Tuesday, March 14, 2017

May I Call You Father? -- Reid Lancaster

It was 1974, and Reid Lancaster felt some deep regret in his Christian faith that he wanted to express. And, that’s about all we know for certain. He is otherwise anonymous, but nevertheless his words strike a chord in “May I Call You Father” that has at one time or another reverberated within the psyche of all true believers. It has the same remorseful character as the ancient King David’s Psalm 51, yet in a more condensed way. Was Reid in fact reading how David felt when he scrawled out his own few lines of lament? It’s a universal emotional state that exhibits itself across all cultures, where we could see someone prostrate himself to demonstrate the feeling is genuine (known as Dogeza in Japan, shown here). It was an era during which Reid, and others he may have known, could have been trying to address misbehavior. Does such an era ever really pass away?

Reid Lancaster wrote “May I Call You Father” during the early 1970s when the Jesus Movement was spreading in the United States and elsewhere in western culture, suggesting this phenomenon played a part in the composer’s musical effort. It was countercultural, as a response to mainstream churches and the broader traditional political landscape in America. So, was Lancaster trying to apologize for a broad spectrum of offenders – Vietnam warmongers and Watergate collaborators, to name just a few prominent ones? How about the staid, conservative, and even corrupt churches that Jesus freaks deplored? Perhaps, instead, Reid felt something was amiss more personally, since he uses the pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘my’ throughout his two verses. He also mentions ‘I’m young…’ (v.2), suggesting he was indeed among that generation that wanted to turn from the orthodox approach to religion and pursue an alternative, something simpler yet stirring.  Whatever the reason, Reid’s sentiment is singularly focused as a consequence of what was gnawing at him. He evidently felt a gap between himself and his God had opened, and his only concern was to close this wound. David’s lament, in contrast, includes pledges of spreading God’s reputation to others (Ps. 51:13) and a hope that He will bless all the land David inhabits and rules (v.18). Had Reid’s wrongdoing been confined to himself and God? If it was, he shows he was willing to be vulnerable in sharing that he was guilty of transgression, and we can imagine that he probably had shared with others the circumstances that inspired this poem-song. David and Reid are alike in this respect – willing to pay the price, exposure.

Expose. It doesn’t have a nice, peaceful ring as a verb, nor as a noun when an accent is placed over the last ‘e’. Some people have actually sued others because of this word. ‘How dare you write that unauthorized book!’ Or, ‘You are a snake to publish those pictures of me!’ ‘Libel’ and ‘Slander’ – perhaps two of the most-used words in our legal system. Reid certainly might have had these legal tools at his disposal, but his poem tells us he probably didn’t haul someone into court about his uncovered sin. He didn’t try to make excuses for what he did. Instead, mea culpa -- through my fault – was his argument. Reid had figured out that that was where he needed to be in God’s courtroom.  

The background of the movement from which the composer may have come: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_movement

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