An Awful Thing Happened On the Way to Kumbayah

Written by Donald Joy on April 17, 2013

I say Costello’s version of the song is paradoxical because in his hit recording of it, much more so than its original version from Nick Lowe’s old group Brinsley Schwartz, the track explodes into your ears with what is a decidedly militaristic, call-to-arms feel:  The drums are first a heavy machine gun and then a goose-stepping, jack-booted cadence arrayed against the pitched strains of a battle hymn, storming the beaches with the majestic cacaphony of a punk rock orchestra replete with Costello’s soaring, earnest vocals, piano, layered guitars, and a relentless, heavy bass line.  

Anyone who is not moved by listening to it probably wouldn’t have read this far anyway, so I’m confident you know what I’m talking about.  

Furthermore, the title and theme of Costello’s album on which it appears is “Armed Forces.”  Incongruous juxtapositioning for sure.  Elvis Costello isn’t known as a master of irony for nothing.  

So, the point of all this?

I was halfway through the song video and getting warmed up to wax Clash-harmonically, having typed my opening sentence or three on the topic of loving our enemies, when suddenly it became apparent that people’s heads and limbs were being blown off in the home stretch of the Boston marathon, and some kind of death toll of innocents was being exacted by terrorists.  

Instead of being all set to spread love and tenderness over the internet, I was provoked to remember what happened to my Christian faith after 9/11:  It changed, and eventually all but disappeared as my serenity was replaced by what I called a “nourishing rage.”  

I really didn’t like the idea that I was supposed to love the people that destroyed so many of our precious American lives and landmarks.  Soon I flatly rejected it.  I relished the prospect that I finally had a clear mission in life:  Oppose, confront, and destroy the evil enemy.  Justice. 

Christians who preached pacifistic platitudes irritated me.  I eventually sought out Ayn Rand’s hyper-cerebral Objectivist metaphysics, and thought I discovered a righteously intellectual atheism, based on irreducible axioms and strict cognitive processes, unlike any form of awareness I’d previously apprehended.  

That fascination with Ayn Rand’s philosophy lasted for around 4 years, until a nagging tiny little voice inside me ultimately helped convince me that there was a big hole in Objectivist logic.  I returned, gradually, to reading C.S. Lewis and other Christian apologetics.  I started praying and meditating again, and even going to church, in a way.  When a certain author pointed out that Jesus actually whipped the money changers violently as he chased them out of the temple, and that he told his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords, I was somewhat reconciled to a fresher, balanced view of divine mildness vis-a-vis militancy.

Ecclesiastes, I remember, does tell us that there’s a time for every purpose under Heaven.

Now, I contemplate the picture of an innocent, smiling little 8-year-old boy, who was named Martin Richard, holding a sign he made at school last year for an anti-violence project which reads, “No more hurting people. Peace.”  The sign is brightly colored, with hearts and a peace symbol.  

He looked enough like my own small son that I don’t know what more to type when I am confronted by the reality that he was murdered yesterday by an as yet unknown terrorist or terrorists, while I was preparing to compose an essay on loving our enemies.  There comes a point where one just runs out of words.  Instead, I think of swords.  

We’re searching for light in the darkness of insanity. 

Come by here, my Lord, come by here.

Image: artwork: James Tissot; description: The Sermon of the Beatitudes (1886-96) by James Tissot from the series The Life of Christ, Brooklyn; 1886-1896; Current location: Brooklyn Museum European Art collection; source/photographer: http://www.nytimes.com/ slideshow/2009/12/18/arts/20091218-tissot_5.html; public domain
   

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Following his service in the United State Air Force, Donald Joy earned a bachelor of science in business administration from SUNY while serving in the army national guard. As a special deputy U.S. marshal, Don was on the protection detail for Attorney General John Ashcroft following the attacks of 9/11. He lives in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia with his wife and son.