Well, Thank God, There’s a Big Party After All This

Beyond Even Jimmy ‘Muffin’s’ Idea of Caribbean Paradise

“But there’s this one particular harbor,
Sheltered from the wind,
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all is safe within.”
– Jimmy Buffett, “One Particular Harbor”

“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.”
– Isaiah 25:6-8

The other day my five-year old grandson Trey asked me if I would play some Jimmy Muffin while we all ate dinner on the patio. I am the chief cook of our extended family and usually run through an hour or two of my playlist while I fix dinner. I have an album’s worth of “Muffin” hits and he seems to be the music my grandchildren most like to dance to. Of late I hadn’t played much popular music of any kind, anywhere. Classical seemed to match my mood and the current circumstances. Not somber, but a bit subdued and reflective. My grandson’s request felt like permission to stop acting like it was the end of the world—even if it might be (as eventually it will be). It was a fine April evening and warm enough, I had fixed jambalaya, the adults were sipping mojitos, so Buffett seemed appropriate.

I’ve often heard it said, because I’ve said it often, that the kingdom of heaven will be more like a Jimmy Buffett concert than an interminable contemporary praise and worship service (if you’re not a Buffett fan, fill in the blanks). I certainly hope so. I say this because much—not all—contemporary Christian music in a pop-praise idiom is aesthetically juvenile and theologically shallow. I find listening to it painful. Of course, Buffet’s Floribbean/Gulf Coast style isn’t exactly Bach or Handel, and much of his oeuvre is as lyrically self-focused as “praise and worship” music. But for me at least, he does a better job of evoking genuine joy than Christian pop and sometimes he is philosophically wistful, if not theologically deep. There are hints of transcendence.

As everyone has pointed out that Charles Taylor has pointed out, transcendence is passé; we now live in a socio-cultural condition called the “immanent frame.” Taylor’s detailed historical-philosophical analysis deserves a close look (see A Secular Age), but one thing he means is that, starting in the late 15th century, our default mindset has become increasingly “secularist,” denying the need, or even the existence, of a transcendent reality. Human flourishing requires a focus only on immanent reality—the here and now, not the hereafter nor some “separate” spiritual realm. We must be “men of this world, whose reward is in this life” (Ps. 17:1). So, for five hundred years we have socially-distanced ourselves from God, and now we take that distance as a sign of God’s absence, or at least his irrelevance.

The immanent frame does make it more difficult for transcendent values and concerns to have their say in the public square, and God-talk of any sort has acquired awkwardness in certain circles. But denial—psychological or theological—is a fragile shield and the resources of immanent reality provide no secure shelter-in-place when death comes knocking at the door. The edge of immanence is not a bright light but a dark abyss that we fear and where we offer sacrifices to Moloch and Dionysus.

Perhaps Buffett’s kind of affected insouciance is not always appropriate for dark days and tough times. But I do like it better than the cliché positivism now coming from both the secular and (supposedly) sacred sectors. When (some) preachers, politicians, and celebrities all share the same message, we have cause to be dubious. Maybe, as a matter of circumstance, we are #allinthistogether, but we seem as spiritually, morally, and politically divided as we ever were. And as a matter of possible future fact, #wewillgetthroughthis doesn’t mean what’s on the other side will be any better. The best the immanent frame can offer is a return to the status quo ante and even that is looking less likely every day. While I don’t think we have stumbled into the Apocalypse, it is an apocalypse, revealing secrets and hidden agendas and reminding us, if we weren’t paying attention already, that we still are, like nested Russian dolls, sinful selves enclosed by a deeply disordered social and moral “frame” within a flawed and fallen world.

But it’s all good, in the end. Because, while the world, and our souls, may provisionally be the devil’s playground, the Earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1). He will redeem it and us with it (Romans 8:18-23). That includes white coral sands, turquoise waters, and palm trees swaying in a warm tropical breeze. I often visualize the new creation as a Caribbean paradise. I know it is more, but it isn’t less. As the apostle Paul has pointed out, what God has in store for us is always beyond our wildest imagination (1 Cor. 2:9). I imagine we will behold the beauty of the infinite God and be immersed in boundless joy and endless love. And we will make merry with our friends. Even better than margaritas and cheeseburgers in paradise, a feast of rich food and the finest wines, forever.

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2 responses to “Well, Thank God, There’s a Big Party After All This”

  1. This is great …… I have 3 grand kids (all 5 and under) and I hope they will do something fun like mess up Jimmy Buffett’s name – that is truly precious …… my kids at that age used to ask me to “play John WaterMellencamp”, and I’d put on R.O.C.K. in the USA and that would dance their butts off…… and yes, the best part of the “not yet” and the “mirror we look into and see dimly” is that we get glimpses like this, and it fuels the “assurances of things hoped for, and the convictions of things not seen” …..

  2. Amy Rylander says:

    Great piece – and you started with my favorite verse from my favorite song from my favorite artist. *sigh*

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