Music and Hope…A Love Story

 

In 1969, somewhere around the middle of November, I heard James Taylor’s song ‘Fire and Rain’ on a late night WIBG radio program called “Americana Panorama”. It was a seminal moment for me, an eclectic black kid living in North Philly, who was going to a mostly white high school across town. The strains of his guitar and voice awakened something in me that I couldn’t explain. But having heard that song, a path to a life in music and an actively engaged citizenship was begun.

It would take years for that awakening to become a reality. That moment was enhanced and intensified as I, inspired by the music of Gordon Lightfoot, Aretha Franklin, Cat Stevens, Pete Seeger, Stevie Wonder, and countless others, experimented with those myriad influences that stirred the juices of creativity around and around in my body and brain. Murmurs of the spirituals and gospel songs of my youth simmered together with the classical and jazz songs I heard in school as I moved and swayed to the pop/rock classics that filled the airwaves. Together they freed me from what might have been the usual course for a kid of my background. It was a fusion of sound and message that lifted me into the ozone of boundless self-expression. Music, as it so often does, opened new windows of meaning for me and allowed me test my wings in a new atmosphere of artistic freedom. And with joy, my life and career dreams took flight.

And now, so many years removed from that fertile valley of inspiration, I find myself still deeply connected to the central truth of my discovery on that November night…That music heals, transforms and makes change possible.

That knowledge has served me well through years of struggle, challenge, joyful exploration, illness and triumph in the same way that it has fueled movements of social and historic change. And I find myself, with new and renewed vigor, embracing the causes of positive change in old and new ways without fear. And I’m trying everyday to share that light.

“I almost didn’t come here tonight. I’ve been so frustrated, angry and upset by everything in the news. I really didn’t want to leave the house. But when I saw the announcement of this program, I went online and I looked at your Facebook and webpage and what I saw gave me a little bit of hope. Your music spoke to me tonight, and I’m so glad I came.”

If these were the words spoken by just one person over the last few weeks that would be a marvelous thing. But I’ve heard similar statements from person after person in state after state…at intermission and at the end of shows as people go off into the night. I hear it at the end of my solo concerts and at the end of presentations of “Deeper Than the Skin” with Greg Greenway or in my concerts with Scott Ainslie, Kim Harris, Pat Wictor, Magpie, Emma’s Revolution or the many other artists with whom I share the value of song.

We live in a challenging time! Good news in the 24/7 news cycle often feels hard to come by. It’s hard to remember that WE are the good news. If we realize that we still have the ability to open our hearts to honest connections that bind us to each other and affect the shape of our world then the world will change for the better.  If not us, then who?

Whether it’s talking to a stranger on a plane or to the young people we love as we try to help them begin to define their dreams or make sense of what’s happening in the world; or when we take a moment to encourage someone to take an active role in our nation’s direction or volunteer an hour or two at a school, soup kitchen or community center. It’s one of the reasons we register and vote or spend time talking with friends and family to help them to regain their perspective and mental balance.

WE must be the change that we hope to see in the world.

Malcolm X said: “We need more light about each other. For light brings understanding, understanding brings love, love brings patience and patience brings unity.”

So just as my forebears set the example in the past, I now try to add my piece to the puzzle at a time when hope seems distant and faint. Every time I open my mouth to sing or I pick up that guitar, I’m back in my room on 17th street in Philly, rediscovering the joy, possibility and hope that music can bring.

This is the song in my heart; this is still very much my work in the world. I am happy and fortunate to have many partners in this work… the musicians and artists who have come to know that fame, money and personal glory are not enough reason to build and sustain a healthy grounded life and career.

As Bernice Johnson Reagon founder of “Sweet Honey in the Rock” said’ “Music changes the air!”  Music builds community and heals our hearts.  And blessed be… it can also help us change the world!

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

I just took the opportunity to watch and listen to The Most Reverend Michael Curry, the first African-American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preach his righteous butt off at the occasion of the royal wedding yesterday. Bishop Curry, in 13 minutes of eloquence and spirit, laid out the message of what the power of love could make possible in the world, on many frames, to an audience that was clearly not used to, as we say “in the community!”, “havin’ church! It was sum’thin else again.

