Magazine article The Christian Century

Fighting Words

Magazine article The Christian Century

Fighting Words

Article excerpt

SINCE I ALWAYS played in the band, I never learned the words of my schools' fight songs. That's just as well, if Warren St. John's account of such songs is accurate: they are "anachronistic," "out of date," "bloodthirsty," "chauvinist," "white," "cheesy," "martial," "intimidating," "medieval," "fighting," "drunken," "strafing" and "violent." Few of the songs, he says (writing in the New York Times last year), are "sensitive," "pacifist," "tolerant," "inclusive" and other good things.

To illustrate violence, St. John picks out the college in which three generations of the Marty family have an interest. It is distinctive to him for one reason: "Fans of St. Olaf College in Minnesota issue a broad warning to rivals: 'We fight fast and furious, our team is injurious.'" He spares us the lines deriding St. Olaf's crosstown rival: "Tonight Carleton College will sure meet its fate /Um! Yah! Yah! Um! Yah! Yah!" Garrison Keillor favors that rouser, which he traces back to a Norwegian folk song, "Jet Har Ute Pulten."

Opponents of the St. Olaf Vikings won't tremble at the fight song: it is probably the only college fight song in waltz time. That's a good rhythm for sensitive, pacifist, tolerant and inclusive types.

Speaking of violent fight songs, the Lutheran Hymnal on which I grew up has, like other hymnals, belligerent themes. One section is even marked "Christian Warfare."

There one finds: "Fight the good fight with all thy might"; "Soldiers of Christ, and put your armor on ... wrestle and fight and pray / Tread all the powers of darkness down / And win the well-fought day. …

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