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by Dr. Nathaniel R. Strenger
| OLOGY

A Pentecostal Reflection from Vampire Weekend

Harmony Hall

Goes the Vampire Weekend song:

Anger wants a voice
Voices wanna sing
Singers harmonize
'Til they can't hear anything
I thought that I was free
From all that questionin'
But every time a problem ends
Another one begins

And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness
Anybody with a worried mind can never forgive the sight
Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified
I don't wanna live like this
But I don't wanna die

If you are at all the type, you can go listen to Episode 175 of the Song Exploder podcast and hear Vampire Weekend’s songwriter, Ezra Koenig, recall how the song came together out of what was before a heap of disorganized piano and guitar bits coupled with flashes of insight into the human situation. That human situation, you might detect in Koenig’s words, is mired in foolishness exposed most vividly when we claw at the power to transcend either our Creator or our fellow creation. We erect these Harmony Halls—academies, places of worship, sacred structures of political or judicial discernment, even mental health clinics—often with our best intentions. But invariably we stumble along on our way towards that imagined ideal, tripping over our own follies and temptations. The manifestations of these follies range from the biggest injustices to the smallest resentments and retaliations. But they are always there. The stone walls of those Harmony Halls bear witness to the frightening sight:

Wicked snakes inside the place we thought was dignified. By now the only surprise is that we are still surprised.

Following the Judeo-Christian histories, that tragic part of the human narrative most evocatively began in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. Our bigheaded forebears came together to build a Harmony Hall, aiming to ascend high up into the heavens so that created nature—maybe even the Creator himself—might be transcended by the sheer will of human fortitude. In some bombshell act of severe mercy:

Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.

We ascended. He descended. And to this day we are prideful, grabbing, and angry.

Anger wants a voice; voices want to sing. Singers harmonize, till they can’t hear anything.

But the Christian narrative tells of another descending act of shocking mercy. His son Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection offered that desired transcendence and undeserved righteousness.

And now that liturgical calendar celebrates Pentecost, recalling another rhythmic ascension and descension. Jesus does what our forebears could not, and he ascends into the heavens to take his seat at the right hand of the Father. And soon after that the Spirit descends on our muddled mess and offers the power to coalesce once again. As that church birthed forth and the Age of the Spirit unfolded, Paul wrote to the Ephesians of peace:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

When in our days we toil to find shared language with the outcasts, with the bombasts, with the defiant, with the enemies, we participate in the reconciling and Pentecostal work of the Holy Spirit. For look around you, we are still bickering, and we are still splitting. We are still falling prey to pride, self-righteousness, and anger. We quickly overlook those humbling logs and all too often turn our eyes to the Harmony Halls of superiority, absolutism, and judgmentalism. And whenever we find ourselves too comfortable, may we not forget that we too are dangerous ourselves.

Goes on Vampire Weekend:

Within the walls of power lies a nervous heart that beats

Like a Young Pretender’s

Beneath these velvet gloves I hide
The shameful crooked hands of a money lender

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

From the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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