Leaving… but somehow just beginning

My bags are packed (well mostly packed) and some of me is ready to go but the other part is just getting started here.

Yesterday I had an amazing meeting with an amazing women named Sarah who is earning her masters of theology at Uganda Christian University. She was introduced to me through Dr. Nassaka. We sat on the lush green lawn of UCU and discussed writing a theological Women’s development curriculum for village women. We decided it would be a 10-week curriculum and discussed the following issues:

  1. Traditional Culture, Modernity, and Christianity
  2. Who is God? And What about the Trinity
  3. Bible Interpretations and Methodology
  4. Women’s worth and leadership in the story of Deborah
  5. Gender Roles
  6. Health Practices and Sickness
  7. Family Planning
  8. Polygamy and Domestic Violence
  9. Basic Financial Knowledge: How to save, how to invest in small business, how to spend
  10. Marketing buying and selling products

This is no small task, but I have yet to find a curriculum like this one that addresses all domains of life physical, spiritual, relational, emotional and intellectual. Some focus on financial development, while others focus on health practices and others spiritual needs. We are hoping that each teaching can stem from a Bible story and/or example and empower all domains of the women’s life. We are going to co-write the whole thing. Parts that I will write will be added to and reviewed by Sarah — I am very excited!

In addition Rose has just started building the United Methodist Women’s Empowerment Center of Jinja! She is going to teach the women to raise Chickens and grow mushrooms in addition to financial and business development.  More on this later –with pictures!

There is so much amazing and exciting work to be done here and it is being completed by women who love God and others with their whole hearts. I am thankful to be part of their team and hopeful that I will continue to discover what it means to love God and love others though this work and their example.

Somehow these tangents connect in my head…

It’s been 4 weeks in Uganda and I still wake up in the morning under my mosquito net and think: Whoa, I’m in Africa.

Sometimes it’s not the mosquito net that reminds me it’s the blaring radio music as early as 7:30am.  There is a constant backdrop of pop music played from house windows, restaurants, stores, churches pretty much anywhere there could be a radio playing it is on and usually at full volume.  There is a song I hear literally 5 times a day (I heard it 6 times yesterday).  Actually pretty much anytime I hear it I say to whomever I’m with, I have never heard this song!  (My sarcasm is usually lost on them but I get a kick out of it.) The song is called, Takatiki.  Takatiki is the sound a clock makes like our tick tock.  The song is about a woman who is waiting for her lover to come home, to call, and to be with her.

Last night I went out to listen to live music.  Much of our pop music trickles over to Uganda, but there are many pop Ugandan and African songs.  Another popular song is sung by a man and says, I would rather be with an ugly woman who can produce children and welcome others than just a beautiful woman.  Another one is called Mwami which is the word for husband in Lusoga (it sounds a lot like “mommy” and I originally thought she was calling for her mommy).  A woman is singing to her husband who fulfills her.

Before I left the states, my best friend recommended that I read the book: He’s Just Not That Into You.  (This is the kind of book that only your best friend who loves you and knows your past relationships recommends) I didn’t get a chance to read it, so I brought it with me to Uganda. Basically the book is about the excuses women make for men who may treat them poorly in various situations anything from not calling to fear of commitment to dating other girls it tells the reader to get rid of the guy who is just not into them.  I laughed a lot at myself then I thought about these Ugandan pop songs and the many American pop songs about fulfillment in being intimate with another person.  I am realizing that a lot of empowering women is helping us realize that our worth is not dependent on the men in our lives.

Polygamy has touched so much of this society.  You can see the pain it causes the women and children and the church, for the most part, is silent.  The church does not want to split families and is struggling to address the even deeper issue of poverty.  I want to know what goes through the heart and mind of the third wife and what about the lives of her children?

