Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
How many clouds float past them with impunity;
how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
in provocative hops!
Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers
or alights on the roadblock at the border?
A humble robin—still, its tail resides abroad
while its beak stays home. If that weren’t enough, it won’t stop bobbing!
Among innumerable insects, I’ll single out only the ant
between the border guard’s left and right boots
blithely ignoring the questions “Where from?” and “Where to?”
Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos
prevailing on every continent!
Isn’t that a privet on the far bank
smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?
And how can we talk of order overall
when the very placement of the stars
leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?
Not to speak of the fog’s reprehensible drifting!
And dust blowing all over the steppes
as if they hadn’t been partitioned!
And the voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!
Only what is human can truly be foreign.
The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.
This poem was originally published in Polish in Wisława Szymborska’s 1976 collection Wielka liczba (A Large Number). It appears in English translation by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak, as here, in Map: Collected and Last PoemsbyWisława Szymborska (Houghton Mifflin, 2015).
Dan + Claudia Zanes are a husband-wife folk music duo who sing songs of joy, love, and justice for intergenerational and interracial audiences, harnessing the social power of music. Their first album together, Let Love Be Your Guide, was released September 10 by Smithsonian Folkways. Here’s the description from the label:
Let Love Be Your Guide, the first duo album by internationally renowned family musicians Dan + Claudia Zanes, is a collection of songs to spark intergenerational conversations about anti-racism, racial justice, and the joys of community. Conceived during the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings and coronavirus pandemic, the songs describe the new terms of togetherness—how we understand it, how we build it, and how we strive for more. Rooted in many different traditions, including gospel, R&B, and Haitian folk song, the eclectic, warm, and accessible music the duo makes reflects the kindness and openness that underpin their message: out of isolation and hardship we can learn how to accept and heal the wounds of the past, and how to change and face the future with grace and compassion, regardless of our age.
“The music made it possible for us to show up in our fullness, singing about matters near and dear to our hearts,” Claudia wrote in a release-day email. “The songs remind us that there are reasons to celebrate and laugh from the gut. There’s joy in unifying and coming together. There are things to ponder, and of course moments to pause and take deep breaths.” The album has a real invitational quality.
In the 1980s Dan Zanes sang lead for the critically acclaimed rock band the Del Fuegos. After his daughter, Anna, was born, he began playing family music with a group of other fathers he had met at the playgrounds in and around Brooklyn. This originally informal collective that distributed self-produced cassette tapes around the neighborhood evolved into the Grammy Award–winning Dan Zanes and Friends.
Claudia, who is Haitian American, is a board-certified music therapist who often works with children on the autism spectrum, both verbal and nonverbal, as well as geriatric clients. She has also toured internationally as a jazz vocalist.
She and Dan met in fall 2016 (at a dining-room singalong!), married in 2018, and moved to Baltimore at the end of 2019, shortly before the city shut down because of the pandemic. On March 15, 2020, they started what they call their Social Isolation Song Series, posting daily videos on YouTube—for two hundred days! The series includes a mix of folk songs, show tunes, and pop songs (Little Richard, the Beach Boys, Whitney Houston, etc.), as well as gospel songs, hymns, and spirituals, some of my favorites of which I’ve posted below. They’re so much fun!
Both musicians have been heavily shaped by the Black church tradition, which Claudia grew up in and Dan came to faith in after meeting her. “I owe my spiritual focus, growth, and understanding to Claudia’s tremendous inspiration and to these Black churches,” he says, referring to Bethel AME in Boston, Lenox Road Baptist Church in Brooklyn, and Pleasant Hope Baptist Church in Baltimore, their current church home.
The couple integrates their music, activism, and Christian faith in a really beautiful way. “We try to go into it [music making] to do God’s work, whatever that might look like,” Dan said in an interview with podcaster Leo Sidran (I commend the whole interview to you!). Collective liberation is something they’re especially passionate about, so it’s a recurring theme in their music.
