Take Me to Church 2/3/19: Welcome to Black Excellence Month/I Am Not a Hymn Writer

Left: Zora Neale Hurston (Wikipedia); right, “We Enter as Many, We Share as One,” music by Henco Espag and lyrics by me

It may be difficult to find one unifying message in all of the Bible, a book that is holy but not without its contradictions.  Nevertheless, if there is at least one, it’s this: Don’t be afraid.  I meditate daily on Isaiah 54:17 (“No weapon formed against you shall prosper”); among today’s ancient testimonies was Psalm 3 (“But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the ones who lifts up my hand…I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around”).  Certainly, for someone who has been living with anxiety her entire life, these are words worth remembering.

But I really appreciated the ways in which Valerie contextualized these verses in her sermon on Black History Month this morning (which I’ve heard referred to as “Black Excellence Month” in recent days, hence the title of this post).  For people of color, Valerie said, faith has been a way of connecting to the idea that when others do not see your humanity, God still sees it.  That’s a beautiful idea, of course, but one that ought to stop white Christians in their tracks nevertheless; that even in church, our black and brown friends stand in the need of prayer for folks to see their humanity.

Michelle (who also took the photos of me that you see here and on my social media channels) sang her original song “Black Lives Matter,” which further underscored the message of Valerie’s sermon: it’s wonderful to feel yourself to be the Beloved of God (as Faith Holman would say), but it doesn’t change the reality of the very real threats faced by people who live in black and brown bodies every day.

We heard from Jackson, from Arivaca in Pima County, Arizona, standing up with Ravi this morning to talk about living in a border community and to remind us that people are facing prosecution for trying to save lives along the border.  Again, the denial of the humanity of black and brown bodies.

It was Agape, and we sang the song I wrote with Henco, “We Enter as Many, We Share as One.”  I am not a hymn writer, it’s true, but thankfully Henco is, and he took my words and turned them into something the community can sing.

We ended the service with “It Is Well with My Soul,” and I marveled at our ability to split rather seamlessly for the echoes in the chorus.  “And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight”: haste the day when everyone sees the humanity of all people.  Haste the day when we understand ourselves as part of the Great Soul to which Zora Neale Hurston alluded, the day in which we will, as the Scripture commands, fear not.

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