Carrie Newcomer's Songs for Change

By Becky Garrison 3-06-2008

On Jan. 22, 2008, I headed down to Joe's Pub in New York City to celebrate the launch of Quaker singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer's CD The Geography of Light. Newcomer's lyrics, grounded in her faith formed by a Midwestern sensibility, reminded me of The Power of Song, a documentary that I saw at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. When I reflected on that film on the God's Politics blog, I asked if, in today's cynical world, we could enact positive social change through artistic self-expression - or if this notion is simply a relic of a bygone era.

While Newcomer's lyrics echo songs penned by folk legends such as Seeger, she explores the themes of justice, forgiveness, and redemption from a 21st century lens. Instead of hitting one over the head with a social justice jackhammer, Newcomer gently carries the listener on a hopeful journey where the spiritual can often be found unexpectedly in the seemingly mundane.

For example, in "Geodes," Newcomer uses these mysterious brown Indiana rock formations to remind us how: "All these things that we call familiar are just miracles clothed in the commonplace. You'll see it if you try in the next stranger's eyes. God walks around in muddy boots, sometimes rags and that's the truth, you can't always tell, but sometimes you just know."

Newcomer's songs reminds me of the Lenten offerings I downloaded from Proost, a UK-based collective of diverse artists, as well as some music I've been listening to from Potter Street Records. All these musicians seem to be tapping into this global change I've noted in other blog postings.

Speaking of globalization, in one of her more whimsical numbers, "Don't Push Send," Newcomer jokes about living in an 24/7 wireless world: "A dangerous form of information and the perils of instant gratification, How many times did I hit my Mac, want to crawl inside and take the whole thing back." Earlier this week, when I attended the Museum of Modern Art's press preview for "Design and the Elastic Mind," I was reminded once again how technology can enable us to be in touch instantaneously without having to actually touch the other.

During her set, Newcomer posed several questions to the audience that resonated with my own questions about what it means to be a church community in the 21st century. In today's transient and wireless society, where does the spirit of community move through the world? Rather than turn to an institution or an individual as the change makers, she aptly notes, "we are the people we've been waiting for," adding that "some things happen in community, some things happens individually."Along those lines, when I was interviewed by Simple Way co-founder Jamie Moffett for the upcoming documentary The Ordinary Radicals, I replied that if you want to see change, look in the mirror and around your community.

So perhaps like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we've been searching for change when it's been right in our backyards all along.

Becky Garrison's books include The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church: Eyewitness Accounts of How American Churches are Hijacking Jesus, Bagging the Beatitudes, and Worshipping the Almighty Dollar.

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