Trade your gold for my Christ
Empty chalices line
The streets where my God’s supposed to be
And the methods are madness, the grapes are all wrath
And the wine was lost south of the sea
Trade the fruits of this world for the soil of another
Water cleanse my iniquities
‘Til With our tarnished hands, friend
We’ll till ‘til we’re dead and our garden is finally pristine
I’ve been waiting
For a light and a life and a dream
And a hand I can let go
My Melody echoes
E cho, I’ve been waiting for thee
Said the mime in the glass to the faces that pass
Look at all of you hiding in screens
When all you need is a touch
And a Luddite foray
And a day for to dance in the streets
He shouts to the highway beneath
We’re in debt, we have hearts to unharden
Aren’t we so much the same?
In our passing car rage,
Breathing diesel and spitting out carbon?
Tear your books from the shelves drain the watering wells
Where a lonely bird weeps to the fishes
Out damned spot, out damned spot
Asleep, my wakeful heart
My purpose and my fear torched and quenched and it’s here and it’s now
How the brushfires burn out Kintampo road
How the dusty spires and the lightened load
Show me just how far I’ve yet to go
Where electric wires hang limp and low
Bringing power to the people, but the stars and the steeple
Are all I need
The cultural studies approach pushes us not to limit ourselves to a singular interpretation of any religion, but to see it as a product of the cultural and temporal context. Islam in one country is not the same as Islam in the next.
I spent January in rural Ghana. The influence of Islam and Christianity was unmistakable in the simplest sense, motivated out of the message of love for God and his creation. Ritual played very little part in the celebration of religion to the extent that the labels of Muslim and Christian didn’t matter; everyone had the same goal of glorifying God. This phenomenon is based purely on my own anecdotal observations of one small village, and I am aware that religious tensions do arise frequently throughout the rural developing world, but for me, even this unscientific observation was heartening. I have grown frustrated with the ways in which wealth and power have corrupted the church that I was brought up in, and until this January, I had blamed that corruption on religion itself. It was not until I experienced religion in this context that I was able to see it in a different light and reevaluate the positive aspects (sense of community, selfless motivation, etc. Religion itself is not inherently a positive or negative influence in society in and of itself, but rather a tool that can be used to justify or promote negative or positive actions
The paradox of missionaries and colonists simultaneously exploiting and spreading religion has always troubled and intrigued me. The idea that the gold exploited from the African coast was made into chalices for the blood of Christ is fraught with irony. In an attempt to carry out ritual at the expense of human dignity, the sentiment behind the ritual is lost. The true blood of Christ (wine) meanwhile, remains in Ghana, thriving despite poverty. This theme is reflected in the writings of prominent Muslim writers; The Beggar’s Strike comes to mind for its central theme of the importance of the poor and the hypocrisy of the wealthy, as well as the Conference of the Birds for its call to leave behind wealth, ritual, and material things to follow the path to God.
The second verse describes the work of pious people, renouncing the material world for the promise of God’s kingdom. They know that they are poor and sinful, but they are constantly working for the betterment of themselves and their community to glorify God without selfish expectation. Across all understandings of Islam in diverse cultural contexts, this is the quality of true religious piety in my opinion. I believe that many scholars of Islam would echo this sentiment, including Iqbal as demonstrated by his call to Muslims to reclaim the greatness of their ancestors in “Complaint and Answer” and Professor Asani in “Infidel of Love.”
The chorus expresses the longing of someone who has only seen what they are realizing now to be a secular façade of religion at seeing religion in its purest form. The last line plays with the word Echo, and “E-cho,” the Mo word for “good morning” or “welcome.”
The third verse expresses frustration at Western society, the hurried lifestyle of which contributes to the destruction of the purity of religion. The onlooker, recognizing the need to reassess Western values tries to persuade his people to revert back to humanness and simplicity, but consumed by technology and individualism, his pleas fall on deaf ears The conflict between modernization and Westernization is one that has troubled me, not just in the religious context, but in a development context, and the fact that the two have become synonymous speaks volumes about the global power dynamic and our flawed theories of cultural supremacy and development policy. This verse critiques Western society simply because it is where I am coming from in terms of my understanding of the negative influence of modernization, but as countries modernize and grow more reliant on technology and less reliant on humanity, the critique could just as easily be applied to those countries.
The fourth verse is a continuation of his plea, asking his people to recognize that they have been dehumanized to the point that they behave like the mechanized traffic.
The fifth verse invokes imagery from a number of the Islamic texts we have read encouraging a divergence from rote ritual in favor of a religion that is purely motivated by the love of God. The first line is taken from the imagery of one of Professor Asani’s early lectures that resonated with me comparing keeping sacred texts on the shelf to rote ritual practice not rooted in love of God. The second line was inspired by the duck in The Conference of the Birds, who continually performs ablution rituals but fails to seek his creator. The third line is a reference to Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth’s futile attempts to wash away guilt with water. The fourth line was inspired by anIqbal quotation “an infidel with a wakeful heart before his idol is better than a religious man asleep in a mosque.” The final line is a reference to Rabia, who carried a torch to burn Heaven and a pitcher to quench Hell. If the events unfolded as the onlooker sees fit, the books would be taken off the shelves, the ritual ablution facilities drained and Heaven and Hell gone, all in an attempt to shift the focus from hope, fear, ritual, and status to the root of religionlove.
The final verse describes the simplicity of the rural Ghanaian landscapethe only dirt road connecting the village to the nearest town is physically long and winding, but also represents the spiritual distance between what the small community has achieved in their pious poverty and how civilization has devolved at the other end. Electric wires span the length of the road, but most people can’t afford the electricity they bring. The people aren’t bothered by this- they have the power of community and of God on their side.