You can paint the sun or you can paint what you see by the light of it.
In 2005 I took a trip to El Salvador that changed my priorities, politics, finances, marriage, theology. For the first time in my life poverty had a name – Yanci – and face – brown and sweaty and smiling. Since that day I’ve stumbled along doing the best I know how each day to connect the first world to the third world for the benefit of both. Unsure if I was to continue being a singer guy or not.
Then these songs showed up in my fingers and I wrote them down. And I decided to write some more. And make a record out of them.
I thought I was writing about the third world, the children, the need, the hope I’ve witnessed there and carried around under my skin – the sun. But what I’ve wound up with are a bunch of songs that rarely mention hunger, sickness, poverty by name. No mention of a child, of Yanci, Kiran, Gabriel…
I’ve painted what I’ve seen by the light of the sun.
Gratitude. Generosity. The Kingdom. Humility. Hope. Dependence. Jesus.
These are all things I’ve written about, things that I didn’t see as well in suburbia as I did in the slums.
I’ve struggled with this, felt like I’ve failed somehow to capture in song what I’ve captured on my blog dozens of times – the faces, names, stories.
Until this morning.
I’m at a conference for chaplains from Christian colleges. Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary is the primary speaker and he’s explaining how Christian schools can better teach and lead “justice.” He’s gone through scripture proving Glenn Beck wrong: justice may have been co-opted by socialists or “liberals” here and there throughout modern history, he says, but it’s a word straight from the ancient pages of scripture too and to ignore it (or run from it as Mr. Beck suggests we do) is, well, not very Christian.
He argues that in living and teaching “justice” we have to always connect it to Christ and what He has done for us, we have to ground it on other more foundational truths from the Old and New Testaments, and we have to marry it inseparably to compassion.
- Justice flows from us freely when we understand what Christ has done for us, that he rescued us from our slavery and sin and oppression, and today He provides health and daily bread and freedom, etc. Because He who is love has loved us, so we love. Justice without Jesus is powerless temporal humanitarianism.
- Justice is undergirded by foundational scriptural truths like God’s very character is merciful and just and compassionate, that everything is a gift from God, that we are inhabited by the compassionate just Giver, that God is sovereign king over all we are and possess and demands it of us, that we’re to hold our possessions and very lives very loosely and lay them all down for others in need of what God has so generously given to us and is capable of giving to us again!
- Justice is inseparable from compassion. Justice focusses on systemic corruption but compassion treats the wounds caused by it and frees souls while their bodies await freedom from oppression.
I think I’ve accidentally done these three things in writing these new songs. I don’t feel like such a failure now. I may have failed at writing a record about only poverty in the third world…but the bible isn’t about poverty in the third world. It’s about a God who loves us all in our own poverty. And these songs are what I see in the light of that.