lenten journal: how can anybody be okay with this?

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One meme I read this week said, “I am hopeful that the pandemic will bring about necessary changes in healthcare the same way Sandy Hook and Parkland brought about necessary changes in gun laws. And now we can add Atlanta. The most recent expression of white terrorism sent me looking, first, for words and when I couldn’t find them I went looking for songs. Protest songs. Songs of lament. That’s what I offer here.

Just last week I learned of Chris Pierce for the first time. His songs are going to open and close our set. He has a new album called “American Silence” and the title track says,

we see the music move you as you lay your burden down
we feel the music grip you as your heart is soaked in sound
and when the song is over, if you decide to clap aloud
will your applause mean anything with stitches on your mouth

can we sing a song for you
will music move your heart and mind
will our song arrest you
american silence is a crime

Raye Zaragoza is described in her bio as a “Japanese-American, Mexican, and Indigenous woman” and she is a wonderful songwriter. “In the River” was written about Standing Rock, and she sings,

there’s got to be some hope
there’s got to be some hope
there’s got to be some way
for you to send your dogs away
and to leave the land alone
it’s got to be a crime
somewhere in your heart you’ll find
we’re fighting for our right to keep our future bright
and protect the ones we love

in the river is our sisters and our brothers
we are camping out for each other
we are stronger when we band together
and we’re standing up for the water
don’t poison the future away

J. S. Ondara is a Kenyan immigrant who learned how to play Bob Dylan songs in the slums of Nairobi and then set out for Minneapolis to find him. His songs are achingly beautiful.

will you let me in, or are you at capacity
will you set me free, are you holding onto history
will you be sincere, are you averse to honesty
will you dare to hear those children matching on the street

oh God bless America, the heartache of mine
oh God bless America, the heartache of mine

In “Preach” John Legend speaks to the contagious sense of helplessness we have to consciously engage.

I can’t sit and hope,
I can’t just sit and pray, that
I can find a love, when
all I see is pain
falling to my knees
and though I do believe
I can’t just preach, baby, preach
whoa, oh
I can’t just preach, baby, preach

all I hear is voices
everybody’s talking
nothing real is happening, ’cause nothing is new
now when all is tragic
and I just feel sedated
why do I feel numb? Is that all I can do? Yeah

Jason Isbell is the one person on this playlist that I’ve listened to for a long time. He makes the list tonight because of one of his most haunting songs, “White Man’s World.”

I’m a white man living on a white man’s street
I’ve got the bones of the red man under my feet
the highway runs through their burial grounds
past the oceans of cotton

I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes
wishing I’d never been one of the guys
who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke
oh, the times ain’t forgotten

there’s no such thing as someone else’s war
your creature comforts aren’t the only things worth fighting for
you’re still breathing, it’s not too late
we’re all carrying one big burden, sharing one fate

Kae Tempest is a poet and a rapper and a playwright and, well, the list goes on. And it’s not just their words but the way they deliver them. “People’s Faces” is a prime example.

we’re working every dread day that is given us
feeling like the person people meet
really isn’t us
like we’re going to buckle underneath the trouble
like any minute now
the struggle’s going to finish us

and then we smile at all our friends

it’s hard

we got our heads down and our hackles up
our back’s against the wall
I can feel you aching

none of this was written in stone
there is nothing we’re forbidden to know
and I can feel things changing

even when I’m weak and I’m breaking
I’ll stand weeping at the train station
‘cause I can see your faces

there is so much peace to be found in people’s faces

As I said, Chris Pierce started us off and he is going to take us out asking the question for the day: how can anybody be okay with this?

I’m sick and tired of this song
we’ve been singing it too long
singing we shall overcome someday
it’s been four hundred years
it sustains loud and clear
it’s so hard to believe, the outcry and the tears

why is it taking so long?
why should I have to write this song?

tell me, how can anybody be okay with this?
how can anybody be okay with this?
how is this land for you and me
when we can’t run in our own streets
tell me, how can anybody be okay with this?

Hope is not guaranteed. Let me say it another way. Hope is not obvious. To find it, we have to pay attention–mostly to one another. Hope grows out of solidarity and compassion. We cannot be okay with this because it’s not okay.

And Kae is right: there is so much peace to find in people’s faces.

Peace,
Milton

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