Ken Medema, as regular Sojourners readers know, is blind. He is a real gift to all of us because he sees things that the rest of us don't see. In Little Pictures, he shares with us stories inspired by pictures from his past. "Some catch me looking so stupid and weak. Some make me seem brave and strong," he says in his title cut. The question that haunts him, he says, is "Where do all these pictures belong?"
They all belong somewhere. Medema is obsessed with hope, as he said in a 1995 Sojourners interview. Hope that endures comes from the ability to see Jesus in every stupid, weak, brave, or strong circumstance in our lives. Medema not only has the ability to see, he also has the ability to open our eyes so that we, too, can see, and therefore maintain hope. He's done this in his live gigs, including his work in "Let Justice Roll!" events (in which he shared the stage with Sojourners' Jim Wallis).
Little Pictures is full of hope-inducing songs, especially "Journey Down," which reminds us that the only way for our outer journey to have meaning is to look inside at our big bad shadow: "Hello shadow, I'm coming down to meet you./I only want to know you cause I know I can't defeat you./I'm coming to make peace with all the friends and foes/And phantoms I will find, walking down the stairways of my mind./Well I know the journey's frightening and I'm begging for some time."
The listener is encouraged to heed Jesus' most frequent commandment, "Fear not!" The lyrics of "Journey Down" are interspersed with "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." In "Dance in the Cross Roads," Medema encourages us to make the crossroads where people meet a place of dancing and not of fear.
He also reminds us that there is hope even when, or especially when, we can't see a way out. "A Better Way," a song about coming to the end of your rope and longing for a way out, is followed by "Sanctus," which invites worship, celebration, and expectation of the manifestation of the power of God. "Ocean Full of Tears" is full of all the pain and despair of failed marriage, yet it ends with encouragement that the one despairing will be able to put his or her life together again. The next song is "Hope in God," and hope is what it engenders.
"EVER ON HOLD" is a song about procrastination. Medema speaks of the inner voices that tell you not to be hasty. My experience is that when the voices talk you into putting something off until tomorrow, they are right back the next day with the same message. Alas, in this song there is no message of encouragement or hope that I can see. Maybe procrastination is Medema's thorn in the flesh. Maybe hope in this area is still a work in progress. In the notes that accompany this song, Medema says, "I am talking to myself...you are invited to listen in." Maybe the hope is there, giving Medema the freedom to put his less-than-perfect self out there for us to see.
"When I Fall in Love" is the first song Medema ever sang to his wife, back when they were dating. He mentions in the notes that this song was also his first experience of combining his classical training with his love of pop music. Medema synthesizes classical and pop excellently in all his work. This release is typical in that it will appeal to listeners with eclectic musical tastes.
Little Pictures is challenging, encouraging, enticing, welcoming, connecting, and eye-opening in the struggle to maintain a sense of hope. Medema exhorts us to let our lights shineand to call down pentecostal power in the process.
DAN GOERING is a social worker, clown, musician, and baseball fan, not necessarily in that order, living in Washington, D.C.