no strings on love


    I was at a Rich Mullins concert some time in the early nineties when, in the course of his concert banter, his tone took a turn that became as dangerous as it was didactic. “We should all be praying,” he said, “that Bill and Hillary Clinton would be killed in a car accident.” The words he spoke were incongruous with those he wrote and sang. I didn’t know where they came from and was both surprised and angry. Granted, my politics were then and are now closer to the Clintons than to his and I couldn’t understand how Rich could pray for God to kill someone he disagreed with.

    Jerry Falwell died today.

    According to the story I heard on NPR, he collapsed in his office about 11:30 this morning and could not be resuscitated. He was 73. I don’t know much, if anything, about Falwell beyond his public persona. I also don’t know of much of anything he and I agreed upon. In one article, he described God as “pro-war.” On September 13, 2001, he said, “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians, who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who try to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”

    I know that’s not all he said. I also know I don’t think what I consider to be an arrogant and judgmental expression of faith does much to help anyone. Of all the times I saw him on television, I don’t remember one instance where he appeared to be willing to learn something; he was always the one with the answers.

    Some years back, Billy Crockett and I wrote a song together called “No Strings on Love,” which grew out of our desire to speak to the wideness in God’s mercy. Here are the lyrics:

    got to tell you what I know
    there ain’t no strings on love

    wherever you are wherever you go

    there ain’t no strings on love

    you might scream and stomp the floor

    pack your bags and hit the door

    God keeps coming back for more

    there ain’t no strings on love

    told you about the prodigal son
    there ain’t no strings on love

    party time when he came home

    there ain’t no strings on love

    you’ve been running so have I

    got a few more tricks that we can try

    we’ll get tired by and by and

    there ain’t no strings on love

    they say life is all a competition
    how can you survive

    without some ammunition

    lose your looks your hair falls out
    there ain’t no strings on love

    some of you know what I’m talking about

    there ain’t no strings on love

    you might live on borrowed time

    broken heart a troubled mind

    God thinks you’re the keeping kind

    there ain’t no strings on love

    spend your life keeping score
    there ain’t no strings on love

    joneses just moved in next door

    there ain’t no strings on love

    what you learned on grandpa’s knee

    was equal reciprocity – forget it

    ally ally oxen free

    there ain’t no strings on love

    they say life is all a competition
    how can you survive

    without some ammunition

    listen to me one more time
    there ain’t no strings on love

    sunday morning friday night

    there ain’t no strings on love

    sunny day pouring rain

    avalanche or hurricane

    God keeps calling out your name

    there ain’t no strings on love

    When we wrote it, the open invitation was aimed at those who were marginalized. It puts to music what is proclaimed in many UCC churches on a weekly basis: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” I was singing to the unloved, the outcast, the great unwashed, if you will – all those being kept down by The Man. I was singing to the very people Falwell was damning with his words and actions.

    If grace is true and God is love, the invitation is for The Man as well. There ain’t no strings on love – even for Jerry Falwell.

    That sentence is easier to write than it is to live – and it wasn’t so easy to write. The people I want most for God to judge are the people who have used or are using God like a club to beat people into submission, or at least scare the hell out of them. My righteous indignation remains intact as long as I don’t humanize the objects of my judgment. Then I read things like this:

    In some ways, Falwell was an unlikely religious leader. He was born Aug. 11, 1933, and grew up in Lynchburg, the son of a one-time bootlegger who hated preachers. His grandfather was a staunch atheist.

    Falwell was working out some old family stuff in the way he lived his life. I’ve done a little of that myself. (I’m not necessarily proud of that, but it’s the truth.) When I read that sentence, I realize he was probably a pretty wounded guy, just like the rest of us. I abhor that he dealt with his woundedness by inflicting pain on others. I think he was wrong – a lot. I have spent a good deal of effort reaching out to those who have been on the receiving end of his vitriol. I think he did damage to the image of Christianity in our country and around the world when he kicked into zealot-with-a-clear-conscience mode. And Jesus ate with the Pharisees just as he did with the sinners.

    Sometimes, I suppose, we fall into both categories.

    To me, Jerry Falwell was somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. As a member of the United Church of Christ, I’m one of those who lives in “the last house on the left” in the Christian neighborhood. The boundless, stringless love of God covers the whole map.

    I trust, tonight, that God surprised Jerry Falwell when God saw him and hollered, “Ally, ally, oxen free.”



    1. Milton, I was also imagining today what Falwell’s encounter with God in death must be like. I can only imagine his heart has broken wide open.

      I tagged you for a meme at my blog if you want to play.

    2. Wow, as I don’t read the papers, watch too much tv, or even check out news online, this came as a surprise when I hit your blog this morning. I was major league disappointed when I read Rich Mullins sentiments. It sounds so anachronistic to his lyrics, the only way I knew him, and that in his death. I was a big RM fan, and even asked my ex-wife just last week to return my CD’s. I was NOT a Jerry Falwell fan. I still have a hard time understanding that whole group of high-visibility, extra evangelical folks that have put God into their pockets. I only understand folks that put God in their pockets the way I do 🙂 I too have a hard time thinking, much less saying, that God is big enough to contain people like Jerry Falwell too. Btw, I love your lyrics. Here’s a quote I think that came from your blog earlier this year, if not, it’s still appropriate, for us all.
      “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”.
      Philo of Alexandria
      Peace, la paz, pax, shalom-Tom

    3. I love your vision for Falwell’s meeting up with God!

      I, too, am disappointed to hear about Rich Mullins’ hateful words. I never would have thought that of him. Hmmmm. Didn’t he die in a car accident?

