By J.C. Ryle, written during the Great Cattle Plague of England, 1865-1867.
Follow the Source link below to read the full text. Believe me, it’s worth reading!!
‘Can anyone give a better account of the cattle plague? If he can, let him speak out like a man, and tell us why it has come. To say that it originated in another land; that it is not a new but an old plague; that it has done great harm in days gone by — all this is evading the question. I ask to be told why it has come upon us now? How and in what way can the outbreak be accounted for at this particular period? What possible causes can be assigned for it that have not existed for hundreds of years? I believe these questions cannot be answered. I believe that the only cause that we must come to as last is, the finger of God!’
Source: This is the Finger of God
The Coronavirus is upon us. I regularly monitor and to keep up to date with its progress via a statistics page. It’s a world event. Hardly a country is untouched. President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson have made their pronouncements and promises to end the progress of the virus. I admit that that is eventually what will happen – perhaps. But it won’t be because man has conquered an unseen enemy. It certainly won’t be because of any world leader. The only reason the progress of the virus will be halted is down entirely to the grace of God. That’s right. The Grace of God. Searching for a Vaccine is right and helping to limit its progress is something we all need to do. That’s the responsible thing to do. And we all play our part, however small. There is no inconsistency with the sovereignty and power of God and our acting responsibly.
A friend emailed me the other day and suggested Boris call for the Nation to beseech God to stay his hand in judgment. Will that happen? Unlikely. In the event the virus is stopped, a vaccine found and lives are saved – does that mean people are no longer going to die? No. It simply means people will die by another means. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 ‘And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (the final judgment)…) The message is that we will all die by some means. We die because we are sinners. As sinners we live a fallen world. The Coronavirus shouts that reality to us. Are we listening?
Where did the virus originate? Many speculate the answer to that. I’ve no doubt many Christians will answer by saying the virus has been sent by God as judgment as my friend suggested. Maybe so.
‘There is no question in the Hebrew or NT mind that plagues are part of the judgment God sends to individuals, families, and nations. God himself threatens to send plagues to the Israelites in proportion to their sins (Lv 26:21) and takes full responsibility for the Egyptian plagues (Jos 24:5). The OT plagues demonstrated God’s control over the processes of nature just as do Christ’s miracles in the NT.’
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Plague. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 1698–1699). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Is the Coronavirus a judgement from God then. It’s a question we should ask.
If it is a judgment, the Virus is also a mercy.
Psa 101:1 A Psalm of David. ‘I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O LORD, will I sing. (AV)’
Not only a judgment but a mercy. How can a virus that is killing thousands be a mercy?
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. it removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
The mercy is that it causes us to look up. That is to look to God for deliverance. Yet man in rebellion towards his creator will look anywhere rather than look to God for deliverance. The message to ancient Israel comes down the centuries to us in our modern technological proud arrogant age. That message is to repent and call upon The Lord for mercy and salvation.
Eze 18:31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
Eze 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”
It was the message of The Lord Jesus. It’s still his message through his church:
Mar 1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
Mar 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Will you look up. Never mind what others will say. Will you call upon God for salvation through Christ? Will you receive the mercy offered by a Gracious God?
Christians are caught up in the present Coronavirus. We don’t get a free pass. But there’s a difference. Because the gospel ‘…. has been manifested through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2Ti 1:10)….’
Maybe the Virus will eventually disappear. But the concern you have for what will happen when you die will also disappear. But the fact of your own death will not. The abolition of death is only for those whose faith and trust is in The Lord Jesus Christ. Will you trust Christ? Will you repent and believe the Gospel?
I first came across Thomas Case in Voices from the Past Vol 1, a book of daily readings edited by Richard Rushing. This little volume, When Christians Suffer, is also edited by Richard Rushing and again published by The Banner of Truth. He has made, I think, another valuable contribution to the church of Christ.
