It is so hard for me to believe that as we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this summer, we will also be, albeit unknowingly for most, commemorating the 20th anniversary of Mark Heard’s final concert at the Cornerstone Festival in Illinois. Criminally under known and under appreciated at the time, Mark Heard had just finished recording and subsequently releasing “Satellite Sky” in June of 1992, and had planned to go on tour as well as looking forward to the prospects of signing his first ever major record label distribution contract later on in the summer.
All that was in the back of Heard’s mind that hot summer mid-western Independence Day night in 1992 as he took that stage for a midnight concert. No one knew then that as the show was drawing to a close Heard began suffering a heart attack! Upon finishing his set he was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with having major artery blockage, something he planned on having treated upon his return to California. However, this would never happen as Heard would have a second more serious heart attack just hours after his initial discharge from the hospital, leaving him in a coma, that which he would never recover as he died on August 16th, 1992.
Just a little over ten years ago, a young man was nearing the end of his freshman year of high school, and really struggling with the state of the American Church landscape, and what he was hearing out of the Christian Music Industry. Too much ‘life is always great with Jesus” which he saw as not lining up with reality at all; especially in the wake of the worst Terrorist attack in his lifetime which had of course occurred that previous autumn. Despite his anger and frustration in all this, the young man decided to research deeper in the history of Christian rock and roll and fortunately discovered this gentleman by the name of Mark Heard, who had three albums appear in the Top 100 Albums in Christian Music book he had checked out from the local library. In June of 2002, this young man managed to track down a cassette tape copy of the aforementioned “Satellite Sky” album, and his Faith would begin anew at this point, and to this day he has never looked back!
Now you may have figured out already, that the young man in the second part of this story is in fact, me, and yes this blog post will once again be a little different than what you are used to from me. These are my thoughts/reflections on a man and an album that had an incredibly profound impact on my Christian Faith when I was 15 years old, an impact he had ten years after his time on earth was way too soon completed!
On “Satellite Sky” Mark Heard wove together 15 amazing songs that expressed both disenchantment with the way culture was continuing to sink further and further away from the Christian values that had still mostly shaped it a mere forty years earlier, and the unfettered hope of the Gospel in the midst of such a mess.
Heard was writing things like “they have captured our siblings/they have rendered them mute/disputed our lineage and poisoned our roots/we have bought from the brokers who have broken their oaths/and we’re out on the street with a lump in our throats” (from “Orphans of God’) Initially, I simply had no idea what Heard was talking about, but as I listened closer and more often, I realized he was in fact describing how secular thought on both the origin of the human race, and God’s existence, have put Christians in a position of mockery instead of a position of respect. Heard unflinching was honestly saying this and was without a doubt angry about it! Such bold writing like this wasn’t anywhere in Christian Music at this point in time. He didn’t stop there, elsewhere he described the “Long Way Down” culture was spiraling as they removed God from the forefront, he spoke of being “A Broken Man” over such cultural shifting, and how his generation was so often “Lost On Purpose”. He also put an interesting spin on Original Sin with “We Know Too Much” which I have come to interpret over the years as a allegorical look at the result of the fall of man recounted in Genesis chapter three.
Yet amongst all this despair, Heard balanced it with the hope he had in Christ on songs like “Hammer & Nails” where he boldly proclaims “Your love never can fail to pierce me” and declaring how one way to attempt to reverse such hopelessness is to live out and communicate1 Corinthians 13 in practical ways (“Love Is So Blind” and “Language of Love”).
However, one of the most powerful songs on the entire album was the incredible six minute closing track “Treasure of The Broken Land” where Heard reflected on the death of his father, and the sadness he felt over no longer being able to see his father and converse with his father on a regular basis, or as he said ‘all that remains is the aftertaste of circumstance that can’t pass this way again”
Yet among all this Heard longed for the promised hope of the bodies of all Christians one day being resurrected upon Christ’s return to establish his Kingdom on earth. He also gave us a reminder to use our time with one another wisely as he sings a line that has forever impacted my life with "Nobody gets a second chance to be the friend that they meant to be”
Some days I still am in awe of how the events of that summer of 1992 occurred. Heard released this incredible statement of an album in ‘Satellite Sky” in June, and by August he was in Heaven with both his earthly and Heavenly Father. As I have listened to this album many, many, times over the years, I always have this sense that Heard somehow had an indication this would be his final project. If not, it sure seemed that way, as I can’t think of a more honest portrayal of life in a fallen world, and best manner in which we as Believers should cope!
I can honestly say that outside of the Word of God itself there have been few greater impacts upon my Christian Faith as the songs on this album. No matter what I am feeling whether deep despair or overflowing joy, these songs have ministered to me. As the rest of the country commemorates another July 4th, I commemorate the 20th anniversary of the release of my all time favorite Christian album, and the life of the man who wrote and recorded it. One day in heaven, I hope to be able to share with Mark Heard how much his music impacted my faith, and how thanks to him I was able to begin the growing process of my continuing Faith in Christ. For now, I have shared it with all of you.