I just realized that most of my music is purchased at truck stops. There’s something about settling in for a long drive that brings out a craving for musical nostalgia.
That’s how the Revival CD came to me. “What do you know? A new album by John Fogerty.” It was too good to pass up, and it did not disappoint. The familiar rhythms of his former band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, kicked right in.
I dreamed I walked in heaven just the other night
There was so much beauty, so much light
Don’t you wish it was true…
An angel took my hand
Said you don’t have to hurry
Got all the time in the world, don’t worry…
He said the world’s gonna change and it’s startin’ today
There’ll be no more armies, no more hate
Don’t you wish it was true
Now don’t you wish it was true
Yup, that’s my generation. We were the ones with vision for a new world. It sounds corny, but when I hear, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” something visceral and pleasant still kicks in.
“Don’t you wish it were true?” was the plaintive question that drew me into the music. Indeed! Nostalgia at its best.
But then came the next song:
Lookin’ out across this town,
Kind o’ makes me wonder how,
All the things that made us great,
Got left so far behind….
Someone let the fences go,
Wild-eyed bunch moved in, ya know,
Shootin’ up the streets shoutin’, “Everybody down,”
The dogs all runnin’ loose….
I think we need a gunslinger,
Somebody tough to tame this town.
I think we need a gunslinger,
There’ll be justice all around.
Now I was listening. Wow! That’s a change up I wasn’t ready for.
It really shouldn’t be a surprise. The gunslinger has always been the de facto hero. It’s nice when gunslingers are truly good like Superman, but often, like Batman, they’re tinged with a dark side. Frankly, more often than not, they’re nothing more than brigands with a sympathetic streak for cuddly animals – and pretty girls.
Maybe it was the way that the shift from dream to reality was framed that startled me. Of course, we want a peaceful world, right? And, of course, the righteous gunslinger is heroic, right? But Fogerty says that one is the illusion and even delusion of peace, while the other brings it. You don’t usually hear it put that starkly.
And with it comes the unavoidable conclusion: we tried the dream, but chaos took over. Angels make for nice dreams, but gunslingers bring the good life. It’s time to wake up from our silly experiment.
I thought that a generation that lived through Vietnam, the Balkan wars, Iraq, Afghanistan would not be so quick to call for a gunslinger. History is the dark and tortured tale of gunslingers riding into town. The gunslinger is only your saviour if you’re on the right side of the gun. I still remember my grandmother’s reaction to childhood games of cops and robbers. Having lived with her young family on the shifting battle line between the Red and White armies of the Russian revolution, she was convinced that there is no right side of a gun.
Apparently, I’m wrong about my generation. There’s a sadness that comes with an abandoned dream, but there is no denying that Fogerty is right. We do love the gunslinger.
And there are remarkable biblical undertones in the message of those songs. They describe the descent out of Eden and the longing to go back. They allude to the slow death of idealism and the need for a Saviour to ride in from somewhere else.
But there are also powerful contrasts. First, our hope is not a dream, but the conviction that this life is not all there is. It’s not an option for biblical people to walk away from hope.
Secondly, the gunslinger is definitively not the way of the kingdom. Jesus’ directive to Peter rings in our ears, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
The genius of Fogerty’s message is that it perfectly describes what is.
The genius of Jesus’ message is that it is the perfect counterpoint.
–James Toews is pastor at Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.