Monday, November 22, 2010

I Sing because I'm Happy

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?"
"'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!