Friday I went to a culture day with Mukwaya (my teacher/introduction leader friend).  It’s the African version of solo and ensemble where every school choir in a district sings for judges.  Each culture day has a theme to educate the community and has numerous performances.  First each choir must sing the East African Anthem then they compete with speeches, traditional songs, original compositions, and traditional instruments.  This culture day was about the East African Community. I learned that Uganda, Rwanda, Brundi, Kenya, and Tanzania are in a partnership and will soon have one currency.  The speeches and some of the original compositions were advocating for open trade between the countries and have a single language, Swahili.  One of the original compositions talked about poverty and how the east African community is helping to end poverty and children suffering. (I kept thinking I hope this is more like the European union and not NAFTA.)

The traditional songs and instruments were my favorite!  There were no endongos, but there were many children playing the endingidi (thumb piano) and endungu (bow harp).  It was sometimes hard to hear.  I had a really good seat for the anthems, but it got REALLY long and REALLY hot inside the hall space, so I gave up my seat to get some air outside.  When we came back we stood in the back but Mukwaya made sure to translate the songs.  One of the songs was about being a barren woman.  She went to the witch doctor and he blessed her and then she had twins!  The kids energetically acted out the whole thing ha ha!

Ugandan School Song and Dance 100_0271 100_0272

Almost every day this week I have visited with a woman’s group or choir.  I love the time I get to spend with the women because each group is different and I never know what to expect and I always learn something new!  Thursday I met with a group of women who have a development project where they teach women to sew for 5000 shillings a month (that’s $2).  I met some of the women sewing, some with their babies at their feet.  They learn on paper bags, but eventually they are able to make cloths to sell or find a job in town.  It was originally made for the women in the church, but now they have opened it to the community.  This church has a fantastic choir they taught me three songs.

I love choir rehearsals without the instruments present or when the power is out.  Almost every church, in which I have been, has an electric keyboard. I have yet to meet a woman piano player. It was explained to me that men play the instruments because a woman does not have time to learn. The instrumentalist uses one of the 10 drum loops on the keyboard and plays it behind every choir song. Many piano players do a great job of playing by ear and they transpose each of the songs using the black keys.  Yet, it is always TOO LOUD.  It is impossible for me to teach a song with a drum loop and someone trying to figure out chords in the background.  So, I usually ask them to learn the song with me, then I helped them learn the accompaniment.

Kawala UMC DancingSAM_1937

I have to constantly tell myself to slow my speech, especially when teaching.  Today I was in a group and no one was willing to translate, so I spend 1.5 hours speaking slowly to a room full of blank stares by the grace of God we learned the song, “Draw Me Close to You.”

Saturday I went to a beauty parlor, mostly because I wanted the experience to see how and where women get their hair done, but I also wanted to get my toes painted.  I waited for about an hour and watched a weave put into a woman’s head and some other women get up-dos and then put on a gomsei.  My pedicure took about an hour I don’t think my feet have ever been cleaner!  The boy scrubbed my feet!!  I had to ask him to stop because I was worried I would not have any skin left! The basin for my feet was filled with burning hot water, so I knew that it was clean and the water for the clippers was steaming too, so I felt pretty good about the whole thing It cost 15,000 shillings, which is about $6 and my toes look great.  However, my feet became dusty again the moment I walked outside!

Thank you if you are still reading — I realize this is just a random assortment of thoughts and experiences… but I have to share these experiences of a lifetime and find a way to process the privileged that I own in order to have them!

Niabo is how you address a woman in Luganda

I came to Uganda very interested in researching woman’s issues, particularly agency, development, and dignity, through music.  It has been difficult for me to communicate my research.  When a musungu enters a setting – especially a church, they are expected to teach or preach.  But, I want to listen and learn from them!!  I have begun to understand that it is culturally rude if, as a visitor, I do not address the congregation.  Since I am here under the hospitality of the Church, I prepare to preach and teach and hope that later there is time to hear from them.  I have noticed that it’s after the service and the many activities that women must do, that I am able to hear from them.

