Sometimes large tragedies – even 100,000 dead in Haiti – don’t really strike home unless you personally know someone who has been killed. This phenomenon has been on my mind all day.
We – the world – have received news today of the death of Ben Larson, a friend of mine from Luther, buried in the rubble of the devastation in Haiti. Though I can imagine an easy-going Ben reassuring everyone that it was his time and we shouldn’t be too upset, this is clearly a huge loss to a wide-ranging community. After a rough day at work, I came home hoping to scan through old Nordic photos and find some of Ben. And while I did just that…
I came across an even greater treasure that I forgot I had! When I was a sophomore at Luther, Ben was a senior, and the president of Nordic Choir. Ben humbly (and hilariously) led his people by great example and a hearty presence. Somehow, everything with Ben seemed fun, every concert worth giving, and every choir member worth loving. It makes sense then, in retrospect, that I would have attended his senior chapel talk at Luther… and that I would have loved it. And that I would have asked Ben to forward me a copy of it! You’ll find below the inspiring words that Ben shared with us that day. I hope this brings back as many good memories for you – whomever you are – as it did for me…
First of all I would like to thank the pastors for giving me the opportunity to speak here today- it is the perfect cap to a wonderful four years at this college.
Today I would like to share with all of you one of my deepest passions, and I’m sure it is no secret to most of you. “Global Music.” I have spent the last four years being very involved with leading music at this institution, and much of my involvement has been leading and performing Global music. Now my goal here with this meditation today is to convince all of you that you too love global music, not only that you love it, but you can never again live without it.
My personal passion stems back to my childhood. My mom was a music leader at the first global mission event in the ELCA. The first song I really have a memory of singing in church is “We are marching in the light of God.” Shaking pop cans filled with rice and clapping along with our small church in the middle of Iowan countryside. And yes, Norwegians can dance and sing.
The second major impact from my childhood was the “Freedom is Coming” album, which is an album made by a small group of Swedish missionary types who recorded a bunch of South African songs that were sung in freedom marches during apartheid.
My third global music impact from my childhood was Paul Simon’s Graceland Album that he made in South Africa during apartheid.
Because of these influences, African music has always been a part of my musical world, and I feel it has done nothing but completely enrich my faith and my worship experiences.
Now just like my call to spread the Gospel I have always felt a call to spread this music because I believe it does have so much to offer.
The diversity in songs when the entire body of Christ is represented can bring a forgotten presence to worship. That presence is solidarity. I cannot think of anytime when I was severely oppressed, but singing the South African song Bambelayla, meaning “never give up,” which we have sung many times in chapel, reminds me that part of the body of Christ is living in a life style where the gospel gives them the hope and inspiration to never give up. These words “Never give up” are the only text in the whole song, but given the context and the story behind the music, there is a powerful idea of God presented. It is the idea that God is present in struggle. Global music like this reminds me of the suffering in the body along with the power of the gospel amidst suffering. Singing Global music provides the congregation with more diverse ideas of God than any single culture can provide. Using the music of the world to sing to God creates a healthier and more powerful vision of the Body of Christ. When Jesus comes again it will not be a uni-lingual event.
My next point for why we are in need of singing a global song in our worship can best be expressed by a story from choir tour.
Once upon a J-break, I was touring with the Nordic Choir. It was Sunday morning and there was no service. I was feeling a little empty because I had not missed a Sunday morning worship service since Nordic Tour the year before. So I took a page out of my parent’s book to hold a fun little worship service on the bus.
I was putting together this worship service when I ran into a serious problem. What are we going sing? After all, music is second only to the word according to Luther and this bus is filled with musicians- we couldn’t worship without song. So I tried to think of songs everyone could sing together. Wrong context for the Doxology. Amazing grace? Overdone. Jesus loves me? Too childish. How about simple camp songs? Hey, these are good musicians with standards. I wasn’t going to get this bus excited about singing camp songs written for kids. What was I going to do? I realized at this moment that our church has a problem, a huge void in our worship music. Without an LBW, WOV or PowerPoint technology we are at a loss for songs. And this is not acceptable.
In our gospel text, when Mary found out that God was to become human and squeeze out of her and become a powerless infant that can’t even lift its own head, in a family at the bottom of the power chain she was ready to burst, in two different ways. She did not have time to find the organist and track down an LBW- she was going to sing right now, full throat, because she could do no other. That is when she sang the Magnificat.
My situation on the bus may have been a little less dramatic, but the idea is the same. We needed spontaneous song. However, unlike Mary, our song was to be communal. This is where these African songs that I have loved my whole life come into play. Many of them are written spontaneously with intentions of being communal.
Now it is dangerous and wrong to say that Christians or even Lutherans lack this spontaneous music because it is just not true. We just lack them in our context right here right now. What I have just recently come to realize is that when we are singing global songs, we are not singing “their” songs, we are singing “our” songs. They are coming from different geographical areas, but they come out of the body that we all belong to. They are our songs because there is no longer Jew nor Greek, servant or free, woman or man – we are all one in Christ Jesus. And this is how I know.
When I taught the first global song to Bus 1 on Nordic Tour, it captivated all of us. What happened after that is exactly what this meditation is all about. We took ownership of it. It was not “their” song, it became “our” song. Not stealing it from those who wrote it but joining in community with those who wrote it. It became a bridge across the body of Christ. It became the song that we sang every time we felt the need as a choir to burst into song. We used it after devos, before concerts, after concerts, during devos. It fulfilled our place for spontaneous song.
I truly, with every bone in my body, believe that if we allow it to, global music can bring to life spontaneous singing in our church here in America, Iowa, and here at Luther College. If we are going to be overcome with sudden joy as Mary was and need to burst out into song, and if we are going to do this as an entire cloud of witnesses, then it is time that we learned this music from part of the cloud that will help us all celebrate the good news in all situations, spontaneously.
So now I want to invite some of my Nordic friends as well as some of my norsemen friends to come up here because we are feeling the need for spontaneous song right now, and we would like you all to join us in this song:
Many of us remember the “Hallelujahs” we sang to support the good word that Rev Larson shared. Let us continue to remember Ben in song, spreading the love of music – spontaneously inspired music – to everyone. Here’s to Nordic Choir – past, present, and future, and to all the emotions music has allowed me to feel and share.