Daily Grat: Woody Guthrie’s song "Jesus Christ"

As both a preacher and a songwriter, I’m embarrassed to admit I never heard Woody Guthrie’s great song “Jesus Christ,” until I watched the credits of Michael Moore’s latest movie last night.

Well, better late than never, I suppose.

What struck me about it was how completely and totally consistent it is with much of my own theology, and with much of what we’re talking about at Northaven during Lent.

Our theme at Northaven this year comes from a book by two of the most famous theologians in contemporary theology: Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The book is called “The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem.”

I strongly recommend the book to anyone who would like to get an honest assessment of what the realities were during Jesus’ last week of life. The main points are that Jesus was killed by the Powers That Be of his day…by the Imperial authority of Rome. The form of his execution was a *Roman* form of excution, not a Jewish one.

Borg and Crossan suggest that Jesus’ teachings –that the realm (kingdom) of God could be present in THIS world now, was deeply troubling to those Powers That Be.

Anyway, it’s a fantastic book. And I hope you’ll read it.

But what struck me last night was that Woody Guthrie’s song is some seriously good Lenten theology that Borg and Crossan would certainly agree with:

Why did Jesus die in his day? (speaking up for the poor, against the rich)
Would Jesus die today? (Most likely, given that the rich still don’t give up power very easily…)

So, without further delay, the lyrics of a *great* Woody Guthrie song:

Jesus Christ
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

“Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
A hard-working man and brave
He said to the rich, “Give your money to the poor,”
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave

Jesus was a man, a carpenter by hand
His followers true and brave
One dirty little coward called Judas Iscariot
Has laid Jesus Christ in His Grave

He went to the preacher, He went to the sheriff
He told them all the same
“Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor,”
And they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.

When Jesus come to town, all the working folks around
Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross,
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.

And the people held their breath when they heard about his death
Everybody wondered why
It was the big landlord and the soldiers that they hired
To nail Jesus Christ in the sky

This song was written in New York City
Of rich man, preacher, and slave
If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee,
They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.”

Man, am I glad to have had this song find me. It’s today’s Daily Grat.

(During this year, my goal is to find something new to be thankful for every single day, and to add that thanksgiving as a blog entry, under the title “My Daily Gratitude.” I started this kick back around Thanksgiving, and it’s already resulted in a favorite new song of mine. The goal of this ongoing spiritual exercise is to see if doing such a thing might inspire even more gratitude within me, and to foster general awareness of life on a deeper level.)

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

One thought on “Daily Grat: Woody Guthrie’s song "Jesus Christ"

  1. If you've never read Jim Bishop's book "The Day Christ Died," I recommend it.I read it in high school, after I had already read Bishop's hour-by-hour accounts of the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Bishop used a similar approach in writing about Franklin D. Roosevelt's last year.Very effective and very informative books, and his book about Jesus includes some chapters about life in Jesus' time that are very enlightening.

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