Category: Music

Artistic resistance

Tyrants tend to underestimate the opposition. Early war reports emerging from Ukraine quickly made it clear that the Ukrainians would not be easily overrun. An August 14 article by Javier C. Hernández in The New York Times describes an inspirational “artistic resistance” to the Russian war by Ukrainian musicians. In “An Orchestra Supports Ukraine, and Reunites a Couple Parted by War,” Hernández quotes Yevgen Dovbysh, “I don’t have a gun, but I have my cello.”

Dovbysh and his violinist wife, Anna Vikhrova, were members of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, they are among the 74 musicians in the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra.that gathered in Warsaw, Poland to begin a world tour. The Canadian Ukrainian conductor is Keri-Lynn Wilson. The tour itinerary includes London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin, New York and Washington. They will play at the Lincoln Center in NYC on August 18 and 19, and at the Kennedy Center in DC on August 20.

In the 1990s, a choir of Cuban Methodists visited the US. They were mostly professionals–attorneys, teachers, and various others. The Cuban economy was reeling from the US boycott and the collapse of Cuba’s Soviet benefactors. Everyone in Cuba was poor. The choir arrived in Birmingham with paper sacks for luggage. A host congregation took them shopping for shoes. The unforgettable moment for me was their closing song, in English, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

From “Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra review – tears and roars of delight for new national ensemble,” by Flora Willson, The Guardian, July 31, 2022

Hope–a basis for action

My friend Don offered some helpful insights about hope. From Walter Brueggemann’s commentary about Jeremiah in Hope Within History (p. 67):

…history makers may see clearly that things are deeply wrong, while they may not see how in any way a turn can happen, they are characteristically not voices of despair. History-makers and historical action do not proceed out of despair but out of hope that acts against the data at hand.

Don also passed along this quote, which seems to have originated on Twitter, from Matthew (@CrowsFault) on March 10, 2022:

People speak of hope as if it is this delicate, ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider’s webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of the cobblestones in her hair, and just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.

Don and I have conversed about Fannie Lou Hamer. This quote reminds me of Hamer and her thought-provoking rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s A City Called Heaven:

I am on a pilgrim of sorrow. Tossed in this wide world alone. I have no hope for tomorrow. I’m trying to make Heaven my home. Sometimes I’m both tossed and driven. Sometimes I know not where to roam. I’ve heard of a city called heaven.

From “A Pilgrim of Sorrow: Fuller Story of Fannie Lou Hamer Told In New Documentary,” by Aliyah Veal, Mississippi Free Press, March 4, 2022

From whence

Much of old English is awkward to contemporary ears. Some of it is poetic, such as the Psalm often read at a graveside: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.” Psalm 121 is one of the “pilgrim psalms,” a collection of songs sung by ancient pilgrims to Jerusalem.

The question put to the travelers (“does our help come from the hills?”) refers to indigenous shrines on the hillsides. The pilgrims respond, “No! Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It’s a powerful and important question, “From whence cometh my help?”

The next few posts will explore “from whence” we humans have found help living our lives–such as sacred texts, poems, creeds, phrases, visuals and music. As a prelude to these posts, enjoy the interpretation of Psalm 121 from the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, linked below.

From “My Help,” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, via YouTube

Sifting through the law for grace

In ecclesial times, theology students were first in university processionals. By 1976, the commencement procession was alphabetical. So, I was in one of Emory’s rear seats to hear Justice Harry Blackmun’s commencement speech. He is known also for writing the 1973 Roe v. Wade majority opinion.

Roe critics include Susan E. Wills’ “Ten Legal Reasons to Reject Roe” for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2003, and Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson. Among Dobbs critics is Ian Millhiser, who wrote “The end of Roe v. Wade, explained,” in Vox.

Roe and Dobbs will be remembered as two markers on a long and winding road toward peace around healthcare for women who face a difficult and sometimes excruciating ethical decision. I concur with the United Methodist Social Principles and Stephanie York Arnold’s personal statement.

Here’s a bell hooks quote from All About Love, and Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.”

Love heals. When we are wounded in the place where we would know love, it is difficult to imagine that love really has the power to change everything. No matter what has happened in our past, when we open our hearts to love we can live as if born again, not forgetting the past but seeing it in a new way, letting it live inside us in a new way. We go forward with the fresh insight that the past can no longer hurt us. Or if our past was one in which we were loved, we know that no matter the occasional presence of suffering in our lives we will return always to remembered calm and bliss. Mindful remembering lets us put the broken bits and pieces of our hearts together again. This is the way healing begins.

From “Jackie DeShannon’s ‘Put a Little Love in Your Heart,'” via YouTube

When Dixie flipped

After visiting my aunt yesterday in East Tennessee, I phoned her siblings. My uncle, 81, recalled a family reunion where he was shunned because his Kentucky grandfather married into a family whose ancestors had been Confederates or Confederate sympathizers.

Lingering post-Civil War animosity in southern Appalachia took the form of Republican descendants of Union sympathizers versus Democratic descendants of Confederate sympathizers. The region was split evenly between the Dems, the GOP and Independents.

Party loyalties began to flip in 1964, when Goldwater swept the old South, culminating with Republican victories the 1994 midterm elections. That year Senator Richard Shelby switched parties. He was elected as a young Democrat. In January, he’ll retire as an old Republican.

Rusty Bowers‘ willingness to support Donald Trump in 2024 after his 2020 actions illustrates the depth of our partisan identities. Since yesterday, I’ve been humming The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” It’s a song with a catchy tune and a fascinating history.

