection for both his Father and his Mother.
It is a song that has some beautiful and moving themes:
It is a song of gratitude – gratitude for the memories of his father (and clearly also of his mother). Gratitude for what his father had taught him about love, even though his father was clearly a man of few words.
It is a song that expresses people’s experiences of grief, battling to let go, experiences of regret wishing he had spoken words to his father that he didn’t get to say.
It expresses the deep longing to be with his father again and to touch him once again. The feeling like he would be willing to give up everything he owned in order to see his father again. Suddenly in the light of death, what is truly valuable can be clearly seen.
These are universal experiences of love, grief and loss that apply to all manner of relationships.
There are other themes that go beyond just the experience of grief:
The first is the experience of finding a place of solace and shelter in life. “You sheltered me from harm… kept me warm, kept me warm”. This reminds us of all thing things, people and places where we find a safe space, a place of belonging, a place of peace, a place of refuge where we feel safe, warm, held, a place where we can let our guard down and just be ourselves without worry or concern for being judged.
The second experience in this song that goes beyond simply the realm of grief and loss, is the idea that there are things in this life that are worth more than the things we own. “...And I would give anything I own, Would give up my life, my heart, my home...”
And in a way this was an essential part of the message of Jesus, that there are treasures in life that are greater than anything you can own, greater than your life or your home.
Jesus spoke of a realm in which God could be known and encountered, that could become for us a true shelter, a true place of inner security, a place within the human heart that can’t be touched by impermanence of this fragile world in which we live where moth and rust eat away and where there is always the danger of thieves breaking in and stealing. There is a realm that is more steadfast and trust-worthy than the outward world of form. It is the realm of the spirit, the formless in which we discover what the Buddha called the deathless, that dimension of life that is immortal never born and never dying, eternal, serene, enduring, tranquil, always at peace: the realm of the Divine… that is also our true nature. In English we translate this Realm of the Divine, that Jesus spoke of as the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of heaven.
The apostle Paul for all his faults and ragged edges had also touched this realm of the Kingdom of God, or rather, it had touched him. Of this realm of the Spirit he said: For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (in other words, not about outward pleasures in the world of form), but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in other words about living in alignment with the Divine (that which is ultimately true and real) that brings peace and joy.
Jesus said that to find this realm of God this Kingdom of Heaven that resides within, is to find the greatest treasure of all. When we have found it we will be willing to give up everything else we have for it.
He describes it like a treasure in a field Matthew 13:44-46. The field in the parable is the field of the heart. When we find this treasure within us we find we have discovered something that is even more valuable than life itself, more valuable than all the outward things in the world of form. This treasure is our true nature the spark of the Divine, or the Spirit of God within. Most of us are unaware of this hidden treasure is within us. At other times we have an intuition that it is there, but we haven’t dug deep enough yet to discover it fully or to experience this treasure in its fullness.
And so this song, which speaks of the very human emotions and experiences we all have, especially around grief and loss, is also a song that invites us to discover that which transcends, and goes beyond our normal human experiences. It invites us to find that deeper love at the heart of the Universe that is our true shelter. It invites us to discover the hidden spiritual treasure that resides within each of us that is worth more than anything we own in this fragile world of change and impermanence.
Getting back to the theme of grief in this song.
For the last two hundred years or more, as westerners we have been schooled more and more in what can be referred to a scientific materialism based primarily on Newtonian Physics. Science would tell us that the only things that are real are things that can be measured and weighed. Because the world of the spirit, the inner life cannot be measured and weighed, even though many of us still come to church, we live with this horrible sense that we are actually just a body. The body is the only thing that is truly real from this perspective. And so when we are faced with death it feels like death is the annihilation of life. We feel that the death of our loved ones is the end of their existence which magnifies our grief a hundred or thousand fold.
But what if the perspective of popular scientific materialism, because it focuses on a very limited dimension of our existence has in fact become a lie, a lie, not because science is untrue, but because it hasn’t told us the whole truth of our existence. In fact Quantum Physics is beginning to open new fields of dialogue between science and spirituality as it discovers more and more that what we think of as our physical bodies is in fact just energy vibrating at a very low frequency. The more you dive into the world of physical matter with a microscope, the less and less physical it is.
