Joking About the Great Hereafter

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Some songs, however new they may be, feel as if they have existed for centuries. One such song is “The Meal We Could Not Make” from Son of Laughter’s new album, No Story Is Over.

When Chris Slaten and I discussed his new record, we spent plenty of time going in depth on this particular song. What follows is our conversation both in audio form, augmented at various points by clips of the song itself, and in the written word.

Chris: “The Meal We Could Not Make” was inspired by Dan Allender’s book Sabbath. What I remember from it is this idea of Sabbath feasting and how the Sabbath can be a time of imaginative play.

So one of the things we’re doing on the Sabbath is both feasting as a way of remembering and feasting as a way of rehearsing and practicing, just like children are always doing as they’re preparing for their adulthood. It is good work that they are practicing to be doctors and astronauts and whatever it is they’re doing in the backyard, in the treehouse. And so that same kind of thing goes for what the Sabbath is meant to be.

(Song excerpt)
Sit beside me now
There’s so much that we’ve 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?

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

Chris: I feel like there are a lot of ways in which that song speaks for itself on those grounds. I’m curious, are there any specific questions you have about it?

Drew: You know, I’d love to zoom in on the last verse, “Do you recognize me now?” And it’s worth emphasizing because you take that opportunity to sneak in your artist name as well, which was done quite seamlessly!

(laughter)

Chris: It’s a little shout-out!

Drew: I think that verse has that magic of taking the stage that you’ve set with the focus on relationships and looking around the table, all these very tangible things—you’re taking that and drawing it out, giving it a bigger picture—that’s really the moment for me where the hope is stirred. Which is fitting, since that’s the whole point: the hope that’s finally coming true. So I’d love to hear more about that verse in particular.

Chris: Sure. Yeah, I think that’s what keeps that song from being an anthem or a hymn or anything like that: it has a really weird speaker.

(laughter)

Drew: When you say that I just think of the first line of that verse, “Do you recognize me now?” and I hear this mysterious narrator that I don’t know, and I want to say, “I don’t know you, and in fact I don’t recognize you! This whole time I’ve been very confused about who you are.”

(laughter)

So: who is it?

Chris: I’ll talk about the Son of Laughter name and that might help a little bit.

The name “Son of Laughter”—I like it as a phrase because there are so many angles for it. There’s a place on my website where, when I first decided on the name, I wrote ten reasons why. I could name even more.

For one, it’s a throwback to Abraham and Sarah laughing in the face of God when they’re told in their old age that they’ll have a son. They’ve already exhausted all their resources and tried to manipulate their lives to make it happen, and it hasn’t. So it’s this exhausted, cynical laugh, almost mockery in the face of God.

But then it also talks about Sarah’s laughter after Isaac is born. And it’s the kind of laughter after the most beautiful magic trick. You’re astounded and there’s joy in it. It’s like, “that’s amazing!” Pure, beautiful, rich, amazed, deeply satisfied laughter.

And then you see the pattern again with Jesus being mocked, then taking that mockery and turning it into this amazed joy at the resurrection and the work that’s happening there, to us and to his mockers.

Looking into the future now, the setting of the song is the meal at the end of all things: imaginatively looking forward to that, whereas we have in many ways cynically mocked God—even if not outwardly, our lives have—this kind of faith that one day that mockery will be turned into the fullest realization of this deep, amazed, joyful kind of laughter. That’s why my artist name is slipped in there.

So the character that’s talking—I like for the character to be completely ambiguous, and I would say whenever I sing the song in public, I think of different people. And sometimes I even try to imagine other people who I miss that have passed on before me. So it’s like you’re stepping into the new heavens and the new earth and you’re seeing this person.

And it’s not Jesus. That’s where a song like this could go, where it’s been God speaking to you this whole time; I think that’s what’s kind of weird about it. But instead it’s just the lost loved one you ache for, sitting down with you and walking you through the weirdness and beauty of this whole meal.

So I like to leave it ambiguous as to who it is because I want people to fill it in for themselves, whoever that is. And there are definitely times—I performed this at Hutchmoot just a few months after my father-in-law passed away, and I almost didn’t make it through the song because he was the one I was imagining saying all these things. And I know that every time I sing it, it’s going to develop for me as I perform it over the years.

(Song excerpt)
Do you recognize me now?
It’s been so many years
Since you laid me in the ground
And planted me with tears

We used to joke about the great hereafter
Now he’s made each of us a Son of Laughter
That little hope in you
Is finally coming true

So take and eat…

Chris: I’m curious, is that how you have interpreted the speaker on hearing it more times now, or do you interpret it a different way?

Drew: It’s definitely been ambiguous for me as well—I didn’t necessarily think specifically, literally, Jesus is speaking this, but it did evoke the idea that there have been “so many years” since the Crucifixion and Resurrection. And it’s resurrection imagery for me.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely.

Drew: It takes me to that place of the stone being rolled away, and that was powerful for me. I didn’t think of anyone I knew, though.

Upon looking at it again, when I have the lyrics in front of me, I thought it sounded like the voice of the narrator’s hope that they’ve “buried in the ground” with regret and reluctance, but also the sense that they can’t hope anymore.

The joking about the great hereafter then can start to become more cynical as well. Like, “we used to joke about this, but look—it’s actually here, and not a joke.”

(Song excerpt)
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


No Story Is Over is available in the Rabbit Room Store.

You can listen to “The Meal We Could Not Make” in its entirety here:


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