What follows are fourteen of their two hundred “social isolation” songs, in reverse chronological order (check out the rest on their YouTube channel). Sheet music for some can be found in Dan Zanes’ House Party!: A Family Roots Music Treasury (2018), a book that conveys “a love of songs as cultural currency—currency that tells us in poetic, emotional, nonsensical, sobering, and illuminating ways who we are and where we came from—and a belief that the joy of music making is something that’s available to one and all.”
“Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Jesus”:
“Freedom Is a Constant Struggle” by Roberta Slavitt:
“In Gratitude” (original):
“Peace, Perfect Peace” by Toots Hibbert, a Jamaican singer-songwriter who passed away last year from COVID-19:
“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” by Anthony Showalter and Elisha Hoffman:
“The Storm Is Passing Over” by Charles Albert Tindley:
“In These Troubled Times” (original, included on their album):
“Near the Cross” by Fanny Crosby (text) and William Doane (music):
“Go Down, Moses”:
“Salaam,” a Tunisian song from the Gnawa tradition, which the Zaneses learned from their Palestinian American friend, the buzuq player Tareq Abboushi:
(“Salaam alaikum,” Arabic for “peace to you,” is a traditional Muslim greeting.)
Everything that is born must die;
Everything that can sigh may sing;
Rocks in equal balance, low or high,
Honeycomb is weighed against a sting;
Hope and fear take turns to touch the sky;
Height and depth respond alternating.
O my soul, spread wings of love to fly,
Wings of dove that soars on home-bound wing:
Love trusts Love, till Love shall justify
This untitled poem was originally published in Time Flies: A Reading Diary (SPCK, 1885) and appears inThe Complete Poemsby Christina Rossetti (Penguin, 2001). It is in the public domain.
INTERACTIVE PERFORMANCE ART:DIG: A Hole to Put Your Grief In by Cara Levine: Last month artist Cara Levine led a weeklong collaborative project in which she invited those in and around Malibu to join her in digging a hole to visualize the depth of grief being experienced right now in response to personal losses as well as national and global crises. Carried out on a property owned by the Shalom Institute, the project was inspired in part by the Jewish ritual of shiva, the seven-day mourning period following the burial of a family member, during which the bereaved discuss their loss and accept comfort from the community.
“Whatever one is grieving is welcome—be it the loss of a loved one, or more nuanced and subtle grief—the grief that comes with aging, with watching children grow, loss of friendships, habitat, completions to other life cycles, opportunities, loves, that one won’t see flourish, and so on,” Levine wrote in an email to Hyperallergic.
“Part of the act of inviting others to share in the digging, is an invitation for the collective to lift the burden of the individual. I think digging together, expressing the depth and weight of the grief all around us, can be a shared burden.”
At week’s end the hole was filled with water and transformed into a mikvah (ritual bath) for a ceremonial hand washing, before being refilled with the original dirt. As arts writer Matt Stromberg reported, participants were invited to write down what they were grieving on sheets of paper embedded with flower seeds, which were then buried in small pots that could be taken home, while native seeds were scattered in the hole, a symbol of renewal. Though I, living on the opposite coast, didn’t participate, it sounds like it was a meaningful time of healing and of giving and receiving support.
VIDEO:“Mending Trauma” by Makoto Fujimura: In this video from the 2019 Theology of Making series from Fuller Studio, artist and author Makoto Fujimura describes the Japanese art of kintsugi (literally “golden seams”) and how it reflects the beauty that can emerge from our own fractured hearts and lives.
“Kintsugi theology,” he says, is the theology of the new creation, and it’s embodied by Jesus himself. His resurrection body retains the wounds of crucifixion, but there is light flowing through them, suggesting how our traumas will be carried into the new creation but wholly transformed. Like broken bowls mended with gold.
