Ep. 4.5: Carlos Colón on Music and Engaging Social Issues

hello and welcome to season four of the Lux cast where we explored the intersections of Christian faith culture and our lives my name is Megan rice Lux Cass director and communications coordinator at Western Theological Seminary today's guest is El Salvadorian composer and liturgist Carlos Cologne Larry Figueroa a hope College alum and local musician sat down with Carlos to discuss his harrowing escape from El Salvador finding a home in the church and to discuss what is the role of art and engaging social issues this episode was recorded during calvin institute of christian worships 2018 symposium on worship carlos happy to be here with you today thank you yeah great being here in Grand Rapids and in Michigan I know and it's kind of an unusual January weekend where the we're in like the mid 50s I think you brought that Waco Texas and I mean this the Calvin worship symposium and I came with a mariachi group uh-huh and and they are in and they were hoping some of the especially so many younger members we're hoping to see snow and they saw something yeah yeah I've seen enough snow right many troops now do you do yeah yeah this week this weekend I don't think that's right yeah yeah the sunshine does this does this get so I know you have shared your story many times but I thought we could revisit it together here for listeners or viewers because I think by looking at your early years I think we've actually find the center of gravity for a lot of the work that you're doing even even today is Wow yeah yeah I thought we could talk about that a little bit no oh review and then maybe you can jump in wherever but you are originally from episode Brotherhood and at a young age 14 you were you and your family were forced to leave it aside whether to see that what the malla because of the violence and if I if I have my facts correct actually on the night you all were leaving the that the death squad came to your house and your assumably presumably to kill your family to kill my family Yeah right and as it turns out you know I've seen some of the article has been written my my mother had a premonition and so she had sent me away she has sent me to what Amala like a couple of weeks a few weeks before so actually none of us were there but that but she was more concerned about me because I was at an age where I could be recruited by either the guerrilla or the soldiers or the army you know to fight for them and so and so but but indeed that day that they actually got on that under they had a little Volkswagen you know and they got into their car like if they were going the marketplace to buy food and then they draw directly to the airport and they've had they had a visa to come to the u.s. right and I was in I won right and so they they they just left they left that card in the air poor thing weeks or days a week later some relative picked it up but but it was it was it was more dramatic than we had imagined it right and it was a real threat here he brought it 300 losses friends had been killed already so Wow including her best friend who was a fellow teacher and was killed in front of the school children so witnessed a lot of these were in the middle of the worst of the horrors of war on Osama yes right and then and then when you you looted to this but you arrived and you were planning on being there for a week tops on a week on your way to the US correct and your family yes either on my way through the u.s. or actually broadly we we had no idea that the Salvadoran conflict was going to last months or years and he lasted 12 years so so we we thought that this was just uh then you know temporary skirmishes the things were going to get better you know within a few weeks and we were going to go back well so you spent five years into the other with the mother and actually we overlap there my mom is from what they might actually grew up in 17th up a thing which is on the other side of the country and came to the USA in or sixteen so we we shared that in common I've only been back one time but my mom and brother have been back several many Oh what the month that's right so so then you ended up spending five years in what the mother tell us about those years specifically about living someone in exile as a war refugee and how how did that shape your faith well I think that the main way those pilgrim years in Guatemala met my main way it I just gave me a staunch belief in the church and the body of Christ and the you know I had nothing else but truly the church as my mother so so I think that that was the thing and before before that a lot a story that I don't tell but I have been sent I remember the letter from my pastor and all sorrows she wrote me a letter recommendation for the pastors and what was very moving because he had been a living icon for Christ for me when I I when I found the Baptist you know and started hanging out this man was was somebody who visited the sake encourage the poor pray for the need you know counsel just a faster of pastors and there's a trillionth of a man and I had the privilege in seventh grade I started going on posture of visitations with him so for two or three years I just got to watch the best pastor that unbeknownst to me I will ever know in my entire life I like to joke that I did you know it went downhill from there but but I I met I use his name was never Diwali and senior his his son after Diwali enter has been to Grand Rapids and compose him at this event where we are currently taping from and it's a musician and and and in one of my best dearest friends and we had compare notes and and and so this really all of these shape may answer in those those by dose but that time in Guatemala I have been disciple into this type of thinking oh this is what church is for three years and and I had other people there wonderful pastor really what and what a mile a city to Danny animals call so and so I was able to continue and meet my Christian for major but I think you're right it shapes me and what songs from those years in in what the Motor City do you remember and that stay with you even today even if even if maybe you don't sing him anymore but but what how did that music shape kind of your