From “Behind the Song: The Band, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,'” by Rick Moore, American Songwriter,

The power of Yet

From Ted Talks to Sesame Street, educators have discovered the power of the tiny word “Yet.” When presented with a child saying things like, “I can’t do that,” or “I’m not smart enough,” it can be a powerful turnaround to encourage the child to add the simple word “yet” at the end of the sentence.

It can become part of the atmosphere of a classroom, or a team, or any group, as the children (or adults) remind each other to insert the word “yet” at the end of the sentence, as in: “I can’t do that yet.” Or, “I’m not smart enough yet.” It’s a classic, “can do” tool that turns negative energy into positive energy.

We haven’t learned how to prevent Alzheimer’s–yet. We haven’t overcome racism–yet. We haven’t made it to net zero carbon emissions–yet. We haven’t passed meaningful gun control legislation–yet. Russia doesn’t have freedom of the press–yet. We haven’t achieved liberty and justice for all–yet.

From “The Power of Yet,” by Janelle Monae and the Sesame Street Muppets, September 10, 2014, via YouTube

Section 27

We’re never far from the Civil War, woven into our conscious and unconscious. Arlington Estate was owned by Mary Custis Lee, descendent of Martha Washington and spouse of Robert E. Lee. The estate was seized by the US Army in 1861. Its grounds included Freedman’s Village, for freed and escaped slaves. In 1864, part of the estate became Arlington National Cemetery. Black soldiers were buried in Section 27. Arlington remained segregated by rank and race until 1948.

Of 3,525 Medals of Honor, 3,000 were pre-World War I, with 473 World War II honorees. Since 1916, the Medal has become more rare, yet more fair. Since the end of World War II, over two dozen Medals have been awarded to men who were denied the Medal during the war due to their race, ethnicity, or religion. In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal to seven African Americans (who fought in WW2). Three years later, President Clinton presented 22 Japanese American veterans with the Medal of Honor.

Of the seven blacks honored In 1997, Vernon Baker was the only one still alive. The Korean War brought 146 recipients, including the last two African Americans to receive the Medal for service in a segregated unit: Cornelius Charlton and William Henry Thompson. The 250 Vietnam War recipients include 22 African Americans. James Anderson, Jr., was the first black Marine recipient. A month after his 20th birthday, Anderson covered an enemy grenade with his body just before it exploded.

These stories–going back to the Revolutionary War–amplify the absurd fear of “replacement.” The question is whether we who are late to the party (the real “replacements”) will sing in gratitude:

Oh beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self, their country loved
And mercy more than life

Section 27, from the Arlington National Cemetery

Resources for tough work

I’m part of a weekly Zoom gathering of 4 people focused on trying to live into the fullness of loving relationships in the real world, where social divisions are palpable, much of religion seems less than helpful, and the ancient nemesis of violence continues its deadly work.

One of our frequent topics is “How to oppose injustice and practice the fullness of loving relationships.” Another is, “How to express anger at wrongdoing in a spirit of love.” We seek the highest principles and best outcomes for the most people as we work for the weakest among us.

The Arts” is a section of the Fullness of Loving Relationships website with resources from dreamers, painters, prophets, singers, storytellers, teachers and theologians that express the profound mysteries of the heart. The site includes music, poetry, stories and visuals to aid our journey.


My context is too small

Yesterday, after giving my aunt’s room a spring cleaning (while she’s at a rehab facility), I stopped at Burger Station 120 for a Southern Railroad burger on my way home. I didn’t know why I was humming “The Circle of Life” theme song from 1994 film, The Lion King until I read responses to yesterday’s post from Ernie and Kathy. Memory loss is sad. Aging is a pain. But, it’s part of the circle of life.

It was an epiphany, a splash of cold water. When I’m sad (Ukraine) or depressed (church secession), or worried (health), or angry (politics)… invariably I’m reminded that in the Big Picture, “it’s all small stuff.” Without diminishing the urgency or pain of any of the “stuff,” I find energy and healing when I can put our problems within a larger context, such as faith, or the circle of life, or the Universe.

J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), biblical trail blazer, wrote Your God Is Too Small (1952). To paraphrase the Paraphraser, I continually say to self: “Your context is too small.” When I look at problems with self-centered tunnel vision, it’s like seeing the Universe through a cardboard toilet paper roll, as a child might, thus hiding from my view the grandeur of the earth, the Milky Way, the Universe.

In the Big Picture, my aunt–including her diminished memory (whose isn’t?)–is a whole person and a vital part of the circle. So are you!

From “Who is God?” an excellent introduction to the contributions of J.B. Phillips at Sarah’s Musings, January 26, 2018

Were you there?

Faith is historical and trans-historical. Its words and stories have an original context, but faith endures because the “funding events” continued to be relevant with fresh meaning for later generations

No one knows the composer. It’s in 195 hymnals, first published in William Barton’s Old Plantation Hymns (1899). Slaves understood that crucifixion and resurrection co-exist in in our present struggles.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Long-ago events in Jerusalem can inform and inspire the our lives, as they did for American slaves and for all who suffer injustice and death.

This Good Friday’s colors are blue and yellow. The people of Ukraine demonstrate in fresh ways the co-existence of crucifixion and resurrection, as new life, new hope, new courage emerge from the ashes.

From the Facebook page of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Guelph, Ontario