SONG: This video, taken in June 2015 by someone from the Free Burma Rangers humanitarian service movement, shows an Assyrian Christian woman in Kurdistan lingering behind after church let out, singing a praise song to Jesus alone in a pew. She had recently returned home after having fled an ISIS attack. [HT: Global Christian Worship]
>>The O in Hope by Luci Shaw, illustrated by Ned Bustard: “Combining a joyful poem from the much-celebrated poet Luci Shaw with playful cut-paper art created by Ned Bustard, The O in Hope helps us experience the goodness of God’s gifts of hope and love.” I found out about this recent release from IVP Kids at a Zoom event, where Shaw [previously] read the poem—it’s so delightful!
>> First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament: “Many First Nations tribes communicate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. The First Nations Version (FNV) recounts the Creator’s Story—the Christian Scriptures—following the tradition of Native storytellers’ oral cultures. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of First Nations people.
“The FNV is a dynamic equivalence translation that captures the simplicity, clarity, and beauty of Native storytellers in English, while remaining faithful to the original language of the New Testament.” The project was carried out by an eleven-member council selected from a cross-section of Native North Americans (elders, pastors, young adults, and men and women from different tribes and geographic locations) and overseen by Ojibwe storyteller Terry M. Wildman. Here is Wildman reciting the FNV translation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospels, accompanied by his wife, Darlene, on cedar flute:
Out of darkness
All the songs you know
And throw them at the sun
Before they melt
This poem was originally published in the Colorado Review’s Spring/Summer 1957 issue, and it appears in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, ed. Arnold Rampersad (Knopf, 1994; Vintage Books, 1995).
ART EXHIBITION: De-Colonizing Christ, Riverfront Gallery, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral, September 12–December 19, 2021 (preview: September 11): St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is hosting a juried art exhibition that highlights non-Caucasian representations of Jesus. There are twenty-eight original artworks in the show, plus a dozen on loan from private collections. An opening reception (with hors d’oeuvres) will take place Saturday, September 11, from 7 to 9 p.m., which I’ll be attending! It is open to the public, and masks are required in the sanctuary and cloister gallery.
“Recent events have opened conversations among churches, theologians, and biblical scholars, considering in what way the western portrayal of Jesus as a European has been used to marginalize people of color,” the press release reads. “Many suggest that the pursuit of racial justice demands the exploration of ways in which we can de-colonize the Christ—releasing the image of Jesus from a legacy of White Supremacy and exploring images of Jesus as a man of color. This exhibit invites the Central Pennsylvania community into the conversation.” Read more about the impetus behind the exhibition in this opinion piece by the dean of the cathedral, the Very Rev. Dr. Amy Welin.
In addition to the preview night, where many of the artists will be present, there are three related lectures scheduled:
October 17, 2 p.m.: “White Jesus: Mangling Christianity and the Birth of White Supremacy in the West” by Dr. Drew G.I. Hart, Assistant Professor of Theology, Messiah University
November 28, 2 p.m.: Discussion about the tensions inherent in inclusive worship in predominantly white congregations, led by the Rev. Dr. Catherine Williams, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship, Lancaster Theological Seminary
BOOK LAUNCH EVENTS: God in the Modern Wing: Viewing Art with Eyes of Faith, September 17–18, 2021: In anticipation of this book’s release on October 12, Upper House in Madison, Wisconsin, is hosting a string of free events two weekends from now. The two lectures can be attended in person or virtually, but the workshop is in-person only. Coeditors Cameron J. Anderson (an artist) [previously] and G. Walter Hansen (a theologian and art collector) will be present.
God in the Modern Wing grew out of a series of lectures that Hansen organized in 2015, one of which I wrote about. The book description is as follows: “Should Christians even bother with the modern wing at the art museum? After all, modern art and artists are often caricatured as rabidly opposed to God, the church—indeed, to faith of any kind. But is that all there is to the story? In this Studies in Theology and the Arts volume, coeditors Cameron J. Anderson and G. Walter Hansen gather the reflections of artists, art historians, and theologians who collectively offer a more complicated narrative of the history of modern art and its place in the Christian life. Here, readers will find insights on the work and faith of artists including Marc Chagall, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and more.”
