Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I Sing Because I'm Happy! I Sing Because I'm Free!

As a pastor in a medium-sized, middle Georgia community, my husband often tries to bridge what we refer to as the "racial gap". On any particular Sunday you can look at our congregation of about 200 and see a sea of Anglo-Saxon, Caucasion, lily-white faces. But not because he hasn't tried.

We've had guest speakers, guest choirs, guest musicians, etc. who are from different races. They'll bring guests with them and they stay long enough for us to pat ourselves on one another's backs and whisper in each other's ears, "Look at us, breaking down these barriers, mmm...mmm. The Lord is proud of us today!"

And the next meeting is vanilla.
As a result of one of these invitations my husband extended, he was invited to speak at a neighboring church. Our choir (which is only ten people strong, but throw in our incredibly-gifted praise band, we can rock the HOUSE!) was also invited to sing. There were more white faces in this CME church than there were non-white faces. And the looks on their faces was astonishment when these white folks started SANGING! Now, before you go off getting all huffy and PC, I need to tell you what the Lord was doing in me.

Here I am getting all indignant, thinking, "WHY in 20TEN for goodness' sakes, do we have to still separate ourselves as Black brother and sisters and White brothers and sisters? Why can't we just be one big family? And would you look at the congregation. Whites on one side, blacks on the other? People! Please! What's it going to take?" I was ready to run out and join a civil rights group (I mean no disrespect).

We went on back to our lily-white service down the road but we were joined by two guests of the CME church who apparently were moved by the music and the message and we all had such a good time together we didn't want it to end.

One of the ladies was Reverend at a church thirty miles down the road and invited us to attend a revival meeting. Because I had played a little ditty during the offering time she clasped my hands and asked if I would come share some music with them. "I would love to."

I invited a friend to go with me but she had another commitment. I found a piece of music, a praise chorus, that I had been working on and just knew it would be a blessing to others (ha!). I pulled up in the grass at exactly 7pm to find one other car parked outside the quaint building. A door opened beneath the large "Pastor's Study" sign and the Reverend bounded out the door to greet me with a welcoming hug.

"Am I in the right place?" Obviously I was but I felt the need to ask.
"Right place. Right time. Some of our people don't get here til late but we'll get started anyway."
She grabbed me by the hand and led me inside where her assistant (The Armour-Bearer) was seated.
The Reverend pushed me (Not necessarily gently) down on the piano bench and starting humming a tune.
"Play this one. Mmmm...hmmm."
"um," I mumbled,"Which page?"
"Oh, its not in the book. Don't you play by ear?"
"No...no..ma'am, Reverend. That would be our other pianist. I need music. I'm s...sorry."
"That's all right. Come on up here on the podium and we'll have us a praise team tonight!"
I joined the Reverend and the Armour-Bearer in singing "We Have Come Into This House."
We lifted our hands and our voices! There was no one in the congregation. Just the three of us, singing in the microphone as if the place were filled with hundreds. As we sang "Forget about yourself" the fourth time, a little lady shuffled in, passed all the pews as if they were filled, and sat in one of the prayer pews to the far left of the stage, apparently in "her spot".
The Reverend gave a hearty welcome to...the lady...and then announced we would be singing hymn 310. She pointed to me to start playing. I didn't know the song and more importantly, I didn't know how they, she, was used to singing it. Probably not all-white-Gaither style.

First of all we were not anywhere near the same key. She didn't have a bad voice but the piano (i.e.Me) made it sound like she did. I didn't want to keep playing but she kept signaling that I was supposed to go on. She was pounding her thigh and then the pulpit with an odd rhythm that I was supposed to follow but I could NOT get in the groove.

"Lord, Please, please give me some soul right now!" Yes, I prayed and asked the Lord for soul.
"God, my husband is always talking about his inner black-man. If I have an inner black-woman, please Lord let her rise up now." God answered immediately. He said "no."  In the meantime an older couple found their way in, looked around to make sure they were in the right place and sat down.

We made it through the hymn and the Reverend said we would now sing "His Eye Is On the Sparrow." This one I knew but I knew she would not be in the same key as the book and I had always heard this song accapella. It doesn't want music to carry it. It requires soul and emotion.
"Is it okay if we just sing this one? Without the music?"

"Okay. You come in on the chorus."
WHAT? We hadn't practiced this! This is not what I expected at all. We're singing unrehearsed music for three other people. Calm down, girl. Get a grip. 
"Why do I feel discouraged?" she hit every note in a two-octave range. "When Jesus is my portion..."
There's no WAY I could have kept up with her as she was changing keys with every line, but it was somehow appropriate and hautingly beautiful.
"I sing because I'm happy!" Points at me.
I look for a quick escape.  I follow the other lady's lead and sing "HAPPY." (I see. Its an echo-thing...get in the groove, girl. You can do this. Get in the groove...!)
"I sing because I'm free!"  Points. "Free!"
"His eye is on the sparrow." Point. "...on..the sp..sparrow."
I join with harmony "I know He watches me."
Bythe eighth time singing the chorus of His Eye is On the Sparrow, we had a good thing going. I was finally "in the groove." God had humbled me enough and did allow me to find my inner black girl (I knew she was there somewhere!) and the Armor-Bearer even backed off and let us do our thing as we worshipped and praised.
I left there feeling good, not because we had found a common ground but because of our differences. Not between me and them, but between me and her (she and I?) and between me and you. Thank God we're different. I learned some important lessons about myself, about people and about God last night.

