A PROPHET TO OUR OWN SOULS Rev. Charlie Tyler September 11, 2016
It’s 9/11. When I saw that I was asked to speak on this date, I almost refused. I am choosing not to direct this message to this 15th anniversary of this horror and tragedy. Not because I’m apathetic. But because I know as a spiritual people you have been on a 15 year journey. It would neither fair nor wise to drop myself into your pathway. I’d like to join you in that journey but to speak to it belongs to those who know you best.
But for this moment, may I acknowledge the dreadful scare on our history, the thousands of lives lost, families fractured, children growing up without the parents that went to work in New York, Washington, got on planes that stopped only in Shanksville.
In February of 2002 I wanted to take my youngest daughter to see the ruin at the Trade Center site. It was a brutally cold and windy day. We stood on the overlook for the 5 minutes that our ticket allowed for. I told my daughter I wanted her to see this thing ...and in 50 years, bring her children, and perhaps her children’s children back to this site and see again.
Defence link Casualty Report states that as of October 1, 2015, there have been 2,325 U.S. military deaths in the War in Afghanistan. 1,856 of these deaths have been the result of hostile action. 20,083 American service members have also been wounded in action during the war
Nor can I turn my face from the CDC reports: in the period 2001- 2013, 406,496 people have died following firearm injury. Of these 237,052 were suicides. Over 50,000 per year for 2014 and 2015 bringing gun deaths to approximately one half million Americans.
Financially, I can’t even begin to get my head around the impact on the US economy or world economy in the years after 9/11. I don’t really know what the word ‘trillion’ looks like. But most financial reports about the post 9/11 world use that number...a lot.
And I cannot turn my face from the apparent nauseating greed which led to the Great Recession of 2007 and the years which followed. And again the word ‘trillion’ get used a lot.
SO, I’m not the guy to speak to this date...except to grieve. I’m not a whole lot of fun to have around when people want to pick sides and play Red Rover, Red Rover, send Charlie right over.
More often than not I’m more focused on what I can do to cause a “better Charlie” to show up. To THAT end I’d like to speak this morning.
First let me tell you a bit about me.
Like many of you I love music. And I have a favorite style. The first time I heard Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, I knew I had found my musical home.
In the mid to late 60’s it was very hard to hear this music on the radio. There was primarily AM radio. These guys were NOT on their AM play list.
I lived in Cincinnati at that formative time. And I’d heard about an FM station, WEBN FM. It devoted 2 hours on Friday night 10-12 to ‘underground music’. It had, at the time, a broadcast radius of what seemed to be 2 miles. So myself, Jimmy Crabb and Robby Trinon would climb the scaffolding of the Methodist church’s new sanctuary, pull out that long antenna on my am/fm battery-powered radio and listen to these guys. (please don’t tell anyone I did this, I’m still worried I’ll get in trouble.) It was through this station that we’d heard about a gathering of musicians in upstate NY. And that’s how I became one of 500,000 people that was going to go to Woodstock...only my mom wouldn't let me go. I was the essential rebel.
That helps you understand my own response a few months ago when I was exposed to the video of the remake of Simon and Garfunkel's “Sounds of Silence” by a group called ‘Disturbed’.
I, personally, was stunned by it. I watched over and over. I was very tempted to play it today but I’d rather you experience it on your own if you’ve never heard it.
Now, I need to pause here and tell you about someone that has become very important to me. She’s here with me this morning...mortified that I’m even speaking to this. She is deeply insightful, compassionate, one of the smartest people I know, only qualified by the fact she spends time with me. She has a deep faith which I admire and from which I learn.
However my taste in music and hers are wildly divergent from each other. So I was hesitant to share Disturbed’s remake. But we sat on her couch together. And at the conclusion she simply stated ‘the original is poet, that is prophet’.
There are times in my life when people say things to me which I cannot let go. I’ll hold them close and try to grow them. THIS statement is one of those times.
In this remake no words are changed, the message is essentially the same. But when you hear, the barely noticeable but ominous changes in the notes and the intensity of the music, the power of the song, the insistence that the message of the poet be heard...you’ll understand why the exact same song is now prophet.
My intention is not to elevate the members of this group to some spiritual higher ground. I have not a clue as to their spiritual life or absence of it. But I know that at least in this piece, something transcendent happened. And I hear the prophets of past cultures insisting that we pay attention. Poet to prophet with the same poem, the same craftsmanship.
