Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Ken Adams, “A Mass for Peace,” and The Hunger Games

This last Sunday afternoon was filled with Dr. Ken Adams’ final concert at OC, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, by Karl Jenkins. “Filled” seems a little too mild – “overwhelmed” is probably the better term for what we experienced.

First of all, thank you Ken for your wonderful service for all these years, and for the inspiration you have been to so many students and faculty who hope to be just a little bit like you – and maybe just half as good as you have been.

Not only was the concert a wonderful tribute to Dr. (and Mrs.!) Adams –a richly deserved tribute, too–but it was also Ken’s “parting shot,” “final message,” and indeed his legacy.

Jenkins’ work combines a variety of texts, both secular and sacred, to describe the tidal wave that sweeps human beings into war. The sacred texts employed from the Christian Mass seem to portray the justifications we attempt to give our tendencies to violence: every side of every war believes God is with them and against their enemies. But these texts in Jenkins piece seemed also to convey the gravity of the impending disaster and bloodshed — the gravity that is often ignored as the saber-rattling on each side, the chest-pounding rhetoric of threat, pride and bravado, reaches a chaotic crescendo. In Jenkins’ work, the crescendo is reached in the “Charge!” The chaos of battle is graphically recreated by a cacophony of . . . noise; random, screeching, vulgar non-musical noises that make you want to cover your ears.

“Charge!” is followed by “Angry Flames,” which includes part of a poem written from a survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Then, “Torches,” from the ancient Hindu epic “The Mahabharata”:

The animals scattered in all directions, screaming terrible screams.
Many were burning, others were burnt.

All were shattered and scattered mindlessly, their eyes bulging.
Some hugged their sons, others their fathers and mothers.
Unable to let them go, and so they died.

Others leapt up in their thousands, faces disfigured,
and were consumed by the fire.

Everywhere were bodies squirming on the ground:
wings, eyes and paws all burning;
They breathed their last as living torches.

Then follow four pieces that reflect the aftermath of the battle, and the calm in which we realize the destruction and waste we have created in our latest “war to end all wars”: “Agnus Dei,” “Now the Guns Have Stopped,” “Benedictus,” and “Better is Peace.”

I was stunned after "Charge!" and at the end of the work could only pray for forgiveness for us all.  If you've never heard it, buy the CD or find it on your music service.  Find a way to listen to it.  You won't want to listen to it often, I suspect, but it's well worth having. 

I went last week to see The Hunger Games. The theme of the movie seemed to me to be the utter waste of lives – and the “sacrifices” we are willing to make and even celebrate in order to maintain certain causes – or even charades. In the movie, the whole nation looks on and celebrates the deaths of young people who are thrust into a situation not of their own making – part of which is the necessity to try to kill each other. Some of them are trained killers, and you can see from the beginning that their humanity was long ago drilled out of them. Some kill out of sheer hate, some only reluctantly. But the society looks on – and has in fact turned the event into an extended game show – and celebrates the “sacrifices.” All of the participants – both those killed and those who live – are heralded as heroes. The dead? Well, that’s just a price the nation was willing to pay. Sad, but it had to be done.

Nations go to war and and sell it to their people – sell the sacrifices – by telling them that these sacrifices just have to be made, that they are worth the price. I wonder.

Benedictine nun Joan Chittister wrote: “The vision of a culture lies in what becomes its major institutions, in what it remembers as its most impacting events, in who it sees as its heroes.”

Psalm 11.5: “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence.”

I don't really wonder.  I know that these sacrifices are not worth whatever "benefit" we get from them.  We make these sacrifices out of our selfishness.  May God have mercy.

Thanks, Dr. Adams, for leaving us this legacy of a man who loves peace. May we have more heroes like you.