Today, on this day after THE day, I’ve heard and read so many people,  talking about, praising, philosophizin’ and recounting their impressions of this amazing sermon. I’ve also heard a few people saying that it didn’t “touch them” or “was too long” or that he “didn’t say enough about the state of this or that.”

Well, I will say this. To me, “Brother Bishop” PREACHED! That much can be said with clarity. And he told the truth without making it a diatribe or a political grandstand. He was, after all, in his own words “trying to get these two married!” in a day filled with pomp and circumstance and hours of event laden activity. He stayed in frame but made it verrrrrrry colorful.

He addressed the couple and the place of love in their choice of each other. And he acknowledged that their love was deep. He said, “I’m talking’ bout some POWER!! as the candles shook on the pulpit. He made the point that he was not just talking about two people loving each other. He was on fire with the spirit of what Dr King told us the love would be the “ONLY thing that will change this world!” He was not just talking about that thing that we so often toss off as a statement of making ourselves “happy” or personally fulfilled.

We are presently seeing some excellent examples of what greedy, selfish, colluding, power seeking, hateful, unloving disciples of the political and financial class are capable of unleashing on the world. So maybe it’s time to hear, AGAIN, the message that a world in which love is the measure of principle, action, belief and policy, will be one in which justice, abundance, fairness and equality are paramount. Where the actual policies and actions of the world would be transformed. Yes, he used the “T” word! A world where the kind of madness that rips families apart, makes it impossible for people to find healthcare and housing and widens the gap between rich and poor simply because it’s legal to do so and some people just want more, is not enough.

He delivered that message as the gathered dignitaries smiled, squirmed and fidgeted in their fancy clothes. I hope those powerful few truly heard the meaning in the words that resonated and reverberated in that vast cathedral yesterday. Cuz Brother Bishop, a man of action who has endured his own journey of challenging hate, prejudice and pain, put the word out for all to hear. His message was clear and his voice was filled with passion.

The Bible says, “If I speak with the tongues of men or of angels, but I do not have love, I am nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” Sound familiar?

We live in a very loud and shrill world where evil and dysfunction trumpet the desires of those who would  lead us as they share their opinions and enforce three will nonstop. Where brash displays of self serving behavior is seen as normal. It’s way past time to infuse some love into this equation before we hit bottom on the humanity scale.

Thank you Meghan and Harry. The good bishop made you sit a little longer but it was a lovely service. And really quite stirring.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!!

On this Thanksgiving morning, I wake and give thanks:

For all who have not lost hope in a world that often makes the effort of keeping it alive so very difficult.

For cheesesteaks and the many places that make them… really well!

For no longer living in a place ALL the time with places that make cheesesteaks REALLY WELL!

For the family of the 43 year old man whose liver I now claim as my own. We share a bond that is beyond understanding despite not knowing each other.

For all of the very talented friends and musicians who inspire and cause me to remember how powerful music is and can be.

For the Sixers, Eagles and Phillies for teaching me OVER and OVER again that the joy of sport is not ALWAYS in the winning. But now that I get it, WIN!

For all of the sponsors, teachers, parents, music volunteers and festival presenters who allow me the joy of sharing what I do and believe in me enough to have me come to do it.

For the pioneers and unsung heroes of civil and human rights who refused to stand down, run away or cower in the face of danger and tyranny…who made a way outta NO way! We owe you for showing us how it’s done now that we have to do it

For my family and loved ones for loving me through all of the years of  being “somewhere else” on important dates. I’m trying to get that to be less the case.

For all of the children that I encounter who remind me that play, wisdom  and wonder are not defined by age.

For my mother, Helen Harris, for making sure I saw, felt and heard things I didn’t want to see, hear or feel… but now treasure.

For my sister Marlene for not giving up on me when I was sick and for listening to me when it was her turn! Thanks to Peter for hanging in there.

For my teachers, mentors, inspirational leaders and friends who have said the right things and live lives of passion and purpose so I could follow your lead.

For Kim for working hard to show that we meant what we said and sang about though the years and for continuing to work together cooperatively with respect and joy.

