Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I Ain't Got No Home

The connection between faith and spirituality and the real world of work and justice is a hard one to negotiate for lots of Christian people. While there have always been voices of dissent to the contrary, the tendency among many evangelicals is to keep these two worlds completely separate.

For these folks faith is almost entirely concerned with issues and questions related to the next life or to the finer points of polity and practice inside religious institutions. Little if any attention is given to facing the harsh realities of this life, at least not as a central article of faith.

As a child, I remember singing the Albert E. Brumley song This World Is Not My Home. The upbeat lyrics were matched by the rousing melody when sung in four-part harmony, as was our custom.

Can't you just hear it?

This world is not my home, I'm just passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from Heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

O Lord you know I have no friend like you
If Heaven's not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from Heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

You can actually hear the entire hymn right here.

But, you know, there is another version of the song and another way to sing it.

Woody Guthrie's , I Ain't Got No Home, attempts to bring the two worlds together, making a connection that both lifts the soul and matters substantively in the here and now. The melody is much the same, a bit more subdued with a few new twists, but the lyrics refuse to ignore the present, its unfairness and its resultant pain:

I ain't got no home, I'm just a-roamin' 'round,
Just a wandrin' worker, I go from town to town.
And the police make it hard wherever I may go
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road,
A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Was a-farmin' on the shares, and always I was poor;
My crops I lay into the banker's store.
My wife took down and died upon the cabin floor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

I mined in your mines and I gathered in your corn
I been working, mister, since the day I was born
Now I worry all the time like I never did before
'Cause I ain't got no home in this world anymore

Now as I look around, it's mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin' man is rich an' the workin' man is poor,
And I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

Listen to Guthrie's recording with graphics here or in a bit clearer rendition here.

Bringing the truth of faith to the hard, cold facts of work, opportunity and equity--or the absence thereof!--turns out to be a rather daunting task.

Clearly, the task is worth the struggle, a struggle that becomes much less difficult when faith engages to connect the day-to-day decisions of this world with all of the prospects of the next.

Woody got it right.



Anonymous said...

I think you're letting many Christians off the hook too easy. They do want to apply biblical precepts to some "real world" issues, like abortion, but do not want to consider other biblical imperatives, like justice. I usually notice that this is a positive/negative dichotomy. Many Christians want to apply "negative" injunctions ("do not...") but do not want to apply positive injunctions ("do ..."). I think it's because the negatives seem more applicable to others and easier to accept (do not murder, etc.), whereas the positive injunctions might actually require a rethinking of the way we usually do things that is often uncomfortable. But applying "negative" biblical commands and ignoring "positive" commands, is just hypocritical. They all come from the same source.

Steve said...

Thanks for the great song, Larry.

Anonymous, you are sadly right, and it seems that what you are saying was boiled down by Jesus, when he said that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Then he says that many will be surprised in the day of reckoning...the ones who preached and prophesied in His Name, but did not DO...