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Jerry Earl Johnston: Songwriter puts faith to music and verse

Published: Saturday, Nov. 13 2004 12:00 a.m. MST

If you've heard of songwriter Michael Card, it might be because Amy Grant made an international hit of his Christian classic "El Shaddai."

If you've never heard of him, now is a very good time.

Sunday night Card will provide the music for the Rev. Ravi Zacharias — the first evangelical minister to preach in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in a century. And the singer seems like just the right choice. Always open to new ideas, Card has a knack for holding the scriptures up to the light and letting them refract all kinds of colors.

His song — sung from the point of view of Gomer, the prostitute wife of the prophet Hosea — is a heart-breaker.

His anthem "Love Crucified Arose" brings people to tears, and then brings them to their feet.

"Ravi Zacharias was concerned. He wants everything to go well here," Card says. "So he asked if I would help."

Of course Card said yes. He never misses a chance to minister.

A few weeks ago, Card stopped by Salt Lake City on his way to Arizona to give a quick concert at a local church. On the spur of the moment, several hundred people showed up, including my friend Rick and I.

Rick got me listening to Card months ago.

Card, in turn, got me listening more closely to my heart.

After the concert, we stepped backstage to say thanks. We planned to stay five minutes. We were there an hour, discussing Mormons, music and all kinds of misunderstandings.

"I don't think we're paddling along and need help from Jesus to keep going," Card said at one point. "Without Jesus, I think we're completely dead on the bottom."

The image set in high relief the differences between evangelical and LDS believers.

Still, Card said, he doesn't see Mormonism and evangelical Christianity as opposed to each other. They are more like the two ends of a long thread — part of the same thing.

"The older I get," he said, "I guess the more I want to integrate everything."

We were the first LDS people he'd ever met. And he seemed open to all kinds of possibilities. He said, "I think it's more important to be faithful than right." And he said as he has aged he has come to dedicate himself more to the notion of "pure love" — a "love that comes to us without being merited."

"In ancient times," he said, "that kind of love was called 'hesed' (HEH-sed). The word appears 214 times in the Bible. When John says 'In the beginning was the word,' the word he uses is 'hesed.' "

I asked him if he felt an urgency to get such a message — a message of "hesed" — out to the world. He thought a moment.

"Not urgency," he said. "More a feeling that I need to go deeper."

Tomorrow night, when Card provides music for the Rev. Zacharias, he's hoping "hesed" will be a part of it all.

He's hoping to take everyone a little deeper.

Walking to the parking lot I ran the chorus of a Card song on a loop through my mind. It was the chorus to his tune "The Final Word."

And so the light became alive

And manna became Man.

Eternity stepped into time

So we could understand.

At that moment, it felt — indeed — like the Final Word.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com

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