Prophetic Notes: Vision 2 - I Hung My Head

     For some reason, perhaps some mixture of the rain that is falling outside on this drizzly December afternoon in Atlanta and the haunting recollection of last Friday's horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, I am reminded this day of a particularly prophetic (and poetic) song by Sting. As a warning, this will most likely be the first of several blog posts on this artist for he has long captured my imagination and monopolized my music library. 

     The song which comes to mind this cold and dreary afternoon is "I Hung My Head" from his album Mercury Falling (an album which I have known like the back of my hand since childhood thanks to my father).
Mercury Falling is perhaps my favorite Sting album. Released in 1996.

     Sting is perhaps the best storyteller I know. And the story he tells in this particular piece of art has been carved into my soul for many years and I wish to share it with you this day. Before I reflect upon the dark beauty of this song, it is best to listen to it so as to let its magnificence speak for itself. You can listen to it here or below.

Early one morning with time to kill
I borrowed Jeb's rifle and sat on the hill
I saw a lone rider crossing the plain
I drew a bead on him to practice my aim
My brother's rifle went off in my hand
A shot rang out across the land
The horse he kept running, the rider was dead
I hung my head, I hung my head
I set off running to wake from the dream
My brother's rifle went into the stream
I kept on running into the salt lands
And that's where they found me, my head in my hands
The sheriff he asked me "Why had I run"
Then it came to me just what I had done
And all for no reason, just one piece of lead
I hung my head, I hung my head
Here in the courthouse, the whole town is there
I see the judge high up in his chair
"Explain to the courtroom what went through your mind
And we'll ask the jury what verdict they find"
I said "I felt the power of death over life
I orphaned his children I widowed his wife
I beg their forgiveness I wish I was dead"
I hung my head, I hung my head
Early one morning with time to kill
I see the gallows up on the hill
And out in the distance a trick of the brain
I see a lone rider crossing the plain
He's come to fetch me to see what they done
We'll ride together til Kingdom come
I pray for God's mercy for soon I'll be dead
I hung my head, I hung my head

     I struggle, even now after listening to this song my entire life, to put into words what I receive from this beautiful piece of art.  In all honesty, I find that its meaning to me is nuanced by what page I find myself in the book of my life (stay tuned for a future blog post on this song).  That being said, what fascinates (and haunts) me most is the tension that Sting holds between irony on one hand and grace in the other.

    The beautiful and dark irony of this song is that the one who "had time to kill" did a deed that caused him to hang his head in shame.  As the narrative progresses he quite literally hung his head on a morning with time to kill.  This play on words leaves the listener haunted at the "end" of the story (though I don't think Sting would use that word so easily).  
     I believe that this song is chiefly about the precious and delicate nature of life.  It is because of this reality that the end of this song is so beautiful.  We all yearn for redemption and grace.  We all hope that the day will come when our wrongs will be righted and our sins will be removed.  That being said, what fascinates me even more about this song is that Sting leaves us with a fleeting (though nonetheless tangible) image of redemption and grace without ignoring the reality of death; at the "end" of the song, the rider is still dead and the main character is about to be hanged.  
     However, Sting (who, by the way, is a self-proclaimed agnostic) nonetheless prophecies that this world in which we live does not have the final word.  Yes, death is real.  Yes, evil is present in our lives.  Yes, we have reason to hang our heads in shame in our brokenness.  Yes, we feel the power of death over life when we watch the funerals of the six and seven year old children murdered last week in Newtown, Connecticut.  
    But this song gives me the vocabulary to speak of grace and of beauty and of life.  And although Sting and I might differ somewhat on our religious convictions, I have a feeling that he and I both see a higher power whose love and life will not run and hide at the sound of a gun.  For the Kingdom will come and until then, you and I will ride together in God's mercy!  
                             Grace and peace,
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Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.