STLT#121, We’ll Build a Land

I want to love this song. Really, I do.

It’s certainly a popular one that lots of people know. And here’s the thing: This song should be amazing and inspiring and strong – and I suspect in its original form, as crafted by Carolyn McDade herself, it was. I imagine that on guitar, it has a driving rhythm, and that the lyrics tumble forth in a ragged, folky, Dylanesque manner. I imagine selecting this for the hymnal was a no brainer. The words are tremendous, and the tune is easy to pick up.

But it has sadly become a sing-songy, rather long and annoying piece of music that many of us use sparingly because we fear a revolt.

And so I am looking for a little help – to find versions that capture what I suspect is a less pedestrian and more inspiring, less ooompa and more driving. Because that is what this lyric – inspired by two kickass prophets (Isaiah and Amos) requires. This isn’t “oh, look, nice aspirations,” this is “remember Noah’s flood? Ain’t got nothing on this justice we’re bringin’ down.” This isn’t a pop song,  this is King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

We’ll build a land where we bind up the broken.
We’ll build a land where the captives go free,
where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning.
Oh, we’ll build a promised land that can be.

(Chorus)
Come build a land where sisters and brothers,
anointed by God, may then create peace:
where justice shall roll down like waters,
and peace like an ever flowing stream.

We’ll build a land where we bring the good tidings
to all the afflicted and all those who mourn.
And we’ll give them garlands instead of ashes.
Oh, we’ll build a land where peace is born.
(Chorus)

We’ll be a land building up ancient cities,
raising up devastations from old;
restoring ruins of generations.
Oh, we’ll build a land of people so bold.
(Chorus)

Come, build a land where the mantles of praises
resound from spirits once faint and once weak;
where like oaks of righteousness stand her people.
Oh, come build the land, my people we seek.
(Chorus)

So can someone help me out with an arrangement that doesn’t make me think we’re singing a toothless campfire song?

12 Comments

  1. Thinking more about this…

    It seems to me that the high aspirations of the lyrics do not sit well on the notes of the melody. The melody does not have the strength to support such an ambitious and audacious Weltanschauung. I cannot articulate why I feel this way. Compare “Imagine,” which has the same aspirations in the words, but they sit very well on Lennon’s melody. Maybe because they are not as exact, not so particular?

    Another thing is “get real” aspect. With our 21st century sensibilities, we know that we ain’t gonna “build a land” where the captives run free and all mourning will dissolve. We don’t have rose-colored glasses anymore.

    It’s one thing to say “Let’s build a land,” and another to say, “Imagine there’s no countries.” The first is practical and based in reality. The singer is recruiting people. The second is dreaming, as the singer commands us to imagine something. Easier to compose a tune to accompany a dream than to compose a tune for re-building a world.

    • Wow. Some really good thinking. I like your comparison to “Imagine” especially – it puts the song into perspective for me.

      On the Facebook thread for this post, we’re also talking about how the language is exclusive (“brothers and sisters”) and some difficult associations with land – not in an Isaiah sort of way, but a colonization sort of way. I admit having had not enough coffee to engage the former (which I have noticed in the past) but it’s the second one that’s given me pause… I hadn’t considered that the metaphor for building a land too tied to empire now, but I can see it.

  2. I’ve always found the song stirring. Looking at it with a more analytical eye, it has an extremely catchy tune, of an Up With People sort, even with the capacity of becoming an “earworm”.

    Then I had the nefarious idea it might be leaked to the Trump Republicans–with a hint that the lyrics could easily be re-written to serve their favorite agenda. We would sue the heck out of them, and generate publicity for the movement.

  3. Mark Miller at Drew Theological has done a wonderful arrangement (SATB) of this hymn, called Creation of Peace. In its most recent iteration, it substitutes “Love” for “Land”, and the “sisters and brothers” language is now “come build a love, come gather together, anointed by God…”. Very moving, very powerful, We just sang it at the Assn for UU Music Ministries conference.

    • Wasn’t that an amazing experience? I’ve been in contact with Mark, who said it will soon be available on his website. Meanwhile he has given me permission to post videos on the AAUMM social link platform, which I will do when I get back to NY.

  4. I just found this… I’m really impressed with the lyric changes, especially when it’s discovered that finally “Sisters and Brothers can then create Peace” without having to be anointed by God first. I just figured I’d never be able to create Peace.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpJr4DvlWOo

    Mo Mack in Concert
    A Benefit for First Church Unitarian of Portland, Oregon
    November 13, 2016

    Please note important lyric changes.

    We’ll build a land where we bind up the broken.
    We’ll build a land where the captives go free
    Where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning
    We’ll build a promised land that can be.

    Come build a land where sisters and brothers
    Filled with the Spirit may then create peace
    Where justice shall roll down like waters
    And Peace, like an ever-flowing stream

    We’ll build a land where we bring the good tidings
    To all the afflicted and all those who mourn
    And we’ll give them garlands instead of ashes
    We’ll build a land where Peace is born

    Come build a land where sisters and brothers
    Filled with the Spirit may then create peace
    Where justice shall roll down like waters
    And Peace, like an ever-flowing stream

    We’ll build a land where the forests are fertile
    Where the water and wind run clean and clear
    And Community matters more than possessions
    Come share this land. Let’s build it right here.

    Come build a land where sisters and brothers
    Filled with the Spirit may then create peace
    Where justice shall roll down like waters
    And Peace, like an ever-flowing stream

    [“One more time”]

    Come build a land where sisters and brothers
    Filled with the Spirit may then create peace
    Where justice shall roll down like waters
    And Peace, like an ever-flowing stream

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