A Song on Gloryland

We’ll need no sun in gloryland

The moon and stars won’t shine

For Christ himself is light up there

He reigns on love divine

Then weep not friends

I’m going home

Up there we’ll die no more

No coffins will be made up there

No graves on that bright shore

“Gloryland” by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys

I like the haunting beauty of this A Cappella bluegrass song. Bluegrass harmony is itself a lovely thing, but notice also the earthiness of the suffering mentioned in this song and how the theology of heaven provides strength to face death. Was there in previous ages of evangelicalism an underdeveloped understanding of salvation? Sure. Forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven were emphasized to the exclusion of the Spirit’s power for true life in this age and the ultimate hope of the new heavens and new earth. But I think we often underestimate how practical this focus on victory over death was for a humanity that simply faced death on a more constant basis.

My grandmother’s line were all Scotch-Irish stock who spent their lives in the mountains and coal mines of West Virginia. All the men were miners. And all died early of black lung. Infant mortality would have been exponentially higher than it is now. I suspect that if we feel any smug superiority to the bluegrass theology of the coal miners, that might also say something about how hard we in the West have tried to isolate ourselves from pain and death.

A Song For Those Made For Endless Summer

I really love this new song by the Gray Havens. “Have you ever missed somewhere that you’ve never been?” Yes… yes I have. Reminds me of this quote of Augustine’s where he muses on the “memory” of Eden that each of us somehow carries.

However, I have to say that while endless summer in North America sounds lovely, an endless summer in our corner of Central Asia – with its 115 F/46 C temps – is not quite as pleasant a prospect. Can I have an endless spring, perhaps? Much better for eternal picnics.

A Song For Pilgrims

“Pilgrim” by John Mark McMillan

I’ve been enjoying this song a lot recently as we’ve once again been a family in transition. Moving cities has highlighted our identity as pilgrims and nomads, those who have no lasting city here, but who seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:14). I also appreciate the tension present in this song, recognizing that there are many things about this world that we do love, “the smell of the grinding sea,” yet we are also compelled to seek another world, an abiding one.

The remix below is also worth checking out. My kids and I have enjoyed bobbing our heads while we listen to it and drive around our Central Asian city.

A Song On Heaven’s Silence

“Shasta’s Complaint” by Sarah Sparks

This song by Sarah Sparks uses Shasta’s story from The Horse and His Boy to explore the Christian’s experience of heaven’s silence. I have certainly had seasons where God seems silent – at the very moment when I felt I most needed a clear word. “Where were you, God, when I was alone and desperately needing your presence?”

Waves that beat upon the shore
They brought no peace
Somewhere else I must belong
Somewhere for me
Who was it left me there 
A boy scared and alone
No, I don't think you heard me calling
Always thought he must not know
Surely he would never leave me
Wouldn't leave me here alone

You tell me now that I was never on my own
Well pardon me, I don't remember you at all
'Cause with my back against the tomb I called you out
But I don't think I heard your answer, 
I don't think I heard a sound
I don't recall you in my anger
Or remember you around

Ouch. A part of me deeply resonates with this complaint. But the answer, in Job-like style, cuts even deeper.

But he answered, Who are you to question me?
Do you command the mountains or calm the raging sea?
For I am the current there to save your life
A man man may find his eye deceiving 
A fool holds on to trust his sight
A wise man knows that his own feeling may not with the truth align

Did you think that you had never seen my face?
But every moment you're alive you know my grace
For only death in this whole world is justly deserved
And you say that I never answered
Just because you have not heard
But you don't know yet how to listen 
Or to understand my words. 

My love, I care for you
I was the comfort you felt in the house of the dead
I drove from you beasts in the night
All of this I have done while you slept
All by my design
Every chapter and every word, I've written every line...

The experience of heaven’s silence is a real and painful one. It is mysterious and worthy of some sober lament. Yet how often have we not heard God because we have not yet truly learned how to listen? I know I have at times demanded a certain kind of narrow communication from God. But why should I limit him in this way? Or how many times have I conflated my feelings of God’s presence with the truth of it?

There is some real wisdom in this song that echoes a biblical theology of suffering and God’s care for his children. Plus, I love the banjo and harmonica, especially how they come in at 3:22. As such, I commend it to your playlists.

A Song on When to Obey the Government – Or Not

Occasionally we make up songs with our kids as we’re reading through the Bible together and come across important passages that we don’t know any kids songs for. This song was inspired by Romans 13:1-7 and Acts 5:29. Living in a pandemic lockdown world and seeking to lead Muslims to Jesus in a country where this is illegal, these categories of obeying the government – except when they ask us to sin – are ones we want our kids to grow up chewing on. It’s complicated out there! But we hope that these big biblical categories will help them navigate a faithful posture towards government in their own families and churches someday.

Lyrics:

Obey the government says the Lord
It's for a good reason that they bear the sword
To punish the evil and reward the good
So obey the government says the Lord

But not if they tell you to sin (no sir!)
Not if they tell you to sin (no sir!) 
Not if they tell you to do bad things
Then you don't have to obey those kings 

A Song For Those With Forever In Their Veins

So here we go, like mist and water
That's here and gone
But here we'll stay, on forever
Be back someday
Look all I know
Is I believe it's gonna change at the moment when the trumpets blow
And all I see
All I see I believe is gonna change inside the walls of eternity
So here we go

'Cause forever is in my soul
It's in my veins, I think we know
That the future's gonna be so bright
And when you turn my way
It's gonna fill my eyes
Forever
When you turn my way
Forever is in my soul
It's in my veins and it won't let go

So when I stand at that station
To movin' on
And I find my step, upon the doorway
Where the lights come from
Look all I know
Is I'll be changed in a moment when I
Take that step, when I'm called back home
No end I'll know

'Cause forever is in my soul
It's in my veins, I think we know
That the future's gonna be so bright
And when you turn my way
It's gonna fill my eyes

'Cause forever is in my soul
It's in my veins, I think we know
That the future's gonna be so bright
And when you turn my way
It's gonna fill my eyes
Forever
When you turn my way
Forever is in my soul
It's in my veins and it won't let go
When you turn my way
(Forever)
It's in my veins and it won't let go

“Forever” by the Gray Havens

A Song On A Death Too Weak

Lament and defiance in the same song. For Christians addressing the death of Christ – and our own deaths – this is a good posture. Make sure to listen until the build at 2:52. Powerful stuff.

Go on brothers lay him down
Go on brothers lay him down
Wrap his body with a clean white shroud 
Roll that stone leave him in the ground
Go on brothers lay him down

Go on sisters cry for him
Go on sisters cry for him
But wipe your eyes and dry your skin
The crying will be done in three mornings
Go on sisters cry for him

Hold on children wait and see
Hold on children wait and see
The death that’s come is a death too weak
Can’t take my Jesus can’t take my king
So hold on children wait and see

Oh glory glory won’t you come for me
Glory glory won’t you come for me
I know your slumber is a momentary sleep
I feel you rising up from the deep
Oh glory glory you will come for me

“Jesus is Laid in the Tomb” by Poor Bishop Hooper