Advent, Day 23

LOOK: Illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, from the book Peace Train

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Yusuf / Cat Stevens’s song “Peace Train,” this year HarperCollins published a picture book adaptation of the song by Yusuf, with delightful illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds.

Peace Train cover

LISTEN: “Peace Train” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens, on Teaser and the Firecat (1971)

The Spotify link below is to Yusuf’s original studio album recording, but the YouTube video, released this year for World Peace Day on September 21, is a “Song Around the World” version of “Peace Train” produced by Playing for Change [previously]. In addition to Yusuf, the video features thirty-five musicians from twelve countries, including oud player Ghassan Birumi from Palestine; Grammy-winning American artists Keb’ Mo’ and Rhiannon Giddens; Senegalese artist Baaba Maal; the Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi choir; musicians from the Silkroad Ensemble and the Afro-Brazilian percussive group Olodum; Tushar Lall playing the harmonium in Delhi, India; Joshua Amjad playing the khartal in Karachi, Pakistan; and more.

Now I’ve been happy lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it’s going to come

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take me home again

Now, I’ve been smiling lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Get your bags together
Go bring your good friends too
Because it’s getting nearer
It soon will be with you

Now come and join the living
It’s not so far from you
And it’s getting nearer
Soon it will all be true

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Now, I’ve been crying lately
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating?
Why can’t we live in bliss?

’Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train, take this country
Come take me home again

Oh, Peace Train sounding louder
Glide on the Peace Train!
Come on the Peace Train

Yes, Peace Train, holy roller
Everyone jump up on the Peace Train
Come on, come on, come on
Yes, come on, Peace Train
Yes, it’s the Peace Train

Come on now, Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train

Cat Stevens converted to Islam in 1977 and adopted the name Yusuf Islam the following year. For the next two decades he gave up his singing-songwriting, regarding it then as incompatible with his new faith. But after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he agreed to sing “Peace Train” at a benefit concert in New York City. At the encouragement of his Muslim community, he slowly returned to his music career. His latest album is Tea for the Tillerman 2, released in 2020.

Inclusive of all faiths, “Peace Train” invites people to join in committing to the way of peace, and to ride that commitment all the way “home.” Or, to put it another way, to let Peace transport you. In the introduction to Peace Train the book, Yusuf writes,

Each of us has the power to imagine and to dream. We all have our own picture of what a place called “heaven” would look like, and the ONE thing—for sure—we’d all expect to find there is PEACE. That’s what my song is based on: a train gliding to a world we all would like to share.

In Christianity, especially in the spirituals tradition, salvation is often pictured as a train that carries its passengers to their heavenly destination. “Peace Train” uses the same imagery, acknowledging that peace is already on the move (the Spirit is active, as Christians might say); we need only to get onboard. The song captures a sense of excited journeying toward. The train has arrived, and it’s taking us somewhere new.

Watch Yusuf “read” (sing!) the book, flipping page by page, in this Storytime Read Aloud video from HarperKids:

Also check out Yusuf’s Peace Train initiative, launched in 2020 to deliver relief, medical aid, and education globally.

Roundup: New books and conferences; refugee memorial removed; icon against animal cruelty

PUBLIC ART CONTROVERSY: Olu Oguibe’s Monument to Strangers and Refugees, commissioned for last year’s major quinquennial art exhibition Documenta, was removed on October 3 by order of the Kassel City Council after, it is presumed, mounting pressure from Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Designed as a site-specific work for Königsplatz (King’s Square), a pedestrian zone in the city center, where it had stood since June 2017, the fifty-three-foot concrete obelisk prominently features an excerpt of Jesus’s words from Matthew 25:35—“I was a stranger and you took me in”—inscribed in gold letters in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish. This quote reflects Jesus’s revolutionary ethic of love at the expense of personal comfort, of disadvantaging the self for others, so it’s no surprise that even today, it still offends. (Later in the passage, Jesus issues a sobering warning for those who fail to heed his command to welcome strangers.)

Monument to Strangers and Refugees by Olu Oguibe
Olu Oguibe (Nigerian American, 1964–), Monument to Strangers and Refugees, 2017. Concrete, about 53 ft. tall (3 × 3 × 16.3 m). Installation in King’s Square, Kassel, Germany.

Immigrant memorial removed
Olu Oguibe’s Monument to Strangers and Refugees was dismantled early on October 3 following orders by the city of Kassel. Photo: Regina Oesterling.

