Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Songs to Die for--"Go the Distance"

Indulge me. I'd never heard this song before until my friend Rich posted a clip here of a short version of it by a capella group Return 2 Zero. (Well worth listening to if you like a capella male ensembles at all.)

So, yes, I know (because Eldest Daughter told me) that it came from the Disney movie Hercules, which I'm not at all interested in seeing. And I know it's a bit sentimental. But I like it a lot. For one thing, it appeals to my love of an 80's sound, even though it wasn't written in the 80's. (Very fun electric guitar solo in the middle, and wonderful synthesizer trumpets at the beginning.) Looked all around to find a complete version of it. So here it is: "Go the Distance," sung by Michael Bolton. Try not to be too distracted by the missing apostrophes in the lyrics. It's useful to have the lyrics running in front of you as you listen. Discussion follows.

Note to Bill Luse: You did that great video of "You Raise Me Up" for Easter this year. New assignment--a similarly moving video to go with this one. I suggest images of military homecomings and perhaps a picture or two of Mr. Schindler, who recently went Home to his hero's welcome and was much on my mind while listening to this.

The lyrics are really awfully good. They have an interesting dual quality--an interplay between what E.D. Hirsch calls "meaning" and "significance." It's pretty clear to me that the authors didn't intend a Christian meaning. Probably something more like general inspiration with a hint of a love song. But Christian, and even Greco-Christian tropes (the marathon race) are simply part of Western consciousness, and they couldn't get away from them. The song resembles "You Raise Me Up" in that it can be thought of either as secular or as Christian, and it resembles it as well in expressing some deep human longings that are most satisfied by a Christian world view and by what Christianity promises.

Begin at the beginning:

I have often dreamed of a far-off place
Where a hero's welcome would be waiting for me.
And the crowd will cheer when it sees my face,
And a voice keeps saying, "This is where I ought to be."

Here is C.S. Lewis in "The Weight of Glory," on heaven:

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness....I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you--the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence;...We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience....The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged; to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory...becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.
Lewis would have said that the song writer was speaking far more truly and of something far more important than he could possibly understand.

The song also tells us, "I won't look back" and "I know every mile will be worth my while," and it evokes throughout the metaphor of life as a race with an on-looking crowd.

Here is the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let ue lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith...

And here is the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Philippians:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

...and to the Corinthians:

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
...and to the Romans:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
There is, however, one respect in which the song will not bear a Christian interpretation: It treats one's attainment of the goal--coming to that place where you belong--as entirely a matter of one's own effort. And the Apostle Paul also reminds us,
I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.
Ultimately, it is not within our power, unaided, to "stay on track" and to go the distance. We will fail, every one of us, alone. That is why we need the Author and Finisher of our faith, the One who is able to keep us from falling. Let us look unto Him and go the distance for the crown of life with His help.


Richard D said...

I love your analysis of this song - and the C.S. Lewis quote provides a wonderful groundwork to lay the context.

I think the closest we can come to being in that place that we belong while we are here on earth is family--as long as it is not a dysfunctional family. And even this is just a taste of the wonders that will be ours when we arrive, where we belong, in God's family--as brothers and sisters of Christ.


Lydia McGrew said...

Rich, I thought of you a lot while I was writing it. I'm really glad you liked the post.

I agree with you about being with our families--especially with a beloved husband or wife. And I suppose that's why the song writer used the "hero's welcome waiting in your arms" idea. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a military wife or another wife separated from a husband in danger over long periods of time.

Richard D said...

And worse yet, to be in a family so dysfunctional that you actually don't belong there. That would be a terrible thing.

I really appreciated your wrap up comments about the fact that we can't "go the distance" on our own. As Lewis pointed out, we all have the desire--the "God-shaped hole," in essence--but outside of Christ, there is no way to make it to that desired destination where we belong.

What a phenomenal evangelistic tool this could be.

Patrick said...

This song is also included in the Spanish dub of Hercules, voiced by Ricky Martin. The lyrics are not a direct translation but similarly inspirational.

Video is on YouTube, I think. Search for "No Importa la Distancia."

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Long said...

This song could've been a really great Christian masterpiece! Unfortunately it's just a few words off the mark. As you have mentioned, the lyrics are awfully good, but its focus is on personal achievements and self accomplishments. In terms of dysfunctional families, I feel that the most important thing is to seek and follow the Lord's guidance on every decision. God will often lead us in directions that are humanly impossible. Things may not look like they would work out, but the Lord always stay true to His words. He would never break any of his promises. That of which are impossible to men are not impossible to God!