Musician Ken Medema hopes that Christians will work to build peace and wholeness — or what in Hebrew is called shalom — in their communities and across the nation as coronavirus exposes injustices in our society. Medema talked about faith and music in the latest episode of the Word&Way podcast “Baptist Without An Adjective.”
As of May 26, more than 5.6 million people globally have been infected with the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, and more than 350,000 have died. In the U.S., the nation with the most infections and deaths, more than 1.7 million people have tested positive and 100,000 have died.
“This time is so much worse in our country than it needs to be. And a great deal of that has to do with the fact that we have not taken good care to build the infrastructure that we need to,” Medema said.
He explained that as a Christian, he’s concerned for all those in the world and “the shalom for the city around us.”
“The Hebrews were always told when they were in captivity: build houses and plant trees and have kids and pray for the shalom of the city,” Medema explained. “How do I pray and work for the shalom, for the peace, for the wellbeing of my country? And that becomes a real concern to me.”
“I think that the people of God need to be very vocal and very expressive about this idea of the shalom of the city,” he added. “We need to be involved with changing the plight of the poor. We need to be involved in linking up with people who are working for the health of those who are without. We need to be critical of the extreme imbalance in terms of income imbalance. The wealth imbalance in the country is extraordinary. And it seems that the structures that we have put in place in the country are only increasing that imbalance. And I think Christians need to speak to that.”
For Medema, it’s critical for Christians to recognize that “whether we are people of faith or not, we are a community.” Thus, he hopes everyone can work together for “the good of everyone” in the community “so that nobody gets left behind.”
“I think Christians need to speak to those issues. I think we need to say that as people of God who believe that God owns all things and wants all people to do well, for us to welcome the stranger into our midst, for us to see that the stranger is treated well, all those things. And it has to do with the way we speak to employment and to government because I think we are called to be prophetic in our world. We are called to be prophetic and to say to the structures of our world, ‘No, you cannot. You cannot allow these conditions to go on where people are so impoverished and so hurt and so unjustly treated.’”
Unable to travel for concerts because of coronavirus, Medema has instead performed each Wednesday on Facebook Live, singing songs and sharing stories. Like at his concerts, his songs often include themes of justice and retellings of biblical stories. And often he even improvises songs based on comments sent in by those watching the online performances.
But even as he’s enjoyed the opportunity to connect with fans and entertain people through Facebook Live, he also acknowledges that “even those events are for people who are the privileged.” Admitting that when it comes to the coronavirus inequalities he doesn’t “know what this means yet for me,” he keeps doing what he does best: lifting his voice and playing his piano to sing stories from the Bible and name the injustices of our society.
“Singing and music and dancing,” Medema said, “these things have power to bring us together in ways that dialogue just doesn’t.”
NOTE: Hear more about this topic and much more from Medema in the latest episode of Word&Way’s award-winning podcast “Baptist Without An Adjective.”