Thomas Case (1598–30 May 1682) lived to the age of 84 and was, bar one, the longest surviving member of the Westminster Assembly (Westminster Confession of Faith and other documents). Case knew bereavement, persecution, the confiscation of his property and spent 5 months imprisoned in the Tower of London – though his wife (he remarried) was allowed to be with him. The book is written out of deep personal experience. It’s worth pointing out that Thomas Case doesn’t confine what the suffering is to any specific issue. Bereavement and illness are there of course, but suffering manifests (though sometimes it isn’t even seen at all) itself in many ways. The Corona Virus is with us, so many in the world are suffering right now. Mentally, financially, physically and spiritually. So for Christians especially, though it needn’t be confined to them, is a wonderful little book. Perhaps to give away. The book is an exposition of Psalm 94:12. ‘Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.’
I shall take discipline here in the utmost latitude, for all kinds and degrees of suffering, whether from God, or man, or Satan. Whether sufferings for sin, or sufferings for righteousness sake. p.13.
This isn’t really a review, other than a few notes and a hearty recommendation. It’s a great little booklet. It’s 113 tiny pages (smaller than A6). My copy was a gift, but I’ve since bought another couple of copies to give away. I paid £3.25 at our local Christian Bookshop. The opening letter by Thomas Manton is worth reading on its own. You should know this is a very heavily edited edition of Case’s ‘A Treatise on Afflictions.’ That’s not a criticism as it’s extremely well done and makes the work of Thomas Case accessible to a much wider readership having updated the language making it more readable to a modern audience. Having read this edition I started to read the un-edited version which also contains a brief Biographical Preface, which I have to say isn’t that helpful.
Introductory Letter (slightly edited) by Thomas Manson to Thomas Case
I thank you for your thoughts concerning afflictions. I was pleased to drink from this fountain, and the half was not told me. To treat of afflictions when we ourselves flourish and abound in ease and plenty is more like the orator than the preacher, and the brain than the heart. It seems that when you went into prison, the Spirit of God went into prison with you. When you were shut up to others, you were open to the visits and free breathings of his grace. A prison cannot restrain the freedom of his operations. It would be a prison for sure to be shut up also from fellowship with the Holy Spirit. I begin to see the truth in Tertullian’s discourse to the martyrs:
‘You went out of prison when you went into it, and we’re but sequestered from the world that you might converse with God; the greatest prisoners and the most guilty are those at large, darkened with ignorance, chained with lusts, committed not by the proconsul, but God.’
Sir, I could even envy your prison comforts, and the sweet opportunities of a religious privacy. We that are abroad are harassed and worn out with constant public labours, and can seldom retire from the distraction of business for such free converse with God and our own souls. But we are not to choose our own portion; crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.
Good sir, be persuaded to publish these discourses: the subject is useful, and your manner of handling it warm and affectionate. Do not deprive the world of the comfort of your experiences. Certainly my heart is not one of the tenderest, yet if heart answers to heart, I can easily foresee much success and that you will not repent of the publication. The Lord bless your endeavours in the gospel of his dear Son. I am, sir, yours in all Christian observance,
The first section is ‘Twenty-One Lessons Which God Usually Teaches His People in a Suffering Condition.’
‘(1.) The first lesson God teaches us by affliction is to have compassion for those who are in a suffering condition.
We are prone to be insensitive, writes Case, when we are at ease in Zion! Partly out of the delicacy of self-love which makes us unwilling to sour our own sweet blessings with the bitter taste of a strangers affliction. Upon this very account God brings a variety of afflictions and sorrows upon his own children.’ p. 14.
‘(5.) God also uses affliction to reveal unknown corruption in the hearts of his people.
He reveals in the heart what pride, what impatience, what unbelief, what idolatry, what distrust of God, what murmuring, and what unthankfulness abides there that you never took notice of!’ p. 21.
One final quote from section 3. ‘How the Instrument of Affliction Promotes the Teaching of God in the Soul’
(1.) Through affliction God tears down the pride of man’s heart.
