We have seen this before.

Well, not, entirely – in July, we sang a round based on the first two lines of Psalm 137, and noted that more would come. Well guess what – it’s time for more, and based on my searching, it’s not what we think.

First, let’s look at the lyrics and listen to the original recording, by The Melodians:

By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down,
and there we wept, when we remember Zion.
By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down,
and there we wept, when we remember Zion.

Where the wicked carried us away captivity,
required of us a song,
How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land.

So let the words of our mouths
and the meditation of our hearts
be acceptable in Thy sight, O Farai.
So let the words of our mouths
and the meditation of our hearts
be acceptable in Thy sight, O Farai.


Now that you have your reggae groove on – a groove many in our congregations will be familiar with because it became a popular song in the 1970s, I should tell you that this version is not as straightforward as you might think, despite it being based on Psalm 137 (and a line from Psalm 19).

It’s not just Judaism set to a reggae beat, it’s Rastafarian – an Abrahamic religion of its own.

In a nutshell (albeit a hasty and not-well written nutshell – apologies), Rastas believe that Ethiopian emperor Haile Sallasie was at least a prophet, and possibly the second coming of Christ, and most certainly, in his role as emperor righting against colonization, the one who would lead a future golden age of eternal peace, righteousness, and prosperity; in this system, developed in Jamaica in the 1930s during British Imperial rule, Sallasie and his wife were called King Alpha and Queen Omega – the beginning and the end. Babylon then is any principality/government/system that oppresses, and the call of the faith is liberation.

Thus, this song, written in 1970, captures the Rastafarian spirit, the hope that we would be freed from exile and led into liberation and prosperity. According to one if the composers, Brent Dowe, the song was initially banned by the Jamaican government because “its overt Rastafarian references (‘King Alpha’ and ‘O Far-I’) were considered subversive and potentially inflammatory” – and yet, as we know too well, truth will out. And after its popularization in the Jimmy Cliff film The Harder They Come, the song spread far and wide.

What I love about the song is the hopefulness – something that is missing from the original psalm, which is by all accounts a lament. (In case you don’t know, the psalm was written while the Judeans were exiled in Babylon, a long hard time when they longed for their homeland.) Adding a sense of hope that there would be deliverance from exile, not just praying for it – offers a resolve that freedom will come, that our prayers are being answered.

Now in terms of using it in our congregations, the best advice I can give is what I give often: have good song leaders (and maybe drums and electric guitar), offer some context, and for goodness’ sake, don’t let it just be a cool pop music break. There’s deep meaning here, and the call is clear.

It’s a great song, used in Jamaican churches to this day. I hope we can expand our understanding of liberation and music by including this one in our congregation too.

Postscript: if you want to mix an appreciation of reggae with bingewatching, I highly recommend Death in Paradise, on Netflix; the score is almost entirely reggae music, and the show itself is great fun – mystery and comedy plus beautiful scenery.

I suspect this piece doesn’t get used much in our congregations.

The reason is probably that it’s in Spanish and is unfamiliar. And that’s too bad. I’d rather the reason be that we don’t often preach on Oscar Romero and liberation theology, or that we don’t often use any part of a Catholic mass in Unitarian Universalist services.

Because that’s what this is – a Sanctus from a Catholic mass. In this case, it’s the Misa Salvadoreña by Guillermo Cuéllar, which blends the folk music of Central America with the traditional words and a heavy dose of liberation – not surprising, as it was commissioned by Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated while conducting mass, for his anti-poverty and human rights work that criticized an oppressive government. (Quick memory: I attended a service at Union honoring Romero, where Dr. Daisy Machado purposely stood with her back to the door as she preached and officiated communion, evoking Romero’s final moments.)

In the 1990s, Cuéllar described the political context in a letter to the Rev. Gary Campbell, a Presbyterian minister:

“I know what peace is; I can enjoy it now with all my being after a long drawn-out war that I suffered in my own flesh, in my time and my country. . . . I saw babies thrown into the air and caught on military bayonets. I had to bear the howling of women machine-gunned en masse; the roaring of rockets launched by human beings at other human beings. And I stood and watched while entire towns were swept away by showers of bombs; starving old men blown to pieces by the explosions.

