‘Fade to Black’: Of Irony and Redemption

no-hope-beyond-point(Below is an appendix to larger and more important story, Hopeless in Native America. Please read that story.)

I remember running up to my room when I was six or seven years old. I was crying, angry at my mother. I don’t even remember what it was about, but I remember being so upset that I took a belt and wrapped it around my neck and yanked on it a couple of times. I remember cursing God and telling him how much I hated him. As far as I know, that only happened once, but I will never forget it. Later in my teen years, strong feelings of suicide would return, only this time they would relentlessly assault me.

I was hopeless. For brevity sake, I won’t speak of all the conditions that led to that, but suffice to say, drug usage only exacerbated problems that were already there. The point of no return for me was during a trip on LSD. One particular effect from LSD is that you are unable to lie. Amid all the hallucinations, there was one illusion I could no longer maintain – my life. While staring at myself in the mirror, I was awakened from a dream to the nightmare that I was not who I thought I was, nor was I going to be what I wanted be. Of the billions of all the other lost souls in the world, I was just one more nobody called Patrick Lennox. It was a moment of truth for me — a big ugly truth. Hopelessness penetrated my core. For the next four years I vainly attempted to create meaning and value for myself through music.

James Hetfield Fade to Black lyricsIronically it was a song about suicide that gave me hope. It was ‘Fade to Black,’ written by James Hetfield, songwriter, singer, and founder of Metallica. Let me carefully explain what I mean by that lest anyone take that in the worst possible way. First of all, in defense of the song, it does not prescribe nor recommend suicide. It is diary in song written by someone who has seen a lot of pain in his life. Hetfield grew up in a Christian Science home. His father left him when he was young, and shortly afterwards his mother suffered from cancer. Due to her Christian Science beliefs, she was not treated and finally died from her disease.

Although I did not know Hetfield’s story during my dark adolescent years, it became apparent to me through the song that he must have been writing from something deeply personal. For sure, I thought, James Hetfield must have felt this song before he wrote it. The song was not just another death glorifying theme in the thrash metal industry. It was authentic. It was written by someone who knew. When I came to realize that, I didn’t feel as alone as before, and I felt there was a glimmer of hope for me. If someone like James Hetfield can rise from the ashes, then maybe I could too. My ashes were rejection from a father and friends, depression, non-stop drug use, bitterness, hatred, and dissatisfaction with what the world had to offer. Over all it was just plain hopelessness.

And the point in all this? I would never recommend nor prescribe this song as a means of counseling anyone who is contemplating suicide. It could have easily gone a different direction for me or someone else. But I cannot ignore the fact that it was during that one dark night while listening to that song, I had a little bit of hope, if only for a little while. I must give glory to God for incorporating that song (and other Metallica songs for that matter) into the ‘all things’ in Romans 8:28. Music was something I wanted to create, and James Hetfield reminded me at a very low point in my life that just maybe I could do this.

But like everything else in this created order, not even music can give meaning and worth to anyone. Within a few years in the midst of my meager attempt to be someone in the music world, the Lord Jesus Christ found me and saved me from my sins, my self, and ultimately from God’s wrath. But he also saved me to his love, peace, and eternal life in Christ.

Essential After Thoughts

It is important to know that through those years, the Lord used the love of my mother to keep me from finally ending it. She was not the source of any of those feelings during those adolescent years. Quite the opposite. But ultimately I believed I was living in a world without God. I always knew my mother loved me. The thought of leaving her and my sister in this empty miserable world often kept me from following through. But as powerful as a mother’s love can be, it cannot give life to the dead. It was the love of God that penetrated to my core and gave me new life in Christ. For that I am eternally thankful.

Patrick Lennox

 

 

When Irish Eyes are Singing: A Tribute to Pastor Carl Guiney, part 2

Carl Guiney“God’s people ought to be a singing people.” This was the conviction of Pastor Carl Guiney. My first introduction to him was when I first walked into First Assembly of God in Woonsocket, RI, on a cold winter morning back in 1990.  As I took my seat, some dear singing soul behind me handed me a hymn book opened and awaiting my participation.  Embarrassed to say, I didn’t sing a note. I can’t even remember the song, but I know it was joyful.