I have visited many women’s church gatherings.  The come expecting to hear a Bible lesson from the musungu visitor.  At my first meeting I tried to arrange the chairs in a circle, so that we could all be part of the conversation.  It didn’t happen, they only sat in the chairs facing me in the circle and as they trickled into the gathering they sat in the pews behind those chairs.

Anyone who has been in a Bible study that I lead knows that I mostly try to ask questions and hope that the group will be forth coming with their opinion and thoughts.  I feel my primary job is to help come up with a group interpretation and make sure everyone gets a turn to speak.  My first lesson with the women was about Sarah and God’s promise to her.  I had many questions about the story, how Sarah must have felt, what Sarah thought of her promise, and what we feel God is promising us, etc.  However, with each question all I got was… blank stares.

So I wrapped up my unsuccessful lesson with: God gave Sarai a new name to be Sarah, princess of people.  God gives us a new name as “Christians” to be examples of Christ in the world and leaders in the church.

Phew.  That’s over.  What next?!… With about an hour to spare and really nothing else to do, I decided to teach them a song.

Caveat:  English is the language spoken in schools and in official settings.  So I have a translator in almost every setting I encounter and it is usually a man.  I mostly know praise songs in English and Spanish… so, let’s hope these women are open to learning an English song.  I chose, “There is a Name” by Byron Cage.  (This song has much significance to me… but that’s a story for another day).  I sang it for them and they seemed to enjoy both the song and my voice – maybe this lesson won’t be a complete bust.

Cultural Note:  When I am introduced or introduce myself to women, many do not make eye contact with me – it doesn’t matter if I hug or shake hands, they are usually looking downward.  I’m not sure why.  I asked Rose and she said that it’s a sign of respect (Rose is one of the most amazing women I have ever met (!!) and will blog about our adventures soon).  When I ask a woman’s name and she will answer in a quiet and timid voice.  I try to repeat her name so that she will say it again—but it comes back to me just as soft.  When a woman greets a man, it is common for her to kneel when they shake hands, which is another sign of respect and submission.

That said, when the women sing… their voices are strong, loud, bright, and penetrating.  It’s like they come alive.

I wrote the repetitive lyrics of “There is a Name” on a very old chalkboard and they placed it on an easel in the front of the room.  I taught them using call and response and the woman picked it up quickly.  It was beautiful to hear their voices and the accent come through on the melody.

Since that meeting I have taught many English songs in exchange for Luganda/Swahili/Indigenous songs.

In another women’s group setting they taught me this song.  I did not pick up the language as easily, but the melody is upbeat and beautiful:

Omukwano gwa yesu nga mungi gyendi
omukwano gwa yesu nga
Mungi nnyo ekisaakye ekingi
Kyekimanirira bwemba nga mbulo

The love of Jesus is so great to me,
The love of Jesus is so much,
his grace upholding me when I go astray,

twali tubuze mungi,
taata notusembeqa kabaka
abalala twali benqi twali bamalaya olw’omusai gwo
omungi gwegututukuqa lwa mukwano gwo omungi taata ompanirire

We have gone astray and then you brought us near oh king,
Some of us were adulterers and prostitutes,
but because of your great blood that sanctifies us,
because of your great love that you uphold me.

“Some of us were adulterers and prostitutes” jumped out to me the most.  That’s not a lyric you’ll hear in a church worship song in the states!

I am learning the issues that are very relevant to women here in Uganda center on marriage and children.  I must be honest, it’s hard to process a trip like this for myself, much less for my family and friends.  My divinity school education has beaten into me an understanding of my own bias and opinion of culture, race, gender, class, etc.  I must say that I am frustrated with an inability to synthesize information for my blog without generalizations, stereotypes, and focusing on my bias.  This is the best I can do for now…

At women’s gatherings there are always children in the laps, even at choir practice.  They will nurse their children during the rehearsal or meeting time.  It is the woman’s job to take care of the children, cook, clean, and take care of the house.  I have seen 2 or 3 men holding babies in a church setting, other than that it is always women.

