When I wrote this song I was not expecting it to have the impact it did or be as popular as it became and still is.
Jonathan David Faulkner
I remember writing the song like it was yesterday.
It was a cold day in December and I was home from Sterling on Christmas break my senior year. I had brought my guitar home and had shut myself away in my bedroom with it to try and get some thoughts out of my head. I do not remember what specifically triggered thoughts about our attitudes towards kids in Church and our need to reach them with the Gospel, but they were there. So I sat down and wrote these words:
“You did your best, to just forget
To turn your back on all the ones that wept
And you grew numb, with a crooked tongue
As you forgot that even Jesus wept
They are waiting”
It may have had something to do with reflecting back on the pastor who emotionally abused me and that night with the grace killers just 4 years before. The pain was still fresh and I had actually started processing all the emotions and allowing God to do a healing work. This was post Denver, Post Labyrinth, post call to Pastoral Ministry. The words were just coming out, the chorus flowed naturally:
“Can you hear the voice of the children?
Rise above the noise,
We are the light, let’s shine for them
Can you hear the cries of the children?
Drowning out your choice
We are the light, let’s shine for them.
Maybe it had to do with my own experience, crying out under the weight of the intense bullying and pain I felt. A culmination of years of crying out for someone to see my pain expressed in the way I dressed, the music I listened too etc. Or maybe the Spirit was just moving.
“And now she sits, in your pew
And I wonder what you’re going to do
Will you show her love, tell her of Christ?
Or crush her innocent heart tonight
She is waiting”
When I get into a zone while writing a song sometimes it just comes.
“This world knows darkness so well
And without you there’s no heaven just hell
So let us give of ourselves
To be the light to the ones who are watching, the ones who are watching, the ones who are watching us live.
I finished writing and opened up my laptop to write the song title and number into my master list of songs written. “Voice of the Children” is number 31 on that list, it was back when I was still learning to compose but it’s the only song other than “Joy Everlasting (A Christmas Chorus)” from those first 35 that made it into John Walk & The Opened Eyes set lists and was my most popular song until “River Song” debuted in 2015. It made every set list until 2017’s Chowder Fest and was on the “Acoustic Bootleg’s EP” that we gave away after the last show in Sterling (the one I recorded in my bathroom). The song and its backstory were also featured in a “Living Room Sessions” video on my Youtube Channel. (Only Joy Everlasting (A Christmas Chorus) has received more play time because of The Service Strings Addition).
But it’s what happened after the song was written and the story that the song carries behind it that makes it so special, makes it one that I will never forget and which I will play for big sets where it fits. As I mentioned, I opened up my laptop, entered the song into the master list, typed the lyrics and chords into a separate file, saved it and checked facebook. The date was December 14th 2012 and I will always remember where I was that morning and what I was doing because the first post on my newsfeed made the song take on a whole new meaning.
“How could someone do this to little children.” My friend’s status read, no link, so that meant I had to start searching. I went to fox news (because in 2012 it had not become the propaganda machine it is today) and the “Breaking” headline caught my attention. I do not remember the headline, but I remember the contents, so do you. A gunman had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and had killed several students and teachers. I had been writing a song: “Voice of the Children” about children crying out in desperation, as Children were crying out in desperation.
My father-in-law once described me as a man who wants to give a “Voice to the voiceless” this is certainly true, I have a passion for this, and “Voice of the Children” was intended to be just that, a voice for the voiceless. Anytime I would play the song audiences would cheer and people would cry and through my head would go the pictures forever burned in my head of the Sandy Hook kids.
In my mind these kids and I are in separable in time, as if the song was somehow prophetic, the Spirit which “Knows what we aught to pray” (Romans 8) praying within me. The song became a challenge to the church and to audiences to hear not the children in their churches but children around the world. To see suffering not as a policy or political problem but as a human problem, to see children who are suffering as an opportunity to bless those whom the world often destroys.
Which is what we are to do. In 1 Peter 3:9 it says: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless! For to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” The word “Bless” here is a participle that carries imperative meaning, that is, this is a command: “Be the one who blesses” this follows Jesus own teachings in Luke 6:27-28 and Matthew 5:16 and also follows Old Testament teachings concerning Abraham when God tells him in Genesis 15 that he and his offspring are to be a “Blessing to all nations.” We are not called to be a curse on this planet, but a blessing. That includes little children, of which Jesus also tells us that it would be better “to have a millstone tied around our neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Mat 18:6, Luke 17:6).
Yet 8 years later this song still haunts me precisely because I keep seeing the plight of children get worse, not better. And I’m not just talking about the kids who have been taken into custody along the border and put in detention centers. Life for children in general has gone down hill as they often find themselves compensating for their parents histories or they are too busy they have no time to just be kids. Or I see kids in our own country who, because of their immigration status, are being denied basic human health needs like tooth brushes and soap while adults who should know better squabble over spending money on actually meeting those basic hygiene requirements. I hear the cries of the children and see those cries go ignored.
I know, I know, right now I sound like Gal Dukat coming Deep Space Nine looking for money to run his Orphanage yelling “think of the children.” But as much as this song has been on my mind lately, the words of Jesus about not causing the least of these to suffer or stumble I cannot help but think that we have missed something here theologically. Right now, the church has an incredible chance to be a light and shine for them, no longer do we have to go to the nations, the nations have come to us. I know it’s cliché, but that’s the thing about clichés, they often turn out to be true in some way. If conditions at the border are as terrible as even James Dobson says they are, even in his own corrupt, nationalistic and nativist way, then we should actually be leaning into the situation as the church, not pushing back from it in revulsion.
Just think of what would have happened if the early Christians at Carthage had done this, pulled back, there is a good chance that you and I are not Christians because Christianity would not have spread like wildfire in a time of famine and plague when it was the Christians, not the Roman Government who were taking care of the sick and diseased. God has put before a wonderful time to respond to evil with good and to care for the sick and homeless and almost clothe less and we are debating whether or not they deserve to be cared for on the basis of their immigration status.
Now, before you label me as “some open-border (place expletive here)” I will be the first to tell you that a sovereign nation has the right to make and enforce laws to protect and sanction its borders. But those laws should be at the very least humane and be enforced humanely. How does a nation balance securing its borders and treating people humanely? Perhaps it brings the one organization in the world with a God-given definition of what a human being is that should lead to a wholistic understanding of what a human being is and care for the needs that a human being has. The Church.
Voice of the Children is one of two songs that constantly and consistently come to my mind when I think of the issues before us as the Church in the United States. It also makes me wonder if the solution to some of our smaller problems and disunity are not found in working to solve the current crisis at our border and any place where Children are killed, exploited, destroyed, terrorized or dehumanized.
Because right now we have done our best to just forget, to turn our backs on all those who have wept, to crush the hearts of the innocent while they wait for the church to come and do what the church claims it is going to do.
There is hope though and I captured that right at the end of the song, Because if there is no hope, then why are we still here?
“And now she’s free
now she believes
she’s becoming who she’s called to be
and now she shines, shines like a star
and now you know her faith will take her far”
Listen to the song here: Voice of the Children (From the Acoustic Bootlegs EP).
Lovingly, Pastorally, Theologically, we no longer have a choice.
Lyrics and Music for Voice of the Children property of Jonathan David Faulkner & 10:31 Publishing
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.