Yesterday, I wrote a post on my theology blog about Christian resistance in the 20th century. Of course, it was a blog post, so I couldn't talk about each and every I didn't talk about each and every type of resistance. I didn't talk about the U.S. Civil Rights movement, for example.
Happily, this morning, the NPR program On Being has a rerun of a conversation with the late Civil Rights elder Vincent Harding. A lot of us forget about how brutal was the treatment that so many of those Civil Rights workers faced. He describes a meeting after the murder of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, where the students were asked to consider whether or not they wanted to continue, with the assurance that there would be understanding for those who decided to return to their student lives: "But he said let’s take a couple of hours just for people to spend time talking on the phone with parents or whoever to try to make this decision and make it now. What I found as I moved around among the small groups that began to gather together to help each other was that, in group after group, people were singing 'Kum Bah Ya.' 'Come by here, my Lord, somebody’s missing, Lord, come by here. We all need you, Lord, come by here.'”
Almost no one went back to their safe student lives.
In these post-election days, when so many of us are considering all the possible terrors that may lay ahead, let us remember that we have been here before, and not just in Nazi Germany, but here. We have a great wealth in the ways of resistance. Many of us may not know it, because we have been lucky; we have been spared, and we have not had to use it.
But for every social justice worker who has been slaughtered, the nuns in El Salvador, the resistors in Nazi Germany--we have examples of those who have survived, and not just survived, but thrived.
I listened to this interview and was amazed to remember how many of those men and women lived into a glorious old age. We remember those cut down too young, like Martin Luther King. But there are a mass of others left to remind us that one can stand up to evil, even the relentlessness of state-sponsored evil.
One can be transformative and live to tell the tale.
One can be transformative, but a beloved community can accomplish so much more.
You may be feeling despair--perhaps you feel you have no beloved community. But of course, you could have one. These communities committed to social justice haven't gone away just because we had 8 years of relative stability/progress when it came to human rights in the U.S.
While you're looking for that community, or while you're healing, or when you need some uplift, turn back to the music of that Civil Rights movement. Let me recommend the Mavis Staples CD We'll Never Turn Back: what a great CD:
I love the lyrics in spirituals that urge us to be strong, to not be swayed, to rest in the knowledge that good will triumph. Of course, spirituals have a history that goes back further than the Civil Rights Movement. Tradition tells us that slaves sung many of those songs, or older variations, as they worked in the fields.
Music historians would remind us that spirituals are but a subset of music that resists oppression. I've also found comfort in the work of Woody Guthrie and in various punk and rock groups.
In the meantime, check out We'll Never Turn Back. You'll never hear "This Little Light of Mine" in the same way again. I've spent the morning singing, "Turn Me Around": "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around, turn me around." An added benefit of Mavis Staples: her vocal range is accessible to many of our voices as we sing along.
Eyes on the prize, hands on the plow: hold on!
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