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You Belong in God’s Neighborhood: Thoughts on the Newest Wendell Kimbrough Hymns

As a 90s teen, in a generation that was coming to equate edginess and irony with authenticity, I knew Mr. Rogers as an easy target for many jokes. But today, by the power of bumper stickers, documentary films, memes, podcasts, and social media, his image is more revered than ever. It seems like his recent rise has been a kind of countermeasure to the hostility of the social and political climate of the last five years, where edgy “truth” telling has looked more and more like meanness. We are hungry now for clear expressions of kindness and joy that appear to be painfully lacking in public discourse. What seemed cheesy and quaint in him then, now seems bold, essential, and refreshingly stable.

It’s through a similar process I’ve come to love the songs of Wendell Kimbrough. I wouldn't go so far as to say that he is the Mr. Rogers of worship music, even though he has said that he tries to sing in a way that “feels like a hug,” but I do think the comparison is helpful. Like Mr. Rogers what he produces is kind, deceptively simple, unwavering, and acutely aimed at enriching the lives of the children of God. Also, many of the qualities I love in his music now, I would not have been able to appreciate as much ten years ago before the cultural stove was turned up to boiling.

The gift of cultural chaos is that it can reveal what we really need, and I am learning that I am hungry for songs that are earnest, patiently crafted, communal, and timeless. I want songs that are rooted in something more ancient than these “unprecedented times” and more deeply emotional than the charisma of any particular band’s performance, even at the risk of sounding lame to more cynical ears. Each new Psalm-based collection from Kimbrough checks those boxes, including his newest You Belong.

If you are new to his music, it helps to know he prioritizes congregational singing over dramatic compositions. The melodies are easy to pick up on the first go-round, while still having enough nuance to stand out and stick well into the workweek. He even has many of them ready for you to use through a free digital songbook on his website. Almost every song on his 2016 album Psalms We Sing Together has become a staple of my home church, giving us new ways to celebrate timeless Truth together. 

Also, look at that name, Psalms We Sing Together. That title makes clear he is not going for clever and pioneering. There is nothing groundbreaking about his music because it is more concerned with gently guiding us down well-worn ancient paths. On You Belong, one of those paths is the fear of the Lord.

In “Those Who Fear the Lord” Kimbrough’s voice sits atop an old school bobbing country baseline like he’s riding a horse well outside the safety of civilization as he looks far ahead and sings assuredly:

"Storms will surely come; enemies will rage

Those who fear the Lord will not be afraid

Look into the future, far as you can see

Those who fear the Lord will be flourishing"

In a cultural climate shaped by voices that profit from fear, he helps us remember that true worship gives us rest by putting our lesser fears in their place. In the closing track “Bring God’s Children Home,” he reminds us again of the insubstantial nature of forces that seem so frightfully powerful:

"God will rise up and hate will flee

Like smoke before the wind

And as the darkness breaks we’ll see

God’s reign of peace begin"

God’s fearful power isn’t just a narcissistic flex. It is the strength needed to be conclusively hospitable to His creation and to bring peace. And you can tell from the title track, “You Belong,” that revolutionary hospitality is the centerpiece of the album. He leads us in singing:

"To the ones who were once God’s sworn enemies

From the West and the East and the land beyond the seas

Oh come to the table, where God spreads a feast,

'You belong, you belong, you belong with me.'”

Worship re-orients us to Reality. In this song, once we are re-oriented to our posture as former outcasts and enemies of God, we then turn to face those we have been unwilling to face, our own outcasts and enemies:

"So turn to the ones you have reason to hate

Lay down your weapons oh learn to be brave

Let’s start with the words our Lord taught us to say:

“'ou belong, you belong, you belong with me.'”

The theme of this track runs throughout the album, as worshippers are reminded again and again of God’s transformative welcome into his unshakable home. The lilting melody of “We Rejoice (Psalm 65)” particularly embodies this kind of warmth and confidence while affirming God’s gentle, attentive qualities as our Host:

"You hear every whisper of prayer.

You open the doors of your home. 


You soften the earth with your love.

You shower the fields with your rain."

When we sing these songs, we remind ourselves that God’s security and abundance are also available now, not only in their future fulfillment. 

While the real test of a good Kimbrough hymn is how well it will work when it leaves your own voice in the company of others eager or struggling to believe, You Belong also makes for a solid listen as a recording. Fans of the Porter’s Gate projects particularly will enjoy the same kind of energy and freshness of arrangements here because it is the same band. Kimbrough tracked it with them after recording it on their Worship for Workers project. For vinyl lovers, there’s even a limited pressing of it available

Whether they are listened to in this recording or lifted up in congregational singing, I believe the songs in this collection can help many fear gripped hearts to find a better home in the fear of the Lord and the joy of His welcome.


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