    4. I’m another one surprised about Rich Mullins…I didn’t know anything about him beyond his music. Thank you for your perspective on Falwell. It reminds me that, no matter how e feel or what we do in this lifetime, there is only One who can judge.

    5. Milton, I will share here what I shared in another blog:

      The short version of my response to his death is: I think he did a lot of harm, I think he did it while invoking the name of One who was probably appalled by it, I think he did it in the name of acquiring political and financial power, and I do not mourn his passing. I sincerely hope, as someone wrote in comments on another blog, that he was met at the pearly gates by Matthew Shepard and some of the dead upon whom he blamed 9/11.

      Perhaps not as charitable as one might hope. But honest.

      Never would have wished him dead, though. That’s another matter entirely. Every time I read about Ann Coulter (or, here, Rich Mullins) making a statement like that, I am deeply shocked. Too much hate. Too much brokenness… we all act out of it, and that’s the truth.

      I am rambling. I hope you are having a peaceful week.

      Pax, C.

    6. Absolutely wonderful, Milton, as usual. Thank you. I remarked to a friend yesterday, “He’s in God’s hands now, and I hope he’s very surprised by what that means.”


    7. Well, Wow. At two things…

      …first – that Rich Mullins would say something like that, since he was in Ragamuffin circles before his car accident and I thought he was a little more balanced than that. I guess an open mike is a dangerous thing.

      …second – I finally put you into that “oh THAT’S why I know that name” place! I was in grad school in Miami when Billy was there and have followed his artistic journey from a distance. Love your collaborative efforts with him. 🙂

      As far as Rev. Falwell goes… eh. My Grandma always said, “don’t speak ill of the dead.” Some people make you bite your tongue KWIM?


    8. My most charitable thought so far was to invoke your line about Ken Lay: I didn’t want Falwell’s heart to fail, I wanted it to break.

    9. I am sure Falwell was surprised and I am sure we will all be surprised by God. I do believe that God welcomed Falwell without question or comment because God is God.

      Nice Post.

    10. Saw a cartoon about Falwell entering heaven, greeted by Tinky Wink, the purple Teletubby to which Falwell gave a thumping… it expressed my own real sense of grace… that to the graceless, arrogant and cruel, it will always feel more like a challenge than the welcome that it is… Still, it made me smile.

      Milt, a UCC colleague in ministry sent me this blog… I’ll try to remember to visit again…

      As for Rich, who I knew a bit, and interviewed more than once… I guess I’m sadly not surprised that words like that could come out of his mouth… like many of us, he was recovering from a weird, and often dysfunctional faith/family upbringing… and lots of times I think he just said stuff–some I’m sure he thought and believed, some he was just trying out–to see how it felt, what response he got, whether it rang true. But there’s all that bad theology in “Awesome God,” where he appears to be trying on Calvinism, and sorting out whether some of the more difficult passages in the Bible should be considered literally. But he could only go as far as he could go at the time, and couldn’t get to the fact that God is bigger than the God in the Bible, and that the book for all it’s beauty and power is often not to be taken literally.

      But so it goes. Rich, I’m sure was surprised to find himself in the presence of God’s grace and love in the after life, inspite of lots of bad theology and an expectation of not being quite good enough. And, inspite of a theology that told Falwell he was better than the rest of us, I’m betting he was surprised by grace and love too… But I sure hope God revealed her/his self to Jerry as Tinky Wink, if only for a minute, if only for shits and grins.

      Peace, Quincy

    11. THANK YOU! This blog entry you wrote over 6 years ago answered my question. Earlier tonight, I stopped by a friend’s church (UCC) and picked up one of their rainbow “God’s Love Has No Strings Attached” bumper stickers for another friend. I’ve visited my friend’s church plenty of times, so the bumper stickers and their message are very familiar. Can’t believe I never made the connection until tonight, when I was heading to my car and I heard in my mind Billy’s voice singing “Ain’t no strings on love”! It was a revelation, and I thought “wow! I wonder if the folks at this church have ever heard that song, because it fits their theology so perfectly!” And I also wondered if Billy was familiar w/the UCC church, and just exactly how inclusive the song was meant to be. I didn’t realize “No Strings On Love” was also your song, although I should’ve guessed; it’s a gem, just like all your other songs. I have been a fan of your work, and Billy’s, since college. Your songs have kept me going through many of my darkest times, and hearing them is like embracing a dear friend. I was searching online for a recording of “No Strings On Love” because I sought that musical hug and my CDs are all in storage right now. But instead, I found your blog, and I’m so glad I did! AND you answered my question! THANK YOU!

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