Engaging your Spirit without Disconnecting your Mind

One of the things I got for Christmas this year is something I should have asked for 10 years ago: The Weavers’ Greatest Hits CD. (I know, I’m hopelessly behind when it comes to music media, but I mostly have time to listen to music while I’m in the shower and the idea of trying to shampoo with headphones on scares me.) I grew up with the Weavers, and they represent much of what is good about the world to me.
One of the reasons I love this CD so much is track #4, which is quite possibly the most important song in the world. It was written by Ed McCurdy and it goes like this:
Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream
I’d ever dreamed before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed
to put an end to war.
I dreamed I saw a mighty room,
and the room was full of men.
And the paper they were signing said
they’d never fight again.
And when the paper was all signed,
and a million copies made,
they all joined hands and bowed their heads,
and grateful prayers were prayed.
And the people in the streets below
were dancing round and round.
And the swords and guns and uniforms
were scattered on the ground.
Last night I had the strangest dream
I’d ever dreamed before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed
to put an end to war.
As I was singing along this morning, a few things occurred to me. First of all, I realized that as long as I’d known this song, it had been accompanied by very vivid images in my head. The song tells a story. It takes something as ephemeral as world peace and gives it a plot line that you can visualize. That is a great gift, and it’s something our churches need to be doing every day. I can see that room and all the papers, and the people all over the world dancing in the streets like Juneteenth, as each population hears the news. And you know it’s real because how would the uniforms have gotten scattered on the ground if the soldiers themselves hadn’t stripped them off?
The power of the word for casting visions is supposed to be our specialty in the church, especially when it comes to keeping the hope for peace alive. But I confess that I struggle with it. My peace sermons are more likely to include graphic depictions of the barriers to peace and the signs that we aren’t there yet, with a fuzzy, glowing generality about peace tacked on at the end. Intended to inspire lifestyle changes, they merely incite passing feelings and leave us with nothing to do but wish. We must learn from the songwriters and storytellers.
Another thing I’ve noticed about this song is how outdated it has become. At least when I learned it as a child, that “mighty room” was “filled with men.” Some versions of the lyrics that you’ll find now do what I always did in my head and replace the second part of that line with “filled with women and men.” The mighty room is growing. And it’s not just about including women, though that will go a long way toward transforming the world, as so many studies and projects make clear. When I was growing up hearing the song, it was always clear to me that the men in that room were the leaders of each of the countries. It was very civilized and decorous, with a clearly representational style of accord happening. But the world has exploded several times over since then. It’s clear to me now that this mighty room can’t just have elected officials in it. It must have indigenous leaders and ordinary citizens and people from aid organizations and the people they work with. Peace cannot come without justice, and so the treaty will have to involve righting the countless wrongs of the way our global resources are distributed. Elected officials are unqualified to speak to that concern. There is space for them in the mighty room, but only as much as they listen and give respect to the rest of the world.
Again, the church has a role to play in expanding the mighty room. We are called to amplify the voices of the voiceless and to draw the connections between peace and justice that while undeniable are somehow unobvious to so many. We are called to create situations in which mayors join hands with homeless youths and senators join hands with indigenous leaders from countries previously obscured by the equations of power. We are called to help our congregations see the invisible web that connects our lives to others’ and move past the myths that separate us, whether from our neighbors on the other side of town or our neighbors on the other side of the world.
Finally, in the vivid images this song creates in my head, there is one that gives me great joy and yet causes me worry: “the people in the streets below were dancing round and round.” Would we? Will we? The song is clearly not talking about ballet or tap or whatever else we may shuttle our children off to lessons in. The song is telling us about an outburst of pure joy coming from people who still live in their bodies and who respond to the good news with their whole selves. What is the church doing to ensure that is still who we are?
Last summer, we held a “Family Retreat” at our church, designed for parents to attend with their children. One of the things I asked them to do was dance. I played some music, and invited everyone to move around to it. The kids loved it. It was so clear that they loved it, that dancing has been incorporated into our pre-school class routine. But mostly, the parents just watched. How can we make sure those kids grow up into adults who will know how to dance for joy when the good news comes, instead of standing on the sidelines? I know no other way but by continuing to dance and to keep trying to bring more people into the circle. It may seem strange, but then, so is the dream of peace.
Listen to the Weavers sing Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

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