There’s a song by Simon and Garfunkel entitled simply “Silent Night/7 O’Clock News” that I’ve come to really love. It’s not even 2 and a half minutes long, and it is one of the most potent songs I know, and I’m upset that it’s taken me so long to become familiar with it. The song, if you aren’t familiar with it, is exactly what the title claims: Silent Night played over recordings of the 7 o’clock news; a song akin to a lullaby for Jesus and a report of conflict, loss, and tragedy forced together like two incongruent puzzle pieces, two opposing powers from whom harmony is being demanded.
I’ve said before that worship isn’t where I tend to encounter God most powerfully or often. I’ll read and listen to poetry, prose, and memoirs, and I’ll see God weaving a narrative of redemption in minuscule details of people’s broken lives, but when I stand up to carry a tune most Sunday mornings, I fear some of the beauty of what’s happening is often lost on me.
Yesterday, however, some of that beauty came through.
Saturday, I was somehow able to convince Mackenzie that it would be a good idea to see two movies in the same way, catching the matinee of Birdman before a later showing of Selma. These are both outstanding movies, and while my mind stirred to unravel the artistry in the former, I found that my heart was preoccupied with the latter.
If you haven’t seen Selma, I strongly encourage you to make plans to do so. The movie is graceful, and it does not flinch away from its own material.
In Selma, there are several scenes that depict the atrocities committed against the African American community by the police, the hurdle posed by the government and systems of justice, and the palpable divide in community in a “non-segregated” U.S.
I wondered Sunday morning as I sang if we could give these worship songs the Simon and Garfunkel treatment. Instead of the lyrics, typed up in white Calibri font against a black background, could we roll footage of demonstrators being run down by police on horseback, being battered by night sticks and plagued by gas canisters, tripping over themselves in their own haste to find refuge from their own communities and still fervently sing “You are good, You are good” and “You make beautiful things”?
And the only answer, I believe, is absolutely.
In fact, it is vital that we do so.
Because yesterday morning I had a moment of clarity as the continuing struggle of racism and injustice of every kind sat heavily on my heart, that reminded me that worship serves as a function of acknowledging God’s reality as it conflicts with the reality of the world around us.
Worship speaks truth into spaces where truth does not appear valuable or feasible. But truth isn’t something that is always apparent. Sometimes truth has to be demanded. That is where it’s on us, as a body of believers in a risen and reigning king, to demand it.
Ours is a world where Ferguson, Missouri finds its way into the spotlight because a young man is shot and killed and the officer is not indicted and the citizens of that community, and many more citizens of the nation and world, are not satisfied with that model of justice. And so Twitter becomes a battlefield and Facebook becomes a landfill and minefield of opinions poured into a prompt bar asking “What’s on your mind?” and not prepared to receive answers of anger, frustration, desperation, hate, ignorance, helplessness, and resentment in the same way those who ask a casual “how are you?” are not prepared to receive those same responses from their fellow person. Ours is a world where the spotlight stays only for a moment, when things are especially inflamed, and then swings away to leave those citizens to their daily lives, their standard of ordinary now vastly different, and tragically the same, though the public eye now appears to be disinterested. The fires have not left Ferguson.
Ours is a world where France is rocked by massacre in a magazine publication. Ours is a world where sex slavery and FGM are not only the problems of rural regions of less-developed countries, but also in supposedly developed countries, as well. Ours is a world where people will take an idea and run with it to the extreme until it morphs into something that was never intended to be such as a line out of a country’s founding document or a passage from a holy text. Ours is a world where teenagers find it better to leave the world than to stay in the face of hatred toward their orientation or gender identity. The fires have not left France, nor our backyards.
I think of these things. I think of what I saw in Selma and how closely it parallels what I’ve seen in the news the past few months. And part of me struggles to sing of God’s goodness in places where it is so hard to see.
Light of the world forever reign. You make beautiful things our of us. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
These words proclaim truth. This truth is spoken into a world that would have us believe otherwise. Regardless of the specific content of X or Y worship song, they each proclaim the truth and reality of a God who is present and moving in this world.
Silent Night speaks to Jesus as a tiny, tender child that has come into the world to redeem it. Revelation Song declares the glory of that same child reigning into eternity, declares the power of that same child that is still present in the world and will be present for all time.
God is moving now. God is present now.
Halfway through the songs on Sunday morning, I realized how much I’d been thinking about all this. It was too much. Not too much to handle, but too much thinking. So that’s where I want to leave you now, reader: allow yourself to be surrounded by and swept up in the truth of these songs. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used them in his speeches, and it was for good reason.
Maybe he saw something that I, too, have now learned. He knew something about truth, and he strove to speak it into a world that would offer an unsatisfying, displeasing alternative. So he spoke from songs, and dipped from that well of truth.
And God’s wells don’t have a habit of running dry.