Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Psalms of Revolution

Revolutionary-inspired poster one of a series
created by Seattle Mennonite Church artists
Lisa Bade, Debbie Shank Miller, Linda Pauw
and John Flickinger for Advent worship.
The first time I heard “One Tin Soldier” at camp as an 8 year old, my young mind was blown and my world turned around: the treasure that the mountain and valley people had fought and destroyed for was peace on earth!! Whoa. This song along with songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “If I Had a Hammer” were staples in the camp peace-anthem catalog.

There’s nothing wrong with those old gems. In keeping with our Advent theme of 'Revolutionary Songs' we’ve sung a few of them in recent weeks in worship. But there’s more to revolutionary song than acoustic guitars around the campfire. When I was in college, rap-metal rockers Rage Against the Machine moved my generation to push back against the machinery of wealth and empire. My well-behaved Mennonite classmates and I banged our heads to lyrics like “some of those that work the forces are the same that burn the crosses” and “f*** you I won’t do what you tell me” in “Killing In the Name Of”. I looked them up again this week and discovered the video for ‘Sleep Now in The Fire.” This guerrilla-shot video lambasting the excess of Wall Street, is directed by Michael Moore and worth watching even if you don’t dig the hard-edged music.

More recently I’ve been appreciating revolutionary hip-hop staples. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” is a hip-hop classic that will make you excited to take the revolution to the street. Twenty five years later, A Tribe Called Quest, contemporaries with Public Enemy in the early 90’s have returned with an album including the single “We the people” calling out systems that exclude people of color, LGBTQ folk, Muslims and immigrants. Seattle’s own Macklemore and Ryan Lewis extol the virtues of the thriftshop (maybe not revolutionary, but something we simple Mennos can appreciate) but also stand up for same-gender marriage equality.

Protest songs have come a long way. And yet, the tin soldier, the fight against power, the celebration of love are all reflective of the original revolutionary songs: the Psalms. The Psalmist sings out in anger and frustration for vengeance against its ‘devastator’ in Psalm 137, sings in hope and confidence that the poor will be raised up in Psalm 72, sing the reminder that mortal rulers are ultimately not to be trusted in Psalm 146. The Psalms are full of emotion ranging from the depths of sorrow to ecstatic joy and always giving God’s revolutionary people an opportunity to praise the One who is turning the world around.

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