What if we and our loved ones are far more than just our bodies. What if we are not physical beings trying to have a spiritual experience, what if we are in fact spiritual beings who for a short time have chosen to have a physical experience, and that when we die we are simply taking off a costume, an outer garment and that beneath it we will discover that all of us are in fact beings of light and love who have simply forgotten who we and our loved ones really are. That actually, we are all immortal that our loved ones who have passed away are not really gone at all, but simply live in another dimension that we cannot see with our physical sight and that there is in fact no question that we will see them again in that more subtle realm of light, love and peace.
What if the story of the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9,, Luke 9:28-36) for example was not meant to show Jesus as someone different and superior to us? What if the story of the transfiguration is actually meant to help to reveal to us our true nature, that we are not first and foremost human beings, that in fact we are first and foremost spiritual beings, beings of light and love who are temporarily experiencing the wonder and gift and challenges of living life in the flesh.
But in the meantime, we are here on earth having our human experiences that enable us to discover and experience life in a different way. And in while this world of physicality, this world of form we continue to see as though through a glass darkly, then, when the veil is removed, we will see each other face to face. For we will have come home to our true home and discovered our true shelter under the shadow of the Wings of the Divine (Psalm 91:1-2). Amen.
Imagine - A Reflection
Today’s song is a little more controversial than last weeks song by Simon and Garfunkel. But it is a song worth reflecting on because according to the latest Watch and Listen magazine poll from the 9th July 2023, John Lennon 1971's hit Imagine is now considered to be the Greatest Song in the History of Music. I guess different polls give different results, but it certainly shows that it has been hugely popular and has inspired people all over the world.
Growing up as a teenager, I couldn’t help being drawn to the simplicity and beauty of the song… but I was also a little conflicted about it. As a fervent young Christian should I have been enjoying
it at all when it’s lyrics appeared to be anti-religion and seemingly promoting an idealistic atheism.
Before we examine the song itself, the background story to the song is quite interesting in itself.
While John Lennon took full credit for writing the song for almost 10 years after it was first released, a year or so before his death he admitted that his wife Yoko Ono should really have been credited as the co-writer of the song because some of the lyrics had in fact been inspired by some of her poetry that went back as early as 1964. For all the idealism expressed in the song, he had to admit 9 years later that in “...those days I was a bit more selfish, a bit more macho, and I sort of omitted to mention her contribution”. It is another example in history of a man taking credit for something where at least part of the credit belonged to a woman.
Another source of inspiration for the song was interestingly a Christian book on prayer that was given to John Lennon by Dick Gregory an American comedian, civil rights leader. In an interview with David Sheff, John Lennon spoke of how in that prayer book he was quite taken with the concept of what he calls ‘positive prayer’, for example, that if you can imagine something you can bring it into being, if you can imagine a world at peace…. then it can be true.
That is quite a powerful statement. It reminds us of the power of imagination. Before anything can become a reality in this world, it begins as an idea in the imagination of someone. What if we had to all begin to imagine a world at peace with itself? That in a sense is the first step in what might actually be a long and hard journey to making it a reality… but if it is going to begin anywhere, it first has to become a seed in the imagination.
In the 1800’s in Victorian England, it took inspired Christians to imagine a Britain without poverty, to begin to advocate for political and economic changes that would help to make that vision a reality. Without the possibility having been planted as a seed in some-one’s mind, (positive imagination one could call it), the kind of grinding poverty that Charles Dickens wrote about might still be a part of life in the United Kingdom today. Social change begins with an imagining of how life might be different?
And that is what John Lennon seeks to do in his song “Imagine”… He invites the listener to imagine with him a world living in peace and harmony. It is filled with a sense of idealism and a sense that this could actually be achieved if enough people are able to imagine it with him.
And I think that this is a large part of the power of the song – it taps into a universal human longing for a life of greater peace and harmony in this world. In the depths of almost every human heart, there is a longing for some kind of ideal world where things are peaceful and harmonious.
There is almost something religious about this longing. We long for peace… Peace on earth and good will amongst humanity.
And that is perhaps one of the ironies about John Lennon’s song “Imagine”… it imagines a world without religion, and yet there is almost something religious about his idealism. In fact some of the imagery in the song could be said to be almost thoroughly Biblical echoing ideas expressed in book of Revelation,, where the author in the last few chapters likewise invites us to imagine a world made new, a new creation.
