Hymn by Hymn

STJ#1074, Turn the World Around

I may be wildly speculating here, but I am pretty sure there isn’t a person my age brought up in the United States that wasn’t in some way inspired by/shaped by/comforted by/taught by/entertained by the Muppets. Now this is likely also true for people not in their early 50s, but I know that we who were born in the early to mid 1960s were just the right age for Sesame Street when it came out, and just the right age for The Muppet Show when it debuted.

One of the brilliant things about The Muppet Show was the way they simultaneously humanized celebrities and allowed those celebrities to shine. (A full list of stars can be found here.) There are some great, memorable moments, like Sandy Duncan dancing with Sweetums, Gladys Knight singing “God Bless the Child” with Rowlf, Alice Cooper’s Faustian affect on the cast, and of course Harry Belafonte – perhaps the most memorable appearance of all.

Not only did Belafonte sing the classic “Banana Boat Song”, he helped bring to the screen one of Jim Henson’s best work, on Turn the World Around. As Belafonte recounted in Of Muppets and Men, he and Henson thought that the show ” might provide the occasion to take a look at the lore and history of other worlds, other places.” From there, the designers at The Muppet Workshop researched African masks that would support Belafonte’s story of the song’s inspiration – namely the stories and wisdom of people he met in Guinea. But here’s where the care comes in:  while the masks were patterned on African masks, Henson was very careful about the final choices, because, as Belafonte recalled, “he didn’t want to cause offense by choosing masks that would have some religious or national significance.”

And thus, we have a beautifully crafted piece that doesn’t just use another culture but explains, expresses, and celebrates. Here’s the full clip (the only version I could find):

Transcript of the story:

I discovered that song in Africa. I was in a country called Guinea. I went deep into the interior of the country, and in a little village, I met with a storyteller. That storyteller went way back in African tradition and African mythology and began to tell this story about the fire, the sun, the water, the Earth.

He pointed out the whole of these things put together turns the world around. That all of us are here for a very, very short time. In that time that we’re here, there really isn’t any difference in any of us, if we take time out to understand each other.

The question is: Do I know who you are, or who I am? Do we care about each other? Because if we do, together we can turn the world around.

Wow.

“Do we care about each other? Because if we do, together we can turn the world around.” I’m not sure there’s a clearer statement of our theology than that. And what a gift we have in this song, and in the care both Belafonte and Henson took to bring it to us, beyond a recording on an album. Without that appearance on The Muppet Show, my generation might not ever have known this song, and it might not have come up in the minds of this hymnal’s commission.

I am grateful… and happy to share with you the lyrics as we have them laid out – in what could be seen as a complex arrangement:

We come from the fire, living in the fire,
go back to the fire, turn the world around.

We come from the water, living in the water,
go back to the water, turn the world around.

We come from the mountain, living on the mountain,
go back to the mountain, turn the world around.

Chorus 1:
Whoa, so is life! Ah, so is life!
Whoa, so is life! Ah, so is life!

Chorus 2:
Whoa, so is life! Abateewah, so is life!
Whoa, so is life! Abateewah, so is life!

Chorus 3:
Whoa, so is life! Abateewah, (ha!) so is life!
Whoa, so is life! Abateewah, (ha!) so is life!

Section 1:
Do you know who I am?
Do I know who you are?
See we one another clearly?
Do we know who we are?

Section 2:
Do you know who I am? Do I know who you are?
See we one another clearly? Do we know who we are?
Do you know who I am? Do I know who you are?
See we one another clearly? Do we know who we are?

Water make the river, river wash the mountain,
Fire make the sunlight, turn the world around.

Heart is of the river, body is the mountain,
Spirit is the sunlight, turn the world around.

We are of the spirit, truly of the spirit,
Only can the spirit turn the world around!

It seems complex when you look at it, but it’s really quite simple – and with some good song leading, you can get a congregation to sing the various parts without freaking out. I think once they get the feel of it, and understand where it goes and what they’re supposed to sing, it becomes a truly joyful, meaningful experience.

Well, there it is.

The end of this spiritual practice.

I have some wrap up thoughts, and some thoughts about what’s next, which I’ll share tomorrow.

But for now, well… thanks. Thanks for reading, and thanks for indulging me in the outward expression of my inward spiritual practice. It’s been a pleasure, even on those days when it wasn’t a joy.

Ah, so is life.

 

One thought on “STJ#1074, Turn the World Around

  1. I can’t believe it’s over! What a joy it has been to be with you on this journey. Thank you for sharing this – it is now an invaluable resource as well as fun reading. (I think I’ll go back to the beginning to read what I’ve missed). Many Blessings and so much Gratitude, from Karen Eng

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