“Everybody looks what’s going down”

November 20th, 2020

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(published in The Daily Memphian)

(In a colorful place, a new collection of columns from Dan Conaway and Otis Sanford, preorder signed books from Novel and Burke’s Book Store. Inquiries, danconaway [at] bellsouth [dot] net.) 

The last couple of weeks have been reflective. For me. For you. For the nation.

The day after the election was called, I was sitting in a pew ­– distanced, masked, reflective ­– when my rector, The Rev. Ollie V. Rencher, began his sermon. He quoted familiar words, words written to stir awareness, to promote engagement, to cause change. Like the words quoted in most sermons, these were prophetic, written before the preacher was born, but meaningful today – particularly meaningful today.

“There’s something happening here/But what it is ain’t exactly clea/There’s a man with a gun over there/A-telling me, I got to beware”

This time, the prophet was Stephen Stills in 1966 and the choir was Buffalo Springfield.

“Children, what’s that sound?/Everybody look what’s going down”

Ollie recounted driving down a road in his native Clarksdale the day before, the day the election was called, a road he used to travel with his late father for long drives to talk about everything – everything – when the song “For What’s It’s Worth” came to mind. It was a favorite of his father, and often played on those drives. His father advised, “Son, don’t just listen to the music, pay attention to the words.”

His father was like mine ­– if it began with “Son,” you’d best listen.

“There’s battle lines being drawn/And nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong/Young people speaking their minds/And getting’ so much resistance from behind”

“It’s time we stop/Hey, what’s that sound?/Everybody look what’s going down”

“What a field day for the heat/A thousand people in the street/Singing songs and a-carryin’ signs/Mostly say, “Hooray for our side”

Ollie pointed out that the song, “came along at a time when there was significant unrest: human and civil rights, cries for equity and justice, the Vietnam War, and extreme political positions. More than ever, the world, God’s people, needed peace.”

I remember that time. I was in that time, and I’m in this one.

“It’s time we stopped/Hey, what’s that sound/Everybody look what’s going down”

“Throughout our social climate,” Ollie continued, “I keep hearing things like ‘this isn’t who we are’ or ‘we must be better than this,’ and I too have definitely said such things. And yet, what has been revealed in the closeness of the presidential election reality, if we are mirror-facing, our divide is literally who we are. While God is calling us to be our best selves with and for one another, we are not there yet.”

“Paranoia strikes deep/Into your life it will creep/It starts when you’re always afraid/Step out of line, the man come and take you away”

“Today is as perfect a day as any to seek peace and pursue it. God’s invitation for peace is at the core of the line: ‘There’s battle lines being drawn, And nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.’ The pursuit of peace and a need to look at, listen to, and care for one another, especially across lines of difference and otherness, is fundamental to what we pray and say we believe.”

Amen, Reverend. Amen.

Preachers must often wonder if what they’re saying gets through – after that sip of water mid-sermon, looking across the congregation, into the camera – sometimes wondering if any of what they’re saying gets through.

This Sunday, I got it. The sermon’s point was made and the perfect song – psalm, if you will – was used to make it.

“Children, what’s that sound?/Everybody look what’s going down”

It’s time we stopped. It’s time we made peace.

I’m a Memphian, and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.

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