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Several years ago I visited my former High School in Washington State. I’m not a true sentimental sort but  I enjoyed walking around familiar halls and passages, remembering things I had long forgotten.

In the early 70s, when I attended, this was a new school.  It started with one class at a time, adding a class/grade of students each year, until (with my class) there were Freshmen-Seniors attending.  Mine was the first class to attend all four years.

Because the school was new, each graduating class left a “gift” to the school; somethings that may have not been in the original budget.  For instance, one class left a scoreboard for the new gym, another, a totem pole.

I was writing songs at that point, and performed quite a bit during my High School years, and so the class that graduated after mine commissioned me for an ALMA MATER, since the high school didn’t have one, even though we had a fight song.  So, I wrote my High School’s ALMA MATER, “SCARLET & GOLD” the year after I graduated, and the Class of ’77 “gifted” it to the school.

All of that is a “set up” for my visit several years ago. As I walked around, noticing how young all the students were; children really, they in turn probably wondered who the old, weird, guy was, as they saw me pass with a wistful smile – wearing my stick-on VISITOR badge.

I eventually found myself in the halls of the music department, where I spent not just the most, but the most enjoyable times.  As I turned a corner, there before me, a good seven to eight feet high, and more than that in width, was an original painting of our ALMA MATER, my ALMA MATER.  Words and notes painted carefully and artfully in scarlet and gold paint.  Above it all, with the title, was the phrase, “A gift from the Class of 1977, words & music by Rick Vale, Class of 1976”.

I was, only for a moment and no longer, moved.

Kids (and I do mean “kids”) were starting to pass by me, on their way to CHORUS or some other music class in the choral room.  I was reading the lyrics from top to bottom when, to my surprise, I saw a wrong word.  It wasn’t horribly wrong, just a surprise, and not my words.

One of the students passing by stopped and smiled at me and saw my “VISITOR” pass, but didn’t read my name.

“This is our ALMA MATER.” She said.

“Thanks, yes, I saw that,” I replied, “but there’s a mistake in that part of the lyric.” I said as I pointed down to the lower part of the painting where the error was.

“Really?” she asked, somewhat suspiciously.  “How do you know that?”

“Well,” I said, indicating my VISITOR BADGE with my name underneath, “I wrote it.”

Her expression was what I would have if I had suddenly run into Abraham Lincoln; pleasantly shocked, but mostly because I thought he had been dead for quite some time.

Then she whispered reverentially, “Really?”

“Sure enough.” I said.

“Well I suppose you ought to know.  Wow, we sing this all the time and would’ve never thought I would have met, or talked to, the writer!  That makes a lot of difference; knowing the writer and not just the song.” 

That makes a lot of difference; knowing the writer and not just the song.

Freeze that moment in time for just a bit.  See me, almost the same generation as this young girl’s grandparents, looking at her smile and hearing her say those words.

Now listen to God say the same words.

Your mission and my mission during our perpetual life is only this: to know God and the One He sent.  Yet many folks I know don’t ever get past “the song”.  What is the song, you ask?

The Bible.  The Church.  The Pastor.  Our religion…etc.

Getting to know God isn’t relegated to, nor limited to, reading about Him…but actually getting to know Him.  You might know of God through the scripture, and all the rest, but knowing Him should never be limited to those things, He’s bigger, and more personal, than that.

Imagine a wedding where the Minister turns to the Groom, hands him a book, and says, “This is a biography of your new Bride.  Read it.  Memorize it, and you will know her.” 

To which the Groom says (if he’s wise, and he is) “I’m happy to do that, but shouldn’t I also talk with her, listen to her, hold her, take her into my home, become a part of her?”

The Minister (who, if he were unwise) might say, “Yes of course, all that is possible with the book.”

OR he could be a wise Minister and say, “You’re correct.  She lives off the page as well as on, and this book should never be an excuse to not talk with her, listen to her, hold her, take her into your heart, or become a part of her…and she of you.”

You can always know a little about the songwriter from their songs, but you can’t ever really know the songwriter without talking to them face-to-face.  And I know too many people who stop right there with God…at the song…they never get beyond “the song”, and they never really know Him.

Remember there were many, many souls who knew our Father well…before a word of Scripture was written.  Let’s not use this Holy Book as an excuse not to stroll in the garden with Him in the cool of the day, or to see Him in each face we pass, or to hear His “still, small, voice” on the breeze.

He is everywhere.

He will speak in whatever way you will listen.  He will race across time and space to wipe your tear.  You will have to use your faith, and His biography, to filter His voice through your own murky paradigm, but…

…don’t ever believe our God can be limited to a page…

…or that “learning  about Him” is the same as ” knowing Him”…

…don’t ever believe the Song is all there is to the Songwriter.



“SCARLET & GOLD”: Kamiakin High School ALMA MATER, Kennewick, Washington
Words & music by Rick Vale
Recorded at Eastern Washington University, Autumn 1976
Rick Vale, vocals & arrangement | Sound Engineer: Tom Hall