I am the son of a Baptist Minister. In Baptist churches you hear Just as I am a lot. This is the first verse…

Just as I am, without one plea
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

What a song!

It makes a humble and unbowing statement that clearly positions our voices within the Protestant canon.

In four words Just-As-I-Am expresses our connection to G-O-D. No middle men,unmediated access to power. “Just you and me!”

When I was growing up I would hear this song all the time. Randomly at Sunday services. Often visiting Pastors wrapped their sermons by featuring all six verses.

Choirs. It’s well-suited to choirs. Just As I Am oddly features a profound and muted drone resilient to the disharmonies of mixed-bag chorales and spontaneous public expression.

There are these moments of serotonin-spiking dissonance in Just As I Am where the simplicity of human revelation is cast so effortlessly against the sonic excess of a choir, a congregation, a stadium that it unlatches the deadliest bolts of pretense and solemnizes a tearful eternal coming together. Listen to the reaching crescendo at the end of the third line and how it’s replaced by a child-like whisper of promise.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Television. You used to hear it all the time watching Billy Graham. If you haven’t guessed already Just As I Am was a key recruiting tool for the Baptist church. The song was a closer. It signaled the end of ritual, the beginning of lifetimes, and the convenience of spiritual conformity.

  1. The end. Anybody who spent any time in church could tell you that hearing Just As I am was a Pavlovian trigger for teenage adherents. Hearing those introductory bars on the piano said, in no uncertain terms, that you were going home and real soon.
  2. Lifetimes end and begin with motion. Just As I Am mobilized the audience and  choreographed their movement into an endpoint of light. Hailing from the dimmest corners of the room, converts burdened and sagging with corporeality; witnessed –  looked down upon – from ten thousand craning necks: weeping, weeping, lubricated in sobbing kaleidoscopes of sin, walking into salvation. Hands over mouths, arms crossed, pensive, leaning on canes, ordinary people left their seats to purify their souls.
  3. And the song closed a gap between here and now, before and after, us and them. Just As I Am unified – the primarily white, nominally affluent, and fiscally conservative – participants into a transgressive movement whose only articulated cause was to present sacrifice as a reasonable pathway to redemption. My favourite verse:

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

So you could hear Just As I Am in plenty of places.

It was known. Acknowledged. A standard in the proto-fundamentalist quasi-charasmatic protestantism of the 1960s and 70s.

But the best part of Just As I Am – in fact, the whole reason that I’m going on and on about my personal experience with this song – is that I got to listen to it so many times in Pastor Crane’s First Baptist Church, Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

Pastor Crane was my Dad’s friend. He was from Kentucky. He had tan skin. Black hair. A broad smile of straight teeth and, like his cigarette-smoking flock, was the owner of many white short sleeved shirts. Sundays he delivered powerful strings of rubuke, damnation, and condemnatory certainty while somehow abiding the tenets of beauty, casting off judgement, and offering hope.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Over several years we visited his church. Mostly in summer. We would cross the Ambassador bridge, drive through empty interstate canyons, past Detroit city limits and the multi-story rubber tire that relentlessly displayed car production in the Motor City one vehicle-at-a-time. We would arrive. Late. A small argument would ensue and when the tie had been tightened, makeup touched, and embers cooled, we would join our brethern inside.

Like Pastor Crane the congregation was from Kentucky. They drove Galaxie 500s and Chevy Beaumonts. Occasionally a Chrysler Newport or an older Cadillac. And they sang. They sang hard. They sang without the measures of propriety excising sounds more than two standard deviations from the mean. They seemed to squeeze sound from their tear ducts – recreating an original and universal pain. All the time tailoring esophageal stress into an energy of apportioned magnitudes.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.