November 8, 2020 Message from Dr. Blake
Dear Fellowship companions, I greet you on this marvelous day with great thanksgiving and expectations. I admit that I am joyful that Donald Trump, who has hurt millions with his empowered narcissism, was defeated in his bid to remain president. While I rejoice with the good news, I continue to be dismayed that voters are still disenfranchised by the Electoral College. How long will it remain more determinative of the outcome than the popular vote? Still, we have been accorded the opportunity to envision anew the world we seek. During last week’s chapel service at Pacific School of Religion, the following song set to the tune of "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies" was offered. May it aid us as we face the remarkable future before us.
"How Beautiful, Our Spacious Skies" How beautiful, our spacious skies, our amber waves of grain; our purple mountains as they rise above the fruitful plain. America! America! God's gracious gifts abound, and more and more we're grateful for life's bounty all around. Indigenous and immigrant, our daughters and our sons: O may we never rest content till all are truly one. America! America! God grant that we may be a sisterhood and brotherhood from sea to shining sea. How beautiful, sincere lament, the wisdom born of tears, the courage called for to repent the bloodshed through the years. America! America! God grant that we may be a nation blessed with none oppressed, true land of liberty. How beautiful, two continents, and islands in the sea that dream of peace, nonviolence, all people living free. Americas! Americas! God grant that we may be a hemisphere where people here all live in harmony. (The original, "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies" was written by Katharine Lee Bates. The new stanzas are from the pen and imagination of Miriam Therese Winter.) In the 25th chapter of Matthew, there is a narrative of ten young women (girls) excited about attending a wedding party. Five of them had their lamps and took extra oil. The other five took their lamps, but no oil. The wedding processional was late in arriving. While waiting for the delayed procession, the women dosed off to sleep. Around midnight, it was announced that the bridegroom was arriving. The five with the lamps and oil trimmed their lamps and prepared to go to the reception. The five without oil asked the five with oil to share their oil. Their request was rejected with the instruction that the five unprepared ones should go and buy oil for themselves. While they went to purchase the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The five prepared went into the hall for the banquet feast. When the others arrived, the door to the banquet hall was closed, preventing their entrance into the joy of the celebration. Yes, I have some issues with this parable; but the point that is relevant for us today is that of being prepared or unprepared for opportunities of great joy. The joy to which I am referring is not giddiness, but gratification, fulfillment of the soul, blessedness. Too often we are not prepared, not even for freedom, for enlargement, for the expansion and deepening of our souls, for the possible post-election growth and inclusion. This joy for us often involves being (in some of the language of today) “woke.” Often it comes through trials. Joy is embedded in the trials we have faced before and during the election as well as the beckoning future. Are we prepared for what is upon us, for what we are now facing? Sometimes it seems better to live with the familiar, regardless of how oppressive, stultifying, incarcerating. Some of the enslaved were not ready for the freedom, for the blessedness that would come on the other side of slavery’s trials, brutality, insecurity, erasure of their being. Some had to be dragged to freedom. Harriet Tubman, the great conductor of the underground railroad to freedom, declared: I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. Yet, many understood their enslavement and the hunger for freedom. They risked all that they had including their lives to live liberated lives.
Tubman also stated: Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
Throughout the human sojourn, there has always been a remnant to receive, embody, carry out hope within history, the present, and the future. The Anchor Bible defines remnant as: "What is left of a community after it undergoes a catastrophe." Doubtless, the Navajo and other native peoples have experienced catastrophe in this country. Perhaps because of this, I was deeply moved to see a people who cherished the idea of “walking in Beauty,” ride in solidarity with conviction and strength to a polling place, miles from where they lived.
How deeply affecting this video is! What constancy there is in Allie Young’s vision and commitment to have voices of the Navajo Nation heard and included in the promise of America. The dream is saddled, preventing it from just floating into the ether with no possibility of realization. It invokes horse spirituality and companionship, sacred for the Navajos. Our interrelatedness, interdependence with them means that we must ensure that manifestation. This is not a luxury. It is essential.