In many family systems in Uganda—especially in the villages—the man decides for the family how many children they have.  Having many children is prestigious, even if you cannot take care of them.  Also, due to a high mortality rate in children, it is important to have many children so they can take care of you when you are older.

I learned at a woman’s health gathering that in the villages, men decide how many wives they will have.  “Isn’t polygamy illegal?” Another woman from the states asked.  The Ugandan women looked at each other as if they did not know or it did not matter.  It is still practiced in rural areas.

There is a myth in villages that the more a husband beats you the more he loves you.  But much like domestic violence in the states, it is not just an issue for the lower socio-economic areas.  I heard a song sung by a gospel artist in Uganda, it is a story of a woman, abused by her husband.  She decides to poison her husband’s food.  The chorus warns the woman to stop and forgive him.  So she does and maintains the sanctity of marriage.  I couldn’t help but think that the American equivalent to this song is “Earl had to Die.”

Divorce is the worst thing that a woman can do.   I have interviewed women and they say that the Bible says divorce is wrong, you have to keep forgiving your husband.  “Until what?” I asked… pause… until he changes or he kills you.  I asked if there is anywhere for these women to go, especially since the church maintains that the woman should never leave her husband.  The women in which I was talking, did not know of a way out or a place to go.

As a white, female visitor from the US, I am treated with much respect.  When eating in homes, visitors are served first, then the men, and then the women (who prepared the food).  Ugandans are aware that women from the states have more equality with men and they will joke that men even help with household tasks in the states.  It is a common question for someone to ask me why I am not yet married.  I usually say something like, “If I was married, I couldn’t come to Uganda and work on a masters degree.”

There is so much more to say… but it will have to wait for another day.  I write this on Independence Day!  My heart is with all those who suffer from domestic violence that someday they will have freedom from abuse!

Going to Uganda

I am not quite sure when I fell in love with Uganda.  I know that it was WAY before I ever heard the words, “Invisible Children” or “ONE Campaign.”  Although these are excellent organizations, they put Uganda on the map in a way that emphasizes the hurt and the pain of the region.  I fell in love with the hope and joy, specifically through the music of Uganda.  While at FSU I earned a World Music Certificate, which allowed me to take a course in African music, and to participate in an African music and dance ensemble at FSU.  Ugandan ethnomusicologist Damascus Kafumbe, who taught he how to play a Ugandan bowl-lyre called (e)ndongo, challenged me to dig deeper in my understanding of how Ugandan women relate with music in religious contexts.

Music possesses the ability to heal, empower, connect, and guide its performers and listeners.  Music frequently engages these abilities in religious practices.  I combined all of my deepest interests into a seven week project in Kampala, Uganda for this summer.  I wrote for an “Imagination Grant” with Vanderbilt Divinity School and they are funding part of my trip this summer.  You know, the money is amazing… but what really makes me excited is that the committee is willing to invest in a project of my combined passions!

The central purpose of this project is to explore women’s leadership and liberation in the Christian church through music and dance practice in Kampala, Uganda.  Much has been written about women’s empowerment in Uganda. [1] The power dynamics have been clearly defined as women suffering from forced polygamous relationships, verbal, sexual, emotional and physical abuse, as well as a lack of power in political and family systems.[2] Many have blamed the church as enforcing powerlessness on women in the name of God. [3] Yet there are also examples of women through the church reforming political and cultural norms, in addition to gaining options for economic independence and wider access to education.[4]

Music is inherently powerful due to the importance it plays in Ugandan culture and is not narrowly defined as just song, but also frequently encompasses dance, drama, and proclamation. Recent studies on music and women in Uganda and east Africa describe music’s value as a tool to educate health practices, [5] cope with domestic labor,[6] testify to deliverance,[7] entertain, [8] build community,[9] and employ the power of cultural performance to encourage liberation.[10] In these settings and others, music communicates ideas and messages that are not always spoken but are culturally or intrinsically known.

