Saturday, August 19, 2006

Die Gedanken sind frei

For audio file: Gesang auf Deutsch

Die Gedanken Sind Frei............Our Thoughts Are Free

Die Gedanken sind frei,.............Die Gedanken sind frei
wer kann sie erraten;................My thoughts freely flower,
sie fliehen vorbei........................Die Gedanken sind frei
wie naechtliche Schatten...........My thoughts give me power.
Kein Mensch kann sie wissen,....No scholar can map them,
kein Jaeger erschiessen;...........No hunter can trap them,
es bleibet dabei:.........................No man can deny:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

Ich denke was ich will,...............I think as I please
und was mich begluecket,.........And this gives me pleasure,
Doch alles in der Still,................My conscience decrees,
und wie es sich schicket............This right I must treasure;
Mein Wunsch und Begehren....My thoughts will not cater
kann niemand verwehren,.......To duke or dictator,
es bleibet dabei:.........................No man can deny:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

Und sperrt man mich ein..........And if tyrants take me
in finsteren Kerker,...................And throw me in prison
das alles sind rein......................My thoughts will burst free,
vergebliche Werke;...................Like blossoms in season.
denn meine Gedanken..............Foundations will crumble,
zerreissen die Schranken.........The structure will tumble,
und Mauern entzwei:................And free men will cry:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

Drum will ich auf immer...........Neither trouble or pain
den Sorgen entsagen...............Will ever touch me again.
und will mich auf nimmer.........No good comes of fretting,
mit Grillen mehr plagen............My hope's in forgetting.
Man kann ja im Herzen.............Within myself still
stets lachen und scherzen.........I can think as I will,
und denken dabei:....................But I laugh, do not cry:
Die Gedanken sind frei..............Die Gedanken sind frei!

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step,” so said Mao Zedong (1893-1976). I haven’t gone a thousand miles with this particular posting, though I might be able to do that better than I can get those lyrics straight above. I’m sure it reaches over a thousand miles back along what led me here, which is more interesting to me. The recent history is brief. I was watching the end of The Enemy Below, a 1957 movie starring Robert Mitchum as the captain of a destroyer out to kill a U-boat manned by Curt Jurgens, Theodore Bikel, and others. It was notable for how it portrayed the humanity of the enemy. I read that the original ending had both captains dying trying to save others in the end when the crippled destroyer rams the U-boat, but then they went with something more upbeat where only Theodore Bikel dies, despite these crazy men working together to try to save him. Everyone is very respectful. No one is vengeful. I tuned in when the U-boat is being depth-charged. Curt Jurgens defiantly turns on the PA speaker with the march/drinking song/war song “So leben wir”, which is quite stirring and collective. Everyone sings, even though the American sonar can hear them. They had them sing it in English here, including some line about Nazi fellowship. It is still stirring.

Jurgens then plots his counterattack, which is that if Mitchum turns the same way again after he makes yet another attack with depth charges, they’ll fire a spread of torpedoes where the destroyer is headed. They do. Then Mitchum has his plan to take the U-boat down with him. It all works. The ships die. The men mostly live, helping to save friend and foe once they’ve done their duty to kill the other ship or boat. It’s so noble.

I like people being good. I like comradeship, too, which can be a conflict, because one’s comrades aren’t necessarily that good. I’ve known for a long time that I’m enough of a team player to have been caught up in any mass movement. I would have been a good Nazi. I would have been a good Communist. I would have been a good fundamentalist in any religion. I might have been aware of some flaws in their beliefs, but up to a point I could tolerate that.

“So leben wir” reminded me of that. The appeal of meine Kameraden is strong, even if they are Nazis. Being able to look back at everything the Nazis did means there is a part of me that does not accept Nazi fellowship no matter what the appeal of meine Kameraden is. Fortunately I was not born in a place or time that made either Nazis or Communists meine Kameraden. I was able to give fundamentalist Christians a chance at being meine Kameraden, but they failed miserably at that. They failed intellectually, in terms of their behavior, and in terms of rejecting what it means to have the Spirit live in you. I will tolerate a lot for fellowship, but I have my limits.