One morning, during the Christmas season 2000, my oldest daughter, getting ready for her senior year came down the hall with a look on her face that was urgent. She was NEVER urgent about anything at that time of the morning. I thought something was wrong so I went quickly to her room. She pointed to the radio, and we both listened, for the first time, to Trans Siberian Orchestra's ‘Carol of the Bells’. (This too is another piece of music that I’d urge you to listen to in the privacy of your living space.) When it was over I went straight to the computer, looked up the group and ordered the CD. Trans Siberian Orchestra's arrangement is a blending of “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” and it is anything BUT. It is to me haunting, transcendent, thunderous, resentful, and painful. It grabs me by the shirt and says ‘listen to me, you must listen to me’. There is a subtitle to the piece, “Christmas Eve; Sarajevo”. Researching what drove the musicians to ‘birth’ this thing I discovered the motive...the true story of the Cellist of Sarajevo. Do you know the story?
Regularly playing his cello in ruined buildings during the siege of Sarajevo, most notably performing Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, Smailović caught the imagination of people around the world. In his honour, composer David Wilde wrote a piece for solo cello, The Cellist of Sarajevo, which was recorded by Yo Yo Ma Smailović also played at funerals during the siege, even though funerals were often targeted by snipers. He escaped the city in late 1993 and has since been involved in numerous music projects as a performer, composer and conductor.
Smailovic took the beauty of his instrument into the insanity of the siege of Sarajevo and played against the ugliness. When his story came to musicians of Trans Siberian Orchestra they took the poetry of those pieces and turned them into a message of the prophet. Again insisting that I not look away, insisting that I see!
8 am Aug 18, 1969 Jimi Hendrix closed the over 3 days of Woodstock with his version of the National Anthem. When I first heard it I wanted to turn my head. It felt sacrilegious, scandalous, irreverant. The VietNam war was at its peak. Our nation ethos was dislodged. John Kennedy was dead, Robert Kennedy was dead, Martin Luther King was dead. As a young teen I and a generation were unmoored. And I experienced my first poet to prophet performance...and I did not like it.
NOW, somebody in this room should be asking themselves...where is he going with all this.
Here is a truth statement. Each of you, sitting here right now are a poem, and song, a sonnet. You have been being written on by life and by a universe that has brought you to this point and place in your being. You are poetry. And if so, you may also be a prophet to your own soul. In the same way the poets’ messages in the songs I have mentioned became prophetic it also lays in us, me, you to allow our own poetry to become our own prophet.
How? First: Know your own soul. Know its rhythm and rhyme. What makes you tick, what matters to you, how do the answers to those questions fit into your consistent view of the world. If you are not sure, ask people you trust. Ask them what they see and hear and observe and see if that rings true to your own spirit.
Second: Allow yourself to become a prophet to your own soul, not the souls of those around you. You might be inclined to think that the guy across from you REALLY needs your prophetic truth, but that’s a good sign you need your own soul’s prophetic voice.
How? Acknowledge complacency and become determined to move past the inertia that complacency produces. Each of the pieces of music that I suggest have moved from poet to prophet moves the hearer from complacency to action. Each demands the hearer listen and move. Movement might be physical or emotional but one cannot remain the same. Take what you know to be true in yourself and in the world (poetry) and let that poetry become prophecy. Let your song, your poem become the prophet back to yourself. Allow what YOU know to be true to grab you by your shirt and demand that you listen. Let the song that is your life unrelentingly and intensely urge you to respond.
NOTE: It is not up to me, or your spouse or your friends to make those demands. It is not up the me or them to even give you the examples. The examples rest inside you, me, us right now! They are the words and the principles of the poem that is your life. Let them become prophets to your own soul.
Third: Be a gentle prophet to your soul. Once I find the courage to let the poem become prophet it’s tempting to me to become harsh with myself. It is the way the human condition readies itself for unworthiness. And if there is anything that is destructive to the human spirit it’s the suspicion of unworthiness. Also, harshness is successful for a short time. And during that time of success, the harsh prophet will become harsh to those around them. There’s a reason the prophets of old lived in caves and ate locusts. Last: When you are ready, apply your personal prophetic voice to your own soul publicly. What on earth does that mean? Share your personal journey from poet to prophet. Model your own journey so that others may see and know that it’s possible. When appropriate talk, about your discoveries, your failures, your goals and joys and griefs.
I am persuaded whatever the ills of our world...and they are legion, there is healing inside of me, you, us. And it’s already there. Let us allow ourselves the wonder of taking the poetry of our lives and becoming a prophet to our own souls.