This past Sunday was in the midst of Memorial Day weekend and in between all the grilling, drinking, graduations, and festivities, I spent some time thinking about freedom. It is a regular part of the vocabulary when talking about sacrifices made by members of the American military to speak of the “fight for freedom”. And I am grateful for their service and faithfulness to our nation.
Still, there are other ways to “fight” for freedom. In my sermon at Mira Vista United Church of Christ in El Cerrito, I began with a wonderful story from 2nd Chronicles 20 about Jehosophat and his novel military style. Now Jehosophat was one of the better kings of ancient Judah. (this is the 8th century b.c.e. when what we now think of as what we think of as just “Israel” was divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south) But Jehosophat’s neighbors were not particularly happy about it and so they formed an alliance to attack Judah. (some things never change) This alliance produced a massive army that was much, much larger than the army of Judah. So Jehosophat called all the Judeans together: men, women, children, priests, and the army and they all prayed to God. And God spoke to Jehosophat and told him not to worry about the impending battle, because the battle would belong to God, not the Judeans. So King Jehosophat did an amazing thing: he held choir auditions. He chose the very best singers of praise to God and put this “dreamteam” choir in front of the army. As the invading army came upon these singers singing their hearts out in praise to God, they began to fight each other and the alliance fell apart and all their armies were utterly destroyed. Not a single Judean was harmed.
This strategy still works. You can indeed “sing your way” into freedom. Think of the American civil rights movement, the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the ongoing movements of nonviolent resistance to tyranny that are often led by singers and singing.
As the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 80’s, at least one former Soviet Republic found its voice and its freedom through singing. Estonia’s journey to independence in 1991 began with singers at a music festival (see photo above) singing nationalistic songs that had been banned by the Soviet regime. Soon hundreds of thousands were marching in the streets singing their way into freedom and finding their collective voice as a new nation. Not a single shot was fired in this “singing revolution”. Here’s a clip from a documentary film about their revolution found on youtube.
Music, singing, and all the performing and visual arts call upon the highest forms of creativity we possess as human beings. I believe that these practices and artistic expressions lead us forward and can become the means by which we might address great struggle with great power.