There is no greater obstruction to saving knowledge than pride and self-opinion. Pride raise objections against the word (The Bible), and disputes the commands when they should obey them. The heart of man stands as a mountain before the word, and cannot be moved until God comes with his instruments of affliction and knocks down those mountains, and then stands on level ground to talk with man. This pride of heart speaks loud in the wicked, and whispers audibly even in the godly. It is folly bound up even in the hearts of God’s children until correction drives it out, and the pride is broken and cries, ‘Lord, what will you have me to do?’ p. 82, 83.
As Manton writes, ‘crosses will come soon enough without wishing for them, and if we were wise we might take an advantage of every condition.’
Our Church had a visit on Tuesday by a representative of the Middle East Reformed Fellowship (MERF). The Coronavirus made the meeting a little uncertain but it went ahead, albeit with a difference. There were about 5 people at the physical meeting but more of us ‘gathered’ to take part online. I thought it was a very encouraging meeting. Our Tech guy (Eifion) did a great job.
Even under what we regard as extremely difficult circumstances (they are) The Lord Jesus Christ is building his Church in The Middle East. The Church is growing. And by growing I mean Muslims are turning from Islam to Christ. We were able to watch a video of how Nadia came to faith in Christ. She came in contact with no Christians. Her testimony demonstrated three things we saw in one of the slides (Just as I was about to take a picture the slide disappeared). I was really struck by this. The three things:
- Islamic Extremism
Most Muslims are shocked by the extremism. (More Muslims are killed by Islamists than any other people.) This is one of the factors that are making Muslims question the Islamic faith. Let’s not assume that all Muslims are Extremists. They aren’t. Or that they support Extremism. They don’t.
2. Life of Mohammed
Once they start to read about Mohammed, Muslims wonder how this can be a man of God.
3. Social media
Muslims can read the Bible, and listen to sermons without risk of anyone knowing.
You might not agree with those three points, but when they (MERF) speak to Muslim converts and hear their testimonies these seem to be the three most common factors.
Pray for the Church in The Middle East.
Visit the MERF website for more info.
So yesterday I decided to take a trip to the great metropolis of Bulkington where Jeremy Walker was giving a lecture (at Bulkington Congregational Church) on Henry Havelock. The full lecture title was (Follow link to listen) ‘Henry Havelock – Every inch a soldier and every inch a Christian.’ Here’s what I thought was a key quote (there were many more!) Havelock had ‘An unfashionable faith in an unsympathetic environment.’ And another, one viewed him as ‘Being ready to live or die.’ Jeremy gave an account of his military life. He wasn’t in a position to buy his way up the ranks so any promotions he did have were on his ability as a soldier. Promotions were for specific campaigns but these were short lived and he found himself dropping back down the ranks when his usefulness was over. Nevertheless he did make progress, but it was slow and over many years, unlike some of his contemporaries. Eventually, but after many years, his service was recognised. His Christian faith was a particular barrier to promotion. On top of that he was a Baptist. Interestingly, while in India he met Adoniram Judson – the Baptist missionary.
We were then treated to how his Christian faith fitted in with being a professional soldier. This was just great. But extremely challenging to each of us to be the very best we can be in whatever vocation God by His providence has placed us. He was respected by all even when they thoroughly disliked his Christian faith. His practice was to spend the first two hours of every day in private prayer and reading his Bible. If the column of troops had to leave at 6:00 he would rise at 4:00. If they had to move at 4:00 he would rise at 2:00. This was his daily practice as a Christian and he would not be moved. Unflinching commitment to his Saviour and to his craft as a soldier. Disciplined and professional to the very end.
That is just the briefest account of what was an excellent and challenging lecture. Jeremy delivered it with suitable humour in places and with the utmost respect for this man of God. We can all learn from Henry Havelock and his devotion to The Lord Jesus Christ and his service as a soldier, but I think servicemen or retired members of the armed forces will especially appreciate this lecture.
Christians are finding as Sir Henry found, we also have ‘An unfashionable faith in an unsympathetic environment.’ I enthusiastically commend the lecture to you.
We read this from Wikipedia: ‘Major General Sir Henry Havelock KCB was a British general who is particularly associated with India and his recapture of Cawnpore during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.’