For another year of joyful support and love from all of you for hearing and responding to my music, past, present and future. And for helping me to build this amazing community of love.

For all who love in the presence of hate so that hate is not the default in this challenging world. This is not a rehearsal. We are on the road together and we will overcome!

 

High in the Air and “Ready to Go!”

Hi Friends and Music Family!
I’m writing this to you from high in Canadian airspace. Now some say that musicians are high all the time, but we don’t need to go there.

I’m making my way back from Calgary, AB where I was performing this weekend with my buds Greg Greenway and Joe Jencks. We played at the fabulous Calgary Folk Club. A true venue of delight if there ever was one. (And there are several!)

By now, many of you know that I’m making my first solo CD! If this is news to you, I’m happy to say that’s it’s a project that’s taking shape in a most remarkable way. After our gig in Calgary, Greg and I are hustling back to the US to push this CD project to the next phase. I’m excited to get this CD done and into your hands and ears. So, Monday it’s ON!

And OMG!!! I can’t believe who’s coming in this week to add tracks to two, maybe three songs. The astonishingly talented Gina Forsyth is staying in the East after NERFA just to do this for me. I’m beyond grateful! If you don’t know Gina’s music, you should check her out in action on YouTube.

Gina was THE person I heard in my head when I began writing the song “Ready to Go!”  And she will also be playing on the song “Hickory Hill,” which will be one of the key moments on the CD. That track also features beautiful cello by Michael Ronstadt and ethereal guitar tracks by Pat Wictor.

That song recounts the day, about 6 years ago, when I visited the site of the Hickory Hill plantation in Ashand, VA, and walked the land with my cousin, Lisa Wickham Haskell. Here’s a picture of my extended family.

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What a powerful, heart shifting experience it’s been for all of us. Here in the picture is Lisa, (on my left) her sister, Wallis Raemer, (on the right) their brother George, his wife Mary, and Lisa’s partner, William Espinosa.

Walking with Lisa on the land led to this final verse;

So now our stories come together,                                                                               across these fields of broken dreams,                                                                              and the blood that binds us all together                                                                              is, indeed, much thicker than seems.

Hickory Hill, we’re on hallowed ground,                                                                     walkin’ side by side, wonderin’ what we’ve found.                                                        Can you see the questions in my eyes now that we are home again?

Yes, they are White! And I am Black. But due to the twists and turns of history and slavery, we are connected to each other. I am a Harris and a Hewlett, but I am also a Wickham. And these are some of my Wickham cousins. We have been getting to know each other for the last 8 years after… well, that’s a long story. Suffice to say that we are embracing this journey of discovery with open hearts and arms.

This project has already opened my heart wider than I expected. I’m hoping that it will do the same for you.

Thanks for taking this journey with me. With your support, we are on our way, and I’m Ready to Go.

Reggie Harris

The Art of Collaboration and Balance

Looking back over the years, it appears that I was born to collaborate! Starting when I was 4 or 5, my mom, my sister Marlene, and I would gather at the piano on a Friday night at home there in Philly, and we’d sing hymns and other songs until bedtime. With the TV turned off and Nana napping in her big chair (periodically waking to smile!) we would take turns and share the verses on songs like  “How Great Thou Art” or “Shall We Gather at the River.”  Occasionally, some show tune from South Pacific, one of the few shows I remember my very religious mom taking us to see in the theater, or a Harry Belafonte song, would find its way into the mix.

It was there that I began to learn how to trade harmonies, as my sister and I began to construct our own arrangements, with lyrics and antics that often earned us a raised eyebrow or a word of rebuke. It was a very happy time and so formative to my later years of singing in church and school choirs. It’s no surprise to me that, with that as background, I have spent a lifetime finding great delight in collaborative musical endeavors.

For over 40 years, as one half of the duo Kim and Reggie Harris, I’ve been blessed to travel the world singing songs: original, traditional, and borrowed. It’s been an effort to add meaning, context, joy, and substance to the community of song that exists… sharing the stories of reality and the dreams of our human connection along with reflections on the challenges that we face.

