One day I was wandering around and a guy said to me, “Hey, Jack, I like your possible bag!” He was referring to a leather satchel I had over my shoulder. He went on to explain that back in the time of the fur trade, the voyageurs would carry a bag like that where they stuffed everything possible. It came to be called a possible bag, of course! When making my bag, I had found a piece of leather with a cattle brand on it that happened to be my initials: JRP. Suddenly it occurred to me that I was the possible bag; that each of us is a bag of possibilities. I love that idea, and to me, that’s what faith is all about. These songs come from a Christian faith tradition, but have something to say to anyone who wants to engage life in a positive and authentic way. As always, I owe a lot of thanks to my producer and good friend, Scott Malchow. My hope is that something in these songs might become a little candle to help light the way for you as they have for me.
Here are comments for each song on the CD:
Possible Bag - As I mentioned in the opening blurb, this song grew from a casual comment from a guy in California, so be careful what you say to me. It might come back at you as a song! I still carry the possible bag with me most everywhere I go. If you’d like to see it, just ask. You can even look inside it if you want, but bear in mind that possibilities are very small when viewed that way. You might not even see them at all. But they’re there!
You are a Maker, Too - A song I wrote some years ago and have always liked. It speaks of us being children of our Father, the Maker, which, of course, is a metaphor. Metaphors always have to be used carefully lest we forget what they really mean, but the truth, I believe, is that we all stand somehow in that creative flow which God … is. It’s all a great plenty to wear your thinker plum out, but when the day’s done, our Father’s the Maker, and we’re makers, too. The whistling sound is funny little instrument called the nose flute.
Old Robe - One day a friend named Jane Toleno invited me over to sing songs. She had a number of them she wanted me to hear among which was an old Sunday School song called Old Robe. When I started using it some old folks told me they hadn’t heard it since they were kids. I wrote a couple of extra verses to fill it out a little. Over the River and Through the Woods is the beloved song by Lydia Maria Child. It just seemed to fit on the end.
Coat of Many Colors - I think there might be another song by this title sung by Dolly Parton. This is not that song! Not that that one’s a bad song, mind you. It’s just not mine. But this one is. I love the story of Joseph and how through wit, integrity and grace he rose to power and prominence. I especially love how he showed the ultimate strength of forgiveness rather than revenge. We need to find that in our day if we’re to continue. It’s an intensely practical and pressing necessity and will become all the more so as the days go on. This one just seemed to cry out for the shimmer that only high strung guitar can give. Bruce and Brian added just the right touches with their masterful instrumentation on fiddle and harmonica.
Little is Much (in the Hands of the Lord) - I love proverbs, aphorisms and little nuggets of distilled folk wisdom. “Little is much in the hands of the Lord” is even truer than most. It’s not the instrument, it’s the artist. It’s not my purpose in this song to either affirm or deny the factuality of the Big Bang theory of universal origins, which is a scientific question; only to point out that it’s an intriguing example of what I’m talking about: the ultimate in smallness giving rise to the ultimate in bigness. And wherever things came from, faith affirms that nothing lies outside of the Lord’s hands.
Shine Jesus on my Road - A song I made up in Eric’s basement in Alexandria, Minnesota. I’ve sung it a lot with the kids at Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center near Santa Cruz, CA, where I’ve worked for a number of years. Jesus has a way of shining and calling each of us, but we need to have eyes and ears. It involves pain, but the kind that changes our hearts if we’re willing to see, to hear and to learn something new. An entertaining and instructive book on the subject is The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders. It’s out of print but well worth whatever it takes to find it, within the bounds of ethics and the law, of course.
Shaker Children’s Medley - I’ve been drawn in recent years to Shaker music, largely through several wonderful recordings by Barry Phillips and Willliam Coulter. O Little Children is from a privately published pamphlet of Daniel Patterson, perhaps the foremost contemporary authority on Shaker life. Along with Love is Little, probably written about 1834, it’s a perfect statement of the Shaker preference for what is small and simple in a life of faith. Mother Has Come With Her Beautiful Song was written in 1877 by Paulina Springer of the Alfred Shaker community. ‘Mother’ refers to Mother Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers. Shaker belief placed great value on child-likeness and the ‘talla-me-ho’s are imitations of a toy trumpet. The children of the Alfred community were taught that Paulina learned the tune from a little bird!
Livin’ in my Shoes - The most basic truths seem to take us the longest to learn. One I’ve begun to wake to is that eternity is now. All the holiest and profoundest spirituality in the world really comes down to only this: being you - now and here. It’s what Jesus spent his whole life trying to teach. He also knew that it can’t be taught. You have to somehow “see” it, to wake up to it. I have no idea how that happens. Just pray that it begins to happen to you and that you’re able to grasp it. “Behold, now is the accepted time; Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2b). We are lost in the past and in the future. We are saved only in the Now. (For you musicians, I’m hitting the guitar strings with a pencil - #2 Ticonderoga, I think.) For Carol, the wise hospice angel.
A Place in the Choir - Bill Staines is a fine singer and yodeler, and he writes great songs. Like this one, for instance! I learned it years ago from a couple of friends and was able to come up with an arrangement I really like. I dusted off my old Epiphone banjo to give it the sparkle it needed.
Growing in the Grace Garden - Written for a Vacation Bible School group in Owatonna, MN. My dear wife, Nancy, is big into gardening and I think it’s affected me. Well, I know it has! I’ve gotten roped into a lot of the digging, toting and building! But it’s also given me an appreciation for the miracles that gardens are. And even when we die, what final sorrow can there be when we’re planted in the garden of God? The Garden of Shining Possibilities?
Jewels - A sweet little song I first learned in Sunday School. I was reminded of it when I performed it with the Gamble family here in Minnesota one Christmas. Thanks, Naomi! My friend, Diane, adds her tender cello lines. Now that I think of it, this is truly one of my favorite songs.
Jesus Bids us Shine - Here’s another poignant song back from Sunday School days. Whenever we shine - sending out the truth of love, being us here in Now - we are doing the bidding of Jesus. I wanted to end this recording with this simple but strangely moving song. You might just as well let it teach and lead you. You’ll never be able to forget it. I can’t.