I’ve been blogging about Freedom of Speech on and off for over 10 years and have watched it slowly but surely be eroded away. The pace of that erosion seems to be quickening. David has asked that we might share this post of his. So that’s what I’m going to do. This is an important article. Please read and share.
On Saturday evening at Ebenezer’s 50th Church anniversary weekend; Dr Eryl Davies gave a most striking illustration on Eph 2:1 ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.’
It went something like this:
‘Some of you,’ he said, ‘have stood over the body of a loved one, maybe you were crying, but no matter how much you wanted that loved one to be alive, they are dead.’
And they stay dead.
It’s an extremely powerful image. I’ve stood over the bodies of several dead loved ones. I can tell you, it’s a sobering experience. So his illustration wasn’t lost on me, or on others.
The point he went on to make is that only the Spirit of God can bring life to the sinner. The Bible speaks very plainly that spiritually by nature we are dead. The problem is that unbelievers think they are very much alive.
The Apostle Paul goes on to say that ‘we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:3)’ That is the position of the person without Christ. All seems well and Christians appear to be the most foolish people on earth. The reality is very different. Unbelievers are described in a variety of ways. Dead, darkened in their understanding, blind, ignorant, hard-hearted and many more. In other words, it’s a hopeless situation. There is no flicker of life.
Those of us that are Christians recognise that description because it describes where we were. (Our redemption is not yet complete. We know we have black hearts.) What happened?
Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
Eph 2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
God stepped in. There’s no room for pride or any sense of achievement.
Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
Eph 2:9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
So how does a dead person, a walking dead person, become alive? Well, he certainly doesn’t do it to himself as the above illustration so clearly demonstrates. God does it. God makes us alive and grants the gift of repentance and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ. And He normally works through something similar to what you have just read. That is, the proclamation of the Gospel. This is why it is SO important to be in a church where the Gospel of the grace of a God in Christ is regularly preached.
How can you become alive? Or how can you be saved? Read how this happened to a hardened jailer in the 1st Century.
Act 16:29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.
Act 16:30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Act 16:31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Or as Jesus Himself put it:
Mar 1:15 …. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
I read this some while ago now at the recommendation of a friend (Thanks Nick!). Having checked the revisions, I first started writing this over a year ago. I’m staggered at how things have moved!
The author, Mick Hulme is an atheist but the subject of Free Speech is something that should unite both Atheist and Christian alike and this book does that. It’s been in my ‘Draft’ folder for a while but the book’s relevance continues. Indeed, the book seems to have more relevance each week. There’s so much to quote you might as well go and buy it. The following extracts will suffice for now. Note especially this line: ‘Free speech means you are also free to talk back as you see fit‘. So talking and talking back. Sounds very much like a conversation – even a heated conversation.
‘If it is to mean anything, free speech has to live up to its name. This is the hardest thing for many who claim to endorse the principle to remember in practice. It means that what others say or write need not conform to what you, I, or anybody else might prefer.
Here is the terrible truth about free speech. Anybody can choose to write, blog, tweet, chant, preach, phone a radio program or shout at a television set. Not all of them will have the purity of soul of Jesus Christ or Joan Rivers, the wisdom of Socrates or Simon Cowell, or the good manners of Prince Harry or Piers Morgan. That’s tough. They still get the same access to free speech as the rest of us, whether we like it or not.
Defending the unfettered Free in free speech is not a question of endorsing whatever objectionable or idiotic things might be written or said. Nobody had to find Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons insightful or hilarious in order to stand by its right to publish them. Nor is it a question of being soft and suffering in silence. Free speech means you are also free to talk back as you see fit.
The Free in free speech does mean recognising that free speech is for fools, fanatics and the other fellow too. Like all true liberties, free speech is an indivisible and universal right. We defend it for all or not at all.’
Trigger Warning: Is the fear of being offensive killing free speech?, Mick Hume (Pages. 12 & 13).