“ . . . For thirteen long years I lived with my bitterness and consternation. It seems a miracle to me that I am alive now, sharing my sufferings with you. But now the warm sun of peace comforts me again, and I know that I could not be different for anything in the world. I rediscovered peace, not only because the arms fell silent, but because in my heart I renounced hatred and vengeance. That peace that springs up inside of each of us is the peace that our Lord Jesus promised to all people of good will.”

Wow.

Here are the lyrics:

Santo, Santo, Santo, Santo,
Santo, Santo es nuestro Dios.
Señor de toda la tierra, Santo,
Santo es nuestro Dios.

Santo, Santo, Santo, Santo,
Santo, Santo es nuestro Dios.
Señor de toda la historia,
Santo, Santo es nuestro Dios.

Que acompa ña a nuestro pueblo,
que vive en nuestras luchas,
el universo entero, el único Señor.

Benditos los que en su nombre
el Evangelio anuncian,
ta Buena y gran noticia de la liberación.

And the lyrics in English:

Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy,
Holy, Holy is our God.
Ruler of the earth and heavens.
Holy, Holy is our God.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Holy,
Holy, Holy is our God.
In our present, past and future,
Holy, Holy is our God.

Who companions all the people,
who lives within our struggles,
the universal Sov’reign, One God leading us on.

Blessed are those who, in God’s name
give witness to the Gospel,
the news of liberation, for all peoples of earth.

You see, it’s pretty much your standard Sanctus. If it were translated into Spanish. With an eye toward liberation. And written by a San Salvadoran.

And it’s a song we shouldn’t shy away from. Because we should be preaching liberation. And really, it’s a joyful and easy song to sing once you learn it. Here’s a YouTube video to help:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” and thus begins my own story, A Tale of Two Memories.

The first memory of this song is set in a hotel suite in St. Paul, MN, where the inaugural group of students in the Music Leader Credentialing program gathered to talk about discernment and the call of this kind of ministry. The facilitator – who shall remain nameless but is, not surprisingly, white – invited us to hear the call of the Mystery in several ways. That section ended with, also not surprisingly, singing. We were asked to sing this song without context (except that it’s in STJ) and let it be the invitation to hear our call to music ministry.

Oops.

Hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name.
Hush, hush, somebody’s callin’ my name.
Oh my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do?

Sounds like freedom, somebody’s callin’ my name…

Sounds like justice, somebody’s callin’ my name…

Soon one mornin’, death comes creepin’ in my room…

I’m so glad that trouble don’t last always…

The second memory of this song is set at Union Theological Seminary, in two chapels. The first is Lampman, a tiny space full of amber tones and gorgeous iconography, was where we met for a class on the spirituality of spirituals, led by a woman of color (who, for parity, shall also remain nameless). It was in that space that we learned about the deep call to freedom for enslaved Africans that these songs expressed, and how our singing – no matter how we identified – must carry that knowledge explicitly, recognizing that our own prayer must affirm theirs. At the end of the semester, our class conducted a chapel service in the large, seemingly cavernous James Chapel – we greeted folks outside in the narthex while our teacher sat at the back of the room, singing this song as a call to freedom, beckoning us to follow the hushed sounds and hear stories and songs of hope.

Aaaah.

The End.

Image is of James Chapel at Union.

 

If you open your hymnal, you will see that the song has a different title printed.

Now if you’ve been paying attention, you have also marked up this song’s title and lyrics, as per the composer’s instructions, changing “standing on the side” to the much less ableist and much more active “answering the call.” I won’t rehash Jason Shelton’s commentary on the lyric change – You can see what he’s said about it here. What I will say is that I whole heartedly support the change; it is evidence of a living tradition that is forever responding to new ways to draw the circle of love ever wider.

And it’s been a while since I listened to it, but I think Jason covers the origin story in the linked post/sermon as well.

So what’s left to say?

First – I like this song. I like the lyrics (especially now), I like the melody, I like the general feel of the piece. It moves, too – so many of our hymns are musically static; they establish a melodic phrase and pattern and then just sit there. But as I learned in conversation with Jason this past week, like the great composers, he thinks deeply about the picture the music paints and how the image we begin with changes by the end of it.