A Musician’s Musician

The singing was led by Pastor Raymond Shepherd while his wife, Edna, played the organ. On the piano was Pastor Guiney, a man small in stature, but full of joy, wisdom, and meekness. I didn’t know he was the pastor until he took his post at the pulpit when the singing concluded. As a musician, I was very impressed by his musicianship. He had full command of that piano. He could play every hymn in the book and many more from memory. Not only did he play what was on the page, but he also had the ability to improvise and create beautiful bridges into other songs all the while admonishing the people with words of encouragement. He had excellent technique, full of power and finesse. His style was lively, tasteful, and reverent. Not only could he sight-read with ease, he could also transpose the song on the fly if it were in a key too high for us to sing. He would then call out the key to Edna on the organ with hand signals like a baseball catcher calling pitches to the mound. He really was a musician’s musician.

A Singing People

The music at First Assembly was a combination of hymns and praise songs. During those years, I was completely oblivious to the so-called worship wars. Under Pastor Guiney’s leadership, I developed a real appreciation for hymns mostly and other styles of music as well. I will resist a long discussion on the old debate of “traditional vs. contemporary,” except to say that as a young bass player in a heavy metal band during those years, I had no hang-ups about singing those “old-fashioned” songs. It was in that church where I first sung “What a Day That Will Be,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” and “Sing Oh Sing of My Redeemer.” And our praise songs were usually taken directly from Scripture, “Therefore the Redeemed of the Lord” (Isa 51:11), and “As the Deer” (Ps 42:1). We sang every Lord’s Day morning and evening, as well as Thursday night Bible study — before and after. In fact, every time we were together, we sang. We were a singing people.

Teamwork

Pastor Guiney had a great team to lead us. Pastor Shepherd, who was Pastor Guiney’s father-in-law, chose many of the songs for worship and led us in singing with a powerful voice that really did not need amplification. Pastor Shepherd’s wife, Edna, faithfully played the organ. We were also graced by Pastor’s wife, Faith, as she offered songs of encouragement and praise, many times in duet with her mother, Edna. It was a family affair, of which we were all welcomed to join.

Pastor Guiney truly was inspirational and encouraged everyone to use their musical gifts. One day Pastor Guiney asked me to consider playing my bass in service. I was honored and terrified. I did not sight-read very well, and even when I was able to decipher the music, I had to figure out how to take piano bass clef and play it in a way that made sense on a bass guitar. So I set up my amp next to the piano and followed Pastor Guiney’s left pinky when I got lost, which was often.

‘Singing and Making Melody from Your Heart to the Lord’

I appreciate Pastor’s graciousness toward others like me who wanted to participate in the music. Because of that, we were blessed by a lot of great singing. All of us came with different skill levels, and we all played and sang a lot of bad notes. Now of course Pastor Guiney knew that the Bible teaches us that singers and musicians ought to perform skillfully, but he also knew that God did not require perfection to be pleased. So we sang and played at our varying skill levels with hearts to the Lord offering our sacrifices of praise.

Sour Notes

I have heard people express the belief that it is not proper for the pastor to be a musician during Sunday worship. Somehow, as the reasoning goes, the people will not be able to transition in their minds from the musician to the pastor, therefore the pastor will lose his authority and respect among the people. I can’t say this emphatically enough: If you believe that, you simply didn’t know Pastors Carl Guiney and Raymond Shepherd or the congregation they served. Their love of song and praise only added to our respect and admiration for our leaders. If anything, they set the bar too high for other pastors, but I speak in jest.

Forever Singing

I have been in churches that excel in musicianship. I have heard great choirs and ensembles. I have heard the giant pipe organs bellowing out heavenly and thunderous sounds that move the soul (O, how I wish Edna could have had one!). But for all that it is worth, I still hold those early years with Pastor Guiney at First Assembly most precious. It was there I joined the singing people of God and learned to make a joyful noise to the Lord.

Pastor Guiney was brought up in church and did not remember a day when he was not singing. Now ‘with no less days to sing God’s praise,’ he is singing with the heavenly choir in the Church Triumphant. I thank the Lord for his life, his deep love for music, and his ability to shepherd his people with ‘hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs’ (Eph 5:19).

You may read Part 1 of A Tribute to Pastor Carl Guiney here.