This past Sunday was one of the high-holy days of the year at CMC – Music Sunday of the Advent/Christmas season. Children began the service with a sampling of music they had shared the night before for the Christmas play, the choir sang the songs they carefully rehearsed this fall, instrumentalists added their wordless language of beauty, and everyone present had plenty of opportunity to participate in the full choir, a.k.a., congregational singing. And it was a full house. As far as I can tell, that service and Easter are the best attended of the year.
This Advent I’m appreciating the opportunities to reflect on my recent learning tour to Israel/Palestine and one of the things I understand in a deeper way as a result of that trip is the power of singing in sustaining the soul. I didn’t grow up singing four part harmony and still mumble my way through it at times, but I love being in the company of others who carry me along. When you travel with a group of Mennonite pastors, you end up singing more than your average civilians. During those two weeks we sang blessings for meals and benedictions to end the day. But we also sang with Palestinian Christians during a worship service. We sang a blessing for Mennonite Central Committee workers who are daily surrounded by trauma and violence. We sang right outside the walls of a major detention center, a place where Palestinian youth and adults are held as political prisoners, the vast majority for nonviolent offenses, subject to all kinds of dehumanizing treatment. “The best and the brightest of Palestine are within those walls,” our guide told us, himself having been imprisoned on five different occasions.
What became clearer to me during those times was that when we sang, it wasn’t so much that we were singing about something: singing about love, singing about healing, singing about hope. Rather than singing about hope, it felt much more like we were singing as hope. We were singing not so much about freedom as the singing itself became an act of freedom. The songs weren’t so much about love as they were acts of love. Through these songs I understood better how the Civil Rights participants must have felt, and continue to feel, when they sing, “We shall overcome.” It’s not merely an expression of what one hopes happens in the future, although it certainly is that. It is itself an act of overcoming. An act of choosing hope over despair, expression over silence, community over isolation.
When the people come out to John the Baptist in the wilderness, they ask, “What then should we do?” When you don’t have the power to physically break down concrete walls, when you can’t right the injustices you witness, what can you do? Sing! Sing as if your life depended on it, because it might. Sing because you can, and even if you can’t do it well, sing because you’ve chosen to surround yourself with people who sing.
This Sunday, Christmas Eve, and in the Sundays to follow, we will continue to sing. We sing about the coming of Christ, but the singing itself embodies Christ’s coming to us. We are more fully human, and more divine, more Christ-like, when we sing, and can’t nobody take that away from you.
OK, so the Christmas season is about a whole lot more than getting and receiving gifts, but most of us likely participate in gift exchanges to one degree or another. Keeping it in the category of old-school print media, with a progressive Anabaptist flavor, below are three items our family has especially enjoyed which might be fitting gifts for people in your life.
This is a lovely way to introduce 50+ key Bible stories to young children. The text is written by Desmond Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of South Africa so active in helping his country heal from the Apartheid era. He highlights themes of love, justice, and inclusion without avoiding some of the more difficult themes scripture also presents. Each story ends with a brief prayer. A real highlight is the artwork. Leading artists around the world were invited to illustrate a story in their own cultural style, so the stories together have the feeling of a global village. Eve and Lily have outgrown this for the most part but I’m looking forward to reading it again with Ila.
Mark is a leader in The Mennonite Worker community in Minneapolis. He pitched the idea for this book as a Kickstarter project a couple years ago and received far more funding than anticipated, so hired a friend to add illustrations. The result is a creatively told story with beautiful illustrations. The story is an imaginative retelling of the legend of St. Francis and the wolf, with the wolf as the main character. The Blood Wolf despises humans and terrorizes a village until The Beggar King passes through and works a peace agreement between wolf and villagers. Themes of reconciliation, peacemaking, hunger, survival, and animal/human relationships all make for good conversation after – and during – the reading.
This quarterly magazine pretty much rocks. It takes on the toughest issues of our time, but focuses its journalism on creative solutions and positive community actions around the country. Each issue addresses a particular theme, with recent issues including: “The Debt Issue,” “Make it Right: Black Lives Matter,” “Together, with Earth,” and “Cities are Now.” Stories give good analysis but angle toward the personal, the practical, and the positive. Yes! is composed of diverse voices, with women and racial minorities leading the way. It does not speak from an explicit faith perspective, but shares many values with people seeking to live in healthy relationship with themselves, neighbors, and the planet. Four issues only cost $15 and if you buy one subscription you get a second free, so you can get one for yourself and a friend.
May our faith infiltrate our purchasing decisions this Christmas season.