The parallels are striking:
Firstly, in Revelation, the final vision is not of people getting beameded up to heaven, but rather a vision of heaven coming crashing down to earth, heaven and earth somehow becoming one in a cosmic marriage. In the final vision of Revelation, ironically, it also seems that there is a doing away with religion, for the author of Revelation sees a new creation in which there is no temple… The Divine Presence is everywhere and so there is no need for a Temple. In other words, no need for religion.
Secondly, in Revelation, the final vision is also of a new creation in which the boundaries and borders between people have been erased. It is a vision of people coming from all corners of the earth, from different nations and countries and all living in a new harmony with one another. In the New Jerusalem the city gates are left open for people to come and go… no border posts.
Thirdly, John Lennon imagines a world where people are free from their attachments to possessions suggesting the people of the world living lives of greater simplicity in which everyone has free access to the necessities of life. This is echoed in Revelation with the idea that the fountain of the water of life is freely available to anyone who thirsts. People’s needs are freely met.
For anyone who has read the Gospels with any degree of seriousness one can see echoes of these themes in the life and teaching of Jesus. Jesus repeatedly calls his followers to a life of greater simplicity rather than living for the accumulation of possessions. He calls us to be rich in spirit rather than having large back accounts. Jesus, by his own actions, also demonstrates a life lived in which the divisions caused by race and nationality are transcended. He crosses the boundaries that keep Jews separated from Samaritans and Gentiles. All people appear to have equal value in Jesus eyes, and not just the people from his own Jewish nation.
And so, it is quite ironic that John’s Lennon’s vision of a world living in peace and harmony, a world without religion, without borders and without materialism or the hoarding of unnecessary stuff is in fact a vision that is in fact echoed in various parts of Scripture… The Bible also invites us to Imagine, to imagine a new heaven and a new earth.
What are perhaps some of the difficulties with John Lennon’s song -
Firstly, the song gives the impression that John Lennon was advocating and idealistic atheism...
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
But the truth is that John Lennon was not an atheist. Just two quotes can help to clear that up:
John Lennon said: “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong.
He also said: “Christ said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." ...We all have everything within us and the Kingdom of Heaven is nigh and within us, and if you look hard enough you'll see it.”
And so John Lennon was not anti-God. In truth he was in fact rejecting is an outdated world view. In a pre-scientific world, the idea of God living up there somewhere beyond the sky was an acceptable and an understandable idea. For people today, schooled in Newtonian physics and having a faint conception of Quantum Physics, this is a view of God that makes very little sense to many people today. I think it is one of the reasons that many people no longer see value in coming to church. The churches conceptions of God or the Divine as up there as and old man sitting somewhere up there above the sky just doesn’t connect with a lot of people any-more. But there are other conceptions of God or the Divine that can make more sense to modern people. For example the idea that God is the very Wisdom and Intelligence of Life itself and that to live in harmony and in relationship to the Divine is in fact to live in harmony with the Wisdom and Intelligence of Life itself.
The conception of a hell below us where God condemns people to an eternity of suffering is another concept that many modern secular people cannot relate to any-more and in fact find repulsive. If a human parent couldn’t conceive of throwing their own child into a lake of burning sulphur how on earth are we to believe that God could do such a horrendous and barbaric thing and on top of that, keep people in that state of suffering for all eternity. To paraphrase words of Jesus, if we as human beings, as self-serving as we are know how to give good gifts to our children how and why do we believe that God’s love is less than that of imperfect human beings.
Is it possible that the conception of God that John Lennon rejects in this song might well be a conception of God that we too might do well to consider rejecting as well, because there are in fact better and more inspiring conceptions of God or the Divine that are not simply projections of our frail imperfect humanity onto some Big Controlling Man in the Sky.
Secondly, John Lennon said he was not actually anti-religion but in this song I think he may have expressed a one-sided view of organised religion. It is true that over many centuries, religion has at times been divisive, and responsible for many terrible atrocities, and this includes all the major religions.
While fundamentalist religions of various creeds have been responsible for fuelling many atrocities and conflicts in the world over the centuries, it is also true that at other times, religion has been the inspiration and impetus behind some of the greatest acts of love and compassion, the establishment of hospitals and schools and also the inspiration behind eradicating poverty and creating more just and equal societies. The problem is not religion per se, but what direction our religion motivates people… CS Lewis believed that religion could either make us much worse than we already are, or make us much better than we are… In what direction is our religion taking us? Is it making us more hard-nosed and bigotted or is it making us more humble, open, kind and compassionate?