In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to explore my background, my motivations, my voice, and my being as well as the many critical aspects of the art of listening and responding to others. I’ve led and I’ve followed. I’ve given and taken clues. And I’ve shared in the journey of ‘risk taking’… walking that fine line of self exploration and group commitment that allows one to go beyond the comfort zones of what is known and unknown in both musical and life experience to reach new vistas.

Truthfully, I will admit that, every now and again, there have been some train wrecks of a song or two! But it’s been a rich education and also a whole universe of fun. And the list of amazing artists who’ve become friends and mentors along the way simply boggles my mind. I’m filled to overflowing with gratitude and deep great appreciation for the range of personalities and dream-makers whose passions and skills have contributed so much to my worldview.

A year ago, when Kim and I made a decision to shift our personal and career paths, I embarked on the new phase of this journey as a solo artist. That shift has launched a powerful new landscape of possibility and excitement as I find that my years of collaboration have both enhanced and limited my freedom to soar and grow. This year of touring has brought some vibrant changes in my work and musical life.  Some fans have said, “Wow. I didn’t even know you had THAT voice!” I smile.  I’m having a new kind of fun.”

So, as I move forward with a new vocal freedom and a renewed passion for guitar expression, I’ve also added some focused collaborations with some trusted friends to the reduced partnership opportunities with Kim. It’s a work in progress that is yielding some very cool results and uncovering some astounding skills.

I seek a different balance. And it’s a journey I will share here in writing, on stage, and in recordings as I redefine the lines of a mission I started years ago around that upright piano. And to quote my friend Greg Greenway, “It’s a mighty long way, from there to here.” But it’s a song I can sing with joy!

 

 

 

For Whom the Mind Trolls

Yesterday was one of those days on my Facebook page! The Trolls came calling!

Two of my posts, both political in nature but not accusatory in any real sense, attracted loads of attention from some truly ugly trolls as well as a host of angry supporters of Trump. They came in like fire ants, bearing ill will, hurling insults, using their little demeaning names and posting hate-filled memes at other respondents with no thought of anything but disruption. In more than one case, the troll actually said he was praying for the death of President Obama (who wasn’t even mentioned in my post) and another post consigned our gracious former Prez’s dead mother to membership in a not so well respected profession.

The comments struck me as  piteously unhinged and so very typical of people who have lost their grounding in humanity, hope and/or any kind of faith. Their lack of focused meaning and their vicious rants demonstrated a level of personal and mental dysfunction that has grown more prevalent in our society.  And even more sadly, it’s modeled and mirrored by our present administration and by many in our leadership base. They are the very models of that very same voided soulessness every day.

As much as it was a PITA, I felt fortunate that I was experiencing the onslaught while being here at the Carmelite Monastery in Baltimore, gratefully visiting this amazing group of women who have dedicated themselves to a life of spiritual enlightenment and selfless prayer. It clearly revealed the online antics to be the bizarre workings of ignorance and hate. Being here, with these focused friends also allowed me to center my thoughts and my energy more quickly. I often mention that I work hard to make sure that the ignorance of life and other people’s uncentered actions don’t alter my core. It can still be a struggle. But, that’s what happened! The days spent here have given my core a whole new strength. The conversations and thought provoking interactions with these incredible women have deepened my resolve to be part of the solution.

And, this coming weekend, the joy continues. I will be reconnecting  my Balsam Guys group for our annual men’s retreat. This will be the 15th year that I have been privileged to gather with as fine a group of men as one could assemble, to gain some wisdom and strength. We will once again engage each other in a weekend of non-stop deep sharing of life’s joys and concerns, with lots of laughing, eating, talking through issues, singing, sleeping and more eating. (Did I mention that we eat?) We GO there…. and we make sure that every one of us gets back!

Yesterday was what it was. But having focused friends allows me to center my thoughts and restore my energy more quickly. And the trolls? They come and they go! And yesterday I helped them go quickly by blocking 8 people. These were NOT friends of mine. And,I will not be carrying their energy any further than a push on the button that sent them into the ether of cyberspace.