This summer I hope to:

1.)   Build relationship with and hear the stories of women musicians in the church
2.)   Analyze the role music plays in the church and society
3.)   Observe the use of music in various religious contexts
4.)   Identify the historical, cultural, theological, and political implications of woman’s leadership in the church in Kampala, Uganda
5.)   Identify explicit and intrinsic women’s issues
6.)   Observe the global church

When I get home, I hope to create a curriculum for the church to discuss the theological implications of women’s performance practices in Uganda.  This curriculum could include themes of vocation, calling, ordination, lay leadership, gift, and blessing.

I am in contact with the President of the United Methodist Women, in the East African Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She is arranging most of my trip, including the opportunity to meet with women’s groups, choirs, and economic partnerships in Kampala and Jinja.

I leave June 20th.  I covet your prayers as I take this trip of a lifetime.  I know that God is going to change and challenge me in powerful ways.  In the words Nouwen I see this journey as “a way in which I am saying, ‘yes’ to God’s call to, ‘Come follow me.'”.[11]  I am hoping to become more in rhythm and pitch with God’s tempo and melody.

I will be updating my blog with experiences, thoughts, and reflections!

[1] Aili Mari Tripp, Women and Politics in Uganda (Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 2000).

[2] Tinyiko Sam Maluleke and Sarojini Nadar, “Overcoming Violence against Women and Children,” Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 114 (2002).

[3] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[4] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993).

[5] Gregory F. Barz, Singing for Life: Hiv/Aids and Music in Uganda (New York: Routledge, 2006).

[6] Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood, and Shirley Ardener, Women and Missions : Past and Present: Anthropological and Historical Perceptions, Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women (Providence: Berg, 1993)..

[7] Dorothy M. Casale, “Women, Power, and Change in Lugbara (Uganda) Cosmology : A Re-Interpretation,” Anthropos 77, no. 3-4 (1982).

[8] Lovemore Togarasei, “The Implications of the Dominance of Women in the Zimbabwean Music Industry for the Ordination of Women,” Scriptura 86 (2004).

[9] Karen Ralls and Graham Harvey, Indigenous Religious Musics (Aldershot; Burlington; Singapore; Sydney: Ashgate, 2000).

[10] Carol Ann Weaver, “Kenyan Women’s Music : An Agent of Social, Cultural Change?,” Conrad Grebel Review 12, no. (1994).

[11] Henri J. M. Nouwen, “The road to daybreak: a spiritual journey,” Darton, Longman & Todd, (1997).

Create Peace

Last semester I was part of a life changing experience, Create Peace: Elder Refugees Share Stories and Talent.  I wrote an article about the event for Vanderbilt’s Alumni Magazine called The Spire.

You are the FIREWORK of the world

I was hanging out with my friends a few weeks ago when one of them mentioned the new Katy Perry video for her song “Firework.”  She said, “Have you seen the way fireworks shoot out of her chest!?”  Having watched the video I replied, “Yep.  It’s kinda weird and a little crazy.”  But later I thought, “Hum?  Maybe crazy Katy Perry is on to something here…”

The song begins with an image of a plastic bag floating different directions in the wind and then moves to the image of a “house of cards” that collapses.  There is a lot of pressure on young women to be what everyone wants them to be.  You’ve heard the obvious ones like, popular, thin, and sexy but what about those other pressures that are good things but sometimes seem like too much to handle.  Pressures like making good grades and being active in every school/church organization.  So much of our worth comes from the things we are good at, whether or not we are in a relationship, and the people in which we spend our time.

I’m not saying that any of these things are bad.  It’s a great thing to have friends and make good grades, but what happens when one of the cards begins to give way?

