Traveling to MercyLand


A conversation with musician, artist, & author Phil Madeira


So much trouble, so much pain.
I want to heal the blind and cure the lame.
I want every man and woman to claim some dignity,
so let’s you and me take each other’s hands.
let’s travel on down, down to Mercyland.
Life is mean. Life is hard.
Can’t we just change the way things are?
I want all God’s children to live in harmony,
so let’s take each other’s hands.
Let’s travel on down, down to Mercyland.

Phil Madeira sings those lyrics, written by Merrill Farnsworth, at every show he performs. The title track of his 2012 project, a collaboration of contemporary “hymns” for the bruised but hopeful among us, “Mercyland” conjures a picture of both earth and heaven and calls us to live today in a way that brings heaven a little closer.

“I think the great irony of life is that when your message is mercy, it slaps you in the face fairly often,” Madeira says. “I sense God’s mercy in my constant need of it. Thankfully the arts are a way to bring a cup of mercy to the world.”

Madeira has been serving up cups of mercy through his music for four decades. A trained visual artist as well, he recently added book-writing to his list of creative endeavors. I recently caught up with him to ask him about his faith, music, and his new book, God on the Rocks.

A member of the Phil Keaggy Band in the 1970s, Madeira never fit comfortably into the “Christian music” scene—and the wider world of music is the richer for that. Currently a member of Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Boys, Madeira has partnered over the years with renowned musicians such as Daniel Amos, Pierce Pettis, Mavis Staples, Julie Miller, the Neville Brothers, Keb’ Mo’, and many more. He has also shared the stage with the likes of Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews, and Patty Griffin. Though he has occasionally released solo projects, such as his 2013 album, PM, Madeira’s main contribution to the music world has been his multi-instrumental and songwriting collaboration with other artists. His humility has him seeking community rather than celebrity, and his consistent ability to point in that direction is perhaps his greatest spiritual gift.

Excellent musicianship, creative artistry, candid writing, a collaborative spirit, and a faith that embraces brokenness—all these characterize Phil Madeira’s body of work. If navigating the intersection of faith, arts, and culture is important to you, Madeira’s work can be a valuable guide. Especially if you’re looking for Mercyland.

Tell us about your new book, God on the Rocks.

I love to write. I love to create. I started writing without really knowing that it would be a book. Just as an exercise in intimacy, I decided to write a story from my past for my partner, Merrill. But I found it was turning into a spiritual memoir. I started putting chapters online and heard from a number of people who said, “Hey, man, this is a book.” And then I got an agent, and the next thing I knew I was finishing a book.
How did the title come about?

Well, it’s kind of a double entendre. “On the rocks” has at least two meanings. One is how you might order a drink, which to my mind is a positive thing. And then, of course, there’s the other way—your marriage can be on the rocks, your life can be on the rocks—so it’s a purposeful double entendre. And then when we came up with our subtitle—“distilling religion, savoring faith”—we really pushed the pun more towards God being something to be savored.

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