But I will leave here today still believing that quote from Dr. M.L. King where he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Love is hard when you’re dealing with people you don’t even like. But today I resolve, once again, to choose to put some love energy in the world, as a balance for whatever it is the trolls are doing. Cuz hate is too great a weight to bear. I’ve still got light in music and in life and another day in which to let it shine!

We still live in the shelter of each other. We need to act like it!

 

 

Come Take Your Seat on the Bus

Greetings and Peace, Good People!

As many of you know, I have been part of the UU Living Legacy Project as Music Educator and a board member, for the last 6 years of so. My activity with LLP has provided me with some of the most incredible and heartrending challenges of my life. The experiences along the way have also birthed some of my most joyful moments as well, as I have been more intimately linked to the history and to the people who have made and, in some cases, are still making our movement for freedom justice powerful and possible. <www.UULivinglegacy.org>

In my role for LLP, I have helped to lead pilgrimages, as song leader and educator, to a bevy of civil rights sites in AL, MS and TN.  On those journeys, we travel together on a bus, stopping 5 or 6 places every day, to visit the museums, community centers, homes and other sites of the movement. Each day, we interact with residents, civil rights veterans and leaders in these communities, that were (and, in many cases, still are) vibrant agents of action in the cause of justice and freedom.

We often hear the stories that you don’t read in books or learn in school. And we sing, eat and share our own stories as we slowly come to know and appreciate the human side of this national narrative.

With my colleagues, I’ve helped plan and facilitate events like the “Marching in the Arc of Justice” conference, which brought together about 600 people from around the country and culminated with 70,000 of us walking together across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” In that and other outreach efforts, we work to connect both young and not so young to the truth of the past, the present and to plant the seeds of future endeavors of civil and human rights activity. It’s an amazing resource for hope and change.

I thank all of you who have followed these journeys by reading my trip posts and commenting on my photographic efforts to capture, here on Facebook and beyond, what is best seen, heard and felt in person. I have also shared many of these stories with audiences of every age and background in my concerts here and around the world.

It remains one of my deepest and most joyful blessings to be involved in this work. And yet, there is another side to this work, of which many of you are also aware. That would be my embrace of new relationships with my White cousins in the Wickham family. (the family that both owned and provides one half of my ancestry) This growing shared personal roots journey, over time, has enriched us all. I am so honored that my Wickham family lineage is now an integral part of my embrace of heritage and continues to fuel my mission in music and in life.

As we continue together to celebrate our ongoing conversation and relationship as slave/master descendants, we are discovering, anew, that injustice, history, enforced emotional distance and pain can be overcome. It has made the work that I do in schools, concert halls, festivals, centers of faith and with community organization even more fulfilling. As I open myself to further bridge-building work, I inherently find out more about myself and my own need for healing.

So now, as I take on new and exciting projects in the rest of 2017 and beyond, here is one of the next offerings on the horizon.

From Oct. 21st – 28th, a collaborative pilgrimage between the UU Living Legacy Project and an amazing group called “Coming to The Table”, will go forward and is open to the public. CTTT is an organization dedicated to providing leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal the wounds from racism rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.”

This journey could not be happening at a more critical time in America history! It’s an effort to come to terms with the frustration and the incredible longing for hope that I hear all across our land. It engages the desire that we can and must be a part of the change we seek. This is justice in action.

So, here’s the link that will help YOU can be a link. Check out the info…clear the space…get on the bus and take your place!

We’ll ride, sing, talk, laugh, cry and eat together and create new ways to turn the division and acrimony, so rampant nationwide, into something more useful and lasting. We must learn again, as those civil rights heroes would say, to “make a way outta no way!”  To know that there is no try… there is only DO and NOT DO.

Come get on the bus. I’m looking forward to singing with you.

2017 CTTT Racial Justice Pilgrimage – Living Legacy Project
www.uulivinglegacy.org/2017-cttt-civil-rights-pilgrimage.html

The Road is Long…Take a Sandwich

This morning I was reminded of a small cartoon that I saw, years ago, of two men in a hillside, having a moment. One was obviously a “disciple” who was standing in front of the other, pictured as an “Elder/Learned One”. The caption read, “The road is long….take a sandwich!”

