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Explorations in Just Living

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Welcome to the blog of the Enough for Everyone program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). By "just living" we mean both justice-based living and just simply living – freeing ourselves from the clutter of stuff so we can focus on living faithfully and living well. Join us in the exploration!

About the Author
Bryce Wiebe coordinates Enough for Everyone, a ministry of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He loves slow food and is fascinated by the way things are made.  He is excited to dive into experiments in simplicity with you.  His sacred cow of consumption: kitchen gadgets.

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July 11, 2014

How Can I Keep from Singing

Songs of Justice

Songs of Justice


My music education started at home and started with hymns.  I grew up in a Mennonite family, steeped in four-part hymn singing.  Singing hymns in four parts is a theological act for Mennonites;[1] the blending of conforming practice (singing your part) with the complimentary practice of others (multiple parts being sung in harmony) being a full-on expression of the Body of Christ in its diverse whole with the activity of that whole being a prayer.  My parents met in their college choir and served as church musicians during much of my life.  Music was ever-present and elemental to life, and certainly the life of faith.  There were times as a child that I might have believed a good hymn-sing was the lifeboat on which we crossed the current of death that separates our world from the next; the conduit and connector between the sullied creation and the gloried realm of the Creator.  At funerals, the edge and intensity present in the tone and timbre pierced the otherwise somber occasion. The truth of the resurrection and the promise of life everlasting could not be taken for granted.  It had to be sung.  Sung without regard for the self-conscious process of performance; without the maintenance of beauty.  It had to be sung for the soul’s sake.  Had we stopped, we, or our departed loved one, might not reach the far shore.  Reluctant singers were damned.


Having collected more music education[2] and a more sophisticated, and academic theology[3], the previous paragraph should strike me as more absurd than it does.  While I can not hold that reluctant (or bad) singers are damned, it is in the act of communal singing that I feel my life, and the life of my community is drawn most closely to the God whom we seek and, and whom we seek to serve.  As my theological interests have shifted away from thoughts of heavenly reward toward living out God’s call to justice in the gift of this present life, music has become even more a conduit and connector, and certainly more of a lifeboat.  Movements of justice and peace have always been animated and sustained by music.  Music helps us see the world as it is and as it is intended to be; what has become, and what is becoming. It comforts us when we need respite along the way. 


“How Can I Keep from Singing?” (#821 in the new Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal) is a current favorite of mine, and I think it grasps as the Truth I learned as a child and have reaffirmed as an adult.


VS 1:

My life flows on in endless song,

Above earth’s lamentation

I hear the clear, though far-off hymn,

That hails a new creation

VS 2:

Through all the tumult, and the strife,

I hear that music ringing,

It finds and echo I my soul,

How can I keep from singing?


To engage a world of injustice can be a frustrating enterprise.  We might spend years in advocacy, growing a movement and making incremental changes only to see our efforts wiped away in a few minutes of legislative action.  We can cultivate fragile environments of peace and hear them shatter with the report of gun fire, or renewed rhetoric of hate.  There are more than a few reasons to believe efforts to reflect the light of Jesus into our world would be hopeless.  And yet, when I sing this hymn, I am reminded that the song of our life together is one that lifts us.  The song connects us to the New Heavens and the New Earth where righteousness is at home (2 Pet. 3:13), for which we wait in persistent and patient (sometimes impatient) action.  We are equipped to continue on in a joy-filled hope, knowing that the Truth of our existence is not in the “lamentation”, the “tumult and the strife” we have known, but rather in the song that calls as forward, floating us through that current of injustice that would devour more reluctant “singers” than grace has formed us to be.  We sing, not self-consciously, nor obsessing with how beautiful we sound, but because our identity is bound up in it.  Our “singing” is our theological act. 


No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that Rock I’m clinging.

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?


to submit your Songs of Justice reflections, please email

[1] Other traditions have long histories of part-singing and certainly congregations and individuals may value it in similar ways and do it superbly.  I speak only from my context.

[2] A Bachelors degree in voice from Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska

[3] The mish-mash of life and a Masters of Divinity from Yale have led me to claim the labels “Evangelical” “Reformed” and “Calvinist” , as my own, though, like most everyone I know, they are labels I choose with caveats and creativity.  Our theologies are not reducible to even the shorthand we, ourselves, give them.

Categories: Discipleship, Justice, Music

Tags: justice, of, songs