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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

We shall not be moved: Who do you rely on?

9/20/15








Jeremy and I had just led the congregation in  We shall not be moved, as a movement song. Thne we read the 1st Psalm,  peoples’ mic style which we hadn’t done in a long time.

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.


Then Jeremy picked up the guitar and we did it spiritual style, like Johnny Cash. 
Glory hallelujah, I shall not be moved
Anchored in Jehovah, I shall not be moved
Just like a tree that's planted by the waters
I shall not be moved
In His love abiding, I shall not be moved
And in Him confiding, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
Just like a tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
Though all hell assail me, I shall not be moved
Jesus will not fail me, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
Though the tempest rages, I shall not be moved
On the rock of ages, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
I shall not be, I shall not be moved
Just like the tree that's planted by the water
I shall not be moved



I learned this song as a movement song. As an organizing song.  But like so many movement songs, it has its roots in  the African American religious tradition.  So you can find Seeger and Springsteen and Mavis Staples and the Seekers and Irish versions and Joan Baez in the farmworkers’ version, No Nos Moveran

…and I just found the religious versions by Johnny Cash and Mississippi John Hurt  accompanied by his classic Travis picking…(and with this Jeremy starts Travis picking  This song has DEEP roots…roots as deep as, well, a tree planted by the river…


So today we read the very first psalm. Along with the 2nd, it serves as an into to all that follows. Telling us it’s a whole book about a way, not a theology, not a doctrine, a way of doing things…the righteous way of doing things…

Happy are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
    or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
    planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
    and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

It says to go the way of the righteous is to be happy…It’s first explicit message is ….don’t sit in the seat of scoffers, or as it says in the King James Version, the seat of the scornful….

It’s not easy is it? Especially when watching a debate like we had the other night….this continues our conversation  about sticks and stones….it is so easy to scoff, to be scornful, to be cynical (Sharon Welch says cynicism is the prerogative of the privileged…) So easy. And so destructive.  It is so much harder to say something  constructive.

Back to those trees….those who delight in the law…think about that word delight…what does that feel like? 9Jeremy thinks immediately of the taste of ice cream. And Dion smiles..)

Meditate day and night…what might that feel like?  Maybe take one commandment and just reflect on it, just meditate….it’s that internal life that gives the tree its deep roots, it’s strength…and it is such trees that bear fruit…

That which is wicked…(no quick definition here, but you can  feel it in the scoffing…) has no substance, bears no fruit, withers , is easily blown away…..and they will not win in the end..
(Sometimes I believe that…and sometimes I don’t…)

Sometimes that river is a raging flood picking up everything in it's a path…a literal Katrina or Sandy….sometimes it feels like we’ll get swept away…even drown….

It’s not surprising that movement songs came from the African -American community because that is a community of struggle…of  survival…in the religious version, it’s Jehovah, it's Jesus who is the tree to hold onto. In the movement songs, it is in our collective shared humanity….in our solidarity…our mutual commitment to one another…and in the end, I’m not sure how different those two realities are…

So let’s think a minute… when the storm comes, the waters raging, who are our trees?  Who can we rely on? If you had one phone call to make, who would  it be? Relative? Friend? Who? 

(For some it’s a parent, for another her sister, for another his fianc√©…for others, friends…we bring their faces to mind..

Can we see them? Can we give thanks for them? Name them?

With them in mind, let us sing….

And we sing once more with full voice, We shall not be moved…

One of the sisters was with us today, fully participating. And some one who feels very but not quite familiar at the same time until I realize that it’s James from open mic, shorn of his Elizabethan hair, shaved of his beard.

After the service, he wants to marry his fiancee Hannah from Michigan who seems young. I ask if he has a license. A driver’s license? He asks. No, a marriage license.  He asks if they can run down town right now and get one. Well actually no, closed on Sundays.

I’m very uncertain here. Ask them to meet me in my office.

I think this through.  I can meet a pastoral need (which would take some serious exploration to understand..) which will have no legal implications whatsoever. James seems to be living in a very dramatic world at the moment. In which he leads a theatre company called Lord Essex’ men…

At his request, we go back to the chapel. I do a very traditional service. They seem happy.  I so want to know what Hannah sees, thinks, feels. I pray for them. Tell them if they want to to count, they’ll need to bring me back a license…What is the story?

We shall see. You just never know….. on any given day…


I leave them. Wait for the 7 bus to take me home. The African-American day parade will be in full swing marching up Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard.  And  will continue all day long into the night….

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