And we are the better for it. As I’ve talked about before in this practice, our music is where our theology is writ large – and I’m beginning to conclude that we will be stronger as a faith when most of what we sing from our hymnals is written by Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist composers. Singing the Journey – and songs like this – go a long way toward that goal.

Back to the song: if it’s unfamiliar to the congregation, introduce it with a soloist or a choir, and consider an additional use with a soloist on the verses and the congregation joining in the chorus. Before they know it, they’ll be humming it along with the rest of us.

With the new, authorized lyrics.

(Pardon the weird formatting – typing on my phone today as I left my laptop right near the front door so I wouldn’t forget to bring it with me to Peterborough. You have permission to laugh at me.)

The promise of the Spirit:

faith, hope and love abide.

And so ev’ry soul

is blessed and made whole;

the truth in our hearts is our guide.

.

Chorus:

We are answering the call of love:

hands joined together as hearts beat as one.

Emboldened by faith, we dare to proclaim

we are answering the call of love.

.

Sometimes we build a barrier

to keep love tightly bound.

Corrupted by fear,

unwilling to hear,

denying the beauty we’ve found.

.

Chorus

.

A bright new day is dawning

when love will not divide.

Reflections of grace

in ev’ry embrace,

fulfilling the vision divine.

.

Chorus

Amen.

Image comes from Prairie UU – a few of our fellow UUs answering the call of love.

There’s a wonderful podcast called Song Exploder, where host Hrishikesh Hirway invites songwriters to talk about the origins and construction of their songs; they ‘explode’ the song apart to share insights about the ideas for the song, and about the various parts as it goes from hummed melody and chords on a piano to fully arranged and produced.

Much like that process, there is a process here at Hymn by Hymn too; I am gonna explode my own process for a few minutes – break it apart and explain how I get from spiritual practice to post. (I should note that it didn’t start this way, but curiosity led to this process after a few short weeks).

It starts with coffee. Or at least the making of… I get the coffeemaker set up, press on, and then sit down nearby with my hymnal. Flip, flip, flip to the right page, and I start to sing. If I’m lucky, I know the hymn, or at least the tune (I’m getting a lot better at recognizing tunes by their name because of this). If I don’t, I do a search through various hymn tune sites…maybe YouTube… and as a last resort, open the keyboard app on my phone to plunk out the melody. And I sing.

I really do sing the song, folks. Sometimes it’s quietly, sometimes it’s begrudgingly, sometimes it’s joyfully, sometimes it’s robustly … but I always sing it. I do that because I know that singing shifts our bodies energetically – it gets something moving in our bodies and our souls. And singing lyrics wakes up the mind, too.

Out of the singing comes some experiences, some questions, some affirmations. It might be a lyric that stops me, or a melodic phrase that captures me, or questions arising about its origins. I think about those questions, as well as my opening line, while I prepare the first sacred cup of the holy brew.

Then I sit down to the computer.

Sometimes I know just where I’m going and I begin writing. Other times, my curiosity leads me to a bit of research, which helps me frame my post for the day. I will often have half a dozen tabs open as I look at the hymn’s usage, origin stories, the composer’s bio, alternate lyrics. Sometimes there’s a poetry page or two, and often some YouTube examples of the song. Sometimes (like yesterday) there’s an email or text conversation with the composer or a member of the hymnal commission to offer further insights.

By the time I’ve done a bit of work, I have a pretty good sense of how to proceed – how to explore my own experience of singing, my own thoughts about the musicology, poetry, theology, spirituality, and liturgy reflected in my experience. I write, then find an image (often from Pixabay but sometimes from other sources), tag it, and publish it. By that point I’ve finished my first cup of coffee and can get on with my day. And a second cup of coffee.

Now I tell you all this because the experience I had singing this round today does not match the subsequent research I did before I sat down, and I stared at this screen for several minutes trying to find a way to explain what happened from first sung notes to first words on the post. And I probably wrote that whole piece above as a way to avoid the inevitable.

As we have Shlomo Carlebach’s round here, it’s a gorgeous invitation to return to ourselves, to remove the masks, to get back to what we know is true about ourselves. Return to the home of your soul… gorgeous. As I sang it I felt a bit of release, comforted by this reminder.

Return again, Return again,
Return to the home of your soul.

