He was more “spiritual” than I remember being with my “competition soundtrack” that I recall from my playing days in Phoenix. There was a song by John Stewart that contained the line, “And the Phoenix sun like clockwork runs, day by day and one by one, we fall like candles in the sun.” I took some poetic license in my head and sang to myself, And the Phoenix Suns like clockwork run, day by day and one by one, they fall like candles to the Suns! Yes, it’s a little silly, but we’re all friends here, right?
These days, along with many various Gaither, Isaacs and Dylan songs, my internal playlist repeats “The Reverend Mr. Black” more than any other.
He was a mountain of a man, And I want you to know,I’ve loved that song ever since I first heard the great John Stewart sing it with the Kingston Trio in the ’60s. Billie Edd Wheeler (with Leiber and Stoller) wrote it, and it’s been covered by Johnny Cash and many others, but my dream is to hear Bill Gaither sing it with the Isaacs taking over the chorus sounding like the angels they are (that goes for Ben, too). Actually, that’s my second dream scenario. My first would be yours truly singing lead with the Isaacs backing me. I know this one can’t come true though, because in this case, one man’s dream would be everyone else’s nightmare!
He could preach hot hell or freezing snow.
He carried a Bible in a canvas sack
And folks just called him the Reverend Mr. Black.
“The Reverend Mr. Black” refers to “Lonesome Valley,” an old spiritual that smacks our entitled souls right between the eyes:
I gotta walk that lonesome valley,As the song continues, we’re told of how a big lumberjack interrupts a meeting:
I gotta walk it by myself.
Nobody else can walk it for me,
I gotta walk it by myself.
…and it wasn’t to pray!The lumberjack then proceeded to punch the reverend. The singer says: “…to my way of thinkin’ it took a real fool to turn the other cheek…” but “he stood like a rock, a man among men, and he let that lumberjack hit him again!”
He kicked open the meetin’ house door
And he cussed everybody up and down the floor.
Then, when things got quiet in the place,
He walked up and cussed in the preacher’s face.
Then, with a voice as kind as could be,Turns out that the reverend was the storyteller’s father, and the song ends with the clear message that we stand before God on our own. None of us are able to belong to Jesus because of our parents’ faith, or because we were born in America or raised in a church. We each must seek Him with all our heart and choose to repent and follow Him ourselves. I was blessed to have a father who made sure I heard the gospel, and like him, I did my best to do the same for our children. But it was still up to me — and my children, and their children — to “walk that lonesome valley by ourselves.” Of course, Jesus Christ already walked through the valley in victory, so we’re not really by ourselves when we’re with Him.
He cut him down like a big oak tree
When he said, “You gotta walk that lonesome valley,
You gotta walk it by yourself…”
Acts 4:12 says, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
I’m sure the Reverend Mr. Black would agree. “Nobody else can walk it for us.”