Over the summer, I wrote about a favorite Community of Christ hymn. Without repeating the entire post here, one of my favorite things about it is that it was never written as a hymn. Rather, it was a song written by a folk song as a call for peace that got adopted into the Community of Christ hymnbook in 2013.
I thought about these details last weekend as I was listening to Ici-bas, a favorite song by French Canadian folk rock band Les cowboys fringants—I figured that this song would make for a pretty good hymn, too, even if it probably has a bit more swearing than your typical hymn. I’ve taken inspiration from this song for quite a while. Back in May 2022, I actually submitted the following story to Community of Christ’s Daily Bread series of morning devotionals (though it has not yet appeared, so maybe folks at World Church don’t agree with my evaluation):
One grumpy morning in May 2021, I decided to treat myself to some new music to help me in grading students’ final projects. I, like the rest of the world, was now over a year into a global pandemic, and everything felt overwhelming. I felt exhausted just trying to meet my responsibilities as a a partner, a parent, and a professor, but I was also aware of all the other problems in the world that exacerbated or were exacerbated by the pandemic. How could I possibly respond to those problems when I was struggling so much just to grade papers? It was easy to feel hopeless.
To get through the day, I bought an album from Les Cowboys Fringants (“The Lively Cowboys”). I’d been listening to this Québec-based band for about a decade, and despite their name, I knew they often wrote songs as melancholy as I was feeling. It seemed like a good choice for that morning! A few songs into the album, though, I was surprised by a song called “Ici-bas.” This French term means “here below,” a reference to our problem-filled world as opposed to the glories of a heaven “up above.” Yet, this song on my new album used the term differently. Never mentioning heavenly glories, the singer promised that despite broken hearts, death, traffic, and seemingly endless Québec winters, the singer would “plant their feet” and stay committed to the “here below.”
The song’s lyrics reminded me of a chapter in “Exploring Community of Christ Basic Beliefs: A Commentary” that I had read just that morning. We are not a church that “equate[s] salvation with deserting the earth and its challenges for an otherworldly heaven” (p. 96) but one that holds out hope for a better “here below.” As I write this, the pandemic continues, I’m still struggling, and there are even more problems in the world for us to tackle. Yet, on hard days, “Ici-bas” becomes an unlikely hymn, giving me hope and inspiring me to again commit to planting my feet here below.
Here’s a music video of the song itself:
Even though this post has been on my mind since last weekend, I’ve felt especially urgent about writing it since learning yesterday morning that Karly Tremblay, the lead singer of Les cowboys fringants, had died the day before of prostate cancer at the age of 47. That seemed to add new meaning to these lines from the song:
Malgré nos vies qui s’emballent dans une époque folle
Où un rien nous détourne du simple instant présent
Alors que tout s’envole, avec le temps
Malgré la mort, celle qui frappe et qui nous fait pleurer
Ou bien celle qui un jour, tôt ou tard, nous fauchera
Je m’accroche les pieds, ici-bas
Here’s a very rough translation (that privileges rhymes and meaning over literalism):
In spite of nothings that fill up this crazy world
How life retreats when our smartphone chimes
Although everything fades—fades with time
In spite of death lashing out and making us weep
And coming for all, whether fast or slow
I will plant my feet here below
Over the past 2+ years, Ici-bas has been a hymn for me—one that fends of existential dread, helps me find hope, and encourages me to commit myself to the “here below.” Although my faith transition was overall a healthy choice for me, my existential bearings still feel a little bit off. I’m less sure about a guiding hand of God in the world, and I’m even less sure about the existence of any afterlife. I’m not that much younger than Tremblay, and his song is a reminder that even if I live for decades longer than he did, my time on earth will ultimately be short. I’m grateful for what Tremblay did with his time on this planet—in singing his band’s songs, he made meaning out of a life and a world that increasingly feels meaningless to me, and he (and his songwriter) have so often inspired me to do the same.
I still feel strongly about religion because—like Les cowboys fringants—I think it’s helpful for setting existential bearings and helping us make meaning out of the world. Yet, I also think that for religion to be valid, it needs to set its bearings and make its meanings in the ici-bas (the here below) rather than deferring purpose, meaning, and justice to some unknown afterlife. Ici-bas is not “a hymn” and may never be, but I think it ought to be.
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