Rev. Karen Hernandez, pastor of Living Hope~Kuna United Methodist Church
All summer long I have been reflecting on and preaching about the different ways music touches our lives, speaks our faith, and influences us. This is important to me because music is both biblical and powerful!
Think about it: music has the power to physically move people! You might be sitting still until you hear a particular song. Then your toes begin to tap or you drum your fingers on the table because the music moves you. When we sing or comprehend singing, both our right and left brains are involved. I think even instrumental music is able to touch and move something deeper in us, too. For example, I can sing “Amazing Grace” in joyful worship or as a reminder of our Christian hope during a memorial service, but to hear it played on bagpipes moves me to tears every time. Music is also “sticky,” as they say nowadays; that is, music has staying power. Sometimes I hear a song only once and it is in my head for days on end. This makes music an excellent teaching tool. I can sing my way across the US map because Mrs. Findley had our 2nd grade class sing the states to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” about a million times! Music moves us emotionally, too. Finally, music brings people together. When we sing in worship, we not only share the same words, but we breathe together and move through life at the same tempo, even if only for the duration of the song. That feeling of camaraderie—that may also come with a football fight song or the National Anthem—is important in the ways it transforms a crowd or group into a community.
Our Judeo-Christian predecessors understood and harnessed the power of music in their faith. The psalms in particular make use of music to bring about unity in worship, to teach and carry on their history, as well as to praise God. Though the psalms are very old and times have changed drastically since then, the human emotions in them are the same. Our joy and despair may come from different places now, but the experiences of elation and desperation haven’t changed at all from the ways they are expressed in the psalms.
Others make good, powerful use of music, too. Political campaigns, marketing experts, and many others put a great deal of time and effort into doing so. Those who desire to change the world have also made excellent use of music, which is generally put into the category of “protest music.”
Protest music in the US started in the 1800s with songs about women’s suffrage, war, and the abolition of slavery. In the early 1900s, war remained a popular topic of protest songs, along with the Great depression and the union movement. The Civil Rights Movement in particular drew from Negro spirituals for music to unite people around their cause and to keep peaceful resistance as a crucial aspect of their work. By the 1960s, with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the situation in Vietnam, protest music shifted from being about labor justice to being about social justice. That shift stuck, and protest music to this day tends to be anti-war, anti-violence, and anti-discrimination.
What does all of this talk about songs and protest music have to do with our faith?
I’m well aware that neither protest songs nor protest causes are necessarily Christian. On the other hand, people of faith are absolutely called to be world-changers! Time and again in scripture we’re told to seek justice, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, welcome the stranger, and “loose the bonds of injustice” (Isaiah 58:6). Jesus, the Light of the World, calls upon all who follow him to shine our light for all to see (Matthew 5:14-16) and to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.
From “This Little Light of Mine” to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to newer hymns like “We Are Called” (found in The Faith We Sing supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal), the songs of our faith are very much protest songs. They unite those of us who follow Jesus in seeking the kingdom, even when doing so requires us to go against the grain of our culture.
In the midst of tragedy and violence around the world and right here in our own community, I pray that you have a place to go, a community to connect with, and a song of faith that helps you to stay encouraged to let your light shine for all the world to see. If you are looking for such a people and place, there are wonderful churches throughout our community, and you’re always welcome to worship with me. (Kuna United Methodist Church, 260 West 4th Street, has Sunday worship at 9 & 11 a.m. weekly.)