Can you sing songs shaped by the truest truths of the universe, but in language the whole world understands?

It is a question I have been asking for many years. And while it has meaning for musicians, it reaches into every sphere, every vocation. People who spend their days in business, for example. Can you do business in ways that are shaped by the truest truths of the universe….

And the same is true for education, for politics, for farming and carpentry, for medicine and law. It is the question of translation, of finding ways to honestly communicate our most deeply-held convictions about God, the human condition and the world in language that people who don’t think like us or believe like us, can understand.

Today I had a call from someone in the Pacific Northwest who is speaking at a conference this weekend, and wanted a suggestion of a song for a particular theme he will explore. I offered one by Mumford and Sons. If you aren’t listening to them yet, then you need to start. Try “Sigh No More” off of their first album by that name. The first line is from Shakespeare, and the rest…. well, listen and think through for yourself what it is they are saying about love. What is it, anyway? And why do we all long for a love like that?

A few days ago NPR offered a fascinating window into their music, situating them within a larger community, each artist asking and answering the question that I have been asking  in their uniquely different ways. The last line is the kicker, viz. “they’re just like most of us.” Not surprising, of course, perennial people that we are.

Yes, in language the whole world understands.

“When Babel clocks in next week as the biggest Billboard album chart debut of 2012 (it’s predicted to sell as many as 600,000 copies in its first week), Mumford fans will rejoice and more than a few critics will grumble. How boring! Normal folk like normal music. But there’s a reward in really engaging with what this ‘normal’ represents. We should thoroughly examine what’s conventional — to question whether, for example, these mostly white male artists really can speak for a broad audience and to point out that there’s a lot of baggage attached to Christian-based definitions of morality. But to deny that widely shared notions of being good and strong and fulfilled — the things Marcus Mumford sings about — don’t have power is to dismiss a lot of what lives in people’s hearts. Some might cringe at the banality of it all; others will celebrate the common chord this band strikes and call it extraordinary. Neither response fully recognizes that the prosaic nature of this music is the point. Mumford & Sons aren’t changing the world that much, but they’re living loud in their little corner. In that, they’re just like most of us.”

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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