The first verse ends, “’Cause there’s a spark in you,” and the chorus begins, “You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine.”  I’m not sure what Katy Perry originally meant by “spark,” but I don’t have to think long before the image of a light inside me rings a bell, I even have hand motions for it:  “This little light of mine / I’m gonna let it shine.”  This Sunday school song sounds drastically different than Katy Perry’s recent top forty hit, but I think they have a few similarities.  We can turn to Matthew 5:14-16 to help make the connection:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Jesus says these words to his followers.  He does not say if you make good grades you can be the light of the world.  He also does not say if you are the soloist you can be the light of the world.  He simply says, “You are the light of the world.”  We don’t have to work to attain the light or feel like we deserve to be light, we just are the light because Jesus said it is so.  We have to learn to live into this reality, that there is a firework inside each of us.

When was the last time you saw fireworks?  We usually see them on holidays or for special occasions where people gather to watch in awe.  A firework could be compared to a city on a hill where many people watch the light from a distance.  That light is so bright and beautiful it cannot be hidden.

When you buy the kind of firework that shoots off into the air, the packaging looks a lot alike, but when they are lit and you step back to watch them explode, no two fireworks are the same.  Each firework is unique and made to be exactly what it was created to be.

Like the song “Firework” Jesus tells us that there is a spark inside each of us and we just have to shine.  We were created to be exactly what God created us to be, awe-inspiring fireworks!  This is true regardless of what might be going on in your life.  The fact that God makes you a “firework” and you shine is what matters.  That’s what makes you special.  That is what makes you able to see the specialness of others.  So, “ignite the light let it shine!”

Kindle a Light

Today in church choir we sung a beautiful piece called Kindle a Light, lyrics by Michael Forster b. 1946 and Music by Michael Fleming (1928-2006).  It was perfect for this advent Sunday with the scripture lesson from Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Magnificat.  (It also fits in perfectly what God has been teaching me about the poor these past few months.)

Kindle a light to lighten the darkness,
Kindle a light each nation and race:
God in the poor is coming to meet us,
Kindle a light to shine on His face.

Kindle a light to lighten the darkness,
Kindle a light for all who despair:
God in the poor is coming to judge us,
Kindle a light with fasting and prayer.

Kindle a light to lighten the darkness,
Kindle a light in places of shame,
God in the poor is coming to heal us,
Kindle a light with hope in its flame.

Kindle a light to lighten the darkness,
Kindle a light for sorrow to cease:
God in the poor is coming to free us,
Kindle a light for justice and peace.

Christ is coming, Christ is coming,
Coming in judgment, in truth and in grace;
Meet him and greet him, Meet him and greet him,
and share his embrace, and share his embrace.

World AIDS Day, December 1st 2010

Months ago I decided to write my final paper for my Popular Music and Religious Identity course on the theological issues addressed in the cultural performance fighting against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda.  I decided to analyze the musical text and stories gathered by Gregory Barz in his book Singing for Life: Hiv/Aids and Music in Uganda and the meaning that the music promotes in the lives of the women performing and listening.

Cultural performance is a way to cope with, educate about, and understand HIV/AIDS.  The music gives the performer a way to reconcile the terrible and fearful disease with their own bodies.  Barz demonstrates how women reconcile living with HIV/AIDS through a story about visiting three villages in one day.  Every woman that he talked with in the village said that she was HIV positive.  Barz asked the director of an aid organization named Florence Kumunhyu why she and the women still sing and dance if every woman in the village carried the disease.  She replied, “Well this singing is all we have left to give our daughters.  At the same time we have to encourage the men to stop the cycle.  We cannot give up or otherwise the cycle will never be broken.”

Today in Vanderbilt Divinity chapel service we remembered our brothers and sisters around the world affected by HIV/AIDS.  In the sermon my friend used the story of the woman who had been suffering from bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5:25-34).  This is a perfect story to address women in Uganda who are trying to live positively with HIV/AIDS.  So often the church as viewed AIDS as God’s solution (or punishment) for sin, not as a problem that needs to be prevented and addressed.  We don’t know why this woman has an issue with blood and we don’t know her name, but we do know that Jesus had compassion on her, called her daughter, freed her from suffering, and sent her away in peace (Mark 5:34).