In practice, this isn’t easy for Christians – or for anyone else for that matter. Having our faith and our Saviour ridiculed in public isn’t pleasant but is nothing new. And it’s happening all the time directly and indirectly. (I didn’t say we have to like it) Why other lobby groups expect a free pass on abuse and ridicule is quite frankly beyond me. Welcome to the real world. Christians have been living with this reality for centuries. Christians have been pilloried, abused, imprisoned, made fun of, and even burnt. Now, especially in The West, it’s shaming, losing your livelihood and trial by Media. In other countries, right now, like China for example, it’s another story.
In order to apply the principles of democracy, tolerance and free speech, which the UK is supposed to stand for, and even exports (allegedly), is it unreasonable to ask for the liberty to speak freely? By speaking freely I mean as Mick Hume writes ‘Free speech means you are also free to talk back as you see fit.’ This freedom is disappearing. We thank God for the freedoms we enjoy and we should pray that it continues. But what to do? The temptation is to lie down and simply hope it will all go away and suddenly as if by magic all our liberties will be restored. It’s not going to happen. You might remember when Boris Johnson brought the topic of Free-Speech to the fore (which BTW has come back several times – including ‘Any Questions’ BBC Radio 4).
At the end of the book, Mick Hulme has provided a glossary, if you will, of anti-free speech Trigger Warnings that were trotted out several times over the comments by Boris. Nothing has changed in the intervening period, our liberties, or lack of them, continually slip away. How things change, Boris Johnson is now Prime Minister. Incidentally, ‘Boris’ is a passionate believer in Free Speech (correct me if I’m wrong). Consider the torrent of abuse he receives – including from Christians. Just in the last week a Judge ruled against a Doctor for not referring to someone by their preferred way of being addressed. Again, I’m just amazed at how fast things are moving.
Here’s the first two of Mick Hulme’s Glossary:
‘This is not a free-speech issue.’
‘This is a pretty sure sign that yes, it is.
The first shot fired in the silent war on free speech is often an assurance that the bans or proscriptions on speech being demanded really have nothing to do with attacking freedom of expression. Of course, the fraudsters assure us that they support free speech, but this is about something else – hate or harassment, national security or personal safety.
What they usually mean is ‘This not a me-speech issue’. It is not infringing on their free speech, so it’s not a problem. But free speech is not the same as me-speech, never mind me-me-me speech. It is always about defending freedom for the other fellow, for the one who thinks differently.’
Incidentally, there have a few discussions regarding our freedom to Speak and interesting, and alarming, to note the frequency these warnings given by Mick Hume are used. But here’s another one that you will probably have noticed. One more:
‘Of course I believe in free speech, but…’
‘This is the one most often guaranteed to give the game away that no, in fact, you don’t.
Ours is the age of the but-heads, when almost nobody opposes free speech ‘in principle’, but Principle is seemingly another country and they do things differently there. In Practice, back here on Earth, many have a ‘but’ to wave around in the face of free speech to explain why the freedom to express an opinion should go thus far, but no further, like ‘free’-range livestock caged in a pen.
This might sound reasonable. But (to use the only language some people seem to understand) the problem is that, like all meaningful liberties, free speech has to be a universal and indivisible right. Once you apply a ‘but’ impose conditions or attach a string, it ceases to be a right. Instead it becomes a concession to be rationed by somebody in authority.
Those ubiquitous ‘buts’ don’t just qualify a commitment to free speech, they crush it. To claim to believe in free speech, but … is akin to insisting that you believe in an Almighty God, but you don’t think He’s all that. It might be better if the but-heads came clean and confessed that they don’t really believe in free speech after all.’
Having said all the above, does that mean we can say whatever we like in an absolute sense? By absolute, I mean saying whatever you like without any eternal consequence. I accept that as Christians we ought to weigh our words carefully and I’ll be the first to confess that I may have overstepped the mark on occasion. We should all consider some words from the Bible. Of course, the Bible is itself soon to be labeled Hate Speech (Gen 1:27). The Bible is considered by some as outrageous, and probably to some extent by Mick Hume, but he doesn’t (I assume) want to close me down or have me arrested for having a different view or even for calling him a sinner. The fact is, Jesus said that every idle word we say will be brought into the judgment.
