This past Sunday my pastor remarked that people who have been transformed by the gospel don’t say things like “I would never pay for somebody else’s healthcare. They don’t deserve it.” That surprised me, because he almost always steers clear of political topics in his sermons. He surprised me further when he said, “I’m not making a political comment here.”
My first thought was, “Well, of course you’re making a political comment.” My second thought, however, was to consider how thoroughly I have bought into the sophomoric notion that “everything is political.” If we choose to politicize everything then, yes, everything is political. And if everything is political—that is to say, if every question is answered in terms of power dynamics and wealth distribution and special interest groups—it’s a short step from the curb into the gutter.
I mention these things because for the last few weeks I’ve been listening to No Story Is Over, the new record by Chris Slaten (code name: Son of Laughter). It’s a record in two acts; Act One is set in what Saint Augustine called the City of Man, where we are tempted to seek political solutions. Act Two is set in our truer country, the City of God.
The first four songs of No Story Is Over appear to be ripped from the headlines. “Voting Day” is an upbeat reminder that every day is a voting day. Whether we cast shadows, cast doubts, cast out demons, or cast a pot out of clay, we are always casting a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. “Flesh and Bone,” the second song, comments on the insidious influence of identity politics (I shall resist the temptation to digress on the verbal usurpation of that phrase “identity politics.”). “Hurricanes,” if not exactly political in its concerns, at least smacks of current events. It tells the story of a man who is trapped in his house after a hurricane (among a “swamp of chandeliers!”) only to be subjected to a second, inner hurricane when looters arrive. Speaking of current events, “Take Me Down” imagines what it is like to be destroyed by personal scandal:
I’m a monster, but I’ve been this way
I can’t keep keeping it up every day.
Let the questions fire,
Let the cameras blaze,
Let the microphones aim
At the voice of my shame.
Each of these first four songs poses the kind of questions to which we often expect political answers. The four songs of the second act, however, remind us that we don’t just live in a society, but in a Kingdom. The first few lines of “The Meal We Could Not Make” feel to me like the linchpin of the whole record:
Sit beside me now,
There’s so much we have shared—
Like the comfort of our doubts
And the safety of despair.
So many promises have just been tricks.
So many remedies have made us sick.
Do you even have it in you
To savor something new?
Good question, brother. The promises and the remedies of a hyper-politicized culture are indeed sickening and disheartening; we cannot help but yearn for something better. In a world where even the purveyors of religious remedies grasp shamelessly at the levers of worldly power, it takes a certain amount of courage to rest in the promises of a King who invites us to sit and eat at a meal we couldn’t make, alongside people we would never have chosen for our dinner companions.
Oh, take and eat,
All the work is done.
Stretch out your feet
In the Sabbath sun.
With this bread
Old ambitions break,
And as we pour the wine
We feel our hungry hearts awake
To the meal we could not make.
Look around the table,
Behold your company.
See the needy and unlovable
And many enemies.
I know that peace
Has never worked before,
But this feast
Satisfies the thirst for war.
For justice has been won,
And mercy makes us new.
Yes and amen. I’m not going to quote any more lyrics. You need to listen to them for yourself. But I will say that every song on this record offers a better answer to the questions we all seem to be asking.
I’ve heard it said that despair isn’t just a sin, but a mistake. Despair says, “This isn’t going to end well.” The gospel says, “No story is over.” That is a truth worth pondering. No Story is Over is a deep draught of gospel hope, a herald of the New Heavens and New Earth.
“The Meal We Could Not Make”
by Son of Laughter
from No Story Is Over
No Story Is Over is available in the Rabbit Room Store.
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we’ve ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.