Come and See – An Interview with Caleb Osborn
The interview discusses the recently released album, Redeemer, and asks, “What do you make of Jesus, and how do you allow him to shape your life?
The following interview was recorded on April 11th, 2023, by Bro. Levi Myers (Cambridge, ON) and Bro. Levi Gelineau (Simi Hills, CA), with Bro. Caleb Osborn (Thousand Oaks, CA).1Bro. Caleb Osborn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The interview discusses spiritual songwriting and the recently released album, Redeemer, which centers around the question, “What do you make of Jesus, and how do you allow him to shape your life?” Bro. Caleb, his wife, Sis. Bethany Osborn and about ten other brothers and sisters worked together under the name “Shouts of Grace” to create this exciting album about the character and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
The full conversation is featured in the Summer episode of the Good Christadelphian Music podcast, available on whatever platform you use for podcast listening!
Levi M: We’re super excited to have you here to share about the album that you’ve released recently.
Caleb: The album is called Redeemer. It’s about the person of Jesus Christ, our relationship with him, and what it means to be a disciple. There are nine songs; each of them tackles that theme from a different perspective.
Most of these songs were written at one point or another for the California and British Columbia Youth Conferences. So, while most of them were used sometime in the last few years for a relatively small group of people, they were never released in a quality recording.
This release is a nice opportunity to take that work and produce a more polished version to share widely. The oldest songs on the album started being written in 2016, but we didn’t begin recording them for this album until the summer of 2019.
Levi M: I’ve listened. It’s beautiful! There are a lot of different voices on there. Talk a little bit more about that. Who got involved in this? Was it your CYC?
Caleb: We had a total of 9 or 10 people singing different songs. Mostly it was people whom I knew and was close to.
Levi G: How did you come up with the band name Shouts of Grace?
Caleb O: That’s a great question, and it’s one I knew would be asked a lot when I came up with it.
It comes from Zechariah 4:7. That whole section talks about how you’re not supposed to “despise the day of small things,” in the context of the rebuilding of the temple. The people had stopped building the temple. Then Zechariah and Haggai came on in and said, consider your ways; you’ve got to start working.
I know this temple is not as great as you want it to be, but don’t despise it just because it’s small. God can still work with it. Go ahead. Don’t be afraid of enemies. You’ll be able to tell this mountain of obstacles in front of you to get away, to move out of the way, and God will take care of it.
And then you’ll bring forth the top stone of the temple with shouts, crying, “Grace, grace unto it!” So it is a bit of a convoluted verse, but basically, what it’s saying is, you’re going to finish the work of building this temple. It’s not going to be that great, but it’s going to be finished. And your victory shout is going to be “Grace,” because that’s how it’s accomplished.
Caleb O: Being very conscious of how amateur all of us working on this are, the idea is that we can sort of throw our attempts at this project and then God’s grace can complete the work and make it useful in some small way. So that’s the idea. Plus it has the idea of shouting, which I like in terms of singing!
Levi M: You all definitely put some thought into that. I’m curious to know a little bit more about your process for songwriting and composing, Caleb. I always notice that your songs, which I love, are profound and meaningful, filled with Scriptural messages. I’m curious about how you approach writing a song and how you can be creative and stay so true to God’s word.
God’s grace can complete the work and make it useful in some small way.
Caleb O: That’s the big challenge, right? It’s fun. I guess, in some ways, I put fairly strict limitations on my process, which I think helps with the creative process. One limitation is that I try not to develop anything new in the lyrics I write. What I mean by that is I don’t try to come up with my own analogies or examples. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I prefer to stick to what the Bible says and the ideas and imagery that the Bible has.
The other limitation is I try not to do long quotes from the Bible in my songs. This by no means is saying that you shouldn’t do long quotes in songs—so much of the Scripture I’ve memorized is from songs that put the Bible to music. But for the songs that I like the most, and when I’m working on writing, I try to pack them full of Scriptural allusions.
A tip I learned from my uncle, Bro. Dan Osborn, is to write down the reference to the idea’s source at the end of every line. An example is “Judas Song.” One of the verses says, “So Judas by transgression fell,” three words from Acts 1. It goes on, “He sold himself to sin. Christ’s warnings fell unheeded, and he refused to let them in.” I got that from John 13, where Jesus repeatedly tells Judas, What are you doing? I know what you’re doing. This is not good.
That song comes from a study on Judas I did with Bro. Tim Bruce for the BC Youth Conference workbook. We had our heads in it for a really long time. I’m apprehensive, I guess, that everything I say in there, I know why I said it. I know what I am trying to convey about Judas, and it’s what I understand the Bible to say about Judas’s decline, the reasons for it, and the aspects of it.
So while it is an interpretation, I know where it comes from, and I know why I think that. In terms of depth, I think it’s important to make sure that what you’re saying is Biblically based.
In most of the hymns in our hymn book, if you look at them with a close eye, you can point out, “Oh, that line comes from that verse,” and together, the words tell a story that’s almost different than the sum of its parts. If I’m just repeating quotes from the Bible, it doesn’t take as much thought in terms of the lyric writing.
