I guess it was in the 1980s when I first heard the term “culture wars.” I became very concerned about the bitter divisions in our nation and in the Church, especially my own Presbyterian denomination, about various social and moral issues. It must have been during Lent or Holy Week that my sorrow years later finally took form musically, since the song I wrote was called “Good Friday (Lament for the Culture Wars).”

Most times when I pick up the guitar these days, I end up playing that song, no matter what the season of the secular or liturgical year. That’s because the divisions have only gotten more bitter, the debates angrier, the hatred stronger, and I need to express my grief. The old issues remain, and new ones have been added. But whatever year it is and whatever we claim to be fighting about, everything really comes down to a struggle for control and power. And that in turn is driven by our deep-seated fear that the world we know is falling apart, and we have to hold on to something—an old certainty, a tenured position, a way of looking at the world, a prejudice our parents and grandparents taught and modeled for us.

Good Friday reminds us of the murder we are capable of when we are afraid and “threatened beyond endurance,” as one Presbyterian document puts it (A Declaration of Faith). But it also gives us hope, because even in our violent and angry depravity, God still holds out to us the promise and possibility of forgiveness. Even our most heinous acts cannot dampen his resolve to be gracious.

Here, then, is my song, more relevant today, I believe, than when it was penned:

“Good Friday (Lament for the Culture Wars)”

There’s people out on the street; they’re startin’ to push and shove.
They use their words like swords and not a one is love.
The battle lines are drawn; the war’s about to start.
O my child, my child, you better watch your heart!

You tell me that you’re right, and that means I am wrong.
And so the hatred grows, and we can’t get along.
Your way, my way, no way out, unless we come to blows.
If you ask me what is true, I’ll just say “Who knows?”

We won’t come to a meeting of the minds
Until our hearts are right.
And we won’t see the peace that there could be
Until we live in the light!

Once there was a day when all of time stood still
And people watched a man as he died upon a hill.
“O Father, please forgive, they don’t know what they do.”
I wonder if his words were meant for me and you.

We won’t come to a meeting….

Once there was a day when all of time stood still.

Song © 1994; blog post, 2008 by Tom Cheatham