Return to who you are,
Return to what you are,
Return to where you are
born and reborn again.

But of course it also made me wonder about Carlebach, and if there are recordings of the piece for those who are unfamiliar. So I googled, and I discovered in listening to him perform the song that the lyric has been changed; the original is “return to the land of your soul.”

Of course that makes sense; Carlebach (known as “The Singing Rabbi”) was writing and performing songs specifically for a Jewish audience, writing songs that speak about the Divine in ways that “make other rabbis uncomfortable.” And given that, “Land” makes sense, with its significance to the Jewish people and their millennia’s-long desire to be home in Israel. The idea that the returning again is to a physical place – the land of your soul – is as important as and is maybe equal to/more resonant than returning to a sense of self.

Now I can see how the original lyrics might offer some resonance with people whose lands were stolen by greedy Europeans, or with people who were taken from their lands by greedy Europeans – I can’t speak for them but I suspect a Latinx or an African American might find some connection to the original lyric. However, as a descendant of greedy Europeans, I have no right and no standing to sing Carlebach’s original “land of your soul” – it seems like an affront.

Now I wouldn’t have had any of these thoughts if I’d not followed my process. And maybe I’d have been happy to continue using this song to focus on personal spiritual growth.

But now – even with the changed lyric that makes it less obviously about physical place – I struggle. I know the hymnal commission contacted Carlebach’s estate to get approval for the lyric change, but it still feels like, well, like we whitewashed the song.

And I don’t know what to do with that. Until this morning, and through the original singing, I loved this piece and have used it.

Now, I’m not so sure.

It’s still beautiful and lush, and I’m glad it’s here. But I’m just not sure about it anymore.

If you are a fan of a film or tv show with highly quotable lines, you may find yourself giving the next line almost out of habit:

“Inconceivable!”
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

“To make a long story short…”
   “TOO LATE!”

“My father hung me from a hook once..”
“Once.”

“Surely you don’t mean it.”
“I do. And stop calling me Shirley.”

“Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra.”
“Darmok and Jilad on the ocean.”

And so on.

We like things that repeat. It helps firm them up in our brains. The call and response connects us. It’s also a bit of a shibboleth, a password of sorts that lets us know we’re on the same page.

We see it all the time in Protestant liturgy:

May the Lord be with you.
     And also with you.

The Word of God.
     Thanks be to God.

Now as Unitarian Universalists, we don’t have much of this in most of our congregations. Our liturgies are much more freeform (despite many of them still modeling what Glen Thomas Rideout calls “Puritan Standard”). Yet for many of us, there are words or phrases that lead us almost instinctively to respond, perhaps most frequently (in my experience),

Please say with me the words for extinguishing our chalice.
     We extinguish this flame, but not the light of truth…

For me and many of us, there’s another trigger of ritual response:

And now the children may go to their classes.

If you’re in one of the hundreds of congregations that uses today’s hymn as a children’s recessional, what comes next are those first four notes – G, C, D, G – repeated as an intro to our lyrics:

Go now in peace. Go now in peace.
May the love of God surround you
everywhere, everywhere you may go.

You probably already started singing before I got to it, didn’t you?

Now I know many congregations use other songs as their recessional; Bloomington, IN, uses a verse of a different hymn each month. Others have pieces written for them. But for those congregations, the song is still part of a habitual call and response. We say we don’t like ritual, but we crave it. And this song, by Methodist composer Natalie Sleeth, is a major piece of our ritual.

I should say a thing you likely already know: the lyrics are “may the love of God” because that’s how Sleeth wrote it and required it be printed in order to give us permission. I’m sure members of the Hymnal Commission can tell more about the story, but the bottom line is that we’ve not been given permission by a living artist to change her lyrics to anything, including the popular “spirit of love.”

Go now in peace.

 

I don’t know what was going on at Westside UU in Seattle that day, but I love the pic of the kids under a bridge made by adults.

Use this hymn with great care.

I cannot stress this enough.

Use with care. Really. Give context. Use it in the right context.

This lesson is one I learned thanks to friend and colleague Dawn Fortune, a white minister whose allyship shone brightly the day we sang this at a collegial training as though “the welcome table” meant happy fun times for us. Dawn reminded us that this was a song from the time of slavery.

