10 July 2012

songs of war

As I carried my young son the other day I was talking to him and singing little songs.  He doesn't know what the words mean, nor does he notice if I am quite on key.  Often, I am reminded of some of the Sunday school songs I learned when I was young.  I grew up in a small church that was part of the evangelical born again tradition, and we were taught simple Bible songs as part of the experience.

Sunday school songs are terrifying things, first to the theologian and then to the child who deciphers their message.

The song that came to my mind - quite randomly, as I have not thought of this song for many years - was about a little boy named David.  It is nice and is made complete with hand motions and such.  Only a boy named David / only a little sling / only a boy named David / but he could pray and sing /  only a boy named David / only a rippling brook / only a boy named David / but five little stones he took

Not bad for a start, but from there it becomes a testament to how this little boy named David took one of the stones which resulted in the giant who came a-tumblin' down.  I didn't sing the whole song, so it wasn't until later that I thought about it.  Even now I wonder if we realize that these cute and fun Bible tunes are actually war songs that celebrate the bloodied battlefields of God's people.  (This happens in many other areas as well, but we'll keep with David for the time being.)  Here I am, passing on my own tradition of faith through young-people singing by telling my little boy that the heroes of the faith are warriors.  When we think if it that way, we aren't so sure are we?

When we consider that much of the church today has gone a bit overboard in its conceptions of grace, acceptance and tolerance, then there isn't much room for any more boys named David.  At least, not when they've grown up and left the Sunday school class.  Often, we seek to skip over the very difficult passages of Scripture when we teach little boys and girls because they are of a "more mature" nature.  (And adults do the exact same thing, mostly for the same reasons.)  This explains why there aren't flannelgraph cutouts for the fourth chapter of Jonah and roughly half of what happens in Genesis, Judges, on and on and on.

Even through our attempts at filtering there stands the boy named David who, although he could play and sing, made his name by killing a man who other men wouldn't dare face.  I am convinced that deep down we know that we need those who are willing to fight the battle, even if their existence is something we would rather not talk about around the New-Testament-age water cooler.  This is because we think that love and grace and Jesus do not have much to do with little boys named David, and that we can rose-color-stained-glass-window the raw fight out of the ancient myth.

But we can't.  The fact of the matter is that we need these war songs to remind us that God loves us and that love fights for us.  And God loves us enough to send people who are willing to endure the battles and get blood on their hands to achieve the restoration that love and grace ultimately realize.  That is how you can explain the cross as well.  Before we can have heroes of the faith God needs to see that there are men and women who are willing to sacrifice their lives for his life.  We know this, and so we sing the war songs to little boys so that they can be the mighty men of the kingdom.  So often it isn't the physical war, but the spiritual that lies at the heart of our cause.  But battle-ready men and women of God are what is needed nonetheless.

I was taught these songs as a matter of faith, and as a matter of fact.  This is what David did, and such commitment to God is what is required of us.  So be it.  We so often promise God that we will do whatever it takes to be his faithful servants, until the whatever-it-takes comes knocking on the doors of our comfortable reality.  When the go-anywhere-with-you meets up with Roman guards who start arresting people, then we make like Peter and decide on other plans.  Jesus didn't waiver, neither did the little boy named David.  And so we hold them up - along with the rest of the heroes of the faith - as those who show us how to live as God's people.

It is incredible what profound theology we can profess when we are young, even if the historical details sometimes get a bit messed.  This is one reason why Jesus admonishes us to become as little children, those who do not blink when making a commitment to be God's people . . . no matter what.  So I have sung a song of war to my nine month old son.  Even after the shock of it all has worn off I realize that this is what is necessary - to raise up men and women who are bold with their faith and who will not fall for the watering down and eroding commitment to compromise which plagues our modern church.  I have been called as one who walks the battlefields of ministry, and I have the scars and the wounds on my soul to prove it.  There is a lot of blood on my hands, because I believe that truth matters and that the kingdom does not compromise.

As Rich Mullins once penned, "the church of God she does not bend her knee to the gods of this world though they promise her peace."

Love is not defined by accepting everything about everyone and never working for God's desired change of heart and life.  Love fights and defends and sacrifices.  Love is willing to slay the dragon, kill the beast, and topple the giant.  Many people can go around and proclaim their love for another, but love is most real when it is shown - and that is what kind of God we are dealing with here.  So we must sing the songs of the battle, for they are songs of his battle and his sacrifice and victory and his story.

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