In recent conversations, when I ponder the future of the AA church, I cannot help but struggle with what distinctiveness we have when it comes to worship and the expressions of our faith. While Christendom is becoming more Asian and more Latino worldwide, we Asian Americans standing in the twilight of cultures, sing to one another songs written by others, but not our own songs.
Here’s the catch, when we understand the Gospel and its power to transform, how can you keep us from singing? The notion of singing a new song is a powerful metaphor in terms of how to live the Christian life. There is nothing like putting words to that joy and setting it to music. This ephemeral art can become something strong enough for you to stand on, others to join in, and perhaps, even lead a movement. Like the African-American slaves who sang spontaneous songs of sorrow and freedom; like the Gaelic Irish who sang songs not to ward off evil, but to sing to God that set them free; like Martin Luther who wrote over drinking songs with words of praise; like Handel writing his “Messiah” and John Coltrane playing his masterpiece, “A Love Supreme”, where will our psalmists come from? Where are our Keith Greens? Our Derek Webbs?
Sing your songs. Write songs for us to sing. Just like the Levites led the Israelites with songs and worship, if our twilight generation can find ourselves on the other side, it will demand that many of you step to the front and sing songs for us, our songs.
Please keep writing, performing, touring, and singing your new songs. Not for yourselves, however…there is too much at stake. Sing about change, sing about us and this twilight that we live in. Being latchkey kids; being sons of prosperity with grandfathers who live in poverty; sing of freedom from guilt, being obliged and obligated by spirit but not by the luring of success. Sing about being children of war and of rumors of war. Sing about success and excess and process and custom-made, mass-produced, Made in China, practical and superfluous, brand name consciousness and what in the world or hell that has to do with your tiny broken microchip of a faith. Sing of being wise in school and fools everywhere else. Sing of selling out or buying in — but don’t forget to mention how much it cost, and you were always taught to negotiate. Sing of doing business with the poor and living with the rich. Sing of the being foreigners in both lands yet finding acceptance in Christ. No one else can sing these songs quite like you can. No one in the generation before you nor after you can sing that song quite like you can.
Sing and live your songs.
No more mockingbirds.
To that end, I use these words of Derek Webb, myself as a mockingbird, but only because I am challenged to walk this tightrope of being in this world, but not of it. Of being American, but not of it. Of being Korean, but not of it. By learning to be in Christ, and of him.
So here are the lyrics of his song, Mockingbird, may they be a challenge to our artists and to us, to sing our own to be our own…
here are days i don’t believe the words i say
like a life that i’m not living
a song that i’m not singing but to you
there are times that i believe i’m satisfied
like an intimate connection
despite this bad reception with you
because i can’t afford to pay
for most of what i say
so it’s a lucky thing
that the truth’s public domain
and i am like a mockingbird
i’ve got no new song to sing
and i am like an amplifier
i just tell you what i’ve heard
oh, i’m like a mockingbird
and yes, it’s true that i need this more than you
like one whose name is many
have mercy, please don’t send me away
and i’ll do all i can
to be a better man
oh i’ll clean up this act
and be worse than we started