October 25, 2020 | Message from Dr. Benton
I know it may be controversial to begin our meditation today with this song. It is Nina Simone at her most real. Stylistically, this song is brilliant…a show-tune about the most heinous of realities. Said to be written and composed by Simone in under an hour, the song is her response to the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing, which killed four Black children. In 1964 when it was composed, it was banned in large portions of the US, but has since been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. It describes a reality that has been denied in this country by European Americans, who have had the luxury of blocking their awareness of it. And it also describes our justifiable anger and outrage. I have been reading the book, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson which has expanded my awareness of how horrendous our history is…and how outrageous it is that so many have minimized, intellectualized and otherwise been blinded to the influence it has had on our entire culture. Wilkerson does not hold back, much like Simone never held back, and neither did Abel Meeropol (author of Strange Fruit) or Billie Holiday. Here is Simone’s version of Holiday’s 1939 classic.
Meeropol and then Billie Holiday were outraged…they used art, much like Simone to communicate their disgust with this barbaric, horrific reality. And they reached millions of people with their message, causing this poem and song to be banned as well. Yet it is also preserved in the National Recording Registry. Although it seems that many would like this information to continue to be banned, this is no longer possible. It is no longer possible to live in that ignorant state of mind…seemingly blissfully unaware of our history…or is it? I have been having conversations with my brother recently about the state of the world. I have two brothers and the other one presumably voted for Trump in the 2016 election. I have struggled with this reality and was comforted to speak with the Obama-supporting brother. My brother reported that he had sent some links to our brother showing former Trump supporters speaking up about their recent change of heart. He did not receive a reply. I told my brother that he was a better person than I was. I am not able to gather enough compassion to work on this relationship. I am not proud of that reality, but it is true…I feel as if I am past disappointment…past disagreement when it comes to those supporting this administration. Interestingly, my brother himself recently stated that he had passed outrage long ago, yet he continues to have hope that others can “wake up” to current realities and “change course”. This is an important quality moving forward, and I admire it, even if I find it difficult. One of my mentors, Matthew Fox is also committed to helping others to “wake up” and to “change course”. For over a year, he has been providing daily meditations dealing with current realities. He has been extremely generous in sharing his abundant experience and spiritual wisdom with a wide on-line audience. In a recent post, he posed several questions for Supreme Court Justice nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. They are as follows: 1. You refused to answer Senator Harris’ questions about climate change, saying it was “contentious” and not agreed upon. Yet you claim to be an earnestly practicing Roman Catholic and Pope Francis has written in his “Laudato Si” encyclical that “the climate is a common good belonging to all and meant for all” and “scientists agree that climate change is mainly as a result of human activity” and the poor in particular suffer the most due to climate change. 2. Are you aware that St Thomas Aquinas calls willful denial of something important (such as climate change) a “mortal sin”? 3. Do you belong to a Catholic sect that rejects Pope Francis’ teachings about climate change? What about his teachings about today’s Wall Street led capitalism that destroys the Earth, the poor and Main Street? 4. When Senator Booker asked you what books you had read about black history you said ‘none.’ What right then do you have to make decisions that will deeply impact millions of Americans who suffer from 400 years of slavery and its on-going effects? 5. Do you have any misgivings about the covid-spreading event held in your honor on the white house grounds? 6. Are issues of climate change and wearing masks part of your agenda of being “pro-life”? (Or does your passion for “pro life” apply only to fetuses and not to living human beings?) 7. I was stunned that you said you never heard Trump say he hired you to kill Obamacare and Roe and to help decide the election. Every other American heard it. 8. Why did you refuse to condemn voter intimidation? Did you not know it was a felony? 9. Why did you not condemn threats made by one presidential candidate to the peaceful transfer of power? 10. You have said that you admired Justice Ruth Ginsberg. Are you being two-faced–saying on the one hand that you admire her and are indebted to her; and on the other trampling on her final wish she made the last week of her life that we wait for the next president to appoint a new judge? 11. Are you concerned that your going along with this sham court appointment rammed through in a time of pandemic and election will taint the reputation of the court for a very long time? I felt a chill listening to your refusal to answer so many questions while exposing your ignorance about the real world today—and seeming lack of curiosity about it. I think you should get your head out of law books (and imagining what constitutional framers wanted to say in 1776) and learn what is going on around you before you dare to pass judgments that will affect the lives of millions of 21st century people. Why not do the right thing and drop out of this nomination until a president is elected? That is what Justice Ginsberg asked and it is the right and wise path to choose. I think Fox is also “beyond outrage”…he has asked some hard questions…unapologetically. These are important questions that reflect Fox’s commitment to justice…a justice that is for everyone…indeed a justice that includes the right to a home, healthcare, even the right to breathe fresh air and to have access to fresh water and food. Fox is asking Barrett to “do the right thing”. Later in her life, Nina Simone was asked if she sings from anger and she responded that she sings from intelligence…the unveiling of reality. She continued, “…anger has its place…anger has fire and it moves things”. It is movement that we need right now. Without anger…without outrage we will not come to the other side of it…to the more useful, creative and transformative side that Fox is speaking of. In that spirit, I would like to leave you with this tribute to one such transformative person, Harriet Tubman. Tubman was surely “past outrage”…on the other side of anger…fighting for justice and freedom for her people. Unlike so many of us, she did not wallow in her own feelings of outrage and disappointment…of disillusionment and sadness. She stood up and simply “did the right thing”.