Christmas Concert (by Incensum)

On December 14, 2014, Incensum, the vocal ensemble I am part of, performed a concert (in Aalst, Kerk OLV van Bijstand) for the occasion of Advent and Christmas, together with a choir from South Africa – Bergrivierkoor.

We’ve recorded this concert and you can hear Incensum sing its parts by clicking the film below [or open download file]. It is not a professional recording but I do think you get a pretty good idea of our sound. There are six of us:

Migrant Mother (by Dorothea Lange 1936)Colin De Pelsmaker: first alto, countertenor
Erik Buys: second alto, countertenor
Luc Claessens: tenor
Miguel Van de Velde: tenor
Simon Bomon: bass
Piet De Laender: bass

For more information on the songs we sang (lyrics and translation), click here (pdf).

Ukuthula (Peace)

Sint-Theresiakapel Middelkerke Geert BourgeoisA while ago (May 2, 2014) Incensum, a vocal ensemble I am part of, sang some songs for the occasion of a newly restored chapel – the Sint-Theresiakapel in Middelkerke. The reopening of this art deco building was done by Flemish Minister Geert Bourgeois and Jozef De Kesel, Bishop of Bruges. It was first built in 1933, after a design by architect Albert Victor Fobert.

We mostly sang Renaissance songs, but we also included Ukuthula, a traditional South African Zulu song that we hold very dearly because of special ties between our ensemble and our South African friends. It is no coincidence that we sang at a memorial for Nelson Mandela in Brussels (click here for more on this – it’s about a “mimesis of peaceful behavior” by taking Mandela as a model).

I’ve selected two songs from that day in Middelkerke, for your listening pleasure. The aforementioned Ukuthula and If ye love me (Gospel of John 14:15-16) by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). These two prayers are well worth discovering (find the texts below).

One note, however, on the text of Ukuthula: “Peace in this world of sin the blood of Jesus brings, Halleluja.” It is tempting to understand the death of Jesus as a classic sacrifice, as though the Christian God “needs” sacrifices to be benevolent towards this world, as though the Christian God, like the traditional gods of archaic religion, needs sacrifices to bring about peace and order in the universe. Jesus, however, is very clear about how he imagines the desires of his “Abba of Love” (Matthew 9:13): I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

Peace I leave with youThe Gospels show that it’s the world, our human world, which desires sacrifice, while – again according to the Gospels – God desires mercy. In the Gospel of John it is Caiaphas who says what the leaders of our human world desire, time and again (John 11:50): You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” As René Girard, Raymund Schwager, James Alison and others have demonstrated, the tales of the resurrection of Jesus open up a new way of imagining peace. No longer a peace built on sacrifice (like the peace in totalitarian regimes – the “Pax Romana”), but a peace coming from the restored presence of our former or potential Victim(s). So that we no longer are – like Cain – “persecutors”, but that we experience ourselves as “forgiven persecutors” who gracefully receive a radically other opportunity to build human relationships.

In the resurrection event as tentatively told by the Gospels, God gives himself back as the forgiving Victim of what human beings understood as “divine wrath” but that is actually “all too human wrath”. In the event of the resurrection our worldly order which desires sacrifice is revealed as a sinful order, actually going against God. The resurrection makes clear that God does not want the death of Jesus, it is we – human beings – who wanted his death.

So how to pray with the text of Ukuthula considering these theological perspectives? Well, on the one hand the text of the song actually mourns the fact that our world is indeed a world of sin that desires the blood of a Victim to bring about peace and order. On the other hand, since our world is recognized as a world of sin, the song also implicitly refers to “a world liberated from sin” that would no longer demand sacrifices. The kingdom of Christ’s God indeed is “not of this world.” Jesus did not ask his followers to fight for him or to start a civil war (John 18:36, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”). One can say, in a paradoxical sense, that Jesus sacrifices the desire to build a world on sacrifices and that “his blood” thus opens up the “eschatological imagination” (James Alison) for “a new kind of peace in this world of sin.”

An interesting short, introductory piece by Tony Jones on all this appeared at Patheos, (click the title) A Better Atonement: The Last Scapegoat.

(Videos by Maaike Depuydt).

Ukuthula kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyeneyz’
Peace in this world of sin the blood of Jesus brings, Halleluja

Usindiso kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyeneyz’
Peace Human HandsRedemption in this world of sin the blood of Jesus brings, Halleluja

Ukubonga kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyeneyz’
Praise in this world of sin the blood of Jesus brings, Halleluja

Ukukholwa kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyeneyz’
Faith in this world of sin the blood of Jesus brings, Halleluja

Ukunqoba kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyeneyz’
Victory in this world of sin the blood of Jesus brings, Halleluja

Induduzo kulo mhlaba wezono (Aleluya) igazi likaJesu linyeneyz’
Comfort in this world of sin the blood of Jesus brings, Halleluja

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may bide with you for ever. (John 14:15-16).

A Mimesis of Nelson Mandela

Incensum, a vocal ensemble I am part of, was very honored and grateful to sing at a memorial service for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013), organized by the Embassy of South Africa in Belgium, on 12 December 2013. The service was held at the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula in Brussels. For more information and some tributes:

Saint Michaels Cathedral Brussels interior choirCLICK HERE TO READ THE PROGRAM (PDF)

CLICK HERE TO WATCH A REPORT ON THE EVENT (hear us sing at the end)

Click here to read a welcome by Ambassador Mxolisi Nkosi (PDF)

Click here to read a tribute by Mr P. Ustubs of the EEAS (PDF)

Click here to read a tribute by Sec. General Dirk Achten (PDF)

It is clear from testimonies all over the world that Mandela is an inspiring example of forgiveness. The man himself made a spiritual journey from the prison of bitterness to the liberation of pardon. His life took part in a dynamic of Love that is also characteristic of Christ’s life. To imitate these examples is not merely to copy them but to challenge ourselves to continue the creativity of Love in our own circumstances. It is trying to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39 – click here to read more) without losing our self-respect. A mimesis (i.e. imitation) of Nelson Mandela can become an example of what René Girard would call “good mimesis”. It seems that African culture itself has its own resources for this type of imitation. African American writer Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960):

Zora Neale HurstonThe Negro, the world over, is famous as a mimic. But this in no way damages his standing as an original. Mimicry is an art in itself [and] he does it as the mocking-bird does it, for the love of it, and not because he wishes to be like the one imitated.

In other words, to imitate Nelson Mandela or the Christ figure is the exact opposite of an idolization of those figures. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) warned for this (read more by clicking here):

Christ comes to the world as the example, constantly enjoining: Imitate me. We humans prefer to adore him instead.

Joachim Duyndam, Socrates Professor of Philosophy and also a member of the Dutch Girard Society, discusses “good mimesis” and how we learn from inspiring examples in this interview fragment. He also mentions Mandela – CLICK TO WATCH:

Of course, the road that Nelson Mandela traveled is perhaps best described by Madiba himself. These quotes, also from the Gospel, should be self-explanatory:Mandela Quote No one is born hating another personBe Imitators of GodMandela Quote As I walked out the door

Ephesians quote Be kind and compassionate