What Do We Stand For? | Sojourners

What Do We Stand For?

Person standing out in a crowd, © Leigh Prather / Shutterstock.com
Person standing out in a crowd, © Leigh Prather / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post is part of our monthly newsletter Faith in Action. To sign up for the newsletter, complete with commentary and resources for church leaders and mobilizers, click HERE

On New Year’s Eve I wrote “The Top 10 things I’m thankful for in 2012” on my Facebook page. Number four was “Clarity of call and message.” A friend asked in a comment below the post: “How in your own life has this played out? I'm at a crossroads here and It's difficult for me to discern this right now … Feel like I'm just drifting.”

Many of the people sitting in pews across America understand what my friend is going through. “Drifting,” that’s how he put it. In fact, I think it’s a question many people are wrestling with in their daily lives. There are so many issues out there. There are so many hills to die on. There is such deep division in our politics and in the church. Wading through the sound bites gets tiring. How can one make sense of it all? It’s tempting to just give up and disengage like the many Christians did in the mid-20th century. 

But we cannot. 

At a recent Christian conference that I attended, a friend confided: “There is a war being waged right now; a war for the soul of the church.” It is not a new war. It’s a war that is a century old at least. This war is being waged over what is at the heart of the good news of the Gospel. Is it simply about our personal salvation? Or does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection offer good news for the salvation of all the relationships in God’s creation; the relationship between God and humanity, humanity and the rest of creation, men and women, within families, between ethnic groups, between nations, and between systems and the people they govern? How far does the redeeming reach of Jesus go? 

Here’s the thing. I don’t think this is a question limited to the church. I think this is the cry of our culture. People are looking for something worth standing for — worth dying for.

I recently downloaded a tune on my iPhone that I’ve heard all over the radio and TV. “Some Nights” by Fun has a rocking military beat. It’s rowdy. It’s fun. It’s creative. And it starts with an electric choir of voices singing:

Some nights I stay up cashing in my bad luck
Some nights I call it a draw
Some nights I wish that my lips could build a castle
Some nights I wish they'd just fall off

And here’s the part that blew me away…

But I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh, Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights I don't know anymore...
Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh,
Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh” 

Then it breaks into an awesome military beat that gets you wanting to march through the streets. “What do I stand for,” cries a generation. “What do we stand for,” I ask? 

Here is my attempt to sing the answer back to our broken generation. This is what the church stands for. This is what is worth dying for.

 [military beat]

What do we stand for?  What do we stand for? 
Most nights … I wonder if we know … anymore, oh!

There was a time when the call was clear. 
Wilberforce blew the horn of freedom. 
Stopped the slave trade 
Dead in its tracks.
But that wasn’t enough—not nearly enough. No!

With an altar call Charles Finney drew 
A line in the sand
On one side darkness, 
The other side light
He said come get clean 
And enter the Kingdom!
And by the way, that means 
forsake our slavocracy!

Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh,
Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh.

With a booming voice 
Sojourner Truth said, 
“Ain’t I a Woman?”
Jeering crowds tried to squash her voice
But in the name of Jesus, she stood strong
Shared stories of her slave daze …
And soon tears flowed!
She turned hearts in the north 
Then supplied black soldiers—black soldiers 
In war, oh!

Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh,
Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh.

Then up in the north
After the war
Industry boomed and 
People turned into cogs in a wheel
Church pastors stood witness 
As steel whips cracked babies’ backs 
“Organize,” they cried! 
And up came the unions! 

That’s what we stood for! That’s what we stood for! 
Most nights… I wonder if we know … anymore, oh!

And the church marched on!
Through suffrage and Civil Rights
Vietnam and Afghanistan
No nukes and Great Societies
The church cried…
“Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy is God!” 
Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh,

They said, “Hey, Jesus, whatcha think of this?”
He cried: “Feed the hungry!
Clean the water!
Welcome the strangers in your land!”
He cried: “End poverty!
Make the sick healthy
Set the prisoners free!” Oh!

Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh,
Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh!

And I still wake up, I still see your ghost
Oh Lord, I see for sure what you stand for, oh
If we die on a hill, then we’ll die for this

That’s what we stand for! That’s what we stand for! 

Most nights… I pray … that we’ll know…

Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh,
Oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, whoa, oh, oh!

On Jan. 1 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Our forbearers stood and died for the reform of our nation — a reform that made us a more holy, cleaner society. But we are not finished. The job is not complete. In this anniversary month, feel free to take these adapted lyrics, set them to music and sing them in your church. Perhaps, someone sitting there, trying to discern how they want to invest their life will catch the vision. Perhaps the Holy Spirit of God will whisper to them: “The Gospel is bigger than you ever imagined … and yes, it is worth standing for.”

Lisa Sharon Harper is director of mobilizing at Sojourners.

Photo: Person standing out in a crowd, © Leigh Prather | View Portfolio / Shutterstock.com