A reflection by Becky Ullom Naugle, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries
“Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes” (Matthew 6:9-13, The Message).
It’s a non-traditional lullaby, but the song “Called or Not Called” is one of my go-to songs when my newest son needs comfort. Holding him, I step and turn, back and forth, singing Shawn Kirchner’s version with the noted “gospel swing”: “Called or not called, God is here. Named or unnamed, known or unknown, seen or unseen–God is here.” The song soothes both of us. Being reminded that God is here, bidden or unbidden, is good medicine for a weary momma.
I’m always looking for good medicine, this balmy music. No, not music about sunny weather and gentle breezes, but music that heals my heart and renews my courage. You probably also have your “old favorites,” and are searching for new ones, too.
I recently discovered a new piece of choral music that made me cry the first time I heard it. I don’t know how I found the song “Baba Yetu,” but I loved it! (Here’s one version as sung by the choir of Stellenbosch University, the oldest university in South Africa.) It stirred my soul and I played it again as soon as it was over. Then, I learned that “Baba Yetu” is “the Lord’s Prayer” in Swahili. How had I not heard this song before? The “Lord’s Prayer” isn’t new material, I’ve been around church-y spaces for a few decades, and even sung in a choir or two. I was intrigued! Research seemed in order!
My next discovery dampened the excitement: “Baba Yetu” is not a traditional African hymn. Its genesis? An American composer, Christopher Tin, wrote it … as the theme song … for a video game. Seriously? I wanted an epic history, as lyrical and inspiring as the music, and I didn’t want to have concerns about cultural appropriation.
Composer Christopher Tin was a fan of the video game “Civilization,” which was created by one of his former college roommates at Stanford. The game’s objective is to “Build an empire to stand the test of time.”
Others too, however, have found “Baba Yetu” inspiring. In 2011, it won a Grammy, making it the first piece of music composed for a video game to do so.
It’s absolutely fascinating to me that the text of the “Lord’s Prayer” would be used for the introductory music of a video game. I didn’t do enough research to learn why this happened–or how many people took notice–but as I sat with this odd fusion of religion and culture, ancient and modern, I grew less annoyed and more appreciative. Why not share a great piece of modern sacred music with unsuspecting secular culture? Isn’t this the call of Christians in every generation: to rephrase God’s truth using contemporary tools? “Baba Yetu” is probably the closest contact some folks will ever have with the “Lord’s Prayer.” Shouldn’t I acknowledge and celebrate this? Glory be to God for finding a clever and cool way into the lives of so many! Known or unknown, God is here. Called or not called, God is here!
Just like it does for me, I hope “Baba Yetu” puts a bounce in your step!