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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Gospel and the Statue of Liberty - New Music

Every once in a while I try a little hymnody – writing new hymns, or at least new words for older melodies. 

This week I have been listening to various recordings of Irving Berlin’s arrangement of words from the socialist poet, Emma Lazarus: Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor. The lyrics of Berlin’s song (composed for the all-but-forgotten musical Miss Liberty (1949)) were drawn from Lazarus’ sonnet The New Colossus, which was written as part of the fundraising campaign for the construction of the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty stands. Lazarus’ poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and is displayed in the pedestal’s lower level.

I have written a new first verse, drawn from Jesus’ words in Luke 4: 18, to add to Berlin and Lazarus’ work. I think the two pair together very well.

But I hesitate somewhat with this. I am often vocal about the need to disassociate the idea of American exceptionalism from the gospel. America is not the Promised Land. The American Dream is not an expression of the gospel message.

Despite this, I think Lazarus’ poem is bigger and better than the American dream. I think that it is an expression of the values and concerns of the Kingdom of God.

The Spirit of the Lord
has given me a mission and a call:
to preach the gospel message to the poor,
to free the pris’ner and give sight to the blind,
to proclaim the year of the jubilee.

Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I also like that this is a reminder that Socialism is as American as apple pie (whatever that means). Both the Pledge of Allegiance (in its original form) and the Statue of Liberty poem were written by American socialists. Socialism is not necessarily either godless or un-American.  

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