The expression “pie in the sky” is used to describe an impractical idea. It originated in the lyrics of the song, “The Preacher and the Slave,” that was written to the tune of a populis Christian hymn:
Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:
You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and Pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
If you are familiar with Christian hymns, you may recognize it as the same tune as “In the Sweet By and By.” It was written in 1911 by Joe Hill as a protest song reflecting the frustration of those who were looking for something now.
Hill pokes fun at Salvation Army street evangelists for their impracticality. His lyrics are cynical, self-interested and agnostic, but honest.
The critique of Christian evangelical efforts is stinging.
True evangelical faith…cannot lie sleeping…
Evangelical Christianity has earned a reputation. It has frequently centered on condemnation of what those ‘outside the faith’ are doing wrong and yet lacks the introspection to know it is failing to live to the example it claims to promote.
Jesus did more than sing happy hymns or preach sermons about future glory; he also healed, provided food, wine and urged his followers to give selflessly of themselves. The words of Jesus are reflected in this poem:
True evangelical faith cannot lie sleeping. It clothes the naked and comforts the sorrowful.
It gives to the hungry food and it shelters the destitute.
It cares for the blind and lame, the widow and the orphan child.
It binds up the wounded man and offers a gentle hand.
We must become everything to all men.
Abundantly we have received and gratefully we will respond.
So overcome evil with good and return hatred with love.
That is true evangelical faith.
That is the writing of Menno Simons (1496–1561) urging a Gospel that met real needs today. It was put to music by Larry Nickel and would be much harder to parody as a message of pie in the sky only. Each line can be traced to something Jesus told his followers. It is a evangelicalism of practical value rather than only immaterial abstractions. It promotes a faith of concrete action in contrast to words-only ministry.
A message that focuses on being a solution…
The mocking words of Hill point to a purely human effort. While the ‘love’ of too many who profess faith is empty of real sacrifice and true empathy for human need. Both are an incomplete message. One piously over-spiritualizes faith while the other is dripping with resentment and bitter carnality.
The true evangelical faith of Jesus is bread today, shelter today and clothe today. The example is a love of substance and help today rather than of just pleasant words. It is so much more than impractical pie in the sky promises of something tomorrow.
2 thoughts on “Pie in the sky…when you die…”
I really like this post. I understand the fury of Joe Hill, and I absolutely love those words of Menno Simons. So cool that someone put them to music. It’s so easy to be caught in our own little worlds and not see or make an effort to meet the needs around us. Lord, open my eyes and my hands!
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Thanks! I have thought about that song many times and then juxtaposed against the words of Menno Simons it is profound. I only wish I could do the thought justice. It really is sermon worthy. A Gospel of just words is not real Gospel.