Now it is true that there are about as many versions as there are verses – by which I mean there are many many verses we don’t print in our hymnal. For example (from a 1930 article called “The Negro Sings a New Heaven” by Mary Allen Grissom, quoted at The Mudcat Café – spelling as presented in the original, or you’d see [sic] all over the place):

I’m gonna tell God how you treat me…

I’m gonna cross thuh river of Jurdun…

I’m gonna drink uv thuh healin’ waters…

I’m gonna drink and nevuh get thirsty…

I’m gonna eat off thuh welcome table…

I’m gonna walk an’ talk wid Jesus…

I’m gonna ride in thuh charet wid Jesus…

I’m gonna shout an’ not be weary…

You’re gonna wish that you’d-a been ready…

God’s gonna set yo’ sins befo’ you…

God’s gonna bring this world to judgment…

And there are more. Many many more. I learned the first verse as “I’m gonna set the world on fire.” But all sung from a positions of resistance. And on that bright summer day in Bloomington, Minnesota, we were not singing from a position of resistance but one of privilege.

We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days, hallelujah!
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table,
gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

All kinds of people around that table…

No fancy style at the welcome table…

And so I mean it: use this one with care. Because the welcome table is the one we who are privileged have not laid out for everyone, and we have to. If we’re going to be serious about Susan Frederick-Gray’s assertion that “no one is outside the circle of love” then we have to be serious about setting the table for those who are knocking to come in.

I end with this short video of Ysaye Barnwell, with some folks at the 2014 spring cleaning & celebration/memorial at Love Cemetery in Marshall, TX. Not because it’s an amazing version, but because it reflects the grit and heart of what it means to sing together in these moments.

I need more opportunities for communion in my life.

This is not my way of declaring myself in a particular theological camp. What I am declaring, however is that I recognize the power of what Jesus called for us to do – gather together, with intention, to eat, drink, and remember. To pray together. To work together. To welcome all. To feed all.

I’ve written about my Eucharistic journey elsewhere on this blog and in various essays and papers during seminary. I’m grateful that during seminary, I had the opportunity for communion every Thursday, and I listened carefully to hear whether I was welcome. Some weeks, I was, some weeks, well, not so much. But since then, I have had little opportunity. I have sought out communion services on precious Sundays off. I have attended UUCF’s communion at General Assembly when I have been able. And I made certain that a few hours before my ordination, a small communion service was held for fellow clergy.

And now, in these hard days (made a little easier by last night’s election results), I need this more than ever. I need to be called into sacred space to remember, to pray, to ritualize our connection with each other and the Divine.

I know this ritual doesn’t mean much to many UUs, and there are some who reject it outright because of their spiritual histories. But for me, and for many of us, the Eucharist is deeply meaningful and powerful. And I am glad we have these songs in our hymnal.

Let us break bread together on our knees.
Let us break bread together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees,
with my face to the rising sun,
oh, Lord, have mercy on me.

Let us drink wine together on our knees…

Let us praise God together on our knees…

Between the Lines only says it is a traditional song, so I asked the internet, and up pops the United Methodists’ Discipleship Ministries, a full site devoted to worship, music, preaching, as well as leadership, church planting, and international ministries. It’s…well, it’s amazing. And included in this site is hymn history and analysis. In the case of this song, it’s by C. Michael Hawn, Distinguished Professor of Church Music at Perkins School of Theology at SMU. He writes this about the history:

In a recently published article in the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, written by United Methodist Hymnal editor, Dr. Carlton Young, he reveals the probable roots and major variants of this spiritual. Dr. Young suggests that this “spiritual was formed in the West African Gullah/Geechee slave culture that developed in the costal areas of South-Eastern colonial America, including St Helena Island, Beaufort, and Charleston, South Carolina . . ..”

The text of the version that is commonly sung in the United States was first published in The Journal of American Folklore (1925). The Journal included spirituals, as well as African American folk tales and proverbs that were collected by students at the Penn School on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina.

A second version appeared in Saint Helena Island Spirituals (1925) by Nicholas Ballanta, a very significant collection that included 103 Gullah spirituals.

