Heaven In Their Heart

Heaven In Their Heart

The church I grew up in was known as “a holiness church.” We didn’t handle snakes, speak in tongues, or cast out many demons—but we had our own brand of odd.

There was a lady who requested prayer on Wednesday nights for soap opera characters, going into great detail about the trouble they were facing. There was the man who brought his guitar to church and sat on the front row, hoping to be asked to play a special number. He was better than the rejects of “American Idol” ever thought about being. We had a Sunday school superintendent who thought we could improve Sunday school attendance by hosting a chitlin’ fry following church. (If you don’t know what part of the animal you’d be eating, don’t ask.)

We tended to believe that boundaries fenced us in and helped us stay holy amidst the wiles of the world. We avoided movie theaters, dance halls, bars, smoking parlors, and carnivals. We tried to keep our distance from makeup, Sunday newspapers, alcohol, and even the person we were dating. We believed in being odd, in a holy sort of way.

We’ve gotten over most of the rule-centered, boundaried holiness now. We go to movies and carnivals. Some of us drink and dance. Most of us read the Sunday paper, wear makeup, and have no qualms about public displays of affection. Our ancestors would not be proud.

Singing About Heaven

I was driving home from Alabama several weeks ago and was bored. I scanned the radio and came across a Sunday night service broadcast. I thought I had been warped back to the 60s. In my mind’s eye, the service I was listening to had about 37 people present. They had not been corrupted by instruments and were singing a cappella. They were still using a hymnal. I knew because they announced the page number.

A man with a very loud voice (who was too close to the lone microphone) was leading the singing. The alto, tenor, and bass parts were represented. The tenor flatted out a long time before he hit the high note. The bass couldn’t get down in the valley anymore. The alto warbled badly. It sounded like a musical tug-o-war at a hog-killing. They were singing a song I had not heard in years. I had to go back four hymnals to find it:

There waits for me a glad tomorrow,
Where gates of pearl swing open wide,
And when I’ve passed this vale of sorrow,
I’ll dwell upon the other side.

Some day beyond the reach of mortal ken,
Some day God only knows just where and when
The wheels of mortal life shall all stand still
And I shall go to dwell on Zion’s hill.”

—”Zion’s Hill,” by James Allen Crutchfield, 1929

Here they were, people as stuck in the past as they could stay, singing about going somewhere tomorrow.

Odd folk on the radio with heaven in their heart.

And in that moment, I loved them. And I loved all those odd folk who had pursued a sacred life as best they could.

Life seems to happen between the odd places we’ve been and the new places we’re going. It takes both to make a great story.


  1. J. Paul turner says

    Dan didn’t know we attended the same church when we were kids! Loved it! Would you allow me to reprint unabridged on http://www.lifestoryslices.org with proper credit citation?

    J. Paul

  2. Andy Bennett says

    Well said. You express so gently my feelings about our roots in the church. I have told similar stories, but not as kindly as you do! We had a guy who would play “special numbers” on his harmonica, and if there were 5 stanzas of the hymn in the hymnal, he had to play all 5. And the “boundaries”! My family was a bit liberal, and let down some of the boundaries before many of our friends did.

    It was the love that kept me. I knew those people loved me. Sometimes they said that they did, and always they acted like they did. Many of them prayed for me. Specifically, by name. I still can’t get away from the love.

  3. Jesse C Middendorf says

    Outstanding! My mind was filled with images from my own childhood. While some abandoned the church because of the “oddities,” others found a way to love the intention behind the oddities. I am glad we moved past some of those strange interpretations of what it meant to be holy. I also grieve that being holy does not have the passion it once had. A little more “Heaven in Their Heart” might do us some good!

    Thanks, Dan!

  4. Odd seems to be in, in the secular 21st Century. Perhaps it is time for believers to bring back some faith-filled odd!

  5. Richard Harper says

    I thank God for the maturing process. Holy is the aim and that glorifies Him. We get into all kinds of messes trying to prove out point and all we do is draw attention to our self trying to do so.
    Good words Dan and others as well!

  6. I laughed so hard. I love the odd. Oh what a beautiful thing this odd bride of Christ is.

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