It may appear to be a disconnect to move from this poignant visualization of emancipation to now speak of the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the film The Wizard of Oz. However, there is an association which should not be ignored. In 2001, “Over the Rainbow” was voted the greatest song of the 20th century in a joint survey by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. Likewise, The Wizard of Oz is considered one of the greatest films of all time. The Rainbow sign has become for the LGBTQI community a symbol of affirmation, support, and welcome. The song was composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Yip Harburg. Ernie Harburg, Yip’s son, co-wrote a book entitled: Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz?: Yip Harburg, Lyricist. In an interview on Democracy Now, Ernie shared insights about his father, the song, and the film that are germane to where we are today and the recent election. Dorothy sang: Somewhere over the rainbow Skies are blue, And the dreams that you dare to dream Really do come true. It is a wish and dream for an altered reality that she altars, that finds residence in her youthful and yearning soul for something beyond the commonplace. The film made political statements. The scarecrow was the farmer. Farmers had been thrust into inescapable debt by the railroads and banks. This led many to blame themselves for their misery and to consider themselves dumb, that they did not have a brain. And the tin woodman represented the laborer in the factories. With one accident after another, he was totally reduced to a tin man with no heart, alright, on an assembly line. And the cowardly lion was William Jennings Bryan, who kept trying — was a big politician at that time, promising to make the world over with the gold standard, you know? And the wizard, who was a humbug type, was the Wall Street finances, and the wicked witch was probably the railroads, but I’m not sure. Alright? Yip Harburg also wrote the lyrics to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” which satirized John D. Rockefeller’s going around giving dimes to people when the unemployment rate was 30 percent and 50, 60 percent among Black people and other people of color. The song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow," was in no way intended to be sentimental escapism. Ernie Yarburg also stated that his father and composer Harold Arlen were surprised by its depth and strength. And also, one other one, the song “Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead” is a song of universal liberation, a cry for freedom, you know, which isn’t seen like that, but it — one time, when some tyrannical owner of an airlines company stepped down, all the employees started singing “Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” This was indeed a song that dominating, oppressive power had been defeated. How appropriate for this hour in this nation’s history. Coming out of poverty, Yip was, according to his son, a full, deep-dyed socialist who did not believe that capitalism was the answer to the human community and that indeed it was the destruction of the human spirit. When Dorothy awakens to family and friends in Kansas, she now sees the commonplace with new eyes, with the “on the other side of the rainbow” eyes and experience. She has a new consciousness and is prepared, opened to live a more conscious and conscientious life while at home. She is more fully prepared to participate in the wonder of the world. What meaning does this have for today’s world? During the counting of the votes, I kept wondering how anyone could vote for the president who has destroyed so many lives, even the lives of many of his supporters. Two of the members of my class at PSR have ministries in places where there are many Trump supporters. As we struggled with the idea of leadership in such communities, the station in life of so many of his supporters entered my interrogation. They too have been dispossessed. For many of them their conditions today are worse than they were four years ago. The problem is that they have been brainwashed into identifying immigrants, people of color, socialists as the reason for their demise rather than the policies of the Trump administration and Republican Senate. Their self-esteem has been so eroded that many see the only thing left in terms of affirmation is their whiteness. Therefore, the slogan: “Make America Great Again” energizes them. It signals a return to when even poor or working-class whites had personal capital based totally on their whiteness. They were called "despicable" by Hilary Clinton. Their vulnerability is like that of the young people whom Hitler claimed he loved, declaring pure Aryan identity as life’s greatest gift. The joy and blessedness that this moment provides is the opportunity to see and believe in our common humanity and our interdependence as a gift from the Creator of life itself. We have seen people change. Am I prepared to engage in this moment with my estranged sisters and brothers? Is there enough oil in my lamp for what will be an extended arduous journey, enough gas in my tank for what certainly will be a long, bumpy ride? When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded ‘You shall love your Lord God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ Next to it is this one: ‘You shall love your fellow man as yourself’ The whole Bible hinges on these two.’ (Clarence Jordan Translation)