Ethno..What? I get that a lot. It is even hard to say it. I can give you definitions, but I doubt that it will give you a full understanding of what the person is all about.
I want to simply describe who ethnodoxologist is and what she does by telling a story of what it looks like to be one.
During an online summer camp when I was invited to teach music, I decided to teach songwriting because I knew it would help the students to reflect their identity and culture and to express themselves as they write their own songs. And I knew from my own experiences that writing songs would help them not only express their ideas and thoughts, but also get in touch with their emotions about themselves and what they care about. Through songwriting, they could find a creative way to express and process their own feelings and thoughts which might be unnoticed, buried, and devalued otherwise.
One of the students I felt that I deeply connected with was a 17-year-old girl who was born in a refugee camp in East Africa and lost her mother when she was still a baby. She grew up with her dad and brothers, but when I asked her what she wanted to write about, it was about her mother. She dearly missed her mother, and when I encouraged her to write a song in the style of her mother’s music, she was excited about the idea and shared with me a song that she listened to all the time when she missed her mother. While she was writing down some of her feelings and memories, I listened to this song and studied the form and style of the music which was culturally different from what I would have expected in a song about mother. I asked her to help me learn about this music style so that I could help her write her own song in this style.
Once I understood the music, I could come up with some chord progressions and rhythmic patterns on the piano. She hummed her own melody with lyrics that we worked on to fit the syllable patterns. I also encouraged her to incorporate her mother tongue and other languages that she speaks in the song, since it is a significant part of her that comes from her mother and still connects her to her mother. The song that she wrote had Swahili, English, Somali, and Arabic phrases that say, “I love you mommy.” This was the first time that she wrote a song, and she was amazed by how her love for her mom was expressed in this creative way that touched her heart deeply. She shared a story about her name, which means “happy” in her mother’s language. In her song she wrote, “I remember when you had me you were happy. You named me Farhiya because you were happy.”
I will remember this girl by this song. I helped her express herself and tell her story through writing a song, and I know she will remember me by this song. This song brought us together and bonded us to share our pain and longing of being human in a beautiful and creative way. This song may not ever be heard by many on Youtube, but this song honors her, her culture, and her story in a way that is priceless and invaluable. And I can’t overlook that this deep connection happened during Covid-19 over Zoom. Songwriting together surfaced some deep emotions and a unique story of this girl who found a way to express, affirm, and honor her innermost desire, value, identity, and affection.
This story shows the reason why I advocate valuing creative spaces and integrating arts in our lives and relationships. It is related to my passion for helping people find their own authentic expressions in life and worship through community-oriented arts. There are so many benefits that I can list, but I want to share a quote that I keep close to my heart as I approach my creative work with people.
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place… The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.” (From Reaching Out by Henry Nouwen)
[written by Joy Kim]