Archives For Art and Theology

Mahalia

September 22, 2017 — Leave a comment

No one does His Eye is On The Sparrow, as well as M.J.

For me, it’s the octave dip. The overall chilled dynamic and the presence heard in her voice, as heart meets sigh, song becomes prayer, and another broken heart is lifted to an awareness of God’s embrace.

It’s said that when Martin Luther King Jnr. was overly troubled, he’d ring Mahalia and ask for her to intercede through song. I can see why.

Afternoons deserve a little Mahalia.


Related reading:

A Voice Like This: Mahalia Jackson

Tell Me

August 29, 2017 — Leave a comment

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Ask me what I see, and I’ll show you battle scars.

Tell me what I’m not
and I’ll show you my old home, and its prison bars

Tell me how I’ve failed,
and I’ll show you my bible,
its well-worn corners, impressed with the mark of a child’s hopeful embrace,
and how, though, lost in a sea of loneliness
that child broke through the bitter dark.

Tell me to prove this
and I’ll show you healed marks,
of how they illustrate a trophy of grace;
the miracle that is this mended heart.

Tell me why I’m not enough
and I’ll tell you of teen intoxication,
of long midnight footsteps away from temptation,
and the gut wrenching sound of the devil’s bark.

Tell me how none of this ever happened,
and I’ll take you right back to the start,
then speak of father wounds,
and in minute detail, roll out the saga of abuse
and the many cruel people who joyfully played their part.

Scream at me that I’m wrong,
and I’ll have to walk away,
for I was there in that moment,
you abandoned your right to have a say.


(©RL2017)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence     or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

– Psalm 51:17

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The appearances of tended wounds and mended hearts,
offer little room for understanding how tender they still are.

The former dances with the latter.
Perception is distorted by this intoxicated waltz.

Complimented by self-medication
and a patient’s self-prescribed dose.
Complicated by
Its dark promise, its false solace, its temporary pulse.

But by all means salute;
stand in wonder.

Give up your “like”, your “share”, your applause
Gather the wounds, see the marks.

Be sucked in to the pit;
watch the walls fall apart,
as the veil lifts and reveals the devil behind the self-righteous mask.

Time gasps in horror.
Suspense grips the scene from right to left.
From clock to clock,
beat to beat.
From silence to infuriating,

Tick.

Tock.

Don’t be fooled.
Leap beyond the crevices created by human haste;
Cut through the noise of a fool’s embrace

For encased within both God’s command and claim,
is seared into human history and human hearts,
through living Word, and touchable scars.

The witness, not written by any movement of stars,
His “remember me!, whispered,
carried, through epochs and delivered thus far.

God breathed humanity into His name
And from the breath of angels,
their baritone awe is the same,

of wonder,
at grace,
of hooded silhouettes
and impossible handshakes.


(©RL2017)

‘Nothing is worse in times of danger than to live in a dream world. To warn a [democratic] political system of the menace hanging over it does not imply an attack against it, but is the greatest service one can render that system.’

(Jaques Ellul, Propaganda, xvi:1965)

 

Moving slowly with the wind,
.  elements of thread bare rags
.  sit idle on the parched and colourless ground.

Curled up in a ball.
Like a wounded child dressed in dust.

Frayed fabric sways,
shifted by the breeze and its biting thrust;
fragments of its former self.

Silently dancing to discordance
.            bowing to abandonment and its solemn discourse.
No owner to be found.

O dry-eyed,
.                   whimpering bundle;
.                   rarely loved,
.                   emptied of life,
.                   left to lie on the cold and barren ground.

Resolved you sit,
.               begging for patience to fill every tear less cry,

Sorrow heaves like vomit
. up through whisper, heart, and broken tongue,
.     the only prayers are sighs.

O hear the beating of distant drums
From morbid light to cheerful sun.

Raise your head to see
Your shadow in the hands of the One
.       who now stands,
.       and by your side,
.       picks you up to breathe.

Picks you up to give you life;
.  Life emptied of lifelessness,
.     Like day emptied of night.


(©RL2017)

‘And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.’

(Matthew 8:2-3, ESV)

Image credit: Rembrandt, The Leper at Capernaum, 1657-60

On page 291, of his 2013 book, Hollywood and Hitler, Thomas Doherty makes a small, but note worthy statement about the song “God Bless America.”  Written by Irving Berlin from an earlier tune called “Yip!, Yak!, Yaphank!” , “God Bless America”  was to become an unofficial second national anthem.

 ‘as the wave of antisemetic violence [during what was penned by journalists as Krystallnacht], in [Nazi Germany], was subsiding, the singer Kate Smith had long planned to dedicate her variety show program to the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, a solemn look back at the last war as the world stood on the brink of another. Smith asked Irving for a patriotic theme suitable for the occasion’[i]

Whilst it is right to describe “God Bless America” as a patriotic song, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it also fits well within the rubric of protest songs.

Cast in the light of his original intent, Berlin’s song is an anthem for peace. It rallies people of all races, around the banner of peace.

God Bless America” is perhaps also the most significant musical push-back against the onslaught of mid-20th century Nazism, to come out of America during that pre-WW2 era.

Post-1939, into, America’s 1942 involvement in the war; first in the Pacific, then in the North African, and European theatres, this prayer for peace, while still holding its integrity, extended its meaning towards a prayer for freedom.To call on God’s blessing is to call on His grace and victory.

