Working for peace & justice through nonviolence since 1915.
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Strategic nonviolent movements are one of the most potent forces in the world. They oust dictators, change policy and realize the hopes of communities. For over 100 years FOR has strengthened the movements that reshape society through our work in Black Lives Matter, training in Nonviolent Civil Disobedience, training in Jail Support and Fiscal Sponsorship.
Relationships established through strong communities are the glue of our work. We ground ourselves in relationships of accountability and a spirituality that spans faith traditions. We help build communities that reflect our vision of Beloved Community through our Chapters, Networks & Affiliates, Interreligious Engagement & Understanding, Intentional Communities and Retreats for Movement Leaders & Activists.
We see nonviolence as a way of life, a moral commitment, and a social tool. As a branch of IFOR's international network we work with partners around the world to end militarism in all of its forms, working through the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, United Nations Advocacy, Demilitarizing Communities, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, Anti-drone Initiatives and #GiveRefugeesRest.
There is, simply, power in music that cannot be ignored.
The chords, the lyrics and the tempo of songs mix together in an indescribable way which buoy our souls and give us strength for the journey, no matter how difficult and painful that journey might be.
I was struck in studying how students, on their way to Mississippi where eventually, Goodwin, Schwerner and Chaney were murdered by white mobsters, sang, “Hallelujah! I’m a travelin, Hallelujah! Ain’t it fine? Hallelujah! I’m a travelin, Down freedom’s main line.” (to the tune of “Revive us again)
I remember thinking of the words of Psalm 137, where the exiled Israelites mourned the loss of their Jerusalem. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. On the willow there we hung up our harps, For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” And the displaced, despondent Israelites, asked, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
But it is the singing the Lord’s song in a strange land, in a land which so often has been hostile to the cause of justice and righteousness, which has saved many of us. In the midst of our most abject pain, a song has been lifted up, maybe quietly by one person, but, if heard, grabbed onto by others. The music gets into our scraped and raw sores, gotten from fighting injustice for so long, and it soothes, it empowers and it encourages. That is power.
No matter how bad things are, music is always there, free for the taking. It can jostle us from depression to hope. It can move us from darkness to light. It can make us believe we can open any and every closed door in front of us, and it can give us strength to face the evil which taunts us head on.
When my son Charlie was little, he would scream at Caroline sometimes, as she tried to be “the big sister,” “You are not the boss of me!” I would laugh so hard. When I was a child we didn’t use those words to challenge those who thought they could boss us around. We would say things like, “you can’t tell me what to do…” or some such.
But the words, “you are not the boss of me!” were more powerful. They were targeted and intentional. And when we sing, sometimes, we are saying to evil and oppression and injustice, “You are NOT the boss of me! You are NOT the boss of us!” We sing to get the courage we need to say it, and we sing to keep the courage in place. We sing to take our eyes away from our fear and focus them on our faith. We sing to feel the power of God’s spirit going through us, calming us and strengthening us for whatever is ahead of us.
Music is God’s gift to us; us singing the songs is our gift back to God. The songs we sing in the midst of our despair are declarations of faith. They are the acknowledgement that we know we are in a dark place, but that we are looking to God for the light we need. When we sing, we necessarily lift our eyes to the hills – i.e., to God – from “whence cometh our help.” When we sing, we make God nod to the rhythm the music gives. The rhythm represents water and therefore life, in the middle of the desert caused by evil and injustice.
The Psalmist in Psalm 104 says, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” Singing says to God that we know God is great. Sometimes, we can’t say “God is good all the time,” because there is too much mess, too much misery and suffering around us, but the music, the songs we sing, belie the fact that we are able to tap into a power given to us by God which neither the world nor its puppets can take away.
The songs we sing help us say, “Through the storm, and the rain, through heartache, yes, and pain, thank God I still, still, still have joy!” The joy which we derive from singing supersedes the powers and principalities which think they are greater than God. The music, the songs say, “Oh no! Understand this: YOU are NOT the boss of me!”
On this day, sing a song. Sing it over and over. Sing it until it massages your soul. Sing it until tears come to your eyes. Sing it until you feel your strength and hope returning. Sing it until you feel your anger being put into perspective. Sing it until you fall to your knees and ask for God’s presence in ways you haven’t done in a while. Sing unto the Lord a new song…and in the process, make the ugliness and scariness of this time take a back seat or perhaps be retreated to a back room of your spiritual house. Sing to the Lord …and be strengthened.
Amen and amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is FOR’s Senior Organizer and Trainer. A former pastor, Dr. Smith is also a communications consultant, musician, and the founder and executive director of Crazy Faith Ministries, a non-profit dedicated to teaching the concept of faith as a spiritual force for social justice. She is the author of five books and a blogger for the Huffington Post. You can follow Dr. Smith on Twitter @cassady2euca .
Why We Must Sing is from her collection of Tuesday Meditations.
We focus on building movements and peace networks by acting as a resource hub for activists, organizers and communities. Through our network of chapters and affiliates we connect movements at the grassroots level.
We provide workshops, educational resources, strategic consulting, and speaking engagements for diverse audiences. We run young adult leadership development programs and nonviolent direct action trainings for front line movements.
We're part of a global Fellowship growing a vibrant, creative, international and intergenerational peace and justice movement. More than 70,000 consituents in the US participate in our base-building work. Join us!
For over 100 years FOR members have led the strategic application of nonviolence to political and social change movements worldwide. We honor and count among our number Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, Thich Nhat Hanh, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Muriel Lester, Sulak Sivaraksa, James Lawson, Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Andre and Magda Trocme and many more.
FOR recognizes individuals and organizations who make exceptional contributions to peace, justice and reconciliation. We honor unsung grassroots activists with the Local Hero Award, US justice leaders with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, and international peacemakers with the Pfeffer Peace Award.
Since 1918 FOR has produced publications and a national journal to shape and reflect learning on the power of nonviolent social change. Since 1934 that award-winning journal has appeared under the title Fellowship, now issued twice yearly in summer and winter. FOR's national newsletter, Witness, is produced in spring and fall and provides highlights of campaigns and projects led by grassroots FOR chapters and affiliates.