(IN-PERSON) ARTS FESTIVAL: Faith in Arts Institute, October 13–16, 2021, Asheville, North Carolina: “The inaugural Faith in Arts Institute hosted by UNC Asheville and the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, intended for anyone interested in the role of art in religious and spiritual experience, will be led and facilitated by artists and scholars. The number of participants for the institute itself will be limited to create the possibility for rich and meaningful dialogue and engagement among the participants and faculty.
“In addition to talks on religion and art in the 21st century, sacred art in secular spaces / secular art in sacred spaces, and small group discussions on topics including devotion and discipline, revelation and inspiration, faith and hope, ritual and routine, vision and imagination, the institute will also include several workshops, film screenings and more.” Registration is $60. View a schedule and find out more information here.
The presenters are:
Julie Levin Caro, Professor of Art History, Warren Wilson College (specializes in modern American art and African American art)
Curt Cloninger, artist, designer, writer
Marie T. Cochran, Founder and Director, Affrilachian Artist Project
David Hinton, essayist and translator of Chinese poetry
Rachel Elizabeth Harding, Associate Professor of Indigenous Spiritual Traditions, University of Colorado–Denver (specializes in religions of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora)
Jessica Jacobs, author of the coming-of-age memoir-in-poems Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going
Kay Larson, author of Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists
Christopher-Rasheem McMillan, Assistant Professor of Dance and of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies, University of Iowa
Aaron Rosen, Professor of Religion and Visual Culture, Wesley Theological Seminary
Pamela D. Winfield, Professor of Religious Studies, Elon University (specializes in the visual/material culture of Japanese Buddhism)
SONG FOR SUKKOT: “Whoever Is Thirsty” by Marty Goetz: Every fall Jews celebrate Sukkot, aka the Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths, a seven-day commemoration of God’s provision for their people during their desert sojourn after the exodus. This year the holiday falls on September 20–27. Four Sukkots ago singer-songwriter Marty Goetz, a Jewish believer in Jesus, posted this video of a song he composed, “Whoever Is Thirsty,” from his 2010 album Sanctuary. It is an original setting of Revelation 22:17 (a book that “herald[s] the return of Yeshua the Messiah,” he says), and he performs it here with his daughter Misha Goetz.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
NEW PLAYLIST:September 2021 (Art & Theology): I’m continuing to put together a short monthly Spotify playlist as a way to share great music mainly from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Per usual, it consists mostly of folk and gospel, which are my personal preferences. I realized after the fact that this month’s selection has quite a bit of banjo! (I do love that instrument . . .): a setting by bluegrass quintet Crooked Still of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things”; Béla Fleck jamming with Ugandan kalimba player Ruth Akello on “Jesus Is the Only Answer” [previously]; Rhiannon Giddens playing and singing the spiritual “I’m Gonna Tell God All of My Troubles”; Ellen Petersen and her siblings covering the Mark Bishop song “With the Spirit of the Lord Inside”; “Esa Einai,” a setting of Psalm 121:1–2 in English and Hebrew by Jewish bluegrass duo Nefesh Mountain; and an original song by the Westbound Rangers [previously], led by one of my high school friends, Graham Sherrill.
The closing song is “Kia Hora Te Marino,” a collection of Maori blessings and proverbs set to music by Christopher Tin. The first stanza goes,
Kia hora te marino, Kia whakapapa pounamu te moana, Kia tere te rohirohi. Kia hora te marino, Te marino ara Mo ake tonu ake.
English translation: May peace be widespread, may the sea glisten like greenstone, and may the shimmer of light guide you. May peace be widespread, be widespread now and forever more.
Directed by Sascha Paladino, Throw Down Your Heart (2008) follows world-renowned banjo player Béla Fleck on his journey through Africa to connect with the banjo’s origins through jam sessions and conversations with local musicians. It’s full of intercultural exchanges that result in creative stylistic fusions that are amazingly seamless. It’s thrilling to hear the banjo so at home outside the US! Here’s the trailer:
Most people associate the banjo with white people from the American South, but it actually evolved from the akonting, a hide-covered gourd instrument from Gambia with three strings attached to a pole, brought to America by enslaved Africans. Among the many musical artists Fleck meets is the Jatta Family, a Gambian troupe dedicated to preserving akonting music in Africa.
