April 2018

Monday, January 21, 2013

Good Lord, Show me the way!

As Sunday’s church service began, our choir surrounded the congregation and our friend Bruce sang the first lines of Alison Krauss’s soulful song, “As I went down to the river the pray, studyin’ about that good ol’ way….”

 The rest of the choir and the congregation, now familiar with the song, sang the rest, closing with the song’s final line: “Good Lord, Show me the way!”

I have been saying, not singing, “Good Lord, Show me the way!” all weekend.

Friday morning I attended the King County Bar Association’s Martin Luther King, Jr. luncheon. (No. I’m still not a lawyer. I crashed the party with a couple of my social work classmates and even our professor.)

The featured speaker, Michelle Alexander, wrote the book The New Jim Crow, a book that a friend had recommended to me and that our professor had assigned. Alexander argues that the current penal system and the War on Drugs that puts so many people—especially people of color—in prison, functions like Jim Crow did during Reconstruction.

 Alexander began noting that because King is dead, we have polished him to make him a gentler hero that he was. She quoted the poet Karl Wendell Hines, Jr. who said, “Dead men make convenient heroes” (1969), and she called us to recognize the brutality of our current system and to seek for a revolution, not just a reform, in our values: a revolution of values that Martin Luther King, Jr. was calling for at the end of his life.

Alexander said, “This message will not be popular, but it will be true. We have allowed a human rights nightmare to emerge on our watch: the mass incarceration of poor people of color. This is the moral equivalent of Jim Crow.”
She argued, convincingly, in her speech and in her book: “We have not so much changed the structure of a society that supported Jim Crow as we have changed the language we use to describe and enforce it.”

Her book is the only book I have ever read that I thought, “Every American who can read should read this book.”
Alexander said that in the years following MLK’s death, we could have chosen to follow his path or to abandon his dream. “I believe that in our imprisonment system, we have abandoned his dream.”

She asked, “So what do we do? Nothing short of a major awakening, a new movement, will change our current situation.”
Overwhelmed by the largeness of the problem and my own smallness, I thought, “Good Lord, Show me the way!”

After the presentation my classmate Ashley and I talked about what we had heard and how we felt. I felt small. I wondered how I will make a difference.
Then Saturday morning Ann and I attended a  feminist organization’s presentation, and in that presentation we heard the devastating effects of the recession on women, particularly women of color and other women living in poverty.
I wondered again how to make a difference, and I thought, “Good Lord, Show me the way!”
Saturday night, however, I began to feel hope when my previous colleague, Sean, visited. Sean teaches at Global Connections High School, a school dedicated to quality education in a poor part of town. Sean even teaches a class for students who seem quite smart but who are not succeeding in school, a class called “Empowerment.”

The Sunday morning after Sean’s visit, I arrived to a full sanctuary and to Bruce’s tenor singing, “As I went down to the river to pray.”
Then Pat Wright and The Total Experience Gospel choir, a choir of people of many races, sang out, “I woke up this morning with my mind…stayed on Jesus…” and we all sang, “Hal-le-lu, hal-le-lu, hal-le-lu-jah.”

Then we all stood for the singing of the Black National Anthem:

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
"Yes," I thought. "Let us march on."

For the children’s message, George and Diana told their story of protest in the 1960s, a story of accompanying African-Americans to the beaches of Mississippi forbidden to black people. As the police shoved all of them into a dark paddy wagon, cramped like packaged hot-dogs, a voice sang out, “We shall overcome…” and this song of hope rang out from the dark, cramped paddy wagon.
Before starting her sermon, our minister Karla said, “Let’s sing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Can we sing that?" and our congregation rose. We sang the song that means so much in our common struggle for justice:

We shall overcome, we shall overcome,
We shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.
The congregation stood and held hands, unusually kum-bah-yah for us, and Karla came to hold Pat Wright’s hand in a lovely duo: a black woman and a white woman singing their hopes for a more loving world.
So on this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I have been called to a giant task and lifted in songs of hope.

In the sternness of self-evaluation and the hope of faith, the good Lord, I believe, will show me the way.











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