Yesterday, January 27, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump’s official
statement about the Holocaust failed to mention the victims of that nightmare, namely Jews, Romanis, gay people, or any other group that the Nazis deemed unfit for their idea of a “pure” world. The statement ends with a pledge to “make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”
On the same day, Trump signed an executive order that suspended the United States’
refugee program for four months; banned immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya,
Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days; and banned
Syrians from entering the United States indefinitely.
Trump then said in an interview that Christian refugees from Syria would eventually be
given preference over Muslims.
In a diary entry from January 28, 1944, 72 years ago today, Anne Frank wrote about
boredom. She was in hiding with seven others, friends and family. They ate together and
told stories. But Frank had heard each of their stories so many times that “the various
milkmen, grocers, and butchers” they spoke about “grew beards” in her mind, that’s how old the stories were. She started to notice that the adults were embellishing their stories, adding such unbearable “little frills and furbelows” that she had to pinch her arm to prevent herself “from putting them right”.
Then she wrote about the “helpers” who kept her hidden for a year and a half. The helpers never showed signs of burden, wore “the brightest possible faces”, and brought books to the hiding children. Frank wrote: “That is something we must never forget; although others may show heroism in the war or against the Germans, our helpers display heroism in their cheerfulness and affection.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy was celebrated four days before Trump’s
inauguration, was a radical activist who fought to end racism, fought for workers’ rights,
and told us we have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. He led the March on
Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew a crowd of 250,000 people on a Tuesday,
no less, a working day, because justice can’t wait. At the end of his life, he was deeply
critical of the Vietnam War and, in a speech called “Beyond Vietnam”, called his
government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”.
In his essay “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, he writes about his roots. “Not until I entered
theological seminary,” he writes, “did I begin a serious intellectual quest for a method to
eliminate social evil. I was immediately influenced by the social gospel.” In other words,
his faith was not only personal; it led him to seek social reform. The reform he sought out
was an end to segregation.
He concludes the essay: “[E]very crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the spirit of God may yet reign supreme.”
I made two New Years resolutions for 2017: 1) learn how to sing; and 2) procrastinate less. Today begins the Chinese Year of the Rooster, that fantastic bird that croons every
morning to help us be more punctual.
I learned this yesterday at Naropa’s community Kirtan, a Hindu tradition of singing praise to the gods. Between songs, one of the Kirtan leaders would offer prayers, reflections, and observations; that is when she mentioned the Chinese New Year. Then, with the support of three droning tamburas, a harmonium, and a few drummers (myself included), a group of about fifty sang in honor of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music, the arts, and learning.
We started slow, rubato. The leader sang a line, and the group responded, fifty voices strong. We sensed a rhythm, faster, and the drums started beating. Chimes pierced the air, and hand drums made an irresistible boom. Then the leaders started clapping, and we sang even faster, so fast and so loud that the singers raised their arms in ecstasy, shouting praise to Saraswati, Jai Saraswati, and some singers closed their eyes, and some singers looked to others in amazement, and a child got up to dance with his mother, and the room shook with song and dance and praise and cheer – until a line from the song was held a lot longer and everyone knew to bring it back, return to the slow chant, return to slow, return, return. And the song came to a close with a final shout of praise from the room: Jai Saraswati, the goddess of music, the arts, and learning.
Today is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of learning. He is also the patron saint of philosophers, booksellers, and pencil makers.
I recently joined Boulder’s Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center as an instrumentalist and choir member. Tonight we will sing in honor of Aquinas and in praise of God. I know very little about Aquinas, but much about God, whom I think would want us to keep our doors and hearts open to refugees of any faith. His message is contorted by ill-intentioned Catholics (or simply “Catholics”), which makes God confusing at times. The First Commandment says, “Thou shalt not have any God but me”, which I don’t take at face value, because as I said, I also sing to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music, the arts, and learning. This, again, can be confusing, but tonight I will sing to God anyway with cheer and affection, because God is love, something I think Trump does not understand.
Earlier this week, a little tipsy, I sang karaoke at a bar. Emily and I strained our vocal cords singing a kitschy love song written by a devout Jehovah’s Witness (Prince’s “Raspberry Beret”). We only really knew the chorus, so we had to follow along with the text on screen to sing the verses, and we jumped around and danced and sang like happy fools.
Another option on the karaoke menu was Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U”, a song undeniably in praise of God (“I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something you will never
understand / I’ll never beat U / I’ll never lie / And if you’re evil I’ll forgive you by and by
cuz / U – I would die 4 U”). Instead of beating hand drums, instead of a massive church
organ, this song gets its energy from a cascading synthesizer and a drum machine pounding relentless sixteenth notes. It’s a digital dance-floor hymn.
I sing it here at home.
I sing in resistance.
Singing strengthens me at my core. In church, sitting reverently in a pew; at community
Kirtan, sitting cross-legged on a cushion; or at the bar, standing on a sticky stage singing
karaoke, I sing to deepen my relationship with God / the gods / the goddesses / all of them at once.
I sing so that I may have the full spiritual energy to protest and to write. I might not fight in the war, but I will welcome you in with the brightest possible face and bring you books; I will welcome you in with cheerfulness and affection. I may not lead the march, but I will
speak out, write out, and sing out against this government as long as these dreaded, hateful policies last.
I stand with those of all faiths – or of no faith – and sing with you in resistance. Jai Saraswati. Praise God. And may Prince offer us some guidance: “I’m not a human / I’m a dove / I’m your conscience / I am love / All I really need / Is to know that you believe”.
Written by Ryan Mihaly