Levi M: It’s almost like doing a mini-Bible study. I’ve definitely heard that approach before. It can be hard to put a complex idea into a song in a way that makes sense and rhymes and just feels good to sing and doesn’t just sound like you’re trying too hard to fit a quote in there or an idea, right?
Caleb O: One of the things that impresses me about really well-written lyrics is when you manage to express a lot with a few words. I think of the song We Listen to Live by Steph Jamieson.2We Listen to Live is song #87 in the Christadelphian Orange Worship Book. Copyright © Steph Jamieson 2012. Written for Study Week 2012. The song can be listened to at: https://shop.theseventhday.com.au/node/155
It doesn’t use big words, but it has the right meter, and it has the right rhyming scheme. It has that line in the second verse, “We recognize our lives return to dust/we’re like vapors or shadows, but still you work with us.”
That’s my favorite line of the song. It takes from James the idea of, “What is life but a vapor,” and it links that with the idea that we are dust, and yet, the gratitude that God still works with us, even though we have these transient, insignificant lives. That simple but profound line is like the pot of gold you’re always trying to chase.
Levi M: So with the album release, you had written that the songs revolve around the timeless question, “What do you personally make of Christ, and how have you allowed his impact to shape your life?” That’s a really cool, overarching theme for your album. I’m curious what your answer to that is.
Caleb O: That’s a hard question to answer. I would say that description of the album is more of a confession than an answer. It’s hard to have a relationship with Jesus, I think.
I’ve been studying the gospels for a long time, which is where all these songs came from, mostly because I’m on that quest to try to feel, to know Jesus better, and to have his impact mean something in my life. The songs are a stumbling expression of trying to get closer.
That question comes from a good exhortation in May You Know It To Be True, a book by Bro. Dennis Gillett. In the ending, he talks about what you make of Christ, whether you see him as somebody who just sort of passes by or if he’s someone who becomes, I think the phrase he uses, “incarnate in your consciousness.” That captured me.
And so that’s really what the first song, Come and See, is about. It starts off with those questions. Is he the one we’re waiting for? He does all these different, strange things. This new figure, Jesus, comes onto the scene. Who is he? What’s he all about? And then the answer in that song is, well, he’s giving you an invitation. It’s to come and see what he’s about, come and see what he offers, but also to count the cost. And so the album explores what Jesus says in John 12, “If I’m lifted up, I’ll draw all men unto me.”
Do I pick up my cross in this little thing, this momentary decision?
Everyone who encounters the Bible or the message of Jesus at all does, at some point, get drawn to the cross. And you have to ask the question, “Do I go in deeper, or do I walk away?” You may see people you care about experiencing this, and some people may leave because the crown isn’t worth the cost, as it were, to them. And it’s not just mourning that, but also recognizing that tendency within yourself. And certainly, it’s almost harder to make that choice in day-to-day things. Do I pick up my cross in this little thing, this momentary decision?
And then the final song, Redeemer, the title track, says, some say this, some say that about Jesus, but I believe he is the Christ. This idea is, of course, what Peter says after everybody walks away after the feeding of the 5,000. And those lyrics were inspired by my later teen years when I struggled with my faith. I had a lot of doubts, a lot of fears that we were wrong about everything we believed.
I remember listening to a debate between Richard Dawkins, the famously militant atheist, and a Christian. Richard Dawkins said that even if you could convince me that the Creation happened, I couldn’t believe in this Jesus character.
He’s so petty and small and insignificant, and it happened so long ago, on a dusty hill outside an outpost of the Roman Empire. It’s so petty, is the word he kept using. It’s petty and small and insignificant as a methodology for saving the world. That still echoes in my head. I guess it was like, that’s one perspective on Jesus, right?
That his life is this random, insignificant event that happened long ago. The choice is to believe that’s not true. And I don’t believe that’s true. I believe that Jesus did rise from the dead, and I believe that in the picture of Christ on the cross and the empty tomb, the pairing of those two things it’s the answer to everything.
And so you have to choose to believe that idea if it resonates with you. For me, that’s the problem or the conflict the album circles around. And I think the closing song emphasizes the answer I may not always feel, but it’s the answer I believe or choose to believe.
Levi M: We all have faithless moments. If we haven’t yet, everyone will at some point in their life, where faith can be so hard to cling to. But God has given us this amazing example in His Son, who faced many things that were so incredibly big. Insurmountable obstacles. And Jesus somehow managed to endure, despite everything, and accept he had to go through what he went through.
His struggle is such an amazing reminder to look to Jesus when we feel those moments—to look to him and cling to him and reach out to his example in Scripture.
Simi Hills Ecclesia, CA
You can listen to the album Redeemer on the Shouts of Grace website: shoutsofgracemusic.wixsite.com/projects
It can also be streamed on the Renew App, a Christadelphian Music Streaming app available through the Apple and Google stores. Look for this image, download the app on your device, and search for the Redeemer album to listen.