“Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” – Jesus, from Mark 9 (NLT)
My first memory of her was during a church family camp.
I’m guessing it was the summer of 1972 or 1973 but my memory is a bit blurry because I was a clueless teenager at the time, Frankly there were more important things to notice than what year I was living in: there were places to go, girls to impress, zits to be poisoned, stupid clothing to be worn.
My best friend had recently been handed his driver’s license by the state so that called for a late evening drive into the closest town for pizza. It would be my first foray into the carefree world of peers and independence.
So we piled into some gullible parent’s car: three or four people in the front bench seat and at least four in the rear. I was the last one in and I squeezed into the back, closing the door as violently as I could until we were permanently sealed in on the third try. And there it was – a car full of happy teenage sardines, their hips touching like never before.
Then, as we rumbled down the dirt road toward town, a new voice appeared in the car. I’m assuming it came from some sort of cassette tape but I can’t say for sure. Immediately the volume was dialled up until it just started to overdrive the speakers and on cue voices inside our capsule joined in singing with the voice.
“I feel the earth move under my feet …” the voices rang in joyful unison.
The recorded voice was unlike any other I had heard: true notes but round at the edges, reflective but sanguine, flinty, feathery, unique. The words and melodies stuck in my brain.
I had just met Carole King and we were destined to be close friends. She doesn’t know that of course but I’m sure she would approve. She’s that nice.
I have owned every one of her albums and her music has followed and inspired the days of my life.
In my times of spiritual searching the lyrics of her songs were fresh air for my soul. Silly changes to a few words could turn them into intimate praise to God. ‘Way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound’ or ‘You make me feel like a natural person’ or God’s voice to fragile believers, ‘Will you love me tomorrow?’
When Beautiful: The Carole King Musical came to Toronto I took Cheryl and my daughter Tracy to see it on two different occasions, meaning I got to see it twice. Not enough.
If you don’t know who Carole King is, I recommend that you immediately use this electronic device to read about her and then search for the closest production of her musical (after you’ve finished reading this blog, of course). The list of hits she has written for herself and other singers is incredibly long and she has written or co-written 118 hit songs.
Interesting, the things that speak into our lives and we don’t even take time to consider them.
Carole King has been a constant in my life, all my life. She was with me during those teen years when I was learning who I was. She was with me in college and as a young man. She was with me while raising a family, she was with me through highest highs and deepest loss, she has been with me in every next adventure.
As I think of it, Carole King has been one of the consistencies in my life. How odd is that? Especially considering we met in a cramped car full of teenagers near Malone, New York? Sometimes the people and circumstances we least suspect become part of our life’s tapestry.
To listen to some in Christian circles, the only positive influences in our lives come from church activities or fellow christians or certain authors. Church leaders prefer to edit the influences they want for the rest of us.
To some extent this is a valuable gift our leaders can give us but it is also a slippery and narrow slope because they are as susceptible to individual prejudice as we are. It’s important for us to hear and learn from other voices than our own, from outside our circles.
Many musicians speak into our lives from various angles. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen (from my generation) and dozens others are secular artists with explicitly spiritual overtones. I have a pastor friend who described a U2 concert as one of the most worshipful experiences of his life. Yeah, I get it.
Some have been blessed and enlivened by the message of a film, listening to Oprah’s podcasts, the words of Michelle Obama, the poetry of Emerson.
My wife framed a quote from civil rights activist/writer Maya Angelou and hung it on her wall as a source of strength when she was mourning. It is so meaningful that it has moved to our new house.
There have been learned life lessons from co-workers, neighbours, relatives and acquaintances; business people, rednecks, farmers and salespeople; male and female, gay and straight; alcoholics, drug users, and people from all levels of morality. People with disabilities or mental health challenges have blessed me. Many of you couldn’t imagine this but openly agnostic talk show host Bill Maher has often challenged my thinking and rightly exposed Christian hypocrisy.
I don’t really know anything about the faith of most of the above people. Don’t need to because they have messages that touch and encourage and teach.
I’m pretty sure Carole King is Jewish but last Christmas I noticed that she sang carols with a church choir. It was so nice to see and hear her but her legacy had already been established in my life. She has blessed me.
Think hard: who is part of your tapestry? Who do you accept and include as part of your tapestry? If you allow yourself to be open, there is a lesson to be found in many activities of life, a blessing to be discovered in people when you least expect it.
Don’t prejudge who God might have waiting in the wings to surprise you, teach you, challenge you, change you.
Carole King turned 78 this week on February 10.
Tapestry, her most significant album and the one I first fell in love with, turned 49 on February 9.
I just thought I’d mention it to you.