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Sydney Carter (1915 – 2004)


English poet and songwriter.
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Sydney Carter
I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.
Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did. The Shakers didn't...
Carter quotes
I danced on the Sabbath
And I cured the lame;
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high,
And they left me there
On a Cross to die.
Carter
Your holy hearsay is not evidence.
Give me the good news in the present tense.
What happened nineteen hundred years ago
May not have happened.
How am I to know?
So shut your Bibles up and show me how
The Christ you talk about
Is living now.




Carter Sydney quotes
I danced in the morning
When the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon
And the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven
And I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem
I had my birth.
Carter Sydney
"If we give you a pistol, will you fight for the Lord?"
"But you can't kill the Devil with a gun or a sword!"
"Will you swear on the Bible?" "I will not!" said he,
"For the truth is more holy than the book, to me."
Sydney Carter quotes
There's a light that is shining in the heart of a man,
it's the light that was shining when the world began.
There's a light that is shining in the Turk and the Jew
and a light that is shining, friend, in me and in you.
Sydney Carter
Faith is more basic than language or theology. Faith is the response to something which is calling us from the timeless part of our reality. Faith may be encouraged by what has happened in the past, or what is thought to have happened in the past, but the only proof of it is in the future. Scriptures and creeds may come to seem incredible, but faith will still go dancing on. Even though (because it rejects a doctrine) it is now described as "doubt". This, I believe, is the kind of faith that Christ commended.
Carter Sydney quotes
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.
Carter
There are obvious problems with so many denominations in schools today, but I had collective worship at school and I do not think it is a bad thing.
Carter Sydney
They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That'll never, never die;
I'll live in you
If you'll live in me—
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.
Sydney Carter
The optimistic lines "I danced in the morning when the world begun and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun" also contain a hint of paganism which, mixed with Christianity, makes it attractive to those of ambiguous religious beliefs or none at all.
Carter himself genially admitted that he had been partly inspired by the statue of Shiva which sat on his desk; and, whenever he was asked to resolve the contradiction, he would declare that he had never tried to do so.
However, he admitted to being as astonished as anyone by its success. "I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord. . .
"Anyway," Carter would continue, "it's the sort of Christianity I believe in."




Sydney Carter quotes
Carter's openness to religious truth makes talks of religious categories rather superfluous, which was indeed a major irritation for the early critics of the open-minded, non-credal statements of his songs. That two of his most popular lyrics, "One More Step" and "Travel On", should invoke the concept of journey was indeed no coincidence. In this voyaging faith of interrogatives, the creed lay in the question mark, often of a Zen-like paradox.
Sydney Carter
Coming and going by the dance, I see
That what I am not is a part of me.
Dancing is all that I can ever trust,
The dance is all I am, the rest is dust.
I will believe my bones and live by what
Will go on dancing when my bones are not.
Carter quotes
So what do you believe in?
Nothing fixed or final,
all the while I
travel a miracle. I doubt,
and yet
I walk upon the water.
Carter Sydney
With irony — though never with bitterness — Sydney satirised every form of self-righteous faith; to be without doubt was, to him, the ultimate in godless pride. In two books, The Rock Of Doubt (1978) and Dance In The Dark (1980), he set out the signposts of his journey in aphorisms, a journey through the holiness of humanity.
"Bibles, legends, history are signposts: they are pointing to the future, not the past. Do not embrace the past or it will turn into an idol." Jesus was central to his experience, but not, in his words, "the official Jesus— but the Jesus who is calling you to liberty, to the breaking of all idols including the idol which he himself has become."
Carter Sydney quotes
"With a book and a steeple, with a bell and a key
they would bind it forever, but they can't," said he.
"Oh, the book it will perish and the steeple will fall,
but the light will be shining at the end of it all."
Sydney Carter
If any church could come to holding Sydney's allegiance, it was the Society of Friends, with its rejection of dogma, and its reliance on personal experience and social activism, and its affirmation of God's presence in every human being.
Sydney Carter quotes
They buried my body
And they thought I'd gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.
Sydney Carter
There's an ocean of darkness and I drown in the night
till I come through the darkness to the ocean of light,
for the light is forever and the light it is free,
"And I walk in the glory of the light," said he.
Carter Sydney
They are songs which can be sung in a Christian context, but they all had to mean something to me because I was often on the edge of not believing. The songs certainly have not made my fortune, but I am still grateful for the royalties when they come in.
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