In an age of twisted values
we have lost the truth we need
Source: Singing the Faith: 703
Words: Martin Leckebusch
Music: “Kilve” by John Marsh
Metre: 87.87.D. (Trochaic)
Ideas for use
How do you define a “broken nation” in need of God’s renewal? What does it look like? This is a question addressed by Martin Leckebusch’s hymn, making it especially useful for “special” Sundays designed to help us engage with specific social issues e.g. Homeless Sunday, Christian Aid Week, Racial Justice Sunday, and Refugee Week. (See Special Sundays)
The hymn’s opening line raises implicit questions that may inform not only a sermon and service but also a small group discussion:
- What are the dominant values in our society?
- What are our own values?
- How may we live out our values in those places and situations that might find them challenging?
In his collection More Than Words, Martin heads this hymn text “Heal Our Nation”. Compare his words with other hymns such as Fred Kaan’s For the healing of the nations (StF 696) and Fred Pratt Green’s It is God who holds the nations in the hollow of his hand (StF 705), written for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Anna Briggs’s We lay our broken world in sorrow at your feet (StF 718) also addresses similar issues (see below).
Martin’s hymn challenges us with its uncompromising commentary on contemporary society, while addressing issues that are as old as human behaviour. “In sophisticated language,” he writes, “we have justified our greed; by our struggle for possessions we have robbed the poor and weak.”
The hymn was written at a time when Martin was attending a Methodist church in inner-city Birmingham. He describes the congregation at that time as “a very mixed bag… There was a strongly evangelical character to it, with a charismatic aspect – but also an aspect of social engagement.” This was at the time of the Manpower Services Commission (a non-departmental government body with a remit to coordinate employment and training services in the UK, and intended to help alleviate high levels of unemployment in the 1980s), and a MSC scheme was run on the church premises by the organist.
Within this context, a series of lunchtime services was planned, in which Bob Dunnett of the Birmingham Bible Institute spoke about problems in society, drawing on passages from the prophet Isaiah. With just a week’s notice, Martin was asked to write a hymn that reflected this theme.
His words are sufficiently open (or is it that the issues he addresses are all-too pervasive) that they are as applicable now as when they were written in the 1980s. For example, in verse 2 he writes: “We have built discrimination on our prejudice and fear…” In the second decade of the 21st century, this may bring to mind questions about immigration; relations between diverse cultures living side by side in Britain; and even our willingness to care for a growing number of older people or those with mental health issues.
It is worth comparing this hymn with Anna Briggs’s We lay our broken world in sorrow at your feet (StF 718). As she puts it: “Here human life seems less than profit, might and pride”. And what follows from that, says Martin, is discrimination, divided communities, broken families, and nations in desperate need of healing.
Yet “we who hear [God’s] word so often choose so rarely to obey”, writes Martin. In other words, we are all implicated in the imbalances within our families, society and world and so we all need the support of God’s Spirit when we ourselves (echoes Anna) are “broken… confused and closed and tired”.
So, Martin’s hymn ends with a prayer that echoes not only the sentiments of the prophet Isaiah but also the prophet Hosea, who has inspired other of Martin’s hymns (e.g. Lord we turn to you for mercy, StF 429):
In the power of your Spirit
come to cleanse us, make us new:
hear our cry and heal our nation
till our nation honours you.