Those who believe that religion is the source of all the evil in the world, forget that the atheist states of Communist Russia under Stalin, and Communist China under Mao Zedong were responsible for far more deaths than perhaps all the religious wars of Europe combined. Atheism has it’s own dark shadow that is not always acknowledged by those who espouse it as the saviour of the world.
But there is also a realism that needs to temper our idealism. John Lennon gives the impression that if we just did away with countries and religion everyone would suddenly live in peace. It is a naive view that doesn’t take into account that not everyone across the world shares the same values and that cultural differences can even at the best of times be a challenge to navigate quite apart from the selfishness that often lurks within most human hearts. Sometimes it is difficult enough just getting along with one’s family members with whom we hold much more in common.
But admitting the reality of our cultural and national differences shouldn’t mean that we give up on the idea of trying to foster greater understanding and co-operation between different people. It is right that we be inspired by John Lennon’s vision of a world living in peace and harmony, just as we should be inspired by St Paul’s statement that in Christ there is no more Jew or Gentile… but our idealism needs also to be held in dialogue with the reality of the world in which we live.
In the book of Revelation, the new earth is only possible after the people have passed through the purifying fire of Divine Love, and I believe that God still has some work to do on all of us yet! A new earth is not going to be possible without the purifying of people’s hearts and minds, and this is spiritual work.
But by the same token, we should not allow the reality of our human imperfections to make us give up completely on the vision of a world of peace and harmony. The word needs a few idealists and dreamers to help us imagine a better world, which is why, for all its imperfections, I personally still find John Lennon’s song inspiring. I don’t take all its phrases at face value, but I still value they way it encourages me to play my part in building a world that is a little more loving, a little more peaceful and a little more harmonious. It might be said that Jesus was a bit of a dreamer too when he taught us to pray: “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” Your Kingdom of Love, Joy and Peace and sharing come, here on earth. Amen.
The Sound of Silence
Today I would like to explore the lyrics and the meaning of the Simon and Garfunkel song “Sounds of Silence”
The story of the song is quite fascinating. It was first recorded in 1964 by Simon and Garfunkel, but the song and the album was initially a commercial failure, which led to Simon and Garfunkel disbanding and going their separate ways in that same year.
The following year, the song’s producer, Tom Wilson decided to give the song a bit of a revamp, and without the knowledge of Simon and Garfunkel he remixed the song, adding electric instrument and drums to the original. It was released as a single in September 1965, and by January 1966 it had become a number 1 hit in the USA and soon after all around the world.
Very quickly, Simon and Garfunkel got back together as a duo to record their second album to capitalise on this unexpected success. It is quite something to think that almost 60 years later the song is still listened to by millions of people all around the world on radio stations and over the internet.
What is it about the Sounds of Silence that has helped it to remain such a success over this period :
The answer list in the fact that it touches on universal human experiences and emotions. :
1. The experience of times of darkness coming over us, when life doesn’t go our away, or experiences of grief and sadness, it is all summed up in those simple words: Hello Darkness my Old Friend… there is almost something Biblical about that phrase. It is almost a paraphrase of Psalm 88:18 “Darkness is my only companion”.
2. Similarly we all have experienced the Sound of Silence… in our dark times when we cry out looking for answers, often it feels like we are met with a wall of silence. Again we see this experience reflected by the psalmist in Psalm 88:13-14
But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
In the face of his cries, it seems like God is silent.
3. Thirdly, the song has a melancholic feel about it that touches on our universal experiences of loneliness… we reach out sometimes, but we battle to connect with those around us.
4. Fourthly, in the lyrics there are religious allusions, which means that the song appeals to our deeper human longings for meaning and purpose.
I think often when we listen to popular music we listen in an impressionistic way… we don’t always know all the lyrics. It is often the feel of the song, and particular phrases that speak to us, but we don’t always explore the song lyrics in their totality. And so today I would like to spend a few minutes exploring a possible meaning of the song as a whole. This is not the definitive guide to the song, but ultimately an interpretation as would often be the case even with many of our interpretations of Scripture.
And so, reading through the lyrics as a whole, what might the meaning be of “The Sounds of Silence”?
Like many folk songs of the 1960’s it would seem that the lyrics of the song are really a form of social commentary. The post war period of the 1950’s and early 60’s was a period of rapid change including social change and one of the biggest changes of the period was the wide-spread availability and use of Television in the UK and the USA. One website suggests that the Sounds of Silence is a warning of the social isolationism that was beginning to take place with the advent of television.