Now we don’t know its true origins, or even if this was a coded song as some might suggest. But as Hawn points out, we do know that

African American composer John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) arranged the first solo version with the three stanzas that are common to most hymnals in the United States. He also established the precedent of singing the final stanza up the octave. … This version of the spiritual was popularized by notable African American soloists in the mid-twentieth century such as Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and Marian Anderson.

And so I leave you with Robeson’s version:

One of the blessings of my seminary experience was getting to know the remarkable singer and scholar Kim Harris; she was finishing her PhD while I was getting my MDiv. She became a friend and confidant, a mom when I was going through the worst of my heart troubles, a singing partner, and at least once formally, my teacher.

That semester, she taught a class on Spirituals; the class wasn’t just about the history, however; it was also about using the spirituals to deepen our own spirituality. By chance, the group was entirely women, a perfect mix of ages, sexual identities, and racial identities. We learned together,  and we sang together, and often our singing was a prayer together.

This song, with its original words “Come By Here” was particularly meaningful, as Kim tossed aside the whole “kumbayah” mythos and modern meaning and brought us back to the deep, mournful hope of this song. We prayed this more than once as a group, hands on each other’s shoulders, tears rolling, connections to ourselves, each other, and the Divine made real.

I almost hesitate to keep the “kumbayah” lyric in here, except it is in our hymnal and I can’t deny its existence.  But after the lyrics, I’ll share an excerpt from a 2010 New York Times article that talks more about the song and how it got corrupted.

Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah.
Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah.
Kum ba yah, my Lord, kum ba yah.
Oh, Lord, kum ba yah!

Someone’s singing, Lord…

Someone’s laughing, Lord….

Someone’s weeping, Lord…

Someone’s praying, Lord …

Kum ba yah, my Lord …

This article sprang up because “kumbayah” had made its way into the political discourse, but it’s been in the pop culture discourse for a few decades. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but I feel it necessary to share this bit:

“Come By Here” in its original hands appealed for divine intervention on behalf of the oppressed. The people who were “crying, my Lord” were blacks suffering under the Jim Crow regime of lynch mobs and sharecropping. While the song may have originated in the Georgia Sea Islands, by the late 1930s, folklorists had made recordings as far afield as Lubbock, Tex., and the Florida women’s penitentiary.

With the emergence of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, “Come By Here” went from being an implicit expression of black liberation theology to an explicit one. The Folkways album “Freedom Songs” contains an emblematic version — deep, rolling, implacable — sung by the congregation at Zion Methodist Church in Marion., Ala., soon after the Selma march in March 1965.

The mixed blessing of the movement was to introduce “Come By Here” to sympathetic whites who straddled the line between folk music and progressive politics. The Weavers, Peter Seeger, the Folksmiths, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary all recorded versions of the song.

By the late 1950s, though, it was being called “Kumbaya.” Mr. Seeger, in liner notes to a 1959 album, claimed that America missionaries had brought “Come By Here” to Angola and it had returned retitled with an African word.

Experts like Stephen P. Winick of the Library of Congress say that it is likely that the song traveled to Africa with missionaries, as many other spirituals did, but that no scholar has ever found an indigenous word “kumbaya” with a relevant meaning. More likely, experts suggest, is that in the Gullah patois of blacks on the Georgia coast, “Come By Here” sounded like “Kumbaya” to white ears.

So a nonsense word with vaguely African connotations replaced a specific, prayerful appeal. And, thanks to songbooks, records and the hootenanny boom, the black Christian petition for balm and righteousness became supplanted by a campfire paean to brotherhood.

“The song in white hands was never grounded in faith,” Professor Hinson said. “Its words were simplistic; its tune was breezy. And it was simplistically dismissed.”

Go read the whole thing… and please, use this song with care.

Kim and Reggie came to the Keys while I was doing my internship; we took a photo together at this great place for Cuban sandwiches.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t know this video from May existed until today, but in this amazing piece, First Portland’s music director, DeReau Farrar offers powerful testimony about what it means to sing spirituals in white spaces.

There is no embed code, so please click on this link to watch this video.

We have so many of these songs in our hymnals, and I think this should be required viewing before choosing any of them. In fact, I might link to the video on each post for these songs, just in case you forget.

Because this matters. As uncomfortable as his words may make us, this matters.