And if prayer is, as Karl Barth asserted:

 ‘…the beginning of an uprising, [a revolt] against the disorder of the world’[ii]

Then “God Bless America” is a protest. It is an effective protest that draws people’s attention towards the great Other. Towards the God, who, in His Covenant with Israel, and it’s fulfilment in Jesus Christ, sets out to present Himself as the revolution against the disorder, that is set in play by false lords, false claims to authority, and all human versions of “ordering” the world, which takes place under those false claims, in total allegiance to those false lords*.

Irving’s lyrics join up with the voice of the Confessing Churches, who, in the 1934, Barmen declaration, led by Karl Barth, declared that any proposition that suggests, or asserts that salvation could come through Hitler, or any human, outside of or abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is false, and is therefore is to be utterly rejected. This is because:

‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying […] The one Word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’[iii]

There are no ways to God, there is only one way from God to us. Founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ. No man, woman, leader, idea or natural organism can lay claim to this revelation that lays claim to all of humanity, without usurping God. It’s not something that can be moulded, crafted and raised in the name of human triumphalism.

Irving Berlin’s song declares that before nations and governments, there is no other Lord, but God.

As problematic as ambiguity and nationalism[iv] that is attached to the song, can be; at its inception, “God Bless America” was conceived as an anthem for peace. It was written at a time when the majority of Americans understood God as the one who makes Himself known in history, as testified to in the Judeo-Christian Bible.

What “God Bless America” became was both a prayer and protest. It focuses, unites, humbles, and in combined song, rouses a challenge against all those who actively seek to do the opposite.

God Bless America” is a song of defiance in the face of an adverse and overwhelming enemy. As a prayer, it becomes the anthem for revolt. Not just against an oppressor from without, but also from within; against the sinful nature of the flesh that exists within each of us, to which God has answered, not by the way of man’s religion, and feeble attempts to save himself, by way of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

In “God Bless America” both the Sh’ma Yisrael and The Lord’s Prayer are heard. If we lean in close enough, we’ll hear Irving, Kate, Barth, Roosevelt and the many others, who, in fox holes, camps and gas chambers, ‘prayed both'[v], we may hear them “whisper their legacy”[vi] to American and non-American alike. I should point out that I’m not an American, but that doesn’t mean I’m exempt from joining in and singing the same kind of prayer and following the same kind of protest. For:

‘Even the “devils believe and tremble,” and I really believe they are more afraid of the Americans’ prayers than of their swords’
(Abigail Adams, 1775, Letters #55)


References:

[i]  Doherty, T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939, Columbia University Press, p.291

[ii]  Barth, K. CD Fragments IV:4

[iii]  Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A. pp.23 & 37

[iv] For more on this see Sheryl Kaskowitz’s article ‘How “God Bless America” became a conservative anthem’

[v] Victor Frankl: we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.’ Man’s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press. p. 134.

[vi] Robin Williams, 1989. The Dead Poets Society.

*According to an unverified source, the Klu Klux Klan, only with Pro-American Nazi’s are said to have boycotted the song. The only source I could find, so far, which mentions this, is parade.com:  6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Song ‘God Bless America’ 

Original image credit: Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash

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Weightless effigies collide in a disembodied world.
Time and space melt through pixelated moulds.
Ambulating artefacts plugged into wire, fiction,
and the illusion of communal hold.

Minds are plunged into formlessness.
There is no such thing as peace.
Life plugged into lifelessness,
.      where reason and faith cease.

Human blood runs through silicon veins,
.   false achievement becomes a commodity,
.            buying and selling souls chained to the game;
.   false lords, colluding with extremes,
Masters to slaves,
.            forcing the fight for existence between gambit and guillotine.

Every written opposition,
.         each noun,
.         each verb;
.         each electrified word,
.         even if eloquently sung,
.         via comments, is from the gallows, hung.

The society of strangers lined up in drab, conforming rows.
Thought, faith and true freedom, filtered out from within the flow.

But, lightening moves knighted apparitions,
.      there one second, then gone the next.
Holy attendants, heads covered in hoods.
Concealed by the night, as if concealed by soot.

Their presence whispers,
.            of what is to come,
.       as their voices hymn in the Gregorian, baritone, tongue:

“For God still lives, and so, God speaks.
The arrogance of human revolution is breached
Know, He comes,
.          the new exodus, claimed via Crucis.
The once and forever,
Prince of Peace, God’s only begotten Son.”


(©RL2017)

‘…the poor man that loveth Christ is richer than the greatest man in the world that hates Him.’

(John Bunyan, Pilgrims Progress, Faithful talking to Christian)

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Sanity pins the past out in patterns;
doors emerge between then and now.

.    Ghosts live here,
.    and they dress memories in dread.

Surrounded by four right-angled curves of abuse;
Weighed down by broken mirrors,
.    their cursed shards scream out in cycles of excuse.

As the fog of their image fades in and out,
.    painted words scratch blood lines onto my reflected face.

Attempting to lay old claims;
.    then from within them, as if in pain,
.    silent snarls and smirks, distort their pale images.

Drawn, like swords, their fingers point to my chest.

Some unseen presence has disturbed them, in their contorted place of rest.

Drawn, like swords, their fingers point to my right and then to my left.

Midnight Walkers, absent of wings,
.              uphold the bereft.

Transparent companions,
.                    their prayers always accompanied by command
.                    and gracious invitation.

Never demanding for themselves my attention.

These human-like strangers travel in pairs.

Acting with intention,
.          only ever seen in rare moments of intermission,
.          they serve God’s interventions.

Messengers, autographed in blood-red.

Echo the Living Word and what He has spoken:

“You’re never alone. For angels shadow the broken.”


 (©RL2017)

“it is the spirit of man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand; the Spirit of God. Has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. For God is greater than man. He has redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and my life shall look upon the light.”

(Job 32:8, 33:4, 28, ESV)