Tell Me Langston Hughes
Why should it be my loneliness,
Why should it be my song,
Why should it be my dream
In his book The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin wrote “Color is not a human or a personal reality. It is a political reality.”I combined my tune If God is Love with Langston Hughes’ Tell Me to encourage us in the real work that is necessary to create a new political reality of love. As a culture we prefer avoidance of conflict and a kind of naïve cynicism; the repetitions of platitudes that make us feel clever. What if the repetitions can be used for more than merely making us feel better and dismissing conflict? What if by learning to sing together we can hone the skills we need to work through the things that divide us? What if we were to more intentionally imagine our part in healing the nations?
Of course, this might initially seem to cause more conflict, but will ultimately move us toward deeper understanding and empathy as we come closer to one another from different worldviews. I know in my heart that there are no “others” – only us, and our refusals to engage one another at the deep levels of respect and love keep us stuck, fighting for freedom, and justice for all.
The poet, activist, and public intellectual June Jordan wrote and sang this:
We have come too far
We can’t turn ‘round
We’ll flood the streets with justice
We are freedom bound.
There’s a video of it being sung in the streets here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dsz43kRAHiY The tune begins at 3:34.
It’s also lovely done as a round:
When I watched the video of If God is Love/Tell Me I noticed I was very lucky to have had fifteen musicians who were able to recover after my initial mistake singing the first text. Here’s the actual text:
If God is love if God is love if God is,
then love is God is love is God if love is
“If” and “is” are enough to hurt our brains, but they make us listen! All my nervousness came flying out in that first attempt to teach. This is the most common mistake I make; thinking I know something so well, and then finding myself in the middle of a new relationship and realizing that knowing it well is not the same as living it out in the place where we can make our way toward one another; that takes practice. But some practice will take us farther than other practice.
“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” is about reconciliation with a double portion of hopelessness; I used to sing it with gusto while listening to Sly Stone on the radio in 1969 (I was eleven). Twenty-two years later, this hair-raising version by Jane’s Addiction and Ice-T from 1991 uses the call and response form: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ecf363BkkM –
The verse is quite clear in its fear that people will continue to spin the tales they’re used to spinning and resist change. We don’t seem to have moved very far at all:
“I went down across the country
and I heard some voices ring
They was talkin’ so softly to each other
and not a word could change a thing.”
I’ll end on a note of hope, with another call and response. The text is by Horatius Bonar, a hymn writer from the 18th c, adapted by me. I’ll try and upload a video soon:
O love that casts out fear,
O love that casts out sin,
Tarry no more without
But come and dwell within.
True sunlight of the soul,
Surround us as we go;
So shall our way be safe,
Our feet no straying know.
Great love of God, come in!
Wellspring of heav’nly peace,
Spring up and never cease;
Spring up and never cease!