I first heard “three chords and the truth” in a song by U2 from their Rattle and Hum album (1988), as lead singer Bono added the phrase to Bob Dylan’s  “All Along the Watchtower” declaring, “All I got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth.” This line followed Dylan’s lyric “So let us not talk falsely now / Because the hour is getting late.” Those lines rather haunted me for years as I wondered about the juxtaposition of a red guitar with the truth and its possible meaning.

But then came 2019’s documentary, Country Music, by Ken Burns, and lo and behold the first episode of that eight part series revealed that the late singer – songwriter Harlan Howard had proclaimed that “country music is three chords and the truth,” a theme that ran consistently throughout the series. And as I watched that series, I began to sense the revelation of basic human emotion so prevalent in music, or more specifically in his case, country music. Consider, for example, the joy of birth, the sadness of death, pain and love – things we all experience as we simple face each day.

The Source of Country Music, Thomas Hart Benton

Embedded in those very aspects of life we find the concepts of truth and authenticity, which not only make-up country music, but are fundamental to our very existence: life, death, joy, sorrow, pain, love, hope, faith. And as I thought about it a bit more, I realized those elements, perhaps more intangible than tangible, are at the core of our moral center and lead us to the nature of truth.

Consider how Eugene Peterson translated Philippians 4: 8Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

                                                                                                                         Philippians 4: 8 (MSG)

So there you have it: focus on things that are true, noble, authentic, compelling and our prayer, our plea should be like David’s –

Now God, don’t hold out on me,
don’t hold back your passion.
Your love and truth
are all that keeps me together.

Psalm 40: 11 (MSG)

Love and truth – that’s what David declares holds us together. And that’s a difficult task, finding and holding on to love and truth, especially in a world so fast-paced and as chaotic as ours is so often. And like the disciple Thomas, we find ourselves wondering and questioning how we will find our way. . .

5 Thomas said, “Master . . . How do you expect us to know the road?” 6 Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life . . .”

John 14: 5, 6 (MSG)

And while finding that roadmap and knowing the truth may create a challenge for us, Paul reminds us that . . .

9-10 We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled . . . 13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

                                                                                                                       I Corinthians 13: 9-10, 13 (MSG)

Peterson’s translation of that famous chapter on love proclaims three truths we can hold on to: trust, hope, love, but notice how he qualifies them – steadily, unswervingly, extravagantly . . . those are three chords that resonate, that sing to us, that are certainly noble, authentic, and compelling.

When Eugene Peterson died in 2018, U2 was on tour and dedicated this song to him and his memory and his influence on the band.

There is a light
We can’t always see
If there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
That we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

And this is a song
A song for someone
This is a song
A song for someone
Someone like me
Someone like me
Someone like me

from 13 (There is a Light) , U2

Three chords and the truth, a song for someone like me; there is a Light!

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