This week, as I read and heard the various musings, sharings and outraged comments from millions of Americans who are reacting to the onslaught of actions that this present administration has launched (in its assault on what so many of us hold as true, basic and time tested American values) I found myself forced to face something very real. Most of us are not “struggle tested citizens” in the sense of those in our history who have forged the very freedoms and rights that are now under attack.

Many of us were too young, too insulated or perhaps even too disconnected to get involved in the Modern Civil Rights, Vietnam, Peace or Women’s Movements. For many Americans, this is the very first time that the actions of their government has truly smacked them in the face hard enough to elicit the responses that we are now seeing daily. And it’s hard to see and feel this all around us and not get overwhelmed by it all. We are human and our lives are busy and fragmented. And it hurts!

But this is not new. And the story is not over. We need to gather ourselves and the stories that we either don’t remember or don’t know and get ready to walk the road together…for a while!.        And on this journey, we need to remember that a sandwich, some joy and some company are the things that will get us through.

John Hume, one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. is regarded as one of the most important figures in the political history of Ireland.  He is a recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, the only recipient of the three major peace awards. He once said “The civil rights movement in the United States was about the same thing… about equality of treatment for all sections of the people. And that is precisely what our movement was about.”
His persistence was legendary and his passion unfailing. And he took great energy and strength from the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights pioneers and using that as fuel, peace and justice prevailed where many thought it never could.

So as we continue to take on this most recent challenge to our nation’s freedom and justice, we must remember that, in our history, we have all the examples we need to persist and prevail. We need tell the stories of all of the women and men, boys and girls who gave us our legacy for justice. And we need to remember what is there to know in this time that will help us to persist and resist!

James Whitcomb Riley, the author of the classic “Little Orphan Annie” once said, “The most essential factor is persistence – the determination never to allow your energy or enthusiasm to be dampened by the discouragement that must inevitably come.”

Remember too, that self care, on the journey, is essential! So, every now and again,  take a break, find some joy and sing some songs. It’s a long road ahead.

Mitukuye Oyasin (Lakota Sioux for  “All My Relations”)

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus as a Socialist?

 Merry Christmas to All… Peace on Earth and goodwill to those we like?  Or, something like that?

Well, another year of holiday festivities is underway and, in the spirit of the season, we’ve got lights, trees and wonder… all going 24/7, as find ourselves deep into exclamations of joy, celebratory eating,  gift exchange and gift return. Christmas fever… it’s ON!

Many of us have been decking the halls for days and days and, quite frankly, we may be in need of a little reflective downtime.

Yes, tis indeed the season to be jolly.

At least it is for those of us who exist in the category of “ones for whom this season mostly fits the paradigm.”  For the many of us who manage to handle all of the various challenges that the Christmas season, in all of its pomp and commerce oriented glory, sets on our societal tables, we either exult, suffer through  or find our way with luck and good cheer to New Years Eve, where we can make the resolution to do it much better next year.

It would be far too easy to simply comment on the disparity of connection between Christmas “the event we SAY we are celebrating”, and the practices that come due when we hear those bells jingling so merrily at every mall and shopping center around he nation.  It does, after all mean jobs and a fresh wave of employment from Black Friday till the end of December.

And I certainly will not be the first or the last to call attention to the issue of how closely this resembles the man whose name we claim to hold at the center of the celebration.

This year, almost more than any other, it seems to be more of a challenge to hear and see how the angels song of peace and joy is resonating in the populace. Love is not the only thing in the air.

I noticed recently, influenced perhaps by the election of Donald Trump as our next president, that one brand of Christians, notably a great many conservatives and more than a few who identify as evangelicals, have taken to celebrating a new found joy of being able to say, “Merry Christmas”, as opposed to the phrase “Happy Holidays”  or “Seasons Greetings”. The freedom they feel seems to be focused on the joyful fact that they are now about relieving themselves of the necessity to spend time and effort having to think about the fact that everyone in America is not “who they are.”

And in truth, it must be said that, as with other religions and faith traditions, all Christians  are not of the same stripe, opinion or worldview.)

