Wearing love and singing our hearts out.
Did you hear the news this week? Another Guatemalan child died in the custody of US Customs and Border Protection. He was 8 years old. His name was Felipe Gómez Alonzo.
Making the dangerous trek to the U.S. to get away from the overwhelming violence in his own country, Felipe was the second child to die in US custody this month – 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, died on December 8, and was buried Christmas Day in her hometown of Raxruhá, Guatemala.
What do we do in the face of this? What do we do as citizens of this country, when children are dying, when families are separated at our borders, when people are being tear-gassed while simply trying to find a safe place to live, and raise their families?
Of course we can write to our representatives and post our anger about it on social media, and show up at protest marches… and all that is something and maybe, hopefully, will make a difference.
But what if we’re also people who want to follow Jesus, who claim to follow a God who’s for the least of these, a God who calls us to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly? What else do we do? What else can we do?
This morning I was reading the lectionary texts suggested for this Sunday and read again a passage from Colossians 3 that I’d almost forgotten about.
“As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…and be thankful.Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
As a songwriter, I especially like how The Message translates that last line: “And sing, sing your hearts out to God!”
It felt a little like God was reminding me this morning, that one of the things we can do is sing.
Reminding me to believe that singing matters, in the larger scheme of things.
As the lyricist for the band, The Many, I have to say, I think singing, and especially singing songs that embody some of that compassion, kindness, wisdom and love the writer of Colossians was talking about, is very important. Because, I’ve seen how singing together makes a difference, can help us be braver, more kind and compassionate, and can even remind us to love, when all we feel is fear.
Those are the kind of songs we’ve been trying to write over the last few years and the kind The Many have been singing, and sharing and inviting others to sing with us, songs that give people the space and grace to name out loud what is actually going on in our world, not to ignore it, or deny it, but to begin to lament it, and imagine another way, together.
“Lovely, Needy People” is one of those songs. Inspired in part by the image of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and his words, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” And though it was written several years ago, these words feel like they could have been written about Felipe and Jakelin.
Oh you children ripped and torn
Battered, bruised and worn.
All who look hate in the face,
Locked in hate’s embrace,
"Kyrie Elieson" are some of the most ancient words that have survived from the earliest church liturgies and mean "Lord Have Mercy." So in this song of lament we can reconnect with those ancient words, and then go on to sing and remember “there is mercy enough, grace enough, love enough, for all of us.”
Forsaken is another song of lament we wrote during Lent of 2016, right after the president signed his Muslim travel ban. It was written during a week when refugees were being abandoned all over the world, left to wash up on the shores of our fear. So, yeah, really a week not that different than a lot of weeks we’ve been having lately.
Writing it, we kept coming back to Jesus when he was being executed on the cross. He cried out to God, as so many innocent victims of violence and hate and exclusion have cried out, and continue to cry out still - "Why have you forsaken me?" There are no easy answers here, just the hope that God is with us, "crying with us, dying with us, praying with us, holding us too." And also the hope that maybe if we allow ourselves to truly lament, we will also find the courage to work to change things.
Written originally as a simple chant, “Tear Down the Walls,” is a song we started in response to all the people calling for our country to “Build that wall!” Penned as a prayer for the courage and faith to take down all the walls in our world, as so often happens when you’re writing a song, we discovered deeper truths along the way - in this one, the realization that we are all building walls, all the time, and that no walls will come down until we acknowledge and confess our own complicity, our own investment in the walls between us.
We bring the wood, the iron, the concrete, the fire
We build these walls every day.
We carry the hurt, the fears, the shame, and the tears.
Our beautiful barricade
These walls - we hate them.
But these walls, we make them.
All throughout this last month, we’ve been singing a song we wrote a few years ago for Advent, one called Room for Us All. It grew out of the harsh reality that “no room at the inn” is a story so many refugees and immigrants on our planet hear today…like Jesus, they are people without privilege or power or a warm bed. It was written also thinking about the refugee and exile that lives inside all of us, who have known at one point or another, what it’s like to not be welcomed -whether that's because of the way we look, where we come from, who we love, what we believe. And it’s also about how hard it is to welcome others in, to open the door, not lock love away. It ends with the affirmation that Jesus’ coming transforms our understanding of who’s in and who’s out and a reminder that “we are on this earth to love.”
“Room For Us All” is a great song for the Christmas season – but honestly it’s one we sing all year long. And those words, “We are on this earth to love…” have become a sort of mantra for our band – we’ve even got mugs and T-shirts emblazoned with those words. For us it’s been a powerful way to stay grounded in the truth that, as Colossians reminds us, we must live in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, we must clothe ourselves in love, wear love on our sleeves… wear it everywhere, wear it out, wear it ‘til it’s threadbare…and also, of course…keep singing our hearts out.