The Hope of the World Rests on the Shoulders of a Homeless Man

Jana and I were in college during what many consider the Golden Age of contemporary Christian music. And the one artist we both loved was Rich Mullins. We got to attend a Rich Mullins concert when were in college. It was in a school auditorium in Sweetwater, TX. I remember Rich coming out and performing barefoot. This was about '92, five years before the car accident that took Mullins' life in '97.

Nine days before the accident Rich and some of his Ragamuffin band recorded nine songs in an abandoned church. These were rough takes recorded on a cheap battery-operated tape recorder. The songs were all about Jesus, sketches of songs intended for an album Rich was calling "the Jesus album."

After his death these rough recordings were released in the 2 CD set The Jesus Record. The first CD is the rough takes that Rich and the band recorded in the church.

One of the reasons I loved Rich Mullins was the rich theological imagination and creativity of his lyrics. That imagination is on display with the song "You Did Not Have a Home" from the The Jesus Record. Some of the lyrics:
You did not have a home
There were places You visited frequently
You took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet
'Cause you knew that the whole world belongs to the meek
But You did not have a home

Birds have nests, foxes have dens
But the hope of the whole world rests
On the shoulders of a homeless man
You had the shoulders of a homeless man
You did not have a home

You had no stones to throw
You came without an ax to grind
You did not tow the party line
No wonder sight came to the blind
You had no stones to throw

You rode an ass's foal
They spread their coats and cut down palms
For You and Your donkey to walk upon
But the world won't find what it thinks it wants
On the back of an ass's foal
So I guess You had to get sold

'Cause the world can't stand what it cannot own
And it can't own You 'Cause You did not have a home.
In these last lines I'm reminded of Rowan Williams's assessment that "Jesus is not a competitor for space in this world" and that, because of this, Jesus stands outside our cycles of violence. There is a connection here been possessionlessness and peace.

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8 thoughts on “The Hope of the World Rests on the Shoulders of a Homeless Man”

  1. Interesting similarities with Keith Green: A resistance to the commercialization of the gospel and their music...and both died in tragic accidents.
    There's a new movie out based on his life's story:

  2. One of my favorite lyrics by Rich Mullins

    When you love you walk on the water

    Just don't stumble on the waves

    We all want to go there somethin' awful

    But to stand there it takes some grace

    'Cause oh, we are not as strong

    As we think we are

    The only person who comes close these days is Andrew Peterson. If you folks aren't familiar with his music you should be.

  3. Thanks. Yes, it's funny that when I think of prophets within the church, I think of these singers, like Rich Mullins. Steve Taylor. A little bit of U2.

    It's also something I feel a bit of pride in, that two of the finest--Mullins, and Michael Card--come from Restoration Movement backgrounds. I've heard both explicitly refer any questions about their ministry back to the eldership of their congregation. I've heard Mullins muse that "I wish I was a priest or minister in a local congregation so I could really pronounce this blessing on you in a meaningful way, but for whatever it's worth from an itinerant singer, here's a blessing."

    It's funny--these lyrics seem to evoke liberal theology at its best, yet they are also feel disarming, familiar, like the gospel I know and recognize. They don't threaten a single conservative bone in my body.

  4. The emerging center of my own work is the paradox pointed to in those words:

    "'Cause the world can't stand what it cannot own
    And it can't own You 'Cause You did not have a home."

    I've personally found enormous healing in this. There was a time that I would often enter into debates with my atheist friends. They would criticize the way I was "owning" the message I brought. I think they were right. Recently something quite different occurred between a dear friend of mine and myself.

    He, an atheist, and I were discussing my new ways of thinking about religious topics. I was trying to explain how those who approach mystical consciousness in any given tradition (even the humanist/atheist tradition) end up, in effect, "losing" their symbols. In the face of eternity, they realize they own exactly nothing. As such, we are brought always back to the concreteness of the present moment as mystery and gift. It was here that something incredible took place.

    He said, with a certain amount of sadness and a hint of bitterness that the atheist goes further than that. "An atheist", he said, "stands in the present moment in the recognition that there *is* nothing other than that. This is all there is."

    "But that's not quite right.", I said, "Such an atheist has, in fact, *not* lost their symbol. They interpret the mystery of the now through an image, an image of nothingness."

    To my surprise this actually hit home. The conversation went on from there; we talked about a variety of ways that living under the unbroken power of our expectations, fears, and desires (our possessions) steals the present moment from us. It was the first time in all the many years we've known each other where we found a place of meeting on this.

    Mullins was right. And beautifully so.

  5. I honestly did not know there was a golden age of contemporary christian music. Until this new worship music from Tomlin and company, I only ever listened to Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Amy Grant for my gospel fix. Maybe throw in some Godspell if I am pressed.

  6. Alex, thank you for posting this.

    If you ever get a chance, you might read a letter of Thomas Merton's to Kathleen Champney, November 10, 1966 published in the volume called Witness to Freedom (pp. 327-9 in the edition I have). I think you would find it both familiar and surprising, perhaps helpful. I can't do it justice in summary, except that he is writing to an unbeliever, whom I assume was a stranger to him (for the last 10 years of his life, it seems as if anyone with any opinion at all about religion wrote to him, and I find the courtesy and care with which he responded to them astonishing. I also can't imagine where he found the time).

    The sentences I was thinking about when I read your discussion with your friend were:

    "In a word, the fact that I am a believer does not give me in any way the kind of advantage you assume: that I am entitled to voices and consolations which are denied you....That is my quarrel with religious people. They are selling answers and consolations. They are in the reassurance business. I give no reassurance whatever except that I know your void and I am in it, but I have a different way of understanding myself in it."

  7. Thank you for this, Bess. I've been reading quite a bit of Merton these last few months. I've been using him to help make some of the motions I first encountered in Paul Tillich intelligible to others (and to myself!) I've just ordered this volume and look forward to reading the letter you speak of.

    The quote you posted is marvelous. The salvation of Christianity is paradoxical. Whatever new life we receive in this faith will be proportional to how far we follow Jesus to the cross... and that's true of our whole being, not on a merely moral level. Our ideas about reality must also participate in this death in order to receive new life.

    Thank you again.

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