Without getting into a lengthy diatribe about the lack of inclusiveness, the fault-lines of scarcity of thoughtful engagement or  the miss guided anger over “PC,” inherent in that thinking (as if, having to consider the fact that we live in a diverse society of religions and backgrounds, I will point out that this victim perspective of modern day Christians, in America, tires me greatly.  I even had one visitor to my Facebook page tell me that having to say “Happy Holidays” robbed him of the joy of his Christian heritage. Really? I find myself wondering how such a shallow faith have any joy at all? That you actually have to consider the feelings of others in the celebration of the birth of one who is famous for having come to love, heal the sick, liberate the captive and set people free?

In this time, I find myself wanting  to reflect that, unlike so many of  what I call “Christians without compassion,”  Jesus set a high standard for inclusiveness and for politically being on the side of the oppressed and the underclass in his society. I think that we would be wise to follow that example as well as His demonstrated ability to consider “the other”  in his daily life, more fully in ours.

This morning I saw an article in the Huffington Post and it made me smile. Obviously, Jesus did not identify himself as a political operative. But the views expressed in his life and the words attributed to him, are hard to ignore.

Jesus, by his very example, was indeed, a socialist, in the sense that he was working for and concerned about the good of all.  He was into sharing and collaboration (a quality that our Congress would be wise to adopt) and he certainly made a point of connecting with people of different backgrounds as he negotiated his mission on earth.  As I listen to the rhetorical gobbledegoop and endless prosperity based messages from so many leaders and followers who describe themselves as “part of God’s family, it’s not hard to see that this a heavily overlooked, ignored and mostly unmentioned fact that goes unacknowledged in circles that praise, repeat and in my opinion, overuse and commodify Jesus’ name.

Not only that, but Jesus was a vigorous opponent of prejudice, injustice, race and religious hatred, a champion of the poor and an outspoken public activist. (He spoke truth to power with frequency!) That being the case, guess who ought to be speaking out against those very same issues now?
I attended a conference, some years ago, where a very wise and articulate speaker (I wish I remembered his name) said “If everybody who calls out the name of Jesus and who says they are  “a Christian” REALLY took his words and actions and lived them out, the world would be a VERY different place.”
Sadly, too many followers are “Christians in Name Only!”

Oh and, yeah, as an after-thought, his actions and words got him killed! Apparently, people in power prefer to stay there.

Jesus was a wise and wondrous teacher. And perhaps, with each passing year, we need to use this holiday to review what the man at the center of the celebration was all about and really work at passing out the peace!

Merry Christmas!

The Growing Fusion

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”  Desmond Tutu

This morning  I woke up after with the most joy in my heart as I’ve had for a while. The winter Solstice concerts that I shared over the weekend with Kim and our friends Magpie, (Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino)  put me in the right frame of mind to face both this time of lessening light and increased global concern. It has been clearly evident, on every front, that we find ourselves in a time of division and mistrust in America, with all sides firmly in a battle to claim their stake in the framing of this cultural narrative.

We are, apparently, not doing a good job of sharing light in this dark and disordered house.

After 8 years of wrestling with the reality of having our first Black President, we now find ourselves in somewhat of a hangover. Our nation embraced, and then, forfeited the chance to move in a decisive forward direction towards healing our great national dilemma and our deep national shame. We have still not paid that debt that was pointed out to us in the great “I Have a Dream” speech that brother Martin laid out some 5o plus years ago. The dream lies in storage, unpaid.

With that and more recent events as background, I took a trip, last October, with my friend and brother Greg Greenway, (https://c9tuning.wordpress.com) to the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana. (whitneyplantation.com). There, we were confronted with the reality that the last 8 years, as with the first 250,  have been a quandary for America.  A country that still labors to discuss race and oppression, at the most simplistic level, has tried and mostly failed to take on the job of rising into its diversity.  As President Obama said early and often, “This is not about ME, it is about US!”

And we, nationally, leaders and populace alike, answered, “No, it’s about YOU! We’re not ready!”