Mat 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (idle AV) word they speak,
Mat 12:37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ESV)
That is serious stuff but I still believe people have the right to call me a nutcase and say what they like about the Christian faith. In this life Jesus said every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven: except a final rejection of the Salvation offered by God. But right now, your sin, no matter how grievous, and no matter how you may have railed against your God, it can all be forgiven.
If like me you love Jaco’s bass playing but know little about the man then this book could be the book for you. The strapline to the book is ‘The extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius.’ Do realise his life was extraordinary, but it was also very tragic. Just a little bit about the book itself. This is the Anniversary Edition of JACO by Bill Milkowski. The text is really dense. It’s a small font for the size of book and sometimes the pages are just a mass of text. But, it is very well written and very readable with several pictures, plus lots of anecdotes and quotes from those that knew him and played with him. Throughout there are a lot of memories of other musicians that first heard him with Sixty Three reflections (Not all good) on his life and music at the end. To use a colloquialism – they were usually ‘gobsmacked’ by his ability and creativity. There’s a fair bit of fruity language – the F-word and S-word are frequently used. However, I found it to be a page turner. There’s also a fairly decent index (in a very tiny font) and a full discography – most of which I was completely unaware of although I knew he played with Joni Mitchell.
Here’s the first paragraph or so in the acknowledgments (p. vii):
‘It’s a rare privilege to be able to revisit an old work and refine, update, expand, and otherwise sculpt it into a better, more satisfying shape. With a fresh perspective afforded by the passing of ten years since the original printing of The Extraordinary And Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius — along with new information gathered, new insights provided by key figures missed the first time around, and the wisdom and empathy that comes with fatherhood — I was able to “do this thing correct,” as Jaco would say.’
Part of his mission, says Milkowski, was ‘to paint a richer, more detailed portrait of Jaco’s early, pre-Weather Report years in Fort Lauderdale, where he was at his happiest and healthiest — a straight-arrow Family man and dedicated musician at the peak of his powers.’
He also wanted to ‘more closely examine the final 24 hours leading up to the savage beating that put Jaco in a coma for nine days and resulted in his ultimate demise on September 21, 1987.’
I was listening to Jaco Pastorius back in the 1970’s when I started listening to fusion styles of jazz (Chick Corea – Return to Forever; Mahavishnu Orchestra) which at the time led me to buy albums by Miroslav Vitous (Bass), Tomasz Stańko (Trumpet) which was just an extension of the other weird stuff (Henry Cow, Gong, Soft Machine) most people thought I was listening to. I was playing the guitar a bit but it never went anywhere but I did at least have the ear (I think) to know when I was listening to something special. Like lots of people then, it seems, listening to Jaco made me sit up and realise this was definitely someone special.
I actually managed to see Weather Report at The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London, but we couldn’t stay to the end as I recall else we’d have missed our train. What a shame. When I only recently saw there was a biography of Jaco it was a no-brainer to get it.
Jaco was blessed with an abundance of ‘natural’ ability. He had perfect pitch, perfect time, a photographic memory and was even physically suited to playing the electric Bass. As if that wasn’t enough he was also an innovator. He had all the attributes of a genius. He also had an obsessive personality that made him want to be the best at whatever he did – and seemed to excel at whatever it was. That didn’t mean he just sat around wallowing in his gifts – he obsessively practiced and practiced and practiced. Even for a genius, there isn’t a short cut. But it seems with genius there’s more often than not a corresponding defect in the personality.
I knew nothing about his early life and was quite surprised at how long he held out with a no-drinking and no-drugs policy. But all the time I’m reading I know things are going to take a tragic turn. The first couple of chapters are upfront and tell of the tragedy. The next few chapters tell of his rise to fame – if I can put it like that – as he reaches the peak of his playing ability and the recognition that went with it. All the while there’s this awful expectation that Jaco’s life is going to turn really bad. There’s a sense of foreboding. As I reach this stage of the book I’m wondering what it was that sent him on a downward spiral.