I hope you take this post for what it means. Some of you may not understand it. Some of you may be offended, although I can't imagine why. I've tried so hard in the past to make everyone feel like we were the same, when in reality I can't make anyone FEEL anything, and its not our duty to be the same, but just to be.

Wow, I didn't know this was going to get all serious but there it is. Take it for what its worth and have a great day!


  1. I was laughing the whole way through this post! We were parishioners in a Catholic Church that began as a mission in the African-American Community, so I SOOOO get this post!

  2. You need to publish this. Now. No, not now later. I really mean right this minute now. Start sending it in. You heard me, didn't you????

  3. Great post on many levels.
    I hear you about trying to integrate into just being 'people'...but being an amateur musician, I got a kick out of the piano expedition.

  4. I really really enjoyed this post!

  5. I completely understand you wanting to break barriers:) Being a singer I also "get" the collaboration of worship styles. Too funny. I am also a pastors wife. So the whole post is funny. Glad you were in front of me at SITS today.

  6. I have a strange reoccuring nightmare about this exact same situation! just kidding....but oh my goodnes, I feel your pain. Improvising is NOT my gift. I love the lesson you got out of it too? So true. God never intended for us to be the same, but we spend our lifetimes trying to be. Isn't that crazy! Thanks for the insight! You're a gifted writer and story teller!

  7. This was great! I know what you mean about being in a "spot" where you really need the Lord to show up and give you a boost. I wish I could have been there, it sounds like it was a beautiful service.

    There's a recipe on my blog today that I think you'll like :)


  8. I'm still laughing trying to picture you finding your groove!! Great Post!

  9. I went with a group from Kansas to an all-black church in Mississippi when I was in high school. When they first started singing and shouting I thought they were all going to get into trouble! Then, after awhile, we all joined in and it was absolutely joyous! It was so hard to go back to my little quiet church where no one spoke out or sang with such gusto!

  10. What a FUN post!!! I'm so glad you found your groove... or theirs... or Someone's :)


  11. Funny and heart warming! The situations we find ourselves in.....good thing we have a sense of humor!!

    I'm with Caution Flag....you need to send this in to someone...maybe, Today's Christian Woman.

    It speaks to the heart of the matter!


  12. Wow!

    I used to channel my inner black girl and sing along with my old cassette tapes of Donald Lawrence and the Tri City Singers and the Mississippi Mass Choir and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. She's got soul, that girl that's deep down inside, I should let her out more.

  13. I am so impressed by your efforts! This was a great read!

  14. When you said you prayed for soul and received "no" as an answer, I laughed and laughed!

  15. Oh my gosh I love it! I hate it when God answers immediately and the answer is NO!

  16. I have the world's worst voice - usually a child loves to hear her mom sing when she is little - my kids would ask me to stop...lol With that being said - I love to worship and I will sing the song at the top of my lungs... Because I know my voice... my love.. and my praising Him is beautiful to his ears...
    Very good post... yes, We all are brothers and sisters regardless of our color..

    Love to you

  17. Great blog title!

    Thanks for stopping by on my special SITS day.

  18. This really made me laugh. I can just picture you there on the piano bench, trying to make beautiful music with your new friends. I love how God directs us to make a "joyful" noise -- he never said it had to be pretty, just joyful! I think you all found your joyful spot that day.

  19. aha, this was a great post! i can just imagine you praying for soul and stuttering the responses in the song! it sounds like it was a lot of fun, though, once you got into the groove.

    and hell yes, we are all the same people!

  20. What an awesome post! I totally understand where you're coming from. Our differences are gifts from God and without them we wouldn't be able to really appreciate the beauty and diversity in the world. Happy Wednesday!

  21. I agree with you, my sister, and enjoyed your experience to the max! So glad I met you.

    Bless your day,

  22. I'm in England, where we don't really have this kind of thing - it's very interesting to read about your experiences.

    Visting to welcome you to SITS!

  23. I really liked this post. I could just picture you trying to mesh your voice with the other women. How neat that as you got into the groove so to speak, you all really made a joyful noise! I have been with friends to an African American church and I have a wonderful time because they are so expressive and unreserved about their love for the Lord.

  24. I am here to welcome you to SITs! I hope you enjoy the party:-)

  25. Oh, girl! What an experience.

    I accidently attended a black church last summer near Raleigh, NC.

    Hub was working in Raleigh, and he found the church for me.

    A little white face among several hundred different ones.

    Color coordinated.

    But at least, I didn't have to play the piano and sing.

    Sweet dreams.

  26. That is too funny!!! It made think of the time I volunteered to work at a church where all the members were African Americans!!! It was a true treat for me to see how the congregation spoke and praised God at any given moment. I received a few laughs from some of my soulful sisters in Christ; however when I left I thought Lord this is a blessing; if people can just break down the barriers. Wow!!! We really could learn so much . . . God gives us all black or white the gifts HE has designed for each of us. To use those gifts together to reach others for HIM would be the greatest gift of all.
    Still Seeking HIM,

  27. Soooo fantastic! I just LOVE your stories and posts and look forward to them! THanks for this one . . . just perfect!

  28. I LOVED this!!! I have missed reading you, and this was a great 'welcome back'! :-D I'm glad your inner black girl managed to come out, and I'm glad you shared what God showed you!

  29. You made me smile with this!

    I live in S. Florida and we're quite the melting pot. It's really neat. Such diversity of God's people.

    I look forward to the melting pot of heaven, don't you?

  30. great post! it's true, churches are still segregated...sad


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(No she didn't...yes she did.)