The title of the documentary, Throw Down Your Heart, is a translation of the Swahili word Bagamoyo, the name of a trading port along the East African coast. According to John Kitime, Fleck’s guide and translator, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Tanzanians were captured inland and brought to the eastern shores for “export” to the Middle East as slaves. They knew that once they saw the Indian Ocean, they would never come home again, so they would “throw down [their] heart” in despair. Fleck wrote a banjo composition inspired by this painful history, which is performed on the Special Features of the DVD.
Besides Gambia and Tanzania, Fleck also visits Uganda and Mali, and the documentary highlights a variety of musical traditions and instruments from those countries—harps and panpipes and giant xylophones and guitars. I especially love the performance of “Jesus Is the Only Answer” by Ruth Akello from Jinja, Uganda, who plays the kalimba (thumb piano), an instrument consisting of metal tines of varying length attached to a wooden board. She also sings. She’s accompanied by the Ateso Jazz Band and by Fleck.
All the performances are wonderful, but another standout for me is by Grammy Award–winning Wassoulou singer Oumou Sangaré, a national icon in Mali. She sings “Djorolen,” a lament for the fatherless. An English translation of the Bambara lyrics is below.
The worried songbird cries out in the forest Her thoughts go far away For those of us without fathers Her thoughts go out to them
Abandoned by her father when she was two, Sangaré dropped out of school as a child to help her mother raise the family by singing in the streets. She rose to stardom in her early twenties with the release of her first album, Moussolou (1990). She now tours internationally and is an advocate for women’s rights, opposing child marriage and polygamy.
Though marketed as a film about the banjo, Throw Down Your Heart is more broadly a celebration of the diverse musics of the African continent. Through collaborations with virtuoso musicians, Fleck explores how a modern banjo can fit into that soundscape.
The documentary appears not to be available for online streaming, but I rented a copy of the DVD at my local library. There’s also a reasonably priced box set that was released last year, which includes not only the DVD but also a deluxe edition—forty-two tracks!—of the critically acclaimed companion album, featuring a complete disc of previously unreleased material from Fleck performing with kora master Toumani Diabaté.
Your voice speaks to my soul:
Be not afraid of my golden garments, have no fear of the rays of my candles,
For they are all but veils of my love, they are all but as tender hands covering my secret.
I will draw them away, weeping soul, that you may see I am no stranger to you.
How should a mother not resemble her child?
All your sorrows are in me.
I am born out of suffering, I have bloomed out of five holy wounds.
I grew on the tree of humiliation, I found strength in the bitter wine of tears.
I am a white rose in a chalice full of blood.
I live on suffering, I am the strength out of suffering, I am glory out of suffering:
Come to my soul and find your home.
This is section I of the poem “Passion” by Gertrud von Le Fort (1876–1971), translated from the German by Margaret Chanler and published in Hymns to the Church (Sheed and Ward, 1953). The icon is by Tetiana Duman-Skop, who died last year of brain cancer at age thirty-nine.
ONLINE EXHIBITION: A Global Icon: Mary in Context, created by the National Museum of Women in the Arts: Curated by Virginia Treanor, this digital resource was created as an expansion of the in-person exhibition Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea (see catalog), which ran from December 5, 2014, to April 12, 2015. Click through the pages to experience art images with descriptions, videos, and other content having to do with representations of Mary from across the world. The first video in the series is posted below, and here’s a playlist of all seven.
Here’s just a snippet from her conversation with Kloss, where she describes what she would say to those who want nothing to do with Christianity because of all the evil that has been done in its name:
Dare to rescue God as Emmanuel from the dense debris of hubris, and from the weight and stench of whited sepulchers. For it is true, an excess of ghouls have appropriated for themselves the meaning and potency of the revolutionary One who dares to pronounce to humanity, “Love your enemies . . . Do good to those who hate you.”