Germany has become increasingly polarized since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel initiated an open-door immigration policy, leading to an influx of over one million refugees and asylum seekers at the height of the European refugee crisis. The city council had raised funds to purchase Oguibe’s monument for permanent display, and negotiations with the artist were in motion, but on September 24 they changed course, voting to remove the monument instead. According to Councilman Thomas Materner, a member of the AfD party, the obelisk is “ideologically polarizing, disfigured art.”

[Update, 10/12/18: The city and the artist have agreed on a new public location for the monument: Treppenstrasse, a nearby pedestrian area (via). 4/18/19: The monument was installed today at its new location (via).]

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CONFERENCES

“The Saddleback Visual Arts / CreativeChurch Arts Conference is a unique, full three-day conference and retreat October 18–20, 2018 at the beautiful Saddleback Rancho Capistrano Retreat Center. Creative leaders, arts ministry practitioners, and renowned artists will share visionary ideas and practical applications during sessions, workshops, creative and interactive performances and experiences. Attendees will explore applications for the arts and creativity in the local church, discover creative inspiration, experience refreshing and empowering ministry, connect with their creative tribe, and have the opportunity for personal or team retreat time in a beautiful setting. . . . For more information, and to register, please visit the CreativeChurch Arts website, here.”

[Update, 10/26/18: Below is a short video debrief of the conference.]

Another conference taking place that same weekend, October 19–20, 2018, is “Visual Theology I: Transformative Looking Between the Visual Arts and Christian Doctrine (1850–Now).” The inaugural conference of the Visual Theology Symposia, it’s being held in Chichester, England, and it may sound familiar to you, since I publicized the call for papers back in April. One of my favorite writers and thinkers in the field, Jonathan A. Anderson, will be speaking there, along with others. The focus will be scholarly, whereas Saddleback’s conference will be more practical, hands-on, and ministry-focused.

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LECTURE: “Cathedrals from the Outside: Questions of Art, Engagement, Commemoration and Celebration” by Sandy Nairne: At the National Cathedrals Conference in Manchester last month, Nairne, who served as director of London’s National Portrait Gallery from 2002 to 2015, spoke on the spiritual in art—in public spaces, galleries, and cathedrals. His starting questions: “How does contemporary art function in museums in ways that are of interest to cathedrals? And are there new ways in which art is playing a part in cathedrals that is important to the cultural world as a whole?” Click on the link to read the transcript.

The White Doves by Michael Pendry
Michael Pendry (German, 1974–), Les Colombes – The White Doves, 2017. 2,000 white paper doves, 49 ft. (15 m). Pentecost installation at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London. (Shirazeh Houshiary’s East Window is in the background.) Photo: Marc Gascoigne.

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NEW ICON: Christ Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering: Iconographer Aidan Hart writes, “Sometimes I am commissioned to paint an icon of a saint for whom nothing yet exists, or at least no satisfactory icon. This is usually a pre-schism Western saint. But more rarely, the subject is a new theme, a new emphasis or combination. This was the case when Dr Christine Nellist approached me to create an icon that embodied some of the Orthodox Church’s teaching about our relationship with animals. The icon was to be used as flagship for her newly founded organisation Pan-Orthodox Concern for Animals and to illustrate her pending book on the subject. This article tells the story of its genesis and explains its design.” Fascinating!

Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering by Aidan Hart
Aidan Hart (British, 1957–), Breaking the Bonds of Animal Suffering, 2018. Tempera on wood.

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BOOK REVIEWS

The Hymnal: A Reading History by Christopher N. Phillips, reviewed by Leland Ryken: Who knew hymnals didn’t take the form of a songbook until the 1870s! Before then, says Phillips, they were essentially volumes of poetry, used in family and private devotions. “The focus [of this book] . . . is an exploration of the hymnbooks that preceded our familiar hymnal. These were books containing the texts of the hymns without accompanying music. . . . [The author] doesn’t deal with the history of hymn-singing in church services but with the private reading of hymns as poems. I can’t imagine a more original approach to hymns for our generation.” Definitely adding this one to my to-read list.

The Hymnal: A Reading History

Everything Tells Us about God by Katherine Bolger Hyde, with illustrations by Livia Coloji, reviewed by Amanda McGill: This children’s book from Ancient Faith Publishing begins, “The world is like a giant puzzle God made to tell us about Himself—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Every piece whispers one of His secrets—all we need to do is listen.” “I love the message of the book,” writes McGill: “finding God in the ordinary elements of creation. I think it affirms what children already suspect: that the world is meaningful, personal and infused with specialness. One of the first things I was thankful for was the inclusion of baptism and the Eucharist at the beginning of the book. It situates the sacraments within the normal experiences of life.”

Everything Tells Us about God