Divine Human Connections
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Last year’s protests in Ferguson and New York left me longing for a time when we could all be on the same page, or at least in agreement about what injustice looks like and how sin has complicated our differing interpretations of it. Cultural and ideological divisions are so commonplace in our world today that, sadly, mundane moments of human solidarity feel like “Man Bites Dog” headlines. More and more, I draw hope from those rare times of humanity and goodwill that we find between strangers at a sporting event, in line at the supermarket, or at the kids play area of the local Mickey D’s.
I was reminded of these inextricable human bonds while listening to a unique orchestra. I’m a huge classical music fan, especially composers from the Romantic period. Back in college, Tchaikovsky was my indisputable favorite. His heartrending melodies and dramatic intensity were the perfect match for my sometimes melancholy and emotionally hyperactive college self. As I sought to scratch a Tchaikovsky itch recently, I wondered if there might be any good video performances of his fantasy overture Francesca da Ramini. Logging on to YouTube, I landed upon an incredible performance by the Teresa Carreño Youth Symphony of Caracas, Venezuela. Led by a fiery conductor named Manuel López Gómez (who was not that far removed from being a youth himself), these young men and women nailed it.
Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, based on a tragic character from Dante’s Divine Comedy, is a thrilling (perhaps over-the-top) piece of music, filled with pounding syncopation and swirling strings that evoke the flames of hell. I’ve never had the privilege of seeing the work performed live, but I always imagined it would provide quite a workout for an orchestra and its conductor, and that’s definitely the case with this dynamic Venezuelan ensemble.
While poised and professional, these kids are clearly feeling the emotion of the music. You can see it in their body language and the way they throw themselves into the performance. By the end of it, I was reminded of how transfixed I was upon seeing the Soul Children of Chicago gospel choir for the first time. It was back in 1991 at Wheaton College. To watch and hear those urban kids transform an initially stiff Wheaton crowd into a congregation of unabashed worshipers was something to behold. These Venezuelan youth performed Tchaikovsky with that same energy and exuberance.
Then, I thought about the fact that here I am, a twenty-first century African American nerd listening to young Venezuelan musicians perform a nineteenth-century Russian composer’s interpretation of a medieval Italian writer’s epic poem. This certainly speaks to the power of great art to transcend time, genre, and culture. But, for me, it also says something about the power of diversity, bridge-building, and multicultural harmony—the notion that we’re all connected.
If a true desire for justice and reconciliation is to infiltrate our unjust and divided world, we must learn what it means to be connected. Our adversarial coworkers, our despised sports rivals, our angry political opponents are all human beings who are worthy of our understanding and acceptance. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it’s now possible for us to leave behind our stubborn divisions and see each other as fellow strivers created in the divine image of God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Who are some of the people in your life with whom you feel divided? How can you work to see the world from their perspective? What are some things you can do to build bridges between those divisions?
PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for the ordinary ways that you remind us of the humanity of others and the meaningful connections between all of humanity. Help us to always be on the lookout for your divine image in others. Amen.
All Things New
Every now and then, you notice it. You recognize the world in which we live is not quite living up to its potential. In the midst of the every day, tiny reminders creep through to reorient us to the truth that this world is not our home. Tainted by the Fall, all of creation yearns for the restoration of all things. We navigate the heartbreaks and the disappointments amid celebration and triumph. We wonder how to tackle injustice while we journal lists of gratitude and thanksgiving. Through it all, God is making all things new, just as he promised. He invites us to join him in the process. What might you contribute through your work and life while you journey through this one life you’ve been given? As a follower of Christ, what role might you be invited to play as God makes all things new? What difference does your vocation make in the work of restoration and redemption? Join the conversation in this series, All Things New.