Why should young people let themselves be revulsed by a legion who never fully entered into the depths of the subversive, seductive, paradigm-dissolving, drinking-and-hanging-out-with-sinners, beautiful, and heroic man-God? Why wouldn’t young people set out to experience for themselves the grand and compelling epic of a creator God in love, who loses his children and the earth to a defiant and rebellious once-beloved prince of light, and who struggles long and hard to regain the humanity he had loved and lost? So passionate and desperate is the creator in this endeavor that he will enter into humanity to try to court and secure these cherished children, even at the risk of his own murder—and even that does not stop the love. A love stronger than death? Don’t we all write anthems, in one form or another, yearning for this?
Let the next generation of seekers . . . visit old worlds that contain the spirit of the faith, not just in the Middle East, but also northern Africa, northern Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia, all those rubbed-out places (that colonialists presumed to suggest they were ‘civilizing’) from which Christianity entered into and transformed Europe and the world. . . . An historical quest for meaning at sites of origins might inspire young people to look again at the call to adventure and transcendent idealism that is the Way.
VIDEO SERIES: How to Read the Bible by BibleProject: “Reading the Bible wisely requires that we learn about the ancient literary styles used by the biblical authors. . . . While the Bible is one unified story, it cannot all be read in the same way. The How to Read the Bible series walks through each literary style found in the Bible to show how each uniquely contributes to the overall story of Scripture.”
Led by Dr. Tim Mackie and Jon Collins, BibleProject is a crowdfunded animation studio that creates videos, podcasts, and small-group curricula. From 2017 to 2020 they executed a series called How to Read the Bible, which is nineteen episodes total. In it they examine the three major literary styles that comprise the Bible: narrative (chronicles, biographies, parables), poetry (celebratory, reflective, erotic, politically resistant, apocalyptic), and prose discourse (laws, sermons, letters). Each style lives by its own rules and structure, and we get into trouble, for example, when we don’t properly understand how metaphor works, or when we don’t recognize that Paul’s epistles were situated in a particular historical context. Here’s one of the videos in the series, on design patterns in biblical narrative:
The waitress stands over me at 6:00 a.m. with pad and pen. She recites her litany with weary kindness; she says orange juice, coffee, two eggs over easy, says whole wheat toast, marmalade, each word a wafer I take from her hands and eat.
I stand before the white robed technician, my blouse draped around my hips. She gently cups my breasts in her hand, guides me between the cold steel wings of the machine. It will aim its radiant eye to uncover whatever mystery might be hidden there.
The beautician holds my head in her hands, tips it backward over the white chalice of the sink, sluices warm water through my hair again and again, smoothing the wings of my emptiness with her fingers until I am loosened and released.
This poem was originally published in Christianity and the Arts journal in 1999 and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.
Taking its title from Psalm 91:11, “And He Shall Give His Angels Charge Over You” by Sharron Singleton expresses gratitude for those who work in the service sector, such as diner servers, mammography technologists, and hairstylists, who care for us through things like a hot cup of coffee, a diagnostic X-ray, or a relaxing shampoo—gifts that should not be taken for granted. The speaker of the poem, in fact, receives them as sacraments of sorts, describing the waitress’s recitation of menu offerings as “a wafer.” Similarly, the mammography tech wears a white robe, like the alb of a priest; she guides and illumines. And at the salon, the sink is like a chalice, a liturgical vessel, holder of the sacred—or a baptismal font; the speaker leaves washed and unburdened, light of spirit.
Singleton’s first full-length poetry collection, Our Hands a Hollow Bowl (Grayson Books, 2018), is an artful celebration of the sacramentality of nature and of everyday life—gardening, peeling potatoes, working, hiking, sex, baseball, waiting in line, watching one’s son hold his son, selling a home full of memories. She also writes tenderly but without sentimentality about her mother and father, reflecting especially on her upbringing in rural Michigan, her mother’s slow death from cancer, and the pain of absence.
Singleton has recently completed the manuscript for her second full-length collection and is in the process of getting it published.