Lament, Dissent, and Dancing

I've joined in many peace vigils, rallies, and marches the past several months, and pardon me if this seems shallow, but where are the tunes? A small rally last September in Washington, D.C., did feature singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked—wonderful, but with an inadequate sound system, she seemed relegated to a side-stage opening act. Punk mother Patti Smith has brought her "People Have the Power" to major D.C. rallies, but this has been a few minutes of musical respite amid hours of talk. Endless speeches without music is like bread without yeast—a hard loaf that tastes flat and hurts if you drop it on your foot. Just a few good songs can leaven ideology with energy and inspiration. They can take issues deeper, binding the message with body and emotion and giving it a foothold in the soul.

We need music to keep ourselves alive in these days of terror and superpower bluster. In The Prophetic Imagination, biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes how the dominant culture and power of any era "consists in briefcases and limousines and press conferences and quotas and new weaponry systems. And that is not a place where much dancing happens...." It is also a place "where no groaning is permitted." Critique, grief, and energized hope—a space that welcomes both groaning and dancing—are the gifts of the prophetic imagination.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2003
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