[This little section I had some quotes to insert here but I’ve misplaced the book so this is from memory: There was mention of him getting drunk but it didn’t seem to be a habitual thing. But, we are told that Joe Zawinul and Jaco would ‘get competitively wasted on a regular basis.’ But Zawinul apparently treated him like a son. You would have thought he would have tried to protect him – but he doesn’t. Not really. Other friends notice a real change at this point.]
Anyway, as far as I can tell, it’s at this time in Jaco’s life where things begin to take a bad turn. On top of the drugs and booze his marriage to Tracy was starting to fall apart. He had a relationship with another woman (perhaps many women) and a relationship with Joni Mitchell born out of their musical / spiritual collaboration.
Ingrid (one of the women) knew it was wrong and she felt Jaco’s Catholic upbringing caused him to feel guilty about what he was doing – and rightly so.
So whether there was already a personality defect and the marriage breaking up coupled with fame, booze, drugs and the pressure of being at the top conspired to form a deadly cocktail that drove him on a downward tragic spiral, I don’t know. But there’s more:
Peter Erskine (Drummer with Weather Report & friend) told his father (As it happens, a Psychologist) about Jaco’s mood swings and without even seeing him diagnosed Jaco to be suffering from Manic Depression – what we now call Bipolar Disorder. It wasn’t until years later Jaco was hospitalised, diagnosed and then treated (with Lithium). In the book ‘Tackling Mental Illness Together: A biblical and practical approach’ by Alan Thomas there’s a section on Bipolar disorder (pp, 168 – 172) in chapter 9 ‘Severe Mental Illnesses.’ In this chapter, Professor Thomas describes what we read about in this biography of Jaco – manic episodes and depression. Lithium is still used with the side-effect of trembling that Jaco experienced – especially in his hands.
Part of the tragedy, maybe the main part, is that instead of hospitalising him, he is idolised and treated as a Cash Cow. He was ill. I recently watched a program on Channel 5 called ‘The Death of Amy Winehouse: 13 Reasons Why.’ There were many sad parallels, especially with drink and drugs. The author brings out quite a few times how life was much simpler, and happier, for Jaco in the early days. Before he became famous, when he wasn’t drinking or taking drugs, when he was happy with his first wife Tracy (‘Portrait of Tracy’).
After reading this I now listen to Jaco’s playing slightly differently. It’s certainly a celebration of masterful playing (a new appreciation for sure) but it’s tinged with sadness.
When reading books like this I’m always interested in looking to see what their religious convictions are. And for good reason, there’s a lot hanging on it. But I don’t read to judge. Leastways I try not to anyway. I read with hope. As a Christian, I’ve read biographies with lives that are just about as tragic as it gets in this life but by God’s Grace they have come to know Christ. And so their lives become a testimony to the triumph of grace. Reading these biographies there’s a turn from whatever the darkness might be to the light of Christ and an eternal heritage. There’s redemption. Not so with the life of Jaco. There is no redemption, there is no point at which his life turns around. There is no hope. It does not end well. I do not know if somehow God reached into Jaco’s life at the last moment and we’ll see him in heaven. Maybe. I hope it is so. The night when he was beaten that led to his death, he had talked with Carlos Santana. Santana says ‘…. we talked a little bit about Jesus. That was the last time I saw him. (p. 261). I have absolutely no idea what ‘talking a little bit about Jesus’ means. Jesus gets a mention a few other times through the book and his ‘spirituality’ is mentioned several times. Again, what that actually means, I have no idea. Jaco was brought up a Catholic and sang in the choir so there was some input. Whether he was saved or not then, I don’t know. I know God is Gracious though, and that it’s He that does the saving, not us.
In summary then, if you’re a fan of Jaco you should read it. But it’s not a fun read. It’s not a fun read because we get to follow, through Bill Milkowski’s excellent book the rise of such an amazing talent as Jaco and then his subsequent destruction and fall, ending in his tragic death.