Ron Block has had quite the career. He plays the banjo and guitar, as well as sings and writes songs. He is known as a member of the band Alison Krauss & Union Station and is the recipient of 14 Grammys. But, despite all his success, Ron Block continues to lean heavily on his Christian faith. I managed to get in touch with Ron and he was kind enough to answer some questions. Below is our conversation, edited for grammatical sense.
So you’ve had an impressive career in music with 14 Grammys. How did you get your start in music?
I heard music a lot growing up – my Mom loved country music. I asked for a guitar when I was 11. Dad owned a music store called Hogan’s House of Music, in Lawndale, California, so I got one for Christmas. Around 12, I heard bluegrass for the first time, on television, and bugged Dad for a banjo. He gave it to me for my 13th birthday. After that, it’s all I did – he says he bought me a banjo when I was 13 and I didn’t come out of my room until I was 21. By 15 I was going to bluegrass festivals and at 16 I joined a local band and started working for Dad’s music store. That afforded me a car (a ’65 Mustang) and I was mobile.
You’ve recently talked to The Christian Post about the role your faith plays in your music. How did you come to faith?
My mother again. She had a tough childhood; she and her sisters went through a lot of horrific abuse. She’d had lots of trouble in life and married my Dad – I think in 1962. I was born in 1964, and she found Jesus in 1966. She finally found a Father who truly loved her. So I grew up in that love, and at 6, I went forward to accept Jesus. Of course, I didn’t know exactly what that meant, and my concept of God was more like Zeus, or Jupiter – God was “up there somewhere” far away, and we had to pray for him to “come down.” I had a fairly legalistic concept of who God was.
My childhood was filled with books. Mom bought me a Bible and the Family Bible Library at 6, and I read all those Bible stories. Narnia came along at 8, and it was the first clear look at the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil.
At 17 I joined a legalistic church in the search for more, and I do believe God honored that search in the long run. My stay there lasted about nine months, which is fitting. I always felt terrible after church, so I left. That sparked a deeper look at the Bible. A few months later my friend Eric said to me, “Ron – we’re not saved by what we do or don’t do. We’re saved by trusting God.” I went home and read Galatians and he was right. I was reading a whole new Bible with my new eyes.
So I connected with you through The Rabbit Room which seeks to create a community for Christian artists to share their passions in the arts. Your book Abiding Dependence really looks at the idea of needing God. How would you grade the health of Christian community today?
I suppose that depends on the community. Any body of people is going to have a mixture of good and bad. But in Christian community, if there are people mentoring others into knowing who they are in Christ, how much God loves them, and “what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power,” it can’t go too far wrong. If the church in the main would understand and appropriate the truth that Christ lives within each individual, like the life in each cell of the body, we’d have quite a different landscape today in the world. We’ve got to understand that being forgiven is only the first step into the garden gate, but as sons and daughters we’re not called to build tents at the gate; we’re to walk up to the Mansion and live with God on a daily basis.
The Rabbit Room community has been wonderful; I’ve been writing for the website since its inception, and I’m always glad to take part in what they do in the world.
This past year I became familiar with George MacDonald, who was a big influence on CS Lewis coming to faith. It seems you’ve read up on him. What kind of influence has MacDonald had on you and what was your first experience with him?
MacDonald has been a big influence in so many ways, not the least in his concept of God as Father. He says the safest place for a wayward child is at his father’s knee. We so often run from God because we think of Him as always wanting to punish us. But God’s whole object is to pull us further and further into himself, to the center of love, of stability, of safety, of security, and worth. All that we see as discipline is geared toward that end. He can’t fill our hands with good things if our hands are full grasping at everything we think we need to feel worth something.
We’ve got Andrew Peterson, founder of The Rabbit Room, releasing his Wingfeather Saga as a TV series on Angel. Angel is having a lot of success with its show “The Chosen,” and now it seems like the “Jesus Revolution” is really taking off. Do you think there is a hunger for Christian content?
Humans are a hunger. We were created that way, to be born with need – the need for love, security, strength, protection, self-worth, and many other things. We grow up learning to grasp at things, situations, and people, trying to fill those needs.
When society begins to crumble, when all our established patterns of life are threatened, it’s a perfect opening for a move of God. Self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, comfort, and ease can be barriers. You can see this a lot with Israel and Judah in the Old Testament. They return to God. A time of security begins. Security becomes comfort, and comfort becomes sleepy complacency. Complacency brings boredom, and boredom brings error. Error brings sin, and sin crumbles the society.
Then Israel is attacked by enemies, besieged and starved, or carried away to Babylon.
That’s essentially the cycle. The end of that cycle brings repentance – a turn back to God as the Lord, our Rock, our source and supply. Our trickling little wells of worth and security dry up, and we realize how thirsty we are. And God lets the water flow out of the Rock.
That’s what I see happening today.
What passage of Scripture speaks most to you as an artist?
Paul in Galatians 2:20, and Colossians 1:27. Those verses, speaking of Christ living in us, which is what Jesus was modeling for us in John 14:10-11. He tells Philip, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”
Those verses are all connect. As He is, so are we in this world. Though He was the second Person of the Trinity, He humbled himself. He didn’t speak his own words or do his own works; it was the Father in Him teaching Him what to say, and the Father in Him was really doing the works.
That’s how we’re to live. And it’s applicable to absolutely everything in our lives, because in every area we need power and love. I need power and love as a husband, a dad, as a musician, and as a writer. I need a sense of worth, security, and meaning, and I need to know I have the power to be and do everything God means me to be and do.
Christ is the power source in us for that.
So what’s next for you? Are you planning a follow-up to Abiding Dependence? What are you working on?
I am thinking of a follow-up devotional but I’m not certain yet which direction it will go. I’ve written some for it already. My aim is always toward opening the mind and heart to seeing Christ living in us, with us, all around us, and through us. The Christian life isn’t one of climbing a mountain to attain righteousness; it’s a life of being continually having the God who is righteousness living right inside us, ready, able, willing to be our life in every moment we recognize him as real and present.
Musically – for the past few years I’ve been making a genre-bending blend of Celtic music and Bluegrass, with other influences, with an incredible Northern Irish tenor banjo player named Damien O’Kane. We have two albums, Banjophony and Banjophonics. That’s been some of the most rewarding and enjoyable music I’ve ever made. It’s musical joy, and it seems people get a lot of joy out of the albums and performances.
I’m also putting out a banjo instructional app called the Ron Block Banjo Workshop, which is going to be an ongoing project for me for a long time. I’ll be adding content every month or two for players of all levels – absolute beginners, intermediate, and advanced players will all find good things to learn.
Thanks so much to Ron Block for sharing with me! You can see more of Ron’s work at his website here.