Black Violins

I have something different this week. It’s a bit of a parable. A friend of mine recently shared a video on her facebook page of two black violinists playing to hip hop beats.

I knew nothing about these artists, but I thought, “How sad if people recognised their talents but insisted they play Mozart.”

At a talk I attended last year by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah.  At one stage he made the point that we’ve given the descriptor “classical” to Western European music most popular starting in the 1600’s. All other musical genres from other cultures and times are given different descriptors that often indicate they are something less than “classical”.

What if people looked at these musicians and thought, “How sad they settled into popular music when they could have joined an orchestra and made a name for themselves as classical musicians.”

I have a stereotype in my mind of what violinists look like. And it’s something much more like this video that was shared with me on facebook than the previous duo.

They’re white. They’re women. They’re wearing evening dresses. And even though they’re clowning around and playing popular tunes they more closely fit the image I expect.

But I’m also forced to face my own violin prejudice. Within the predominantly white culture there’s also the decidedly non-classical genre of fiddle playing. No one looks at a fiddler and says, “That guy has talent. What a shame he’s not part of a philharmonic somewhere.” There’s a willingness to accept this folk music style as a distinct genre because we recognise its roots.

We face a couple of challenges when we consider these different styles of violin performances.

1. Can we value each style for its unique traits, or do we feel an urge to rank them?

2. Would it be possible to host a concert with all these artists performing together?  Would the musicians need to make adjustments in order for the concert to appeal to the entire audience? Would they be willing to make adjustments? Would the crowd give each group equal attention and respect?

Sadly, churches often want to make newcomers from other cultures worship and serve in a style preferred by the majority culture. This attitude is most often unthoughtful, but it communicates a lack of respect for the talents and values of the minority culture. This is why it’s so important for congregational worship to reflect the values and preferences of all cultures if the church is to grow. It’s also why it’s so difficult to change the existing pattern of worship.

What do you think? Is this helpful? What are the strengths and weaknesses of comparing these violin genres to multi-ethnic churches?

After a little research, I can share that the duo in the opening video are known as Black Violin. They’re both classically trained musicians who creatively play a variety of styles. They have performed at the US President’s Inauguration Ball in addition to many other high profile gigs. Here’s one of their recent performances:

Why Did Jesus Choose a Samaritan?

Luke 10 contains Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. The basic message is that we are to love each person that crosses our path.

The parable Jesus told contains an additional message that we might easily rush by.

In the previous chapter (Luke 9) a Samaritan village refused to provide food and shelter for Jesus because he was traveling to Jerusalem. That sounds like prejudice at its finest. Jesus’ disciples then sought to return the favour as they asked if they could call down fire from heaven upon the village. Jesus rebuked them and walked on to another village.

good samaritan 01A little later when asked to answer the question “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus tells a story that contrasts the religious leaders of the day and a foreigner. If Jesus simply wanted to create a contrast for his story, he could have told the parable of the Good Undertaker, or the Good Tax Collector. He could have used any number of unclean or unwelcome characters from Jewish society. Instead, Jesus made his hero a Samaritan.

In choosing a Samaritan as his hero Jesus provided a subversive commentary on Jewish societal attitudes of the day. So if you think Jesus wouldn’t have anything to say about race relations in the US (or any other country) today, you’re wrong.

A significant message from this parable is that we are to love our neighbours that have black or white skin. We are to love those who speak English poorly, or not at all. Of course, none of us are racists. But there are some groups of people we don’t like very much.

  • The (white) suburbs don’t like when the (black) city starts spreading outward.
  • We complain aobut all the Indians in the call centers who we can’t understand.
  • We don’t like the (sometimes illegal) immigrants taking “our jobs”.
  • We don’t like the Asians we see driving around town in their nice cars. (Because they all drive Mercedes, right?)
  • We’re uncomfortable driving through neighbourhoods where the store signs are all in another language.

Maybe we don’t want to call down heavenly fire onto these people, but it would be a stretch to say that we love them.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr Day. As a figurehead within the civil rights movement he played a pivotal role in bringing great transformation to this country. In his “I Have A Dream” speech he made the statement,

I have a dream, that one day, my four little children will live in a country where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.

That’s a dream Jesus had for the world. Jesus dreamed of a kingdom defined not by ethnicity, but by character. It’s certainly a sentiment found in this parable. In verse 37 we find that the true neighbour is not identified by race, but as “The one who had mercy upon him.

We need to respect the colour of skin, and the riches of languages and cultures of other people. We also need to look beyond these traits to their heart needs and their character.

In The Parable of The Good Samaritan Jesus makes a subversive statement about race relations. “Samaritans are God’s people too.” It’s a message that retains its relevance in 2014.