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Missing From Our Hymnals: Peacemaking Songs

November 12, 2009

Click image to watch "The Impact of Love"

Don’t get me wrong.  John Lennon’s peace song Imagine moves me.

But does the dream of “living as one” have to mean “nothing … to die for, and no religion too?”  Where is the art of the church to move hearts and minds toward a deeper and different vision of peace in the concreteness of the world we live in?

Ugandans at our Duke Summer Institute sang and danced the story of the Ugandan martyrs, the first Christians there who chose to die in 1866 rather than renounce that Christ was Lord to the king. “Where are songs about John Perkins?  Jean Vanier?  Dorothy Day?” I wondered, others who lived sacrificially for God’s peace.  Later at the Institute a Japanese composer offered the hauntingly beautiful Poem of the Pain.  This lament for the Queen of Korea killed by the Japanese helped us feel pain and hope walking together.  A spontaneous, joyful gospel choir also formed, singing from the African-American tradition which told the truth about God amidst a mainstream church making peace with slavery (see the song Go Down Moses).

Thank God for restless Duke Divinity student and Black Seminarians Union member Darriel Harris.  I was blown away by “The Impact of Love,” his”Spoken Word” performance at Duke’s juried arts exhibit Reconciling All Things.

Watch, feel, be moved by Darriel’s performance.  How can we inspire more art like this–visual, musical, story-telling–which moves hearts and minds towards God’s way to peace?  Through such art God offers powerful and unique gifts at times when, as Darriel puts it,

“… the world crumbles and nations rumble

When the sky is falling, when atrocities occur that are past appalling

When things fall apart that you’re personally involved in

When problems arise with no adequate solution to solve them”

We need art which moves hearts and minds toward the stories and story which is missing from our hymnals, Sunday services, and songs we sing to our children.  Art which points us to the stories and visions which remind us, as Darriel puts it, that:

“Christ is the power to transform

The power to give shelter in the midst of the storm

To erase situations to adjust the norm

To make you see clearer and make you perform.”

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. His writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Amaryah permalink
    November 13, 2009 11:36 am

    Hey Chris,

    This is Amaryah from the 15th Ave. Community @ Belmont University in Nashville. When you came to Belmont and were talking about ethics and aesthetics, music and the lack of these kinds of songs, that really stuck with me. But I’ve been trying to write more and more out of that place, too, partly because I need it, but also because I think we all need to hear from those deep places in others too. So thanks for sharing your words on this and Darnell’s spoken word. It’s wonderful.


  2. Mary Jo permalink
    November 16, 2009 7:09 pm

    Thank you, Darriel, for helping me to “remember love” in such a moving way….and thank you, Chris for using all different “languages” to spread God’s message of reconciliation!

  3. william Pannell permalink
    December 7, 2009 3:39 pm

    Thanks for the words about the hymnals. I agree of course, but also thank the folks who write for their sensitivity to the place of the arts in worship. Our senses really need to be opened. I have been speaking about another lack in our singing from hymnals or praise songs. That is our preference for lyrics that focus on the “me” of Christian experience. The Scriptures do speak of individuals and all that, but it seems to me to be more about the “us” of believer- life together. God has always sought to be among a people who live for the glory of a Triune Presence. Oh boy, that’ll preach. Spirit of God descend upon…our hearts?”

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