Standing on land where slaves were denied freedom and yet, through their labor and sacrifice,  made that dream of wealth and access possible for others and for the country to grow and prosper, Greg and I felt deeply that our music was bonding us deeper, as Black and White descendants of that storied past. Each of our families have come forward in this narrative, through the lens of slavery and struggle, to reach this very presently divided America. And yet, the narrative of our own personal histories and the fact that music unites us so powerfully, has made our journey together a window of opportunity to frame something that is deeper than the skin.

On that base, we have pledged ourselves to embrace this mission; to find out what this new dream, rooted in the American dream, can truly become. Together, we are now reacting to history and to the election of one of the most divisive figures to ever run for president with purpose. And it will be with music, story and dialogue that we go forward to explore, expose and lift truth out of the profit driven malaise that has landed us in a place that Dr. Martin Luther King, Howard Thurman, Pete Seeger, Eleanor Roosevelt and, yes, Abraham Lincoln  saw and tried to warn us away from making our own.

As John Adams warned, “Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”

We are inflicting wounds on our national body and psyche at an unimaginable rate. And yet, warnings can only be heeded by those who see and hear with open ears and hearts!

It’s never been more clear to me that music has always been and will be be one of the critical ingredients to bringing some reason to the dialogue we are trying to have in this nation.  While it is true that reaching out to dialogue with all parties  is important, building a cohesive and solidified front with those who have already proven that they have a sense of what a diverse community perspective (in terms of facing our global issues with reasoned and shared collaborative effort) will be the only antidote in dealing with those who seem bent on winning at all costs.

It’s been a real chore to hold a hopeful stance while listening to the chorus of negativity that has been sung so loudly. And yet, as I listen to and read the words of one of our great leaders, Rev. William C. Barber, minister, theologian and President of the North Carolina NAACP, I see and feel a power that can help us all to form coalitions in what is now, the New Fusion Political movement.     It is a movement that recognizes the important fact that, as the great poet Maya Angelou once said, “We have all been bought and sold!” Knowing this, it is incumbant on all of us to remember that, if we stand united, our collective and our individual interests become more able to be served with a sense of inclusion and progressive intention.

In our annual December concert at the 8th Step Coffehouse at Proctors (http://8thstep.org/8thstep.org/Home.html) on Sunday night, we closed the show with the Peter Yarrow song, “Light One Candle. The song articulates the importance of staying in the fight with a positive attitude. Our resolve in the midst of struggle for justice must be one that honors the past while seeking to be proactive in vision and action.

One of the most important lines in the song,  occurs in the third verse and typifies this important aspect of a committed approach. Peter wrote, ” We have come this far, always believing that justice will somehow prevail!”   His use of the word, “somehow ” is a critical acknowledgment that justice is not easily won and is the result of long years of diligent and persistent work centered on hope.  That there will be resistance to our claiming our rights is a given. But the legacy of hope is only secured by commitment to the mission that was begun long ago by others on whose shoulders we stand.

The election weeks ago was a reality check. Mr Trump managed to win, in some remarkable and also mysterious ways, by using the message of anger and dissatisfaction of those who are not seeing their interests included, to his own advantage. It was and is a cynical message, underlined by his solutions which, at every point, seem to serve his interests more than the country at large.             Yet, he rallied millions to his cause and will try to control the narrative.

Fortunately, over 4,000,000 people (and more who did not vote) recognized this sham of leadership and we can now fire up our “fusion movement” to take on the forces of retro -brain just as they are doing now in North Carolina.

As a musician, I see the parallels to this challenge in the songs that have carried the hope and dreams of those from Underground Railroad to the present day movements of freedom, climate change, (which Trump dismisses) equity and to movements of justice the world over. “Keep Your eyes on the Prize”, “We Shall Overcome” and “Wade in the Water” are joining more modern anthems in the mouths of protestor of all races, ages, genders and backgrounds.

We sing the songs that lift hearts and call new people to action. The melody and lyrics of a new America are being written everyday in the minds of a rising tide of thinkers, activists and story crafters.

At a time of crisis in the past, when I was despairing the lack of leadership and possibility, Pete Seeger said this, “Reggie, when things get tough and there is no visible way forward, that is the best time to sing!”  So sing we must, as our cause, it is just!

Teach your children and tell your neighbors. The revolution is still on!