Michael Card: The veteran songsmith still exploring God's Lovingkindness

Wednesday 5th December 2018

Lins Honeyman met up with one of the major figures in American CCM, MICHAEL CARD

Continued from page 1

Mention of the troubles in Northern Ireland prompts me to ask him about the footnote on his website bio that advises that he and a close group of friends in his Franklin, Tennessee hometown are pursuing racial reconciliation and neighbourhood renewal. "In the South where I live, we have what we call benevolent racism," he explains. "No one's burning crosses any more - well, occasionally that does happen - but there is still a separation between largely the black and white communities. I say benevolent because it seems on the surface that everybody's fine with that. The blacks have their churches and the whites have theirs, the blacks have their grocery stores and the whites have theirs. Obviously, there are pockets where there is animosity and it's actually become worse in the last three or four years. I grew up in the midst of all of that confusion and I've always thought that it's wrong for the most segregated hour of the week to be the Sunday church hour. It's not just me - there's a group of us for the last 20 years or so who have been working at building community through Bible studies and prayer groups and deliberately encouraging people to build relationships with people who aren't like themselves. It's not complicated."

Given its proven restorative and barrier-demolishing track record, I suggest that music must help with this aim. "It does," agrees Michael before balancing that thought with characteristic realism. "A while back, I toured with a black gospel choir for two years and we had problems. There were black churches who didn't want me singing because I was white and there were white churches who didn't want the choir singing because they were black. Also, there were white radio stations that wouldn't play our music because there was a black choir on it and black stations that wouldn't play our music because I was singing on it. This was only five or six years ago so that benevolent racism still exists. Despite all of that, I ended up developing some lifelong friendships and I think we made some pretty good music."

With 'Inexpressible: Hesed And The Mystery Of God's Lovingkindness' still to hit the shelves at the time of the interview, it seems that Michael is already thinking about his next literary project. "From 2011 to 2014, I did four records on the gospels which went largely under the radar," he begins. "I'm 61 now and the natural trajectory of any musical career is that your sales are going to go down but I still really believe in those four records and what I'm doing now is writing a book with an essay on each one of the songs on those albums. It's essentially a group of essays on the life of Jesus. This final book - I'm thinking I'm pretty much done with writing books too - will be about the details of the life of Jesus which is a subject I find fascinating.

"One of the theories of language is that the language you speak shapes the way you think," he continues. "For instance, people who think in Greek think differently from people who think in Hebrew. Hebrew is a verbal language whereas English and Greek are noun-based tongues. We think in nouns but Jesus clearly thought in Hebrew and one of the things I'm gearing up to do right now is go back through the language of Jesus and try to understand the ways in which he thought. For example, you and I go to the doctor and what do we want? We want a noun - tell me the name of the thing that's wrong with me and I might feel better knowing the name of it. In Hebrew, that's not how they approach it. It's more 'tell me what to do'. Even when I was working on the 'Inexpressible' project, I was trying to define the word hesed like a noun when it's really a verb. You do hesed."

I suggest the greatest person who ever did hesed was Jesus. "Well, the word that became flesh was hesed. I'm convinced of that. One of the things that hesed does in the Old Testament is draw other words to itself. When God reveals himself to Moses in Exodus 34, he says 'I'm full of grace and truth' and the word for grace there is hesed. I believe there's going to be a lot more discussion about hesed and not necessarily because of my book. I already hear people talking about it more."

He adds, "Hesed is where grace and mercy come from and it interweaves into everything. I think the word is untranslatable but my take on it is that hesed is when the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything. In most of Jesus' parables, he's explaining hesed. In the parable of the prodigal son, that boy has no right to expect anything from his father. What does he get - a second chance? No, he gets a party and a ring and shoes. Hesed is always over the top. Hesed is the guy who pays the people who work an hour as much as the people who worked all day. Those workers had no right to expect anything but they got everything and that is fundamentally who God is."

By now, Michael is fully into his theological stride and it's clear as to why so many people have benefitted from his teaching and wisdom over the years. "The big surprise of the New Testament for me is that, when Jesus comes, he comes as a slave. There are lots of things we expect about the Messiah - that he would be a healer and would have power and such like - but the big surprise is that God is kind. We know he's holy and you can't touch the bottom of the mountain he's on top of, that he creates the world by speaking it into existence, he's almighty and omniscient - that's all the stuff we would expect from God. But he's kind? No one saw that coming."

Just before it's time for Michael to head to the Hunter House green room before the crowd starts arriving, he expounds once more on the word that has inspired his latest project and coloured his life for the last 10 years. "When Jesus says in Luke 6 that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, that's Jesus' definition of hesed. We have no right to expect anything from God but he gives us everything and how can you not respond to that? When you are shown hesed, it is incumbent on you to reciprocate and, if you don't do that, it's not like you've violated a covenant or anything despicable - but God is deeply disappointed in people who don't respond. Forgive as you've been forgiven. Show mercy as you've been shown mercy. There's a reciprocal aspect of hesed that's really important and, if you don't reciprocate, you haven't gotten the concept of it."

Before long, Michael is on stage delivering his own brand of gentle folk-based songs of faith to an attentive audience that hangs on every word that's sung and spoken. Michael switches between piano and guitar with his younger colleague Moses occasionally joining in on banjo and, in true hesed fashion, generously hands the vocal ropes over to local singer/songwriter Russell Trueman on his other big song "Immanuel". At the close of an evening packed with humour, meaning and the presence of God, Michael ends things with a benedictory prayer before dismissing the crowd with a light-hearted "go home" followed by a smile. As he exits stage left, he raises a hand in response to a lengthy applause that proves that the music and wisdom of one of Christian music's important yet humble exponents still connects with people in a truly special way. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Lins Honeyman
Lins HoneymanLins Honeyman is a Perthshire-based singer/songwriter and currently presents The Gospel Blues Train on Cross Rhythms Radio on Saturday nights from 11pm and on Listen Again.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Debi in OR @ 06:03 on Sep 5 2019

We were just talking about him the other day. Now I can't wait to hear the new album. Thanks for the update. What a fascinating guy. I hope the concert was awesome.

Posted by Jim Edder in Garland, Texas @ 08:54 on Jul 17 2019

Michael Card and Keith Green are the 2 most passionate Christian artists I’ve heard. Got to see Michael at Little Creak Naval Base in Norfolk Va. It was just him and his instruments. I would love to hear him live with a full ensemble. His music is a attractive as the message it carries with it. Both artists music is moving and worshipful.

Posted by Linda Randall in Mechanicsburg, PA @ 03:43 on Jun 2 2019

I’ve followed Michael Card for decades and have witnessed him in concert on many occasions. This wonderful article truly reflects his loving and all encompassing presence both with music and teaching as only Michael can do! Bravo!!

Posted by Darlene Evans in Columbiana Ohio @ 12:52 on May 14 2019

I was unaware of this Gentleman. I believe I was led to this article as an answer to prayer. I am so blessed. I will certainly be following Mr. Card from now on. Lord's Blessings

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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