early theological well that's that I had incidentally this week in Tala this week here in Grand Rapids I have had a great question that had made me reflect or those yet but yeah when I didn't there's some of these songs that show up am I even in my classical composition just maybe fragments like Santos and you know that's that that's I actually used that one in my Requiem okay but there is a song that it is not so much in English its hopefully I I'm trying to record if it will be in a bilingual hymnal but it's called Senor to Mohammed's permanently Lord you call me by my name and or I come to your calling you know daily and then I had nothing to give you but I give you my life it was the summary yeah and and I I sang it so much as a young person that I memorize it and sometimes I start or ended in the day without play yeah I think it you know audibly or just in my heart and and it was because it was there was another element I think of my information in combination broadly with a village small village like the idea not this epicurean idea that we live with you know here in the in the north you know God being cannot there this video is more just Jesus God working in the village yeah you don't want to upset another story but but yours a very real presence you know you know in that daily communion yes yes you know I I am actually a sacramental a Baptist a sacramental Baptist I believe I believe in the real presence you know the Lord in communion you know I cannot explain it but I believe literally in a passage in John 6 you know yeah it's a mystery but but I am also careful to respect you know that other side of my roots knowing that I have known many many many Christian friends who in us in a sense leave sacra sacramentally with a daily presence of Jesus Christ spiritually with them yeah Wow let me ask you about so till you left what the mother said he came to the u.s. studied composition studied piano pedagogy and you now are among many other things a composer and I want to talk about one composition and actually lamento conatus is the documentary that features some of my music and actually it's a documentary but it started as a musical composition right the musical composition with my lost Saints that was the underscore for lamento canalis and lamento Canalis is a takes us to the Mexico Texas border and really is mourning the death of those immigrants who are crossing the border for whatever reason can't keep up with the glue author that's bringing them across yep Scott and they pass away with dehydration and are just sort of left there often buried and trash trash bags and their families don't know what happens to them so your documentary goes in and looks at this tell us a little bit about that project maybe tell us where the name came from kind of what what was the motivating factor that that moved you to work on that project yes and so I think that part of it has been that years before some of the music a feature in the documentary comes from my choral Requiem that we don't hear in that and in Michigan with a Quarles so but they so I have been with the theme of lament I had discovered these songs in a deeper way thanks to the the spiritual mentorship of people like Emily bring that it's me from here yeah and so and then I have been dwelling in discovering the Psalms of lament for example fit you know where a great fit for the way we need to pray and some what some communities where that experience great suffering great violence and then about almost six years ago I lost my first wife to cancer and so the first in the first Mother's Day without her I wrote a piece cello solo call with my lost Saints and really that comes from there is a famous spot we have a Baylor University and I'm Stromberg a Browning library a Browning collection – Elizabeth and Ronan browning here and remember that the Elizabeth browning rights in the sonnets with the port to use the famous boring yeah how do I love thee how do I love in one of the lines is with my lost saying you know and so and so that's what and so I thought that but is as often happens what our users and ended here in the example poetry you know a phrase can have a layers of meaning right and for me it is you know you know experiencing love you know enjoyed and just thinking that you know my my she I didn't have a wife anymore she was now my sister yeah communion of the saints and so the idea of lament became even more more more personal in ways that I had not ever wish from conception actually and then it means I've been saying there is more suffering you know there's more suffering than Central America increased violence with increased violence increase desperate migration to the US and with that more debt are they so the connection so that there is a connection of the the project and I team because with Pilar Tim Payne was a student at the time at a Duke or had just graduated I think and then when she's there's a wonderful job as a filmography documentary and then but when we were trying to find a a title the title lamb in token Alice comes from a Salvadorian poem but our national did always poet at favorites Pinot and he has a point called the choice of we and the choice of ways a bird that that we simply did or the choice of week and people in our the peasants the or the small you know the the old people's used to tell us that that was the soul of the the wandering soul of somebody who had not found it Joseph we I translated I was blaster I am blaster the Joseph II I once knew joy I wanna watch we're blessed okay either either way and so I once knew Joe and so and so and so the the poet called this bird you are a lament with wings it is and so that was a name as you know for for people who are migrating and dying in I when I was there is unseen when the ranch security I tells us he found the dead body there's a little cross and I could imagine a person dying without surrounding the Lord one sentence community without people not knowing he died without nobody crying nobody doing that wake for him you know lamenting but just it's a it's just a terrible it's a it's a terrible tragedy and often we don't have anything except poetry or song songs do to express the depth our lament again do some water for the loss