Friday, June 12, 2015

The Theology of Jimmy Buffett

It's a Flashback Friday, and today I'm sharing one of my very favorite posts on theology. God is everywhere, not just in the boxes we seek to package Him in. Enjoy this post, and remember..."If we weren't all crazy we would go insane!

In the early 1980s I took a few Christian Education classes at a small Methodist college in Greensboro, NC. It was called (conveniently enoughGreensboro College. My favorites of these classes were taught by Dr. Jim Hull, an ordained UMC pastor who was famous in some circles for writing creative liturgies for large denominational and ecumenical events. He shared with us in class one day that for one such worship service he had done a call to worship using slides of the rapid changes going on in the world and the song Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes by Jimmy Buffett. When one of the Christian legalists in the class questioned the propriety of using Buffett music in a worship service, Dr. Hull responded with this quip- "There is more good theology in Jimmy Buffett's music than in most of the books I read in seminary." I have never forgotten that strange quote, and I have found it to be more than a little accurate in my own experience.

Now you might be thinking that Mr. Buffett may have written some thoughtful songs but he has also written some very off-color tunes. You would be correct. Jimmy himself one once said, "People ask me how I can write those real sensitive songs and then write those real trashy ones. I tell them it's because I'm real sensitive on some occasions and real trashy on others."  With that deeply theological statement, Jimmy describes the human condition and our need for a Savior far better than most preachers. And with many of his song lyrics through the years he has often raised questions and made points that can help us better understand the work of God in our lives in this crazy world in which we live. Please know that I know, Jimmy seldom means to be spiritual. But for those of us who know the love of God whose name is Jesus, he offers unique insights. Witness the following examples:

*Changes In Latitude, Changes In Attitude - Our world changes at a pace that is often difficult to comprehend. Dr. Hull understood that while our faith is a very serious thing, too many Christians forget that life is often a laughing matter. We seek to control life instead of letting go and letting God! Sometimes we need to get a little crazy to survive.

"It's these changes in  latitudes, changes in attitudes.
nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running and all of our cunning
if we couldn't laugh we would all go insane...
If we weren't all crazy we would go insane!"

*We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About - A reminder that few of us turn out to be the safe, sane people our parents hope we will be. This is especially true if we follow the Wild One himself, Jesus of Nazareth. :)

"I was supposed to have been a Jesuit priest or a Naval Academy grad,
That was the way my parents perceived me, those were the plans that they had.
But I couldn't fit the part, too dumb- or too smart? 
Ain't it funny how we all turn out?
I guess we are the people our parents warned us about!"

*Nautical Wheeler - A song about a group of dancers who understand the need to slow down and appreciate the blessings God gives us in life. Wouldn't the world be a better place if more us of us were content?

"Where the jukebox is blastin' and the liquor is flowing
an occasional bottle of wine
That's cause everyone here is just more than contented
to be living and dying in 3/4 time."

*Fruitcakes - Jimmy grew up in the church and is often a critic of it.  And sometimes, he hits the nail right on the head...

"Where's the church, who took the steeple?
Religion's in the hands of some crazy-assed people
Television preachers with bad hair and dimples
But God's honest truth is it's not that simple..." 

*Pascagoula Run - John 10:10 tells us that Jesus came so that we might live an "abundant life." This song is about how Jimmy's favorite uncle got him out of the house and out to experience the world. More of us could use an Uncle Bill.

"Time to see the world, time to kiss a girl, time to cross that wide Meridian
Grab your bag and take a chance. time to learn a Cajun dance
Kid you're gonna' see the morning sun- on the Pascagoula Run" 

* Growing Older But Not Up - This Buffett classic is another reminder that if we aren't careful life will pass by without us truly living it. Always playing it "safe" means missing out on some of life's great joys. Growing up is overrated!

"I'm growing older but not up, my metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck,
So let the winds of change blow over my head
I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead."

*One Particular Harbor - There are special places in all of our lives where we feel more connected to the things of God and the people of God. For me, those places are Quaker Lake Camp and Springfield Friends Meeting. Where in your "One Particular Harbor?"

"I know I don't get there often enough, but God knows I surely try.
It's a magic kind of medicine that no doctor could prescribe.
I used to rule my world from a cell phone, from ships out on the sea,
but now times are rough & I've got too much stuff, can't explain the likes of me.
But there's this one particular harbor, a shelter from the storm..."

And I could go on. Songs like If the Phone Doesn't Ring It's MeDeath of an Unpopular Poet and A Pirate Looks at Forty all offer great theological insights into the work of God in the world we live in. Please understand- I am not suggesting we need to be singing more Buffett in church or that he offers more significant insights into our world than anyone else. It's just that we in the church tend to separate the world into sections- "holy" and "secular." Did you know that the concept of secular doesn't appear in scriptures? God can (and does!) use everything to bring us closer to him if we don't try too hard to keep God in the box we call religion. The Bible is our source for inspiration. It is also, as the late, great Rich Mullins once said, "a reminder that God is right- and the rest of us are guessing." My inspiration seldom comes from theologians. I am guessing yours doesn't either. So today, kick back, take a moment to live in 3/4 time, and enjoy a little Parrothead Theology. It's never too early or too late in the day to take a moment to slow down and BE with Jesus. Because you know- "it's 5 O'Clock Somewhere!"

"Enjoy every Sandwich."


  1. I love everything about this post, Carl!

    1. Thanks so much Ashley! And if you ever see Jurassic World look for Jimmy. He has a sneaky cameo!


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