A political/religious blog I subscribe to sent me an email survey the other day. Its intent was to discover what kind of content its readership would appreciate in the new year. I was asked to rate my feelings about the major players on the American political scene, both left and right, and to offer my feelings about a handful of religious leaders in terms of their response to the issues of the day.
I wanted to to help this group of smart, kind, artistic believers with content feedback, I really did. But when I opened the survey and began answering its questions, I had to pause as I noticed a queasy feeling in my gut. The mere act of rating public figures had made me anxious. I didn’t feel at home with all of anybody’s political activity or message. And rating them felt really weird. I exited.
As I sat in silence at my desk, the vulnerable voice of that ragamuffin troubador Rich Mullins drifted up from memory. The song was “The Land of My Sojourn” from A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. It was written in 1993, a time that didn’t seem so innocent then, but it sure does now. It’s a song about being a Christian in America.
Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
I’ve never felt less like I belong here in America, but Mullins’ song made me grateful for that discomfort. I don’t belong here, and if you are following Christ, you don’t either.
Reading Romano Guardini’s Meditations on the Christ as this new year begins, I was reminded that the temptation to turn Christ’s mission into politics is nothing new. Guardini writes of the disciples’ resistance to Christ’s understanding of his impending suffering and death. The motives of those closest to Him were constantly off kilter, wanting to call down fire on their enemies and wondering about bread instead of grasping Christ’s point about avoiding the leaven of the Pharisees.
Such a misconception of the magnitude of His mission, the kingdom of God! They tried to draw it down into the mundane, political order.
Even at the very last moment, Guardini notes, after they’d witnessed and been taught by the resurrected Christ, the disciples asked the Lord before He ascended into Heaven, “Lord, now are you going to restore Israel?”
We would have done the same thing. We’re still doing it in one form or another.
There’s a temptation once we realize our weakness, our tendency to make everything mundane and political, to want to withdraw from political discourse and action, retreat into an ideological and spiritual bunker and avoid the messiness of engagement.
But that’s not where most of us are called to live our lives. That would be to miss the import of this moment.
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me
This ugly political moment could free us to long for our true Home. It’s the only path to true freedom. Living consciously in the tension between our country and our Home is moving closer to the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord. He alone can free us:
- to evaluate ideas instead of judging those putting them forth.
- to stop using political affiliation as a litmus test for faith.
- to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
In a line that hurts with a fresh intensity over twenty years after it was written, Mullins sings:
And the lady in the harbor
She still holds her torch out
To those huddled masses who are
Yearning for a freedom that still eludes them
The immigrant’s children see their brightest dreams shattered
Here on the New Jersey shoreline in the
Greed and the glitter of those high-tech casinos
That’s the voice of a poet-prophet. This song was written years before 9/11 and the immigration policy wars that have all but shut down communication between the two major political parties in the US. It’s a reminder that freedom eludes all of us who look for it in this world.
But we slowly become free as we remember our true Home and the One who calls us to live for more than material possessions and entertainment.
I’m praying for ears to hear.
But some mendicants wander off into a cathedral
And they stoop in the silence
And there their prayers are still whispered
And I’ll sing their song, and I’ll sing their song
In the land of my sojourn.
Reads and Other Seeds
Last year’s presidential inauguration inspired For a Time of Transition: Three Versions of the Litany of Humility in Song.
Rich Mullins fans may want to subscribe to Release Date–UTR Media Podcast. Release Date is a well-produced chronicling of the making of an upcoming Rich Mullins tribute album. Clips of old Mullins interviews and songs, interviews with those who knew him and younger musicians who hold the Ragamuffin as a top influence, and their honest songwriting shows it. See also Sparrowfare’s post on the 20th anniversary of Rich Mullins’ passing, Grant Me the Grace to Hurt Like Rich Mullins.
“Our world needs us to show up and stand up for our beliefs. I just hope we’re civil and respectful. When we degrade and diminish our humanity, even in response to being degraded and diminished, we break our own wild hearts.” Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone is a bracing, thought-provoking challenge to everyone in this fractured, vitriolic culture. It’s the kind of conversation starter we need, no matter where we find ourselves on the issues that divide us.
“Land of My Sojourn” is one of 35 songs on Flight Fuel: Sparrowfare’s eclectic playlist of hope. Inspired by the response to In the Night: a Song for Your Playlist of Hope, Flight Fuel gathers songs of resilience by artists ranging from Rich Mullins and Andrew Peterson to Bob Dylan and Audrey Assad. It’s a source of dark-time encouragment for wayfarers, realistic optimists and true believers. Each song is linked to simplify your sourcing of tunes that strike a chord. Subscribe to Sparrowfare’s newsletter here and Flight Fuel will be on its way!
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