Yet another German song came to me that is much more about meine Kameraden than some Nazi song. I learned it in sixth-grade, when Mr. Connor taught us many protest songs. He meant what he sang, too. He didn’t sing, “If I Had A Hammer” in a gentile way like Peter, Paul, and Mary. He sang it as if it is really about justice, truth, freedom, and love. I later heard someone comment that this song is only missing mention of the Communist sickle. Yes, that’s accurate. But no one like me becomes Communist any more, so all Mr. Connor did was turn me into a lifelong Democrat – it’s as good an explanation as any.

I remember Mr. Connor teaching us “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” in English very well. I remember the imagery of the third verse, where thoughts break out of prison, like blossoms or butterflies, causing all this damage to the status quo, despite how gentle they are. Sadly that is not the history of this song. It is a 12th-century verse that became a protest song in peasant rebellions of 1524/5. Protestant and Catholic lords both had their soldiers cut the protestors to pieces. Martin Luther was against them as well. It was not for the sake of such rebellion that he attacked the Catholic Church. Authorities weren’t kinder to it in German rebellions of 1848/9 or in the protests against Nazis in the thirties. I haven’t researched this extensively, but did the singers of this song ever win?

Well, they won Mr. Connor’s heart, and mine, too, on this song anyway. Of course, I know thoughts aren’t all that free. Like the child in the above picture, we are handed all sorts of thoughts that we’re stuck with, some good thoughts, some bad thoughts. It takes a lot of work to sort through what is valuable and what isn’t. Even after some effort like that, there are so many people on the internet and in real life sharing so many thoughts that I’m sure aren’t worth anything. Yet it is certainly true that people are free to decide for themselves what thoughts are worth keeping and what to abandon.

It’s not just thoughts that matter. Emotions and spiritual connections matter, too. I found the place in me that would make me a tool of meine Kameraden. As I had to go through many possible fathers, both men and institutions, before I found one who loved me enough for me to call my real father, I’ve had to go through many possibilities for meine Kameraden. It was once other kids I knew, then others in science, then others in medicine, then others in liberal politics or liberal religion. I’ve tried those who also claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but most of them reject me even faster than I reject them if I’m open about my beliefs.

So now I’m aware of how much I have traveled from when meine Kameraden could have been my shipmates in war, trying to kill the enemy, then expanding to include the enemy once the battle is over. Today, meine Kameraden are not human beings. I love my family, my co-workers, and my clients, but none are meine Kameraden. None have sworn “all for one and one for all”, as meine Kameraden have, both sworn and demonstrated it. Meine Kameraden is Spirit, however one cares to see that, one Spirit, many voices. Many people would admit to having no idea what this is. Others would claim to know everything through their theology or other worldview, yet in fact have no idea how Spirit could be meine Kameraden, as I have said. So since they don’t know, I must be wrong.

I’m not wrong. I know the Spirit who lives in me. The Spirit knows me and helps me, in ways the Bible describes, but few believers take seriously. The Spirit offers this to more than just Christians. “Meine Kameraden” is not an idea I made up. It just works better in German for me. Others can use their own words for that, and for Spirit. But as God, people have been selling Spirit short, as impotent or as something so far away, one has only rules to follow in His absence. Religion has it all wrong.

I look at the picture of the child above, and I can see a future. I turn on the mp3 clip of this song, on repeat, and it brings me closer to the future. Maybe what I see is as inaccurate as when the Nazis predicted a thousand-year reich, but I see it nevertheless. I see a world changing slowly, toward love, toward freedom, toward truth. I believe in the truth that there is something more than just human will at work in that. Call this superhuman thing thoughts or spirits, but there is something. Will they have this particular child accepting or rejecting the thoughts of a parent, school, or larger society? Who can say? Some find the truth. Some truths are in between what anyone believes. It’s a hard thing for any one person to get everything they say right. Some would say it takes a community, but every community I’ve seen is more incompetent than I am. I say it takes meine Kameraden, those who have proved their love for me and that they deserve my full love, not just the love I would give anyone. It says something about religion that religion is so bad at providing such people. Religion is only as good as the human beings practicing it, but thoughts or spirits don’t have that limitation. It is a challenge to understand what is real about such nonphysical things, but that can be done. It’s been done for thousands of years.

I listen to “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” again. Anyone who doesn’t get something out of this song either has a heart of stone or brain of stone, I’m not sure which.

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