Snow in Colorado, PC: Brian Lindell

Do They Know It’s Christmastime?

Every December, people around the US finally allow themselves to listen to Christmas music, joining the few of us who believes in the extension of the beautiful season. Yet with the introduction of this wondrous genre to public radios comes the airing of one particularly degrading song.

Do They Know It’s Christmastime,” a well-meaning song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure and sung by a variety of British artists in 1984 under the name BANDAID, redone several times by contemporary musicians on behalf of different causes, plays consistently on every variety Christmas station. While originally meant to address a famine in Ethiopia, it gives no further thought to the lives or beliefs of Ethiopians.

The song does not consider that maybe this country where Orthodox Christianity has existed for thousands of years, before the Anglophone world had heard the good news, does indeed know and celebrate Christmas. They follow this calendar and celebrate it on 07 January.

Perhaps if Geldof and Ure had taken time to speak with Ethiopians or the other Africans the song “covers” and ask the question in the song’s title, they could have written a better song that did not degrade so many humans while intending to help.

The original lyrics read,

…But say a prayer, pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you

Well, that’s grim. “Dread and fear,” “doom.” Thanks for highlighting the growing African economies in nations such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Libya, and Rwanda. Thanks for praising the countries that had gotten on their feet after colonists like Britain itself finally gave them independence a mere two decades before the release of this song. Thanks for giving a shout out to the music industries that were beginning to take hold in places like Kenya. Thanks so much.

And “thank God it’s them instead of you”? That strikes me as heartless. But let’s continue.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

You’re literally lumping what is now 55 different countries into one and saying the geography and situations are all the same. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have a lot of jungle, for example. And lakes. A massive river. An ocean port. Farms and corn and fruit trees. And mountains – with snow (though that’s the only place you’ll find it in DRC, which sits on the equator).

Also, why is snow a necessary indication of the holiday? Christmas originated as a celebration of King Jesus being born in what is now the West Bank, Palestine. Though snow plays a role in many Anglo-phonic songs about the holiday and indeed in my own life as someone originally from northeastern USA, it was not originally part of the picture.

Moreover, “they” do know it’s Christmastime. In Congo, a 95% Christian country, we don’t celebrate in the same commercialized way the US or probably Great Britain does. It is more minimal, in that we don’t tend to give gifts and don’t propagate the Santa story. But we do expect the holiday to come every December. We have our own Christmas songs that church choirs do. We go to church on the holiday to celebrate and hold all-night prayer vigils. So to answer the question once more, yes, “they” know it is Christmas.

In 1984, the songwriters were addressing the Ethiopian drought but then sweeping the rest of the continent under the mat of their ill-spoken words. You can’t do that. There’s too much diversity on the continent and even within the countries that compose it. And to only show the “dread” and “doom” of a place or places is not a healthy way to call people to your cause because it denies the humanity and life within those places.

Not to worry, though. Maybe this was just written…and sung by over 40 artists initially…and redone four times, most recently in 2014… simply because everyone was too cold and grumpy. Check out a solution for this below and consider some better ways to communicate your cause here. Finally, petition your local radio to stop playing versions of the BANDAID song and others like it. Peace.

 

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Racial Reconciliation: Humility, Listening, and Clear Communication

Sammy Mallow, a sophomore at Wheaton College in IL, spoke about racial reconciliation when I interviewed him for an article this past weekend. His words were simple yet deep, profound and refreshing. I’d like to share some of it here since it does not all fit in The Wheaton Record.

Mallow shared the story of racial reconciliation between him and his former RA and now dear friend, Joseph McGann. Mallow grew up as a half Cambodian, half American missionary kid. He spent four years in Cambodia, one in the United States, back and forth and back and forth, for most of his life. McGann was socialized in New York, did home school and went to a Christian private school, and never left the country. “We learned a lot from each other,” Mallow said.

Mallow said, “I basically learned to appreciate more growing up in America like the way he did.” Mallow said he learned that he can still have a lot of fun with people who are different than himself, adding, “I can still connect with them and be understood by them and enjoy their company.”

On the other hand, Mallow said, “(McGann) learned that there’s a lot to the world.” He elaborated, “Different cultures are immensely important to learn about and to appreciate.”

Mallow continued with some solid advice. He said, “It’s important to be careful and be patient with people. When you’re trying to build a relationship with someone who is different than you — this applies to everything, but especially racial issues — you have to be careful to listen to what the other person is perceiving from you. Also, (you have to be careful about) what you are intending to communicate.” I believe that by “careful,” Mallow meant perceptive in listening and clear in speaking.

From Sammy Mallow, from the Solidarity procession about which I was writing when I interviewed him, and from my friend Mark Andersen, I have been reminded to listen to other people’s stories. How have our brothers and sisters of various skin colors or facial structures been hurt by comments that were allegedly jokes? What words have bad connotations or are degrading? Avoid those terms. Learn from those who are different than you. Their stories are important, and their experiences are valid. Affirm your brothers and sisters. Apologize if need be.

Jesus embodied ultimate humility and reconciled mankind to God so that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish but have eternal life. As Jesus did, so we must do. We must be humble before our powerful God and before our fellow humans. If we understand who God is and what He has done for us through His great love, there is nothing else we can do! We must reconcile with each other; in this case, we must reconcile the wrongs done by racial prejudice and discrimination.

Why is this important? We must practice racial reconciliation because together we comprise the church, the body of Christ. We need each other. Furthermore, God is glorified before all mankind when all His people unite to follow Jesus.

As you go on with your daily lives, I pray that you will take this to heart. You ought not to be reconciled because I say so or because Mallow said so or for any other reason besides its importance to Christ Jesus. What I have said in this blog post is based in the Bible, and it has massive implications on the real world in which we live. Please read the following passage from God’s Word as you prepare to return to your school work, cleaning, job, parenting, web surfing, or whatever it is you were doing.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5 verses16-21, Paul wrote, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (ESV).