of precious life thanks everybody is precious for someone in the the documentary itself doesn't waste any time I mean I actually had to restart it three times to really get my mind in the right place because we jump right into the research that's being done and the the actual exhumation of the body is in its dr. Laura Baker yes it's a true life forensic you know okay sacrificing to identify that to do her best identify who these people are that have passed away and to try to connect them with their their relatives or loved ones back home good yeah so the documentary is a way of sort of how the the concept of lament is expressed in your composition kind of takes us to a social issue right we're living right now and even as we sit here today the the fate of the dreamers is being discussed in Washington sometimes flippantly sometimes to someone's political advantage but these are actual real lives and this is a real social justice issue talk to us about how you view what what is the role of art in engaging these social issues your documentary is an example of it and engaging these social issues and perhaps if you can also take us a step further to how in Christian worship we sort of express these ideas of lament that compel us to live lots of justice mm-hmm when we did this documentary one of my hopes would be that people who make policy for example would watch it and reflect to the to the fact that it's our equal human being and perhaps consider that how would how would you how would you act different if the person who is dying in this you know desolate feels 120 degrees he was their daughter their brother their sister because all these people are somebody's brother or sister daughter and so and I think that that translates is that deeply from the beginnings of the church the church has started the church the worship service with a Whitlam and you know the key relation you know which is a rolly oh lord have mercy it's it's it's a prayer in the Old Testament a prayer in the gospel the prayer in the early church that's the one of the earliest recorded you know gestures of entering worship and so in in in lord have mercy is its back without other ministers we're lamenting our personal communion scene but we in worship we lament the the way things are you know at the same time that you know that we remember that there is provision for a brokenness and the body of crime and and that there is hope this is going to be set right and it's a second company and when the kingdom of God is established so you know in the meanwhile I think more and more Christians in the u.s. find inspiration and and it's new in all prayers and the new ways of praying you know to love and receive and try to be an agent of change in the middle in a society that seems to be just deteriorating more and more you know with words and acts of hate all kinds and and in a sense you know it's I speak of this but it was very similar to the way I grew up you know the warning of Salvador did not start you know with wake with weapons directly it started with with words all right it started with with that a rhetoric that that had increased really harder you know yeah and we have tremendous problems as Americans you know now with with the violence that we saw for it and you know my fellow immigrants and are not the main perpetrators of this violation as Americans for doing this to each other we are the greatest threat to ourself on this bring up an interesting point with respect to words and words are often a primary vehicle for expressing worship on Sunday morning as is music what what advice would you give to a chip leader who was grappling with this question especially in today's political climate it's trying to look at this question of justice in worship how to address things that come up on a week-to-week basis within the congregation so that we don't feel so removed from it but also so that we don't react on a week-to-week basis just to whatever happened to me in the New York Times or anywhere else yes the NBC News whatever you know we we have plenty of ways there is plenty of catechist there are spirits in the wrong direction I would respond you know the in and I with and my answer will be what what comes to mind first is the way I was shaped and worship yesterday with you know is when the miracles they did the chaplain here Calvin Reverend holds in her prayer said you know lord help us to be slow to anger slow to tweet and it slowed to post I think you know when we hear the word is slow to tweet I know that one particular person comes to mind of what why not ah yeah you know absolutely we it is it should start with you know with us and and I think that that would be that's a that's a great I receive formation right there in worship but I think another thing that that I believe with passion and I'm trying to formulate ways and practicing ways of teaching this to people that are younger than me is to is the not to lose hope on the loss but not to lose and not to lose up to the point that we that we lose there the ability and the desire to be learners and to be teachable and read deeply formed by the gospel deep before but the historical prayers by the historical teachings of the Church Fathers and church mothers and in such a way that we respond and act from a deep place and that is the gospel No and with it all its splendor you know in the end the beauty that they have to offer to do to the world in the house offered for years it's sort of like in worship our eyes are open so that we can see God Monday through Saturday and all the different distinct parts of our lives in yeah arises oh we hope that they are open every time we hope that our eyes are open to the truth and we we need for this to happen we need a an agency outside of ourselves and this is one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit in our worship this is the part that we cannot manufacture in worship but we can rehearse we can hope we can pray for and we can pray for it and hopefully embody and our spiritual they divide well Carlos thank you so much for spending some time with us and we looking forward to the next time we get to talk awesome yeah thank you thank you

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