With the advent of television, rather than getting out and interacting with other people, there was an increasing trend of people simply staying at home to be entertained by their televisions.
And so in the opening verse of the lyrics, we find Simon and Garfunkel speaking almost in religious language speak of having seen a vision, or perhaps a deep insight being implanted in their brains… an insight and a vision that exposes the reality in which many people had begun to live.
It is a vision that leaves the writer restless and disturbed and the Sounds of Silence which is heard appears to be the silence of emptiness, loneliness and perhaps even meaninglessness.
And the moment of insight comes upon being confronted by the flash of a neon light. The reference to a neon light is significant, firstly because this was relatively new technology that had begun to proliferate in the post war period. It provided light, but there is also something quite un-natural about neon lighting. Also significantly, neon lighting formed the basis of the television set and the way images were projected in the tube of an early television.
It would seem that the author’s see the advent of this new technology as a catalyst for this increasing social isolationism. In the naked light of of this vision, the author see’s thousands upon thousands of people becoming more and more estranged from one another -
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
with no-one daring to disturb the sound of silence that was being created.
They see this social isolationism growing like a cancer in society, and speaking out like prophets trying to wake people out of their spiritual lethargy the authors make an appeal to try and rescue those lost in the sounds of silence:
In verse 4 “Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you”.
But the words of the author fall like silent raindrops and simply echoes in the wells of silence. Instead of responding to the call the author writes that the people continue to bow and pray to the neon god they have made.
I was rather intrigued with the last phrase of the song: And the sign flashed out it’s warning in the words that it was forming. And the sign said: “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls, and whispered in the sound of silence”.
What are the words written on subway walls: Adverts… is it possible that the song is commenting how modern society from the mid-20th century has increasingly turned away from the words of true prophets who speak with true wisdom, and have traded those words of ancient wisdom for the superficial wisdom of commercial advertising which invite us to constantly feed our more superficial appetites but leave the soul empty and hungry.
All in all, the song paints a fairly desperate and bleak picture of modern industrialised society, and I can’t help but think there was something quite prophetic about the song. A few weeks ago I flipped over the Al Jazeera news channel to get a different and perhaps a wider perspective on world events, and instead of the news they were airing a half hour documentary entitled: An Epidemic of Loneliness. The show was exploring the fact that in recent years people living in modern industrialised societies are indeed becoming increasingly lonely and disconnected from each other. On the documentary they highlighted that in the past two years there has been a dramatic spike in the number of people Googling the question: How to make Friends? It is quite fascinating. At a time when social media has grown bigger than ever before, connecting more and more people, at the same time, many people are feeling more and more isolated and lonely. And at the same time, traditional places of community like churches and other social clubs have begun to steadily decline. The increase in our technology, to which we often bow down and pray as the saviour of all of humanities problems has in many ways created many of the very problems we are trying to solve.
And all the while, from a Christian or a spiritual perspective the thing that all of us a really looking for is love and a sense of belonging. From a Christian perspective, it could be said that the essence of our human existence is that we were made by Love, in love and for love. It is in love that we find our true fulfilment in life. Love is what brings colour and warmth to our hearts. In the words of Jesus it could be said that love is like the salt that brings out the true flavour life. Without love there is just emptiness, isolation and disconnection. One could say, the sound of an empty silence.
It raises the question: How can we make sure that our churches are places of loving connection? That is the only way we are really going to survive? When people come to church do they feel connected and do they have a sense of belonging?
I want to close with a final reflection on the word Silence. In the song, Silence is seen in a negative light, and indeed when we speak of the silence of disconnection and isolation, then silence can indeed be a negative experience.
But from a religious and spiritual perspective, the Sound of Silence can also be a profoundly positive experience. The Psalmist suggests that it is in silence and stillness that we can truly come to know G-d, the Great Spirit of Love that connects us all to each other. Be Still and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). It is in the sound of the still small voice that we hear the whispers of God’s love. It is as we drop beneath the incessant chatter of our internal dialogue of constant opinions and judgements, that we experience the subtle realm of God’s love and joy at the depth of our beings. For as Jesus reminds us: The Kingdom of God is within you, the subtle and gentle realm of God’s love, peace and joy reside in the stillness of our own hearts, within the Sounds of Silence. Amen.