“We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love”
These were the lyrics to the opening hymn, sung at the church service I attended on Sunday morning, November 13, 2016.
I was still in a state of disbelief and gloominess following the election outcome. I just didn’t see it coming. As I sat in church that morning, I looked around and tried to process that three-quarters of white, evangelical Christians had supported him — a presidential candidate who demonstrated the antithesis of most commonly upheld Christian virtues and practices (humility, gentleness, compassion, truthfulness, respect, kindness, self-control, sexual morality, assisting the poor, welcoming the stranger and loving one’s neighbor). How could this be?! “Maybe the people in my congregation are different,” I kept telling myself. But even then, that number (80%) haunted me. In all likelihood, even this group of believers was split.
One In the Spirit? Unity and Love?
The words didn’t feel true in that moment.
One in the Spirit? — I don’t think so. Right then, Christendom never felt so split. So disconnected.
Unified? — well, I still consider myself a Christian, but not one of those Christians!
They’ll know us by our love? — hmm… that’s bordering on hilarity! These days aren’t Christians known more for “what they are against,” rather than what they are “for?”
I couldn’t sing the song. Looking around, baffled by the ostensible joy expressed by those around me, I wanted to cry.
I went home, feeling displaced, sad and angry. Was I the only one who noticed the absurdity of this song in relation to what had just happened in America? And how did we get to the point where allegiance to political party has taken precedence over common Biblical teachings? Moreover, how could my fellow believers endorse this Republican nominee, intentionally disregarding all he said and did on the campaign trail that was in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ?
I found myself needing to make a statement to point out the senselessness of it all. So, I set about doing what I generally do best — drafting a musical composition. In the work, I alluded to Peter Scholtes’s “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” but presented the themes in discordant manners, full of dissonance, angst and rhythmic tension. I ended up pleased with the piece’s overall brooding vibe, but upon debuting it, it didn’t receive the reaction I wanted from audiences. I was aiming for tumult, upheaval, or a contained riot, but received polite applause and a few compliments. Perhaps it wasn’t the right audience. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations. Or… maybe the piece could benefit from visual stimuli which would reinforce the abstract messages I was trying to convey through music!
Convinced of the latter, I approached my colleague, Cora Lynn Deibler, a celebrated illustrator with sensibilities and outlooks which almost always harmonize with mine. I explained how I had written a piece which was intended to stimulate discussion – raise questions and awareness – regarding the incongruencies between faith and politics. I pitched the idea of her creating correlating images and text prompts, to enhance, reinforce and expand the ideas set forth in the music. She enthusiastically accepted the challenge and we embarked on the task of aligning emotionally-powerful, musical moments with equally potent imagery.
Along the way, we added selected student artists and animators to our team, and benefited from the technical expertise of Greenhouse Studios design technologists. The music was re-orchestrated for a eleven-piece ensemble, and subsequently recorded at PBS Studios in Massachusetts.
Sharing Our Work
The resulting final animation will be publicly/virtually presented and audiences will be invited to discuss the leading questions provided therein. These public/virtual showings are designed to be moderated group experiences that can be deployed in a variety of settings.
In any case, the animation will serve as a springboard for thoughtful contemplation, discussion, dialogue, and commentary. It will also be a standalone animation that is placed online and presented through select social media platforms where commenting and sharing are encouraged.
The driving point will be to ask all audiences to consider, more broadly and fully, the language, ideas, and context(s) that have contributed to our cultural drift toward more pronounced tribalism. Hopefully, the questions will linger with each participant, generating a deeper thoughtfulness that will inform their vote and drive them to the polls.
by Earl MacDonald