I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
After a couple of repetitions the chorus has buried itself deep into my most needy places. Sometimes you feel as if you could sing an old truth into new being and it causes you to sing a little harder and a little louder.
The worship leader is young and he wears his guitar high on his chest. Between songs he shakes out his fingers as if the sheer pressure of strumming is causing him pain. With his eye tightly shut he’s reaching out into the invisible expanse beyond the four walls of this borrowed meeting room. We are parents, we are grandparents. We are married, divorced, abandoned and reconciled. We have failed and found our way back and we will fail again. There are friends here in this room and I watched them walk through difficult days; friends here who held my hand whilst I walked out my own.
Rage, rage! I think as I sing, rage against the terrors of this desperate world: hurt, despair and loss of hope. Cancer, depression and relationships gone awry. War, greed and bleeding poverty, refugees on the borders in distant lands and also closer to home.
We sing on and I know why I like this song so much: this song is a protest song.
A protest song is a song we might link to a political movement: an English song from the Levellers, an abolitionist song from the American folk tradition or an anti-war anthem from the Vietnam years. It is designed to attracts followers to a cause by perfectly expressing their moods of dissatisfaction. A protest song is a tool in the hands of an oppressed group who would otherwise have no voice. It begins as a rallying cry and ends as the anthem of a movement that has changed the world in some small way.
Mahalia Jackson, encouraged us that we shall overcome; Woody Guthrie insisted that this land was made for you and me; Marvin Gaye, believed that love can conquer hate and John Lennon asked us to give peace a chance. Bob Dylan always insisted that “Blowin’ in the Wind” was not a protest song, but he had borrowed the tune from a negro spiritual (surely the most significant of all the songs of protest) and so it was already invested with 200 years of liberation history before he took his guitar and strummed out those first chords. 1963; it became the anthem of a generation of anti-war protesters.
These voices wanted equality, basic human rights, fair pay and an end to war. But what are we, the church, God’s people, protesting against? What are we asking for when we sing?
In the beginning God created a universe and he did it with thought and purpose. The world we live in was never a random collection of chance happenings, it originated in the heart of God. It originated in an intimate relationship of Father, Son and Spirit, three persons and all that love, but no created time or space where it could be. Our creation blossomed out of his desire to love and to make his love known. Before anything existed, God envisaged a universe that would be fit to fill, over and over again, with multiplying expressions of himself. Every atom of our created world was born out of this willingness. God pouring himself into creation, one small piece at a time.
And humankind were made to be the high point, the pinnacle of all that God had made. More than anything else made by God, we were created to be like him. There is something about our nature, our potential, our very presence that is similar to God, we are always expressing God, always on the cusp of being more like him and then more like him again.
So this is what we protest: a world that is less than this, less in its love and less in its beauty. Less than obviously full of glory. And we do it from a position of strength. Jesus Christ came into the world, the perfect expression of God’s intent and our ‘not yet’ flowed seamlessly into a wonderful ‘now’, where the Son of God, has conquered sin and death and brought us resurrection life. We are the ones called to be like him, to fill the world with his glory. And we can.
When we arrive at the bridge in our song, passion increases with volume, and the worship leader strums all the harder. We were the children of Israel sent to perish in the desert with pharaoh hot on our heels, but as we sing the deep waters of the sea open up before us and we walk right through it. If the first chorus was our rallying cry our anthem is now more sure.
No longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God.
Our protest song.