It is my hope that the church will act like Jesus and love and care for those around us who are suffering and surviving with HIV/AIDS — whether they are our next door or across an ocean.

Prayer of the Children

This morning for Children’s Sabbath Sunday we sang the song, “Prayer of the Children” by Kert Bestor.  We began rehearsing it weeks ago.   Much like all the songs we begin in Church Choir, I expect the theology to be simple and self-centered and music to be generic.  But this time we sang the first lines:

Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?

Yes, I yelled from deep within my being and kept singing…

Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
turning heavenward toward the light.
Crying,” Jesus, help me
to see the morning light of one more day,
but if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take.”

I can hear them, I have thought about their prayers, cried about their prayers, and prayed their prayers with and for them.

Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own.

If there were one kind of poverty that I would eradicate, it would be cultural poverty.  There are countless people who feel they do not have a place that is home or where people know their name.  I want to listen their story and appreciate their music, dance, and creative arts- to give them a name as an instrument of God.

I have never been able to get through the whole song without that feeling in my nose and tears falling down my face.  Even this morning when we sang:

Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
blood of the innocent on their hands.
Crying,” Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face?

For when darkness clears, I know you’re near,
bringing peace again.”

tears flowed down my face and somehow — I have to believe — I will help bring peace to all God’s children and end social poverty.

You can listen to the song on YouTube here.

The Soloist

It is not common for a movie to resonate deeply in me or to capture my thoughts.  However, it is common for a melody, riff, harmony, instrument sound, or anything musically related to completely take me over and wrap me with it’s presence and passion.

The Soloist is a true-story movie about Nathanial Ayers, who understands more deeply that I ever could, how music can reconcile.  If you know me, you know I have a promise for my future that it will involve music and reconciliation… music as a means of reconciliation in all domains of life and health… to each other, to the earth, to our selves, and to God.

While watching this movie I felt God whisper to me… look it’s possible.

This “platonic love story between two very different human beings,” as director Joe Write says when he speaks about this film during an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, was founded and based upon music — two people find each other and themselves through music and love.

While FSU College of Music is no Juilliard in comparison to intensity or location, I understand the dichotomy of a formal musical education and love for music.  The process of picking apart music to understand tonal harmony, preparing endless hours for juries, and sitting in classes to “train my ear,” made me wonder if someone could truly love music while also trying to dissect it, figure it out, apply pressure, and produce perfection.

The same tension arose during my internship at a Word Entertainment.  Could I wrap in plastic the same four chords over and over and sell it to teenagers and mid-aged women at the same time that I profess my love for music… and much more worship music?  Can I pitch, market, and price a passion that my inner being knows is rarely experienced much less captured on tape?

Mr. Ayer’s story puts to words and image tension I have felt my whole life.  In NPR’s The Real Story Behind ‘The Soloist’, Steve Lopez accounts when they both were invited to view the filming of the scene where they went to the symphony rehearsal for the first time.  Mr. Ayers decides that instead of watching the movie stars and orchestra, he would rather sit outside the Disney Concert Hall and play his cello.  Obviously, Mr. Ayers could not be torn from his music.

This past Thursday I experienced reconciliation in my own life through a group of friends playing music together.  This gathering, known as the “Sound Experiment,” consists mostly of percussion… a few kits, lots of auxiliary and world musical percussion instruments as well as some melodic instruments.  It was initiated out of a desire for genuine worship.  Let me know if you would like to join us… I’m excited to see where it goes.

I’m sure Mr. Lopez or Mr. Ayers never thought their music and reconciliation story would be a book then movie that touches and changes countless lives.  In the interview Mr. Lopez says that Mr. Ayers would like to one day help people with music, as a music therapist.

If you have a story of music and reconciliation… I would love to hear it.