I’ve been sitting here trying to troubleshoot a problem with the site in an attempt to avoid writing about today’s hymn.
But I know I must, so here goes.
I have problems with this hymn. Not because it’s set to an unfamiliar tune by noted Vietnamese composer Nguyễn Đức Toàn. (We also have from him the sad, haunting tune for Almond Trees, Renewed in Bloom.) And not because it’s weirdly repetitive. But because its lyrics, by Alicia Carpenter, is so godawful limiting.
I should note that Carpenter’s work has been and will again be praised in this series – she’s the author of Just as Long as I Have Breath, With Heart and Mind, We Celebrate the Web of Life, and several others. I mostly really like her work. A lot.
But this one really gets my goat.
We are children of the earth, children of the earth,
and we love our mother earth, love our mother earth.
From the mountain and the streams, from the flowing streams,
comes the fountain of our dreams, fountain of our dreams.
We dream of a village fair, of a village fair.
Laughing children playing there children playing there,
and our elders can be found, elders can be found,
here beside us safe and sound, always safe and sound.
There is nothing to desire, nothing to desire,
more than home and hearth and fire, home and hearth and fire,
in a village that we love, village that we love,
living side by side in peace, evermore in peace.
First verse, of course, is great. yay! Grounded eco-theology for the win. We’re earthlings, and we love where we come from.
Second verse, well, okay… sure, if we extend the metaphor of ‘village’ to be ‘wherever you most want to live’. And I like the multigenerational language – although the ‘safe and sound’ bit feels a bit patronizing.
Third verse: this is where it goes off the rails for me. All we want is home? Seriously? Are we so replete of aspiration that there is nothing more that we want? I mean, I get that for those without a home, a home is plenty. But even theologically, this doesn’t seem to work for me. It feels so limiting, so not aspirational – and for all the aspiration we have in our theologies, this is not it. It reminds me of a bit from Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill:
I grew up in the 70s, when the careers advisor used to come to school, and he used to get the kids together and say, “Look, I advise you to get a career, what can I say? That’s it.”
And he took me aside, he said, “Whatcha you want to do, kid? Whatcha you want to do? Tell me, tell me your dreams!”
“I want to be a space astronaut! Go to outer space, discover things that have never been discovered.”
He said, “Look, you’re British, so scale it down a bit, all right?”
“All right, I want to work in a shoe shop then! Discover shoes that no one’s ever discovered right in the back of the shop, on the left.”
And he said, “Look, you’re British, so scale it down a bit, all right?”
I want more. I want to wish for home and community, yes, but it’s not all I want And this lyric suggests I should only want those things. It’s most assuredly theological whiplash when you compare it to yesterday’s hymn, which celebrated human ingenuity and potential.
I MIGHT use that first verse someday, but not the rest.
I want more.
Like enough ingenuity to figure out why something here is broken.