I’ve always loved ballad songs, songs that speak of the struggles and harsh realities of life with a poetic tone. I remember being an 18 – year-old kid driving to Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington for my freshman year. The year was 1968. As I pulled into the southside of the city, Glenn Campbell was singing his new song, “Wichita Lineman” over a local AM radio station. As Glenn sang the last note, hunger struck. I pulled into a mom-and-pop burger joint to have a cheeseburger and fries. I felt alone in a strange place. The meal and the music were the only companions who knew what I was feeling. Yesterday, I heard the Wichita Lineman being played and got choked up. I was that 18-year-old kid all over again.
The power of a ballad is the testimony it delivers and the connection it makes with the moment we are living through. Being a young 18-year old in a strange and lonely place has not been an isolated experience. On several occasions in my life, this same ballad experience took place just before a new season arrived. It provided a connection with my emotions that I would need to honestly process what I was living through.
David wrote the equivalent of ballads in his psalms. I go to the Psalms in times of uncertainty when I need a traveling companion. Ballads, whether sung or written, touch a place in our soul other forms of expression fail to make. For me, ballads have allowed me to engage my sorrow, regret, and unfamiliar transitions in life where the next step is still unseen and the future has yet to unfold. Some of the best renditions of these ballads are sung as an off-tune duet while driving along an unfamiliar stretch of life’s highway heading to our next destination of faith.