Saturday, March 17, 2007


This week on Theology Pub we are watching the video of the concert and talk by Bernice Johnson Reagon; a historian, activist and founder of Sweet Honey in the Rock; at Trinity Institute. The theme of this year's presentations is God's Unfinished Future. All of the sermons and presentations that I have heard so far have been challenging and refreshing. James Carroll preached at the Opening Eucharist using the Ginsberg poem HOWL in his examples of how God in Christ shows us that God is with us in suffering and joy. Barbara Rossing's presentation is a re-visioning of the Book of Revelation as a story of the healing of the nations and the earth. Jurgen Moltmann discusses how our view of "end times" shapes our living in the present and the choices we make.

The presentation in the concert by Bernice Johnson Reagon speaks to me of how to stay in the struggle for justice for the long haul. She talks of her involvement with the campaign for civil rights for all in the U.S. In song and story she brings us into a sense of how to keep on keeping on in the face of set backs and slow progress. Some quotes from her, "Victory is in taking the stand," not always in the result in the moment, "if your coalition is too comfortable and you are too comfortable in your coalition, your coalition is not broad enough," "walk wide awake in the world." One of her premises is that our memories shape our choices and she quotes Elie Weisel, "you may not have a personal memory of the camps of the holocaust, but you can live as though you have that memory." Not only our personal memories but memories of others if we choose to remember them can shape our decisions about how to live now. Listen HERE for the whole concert.

She quotes the story of Henry T. Moore,in Freedom Never Dies. Moore said, "Freedom never descends upon a people. It is always bought with a price." His family was killed in a bomb blast in their home because of his work in Florida in the cause of freedom. Langston Hughes wrote this about Henry Moore:

"Ballad of Harry Moore"
(Killed at Mims, Florida, on Christmas night, 1951)

Florida means land of flowers.
It was on Christmas night
In the state named for the flowers
Men came bearing dynamite.

Men came stealing through the orange groves
Bearing hate instead of love,
While the Star of Bethlehem
Was in the sky above.

Oh, memories of a Christmas evening
When Wise Men traveled from afar
Seeking out a lowly manger
Guided by a Holy Star!

Oh, memories of a Christmas evenin
When to Bethlehem there came
"Peace on earth, good will to men"--
Jesus was His name.

But they must've forgotten Jesus
Down in Florida that night
Stealing through the orange groves
Bearing hate and dynamite.

It was a little cottage,
A family, name of Moore.
In the windows wreaths of holly,
And a pine wreath on the door.

Christmas, 1951,
The family prayers were said
When father, mother, daughter,
And grandmother went to bed.

The father's name was Harry Moore.
The N.A.A.C.P.
Told him to carry out its work
That Negroes might be free.

So it was that Harry Moore
(So deeply did he care)
Sought the right for men to live
With their heads up everywhere.

Because of that, white killers,
Who like Negroes "in their place,"
Came stealing through the orange groves
On that night of dark disgrace.

It could not be in Jesus' name,
Beneath the bedroom floor,
On Christmas night the killers
Hid the bomb for Harry Moore.

It could not be in Jesus' name
The killers took his life,
Blew his home to pieces
And killed his faithful wife.

It could not be for the sake of love
They did this awful thing--
For when the bomb exploded
No hearts were heard to sing.

And certainly no angels cried,
"Peace on earth, good will to men"--
But around the world an echo hurled
A question: When?...When?....When?

When will men for sake of peace
And for democracy
Learn no bombs a man can make
Keep men from being free?

It seems that I hear Harry Moore.
From the earth his voice cries,
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold--
For freedom never dies!

I will not stop! I will not stop--
For freedom never dies!
I will not stop! I will not stop!
Freedom never dies!

So should you see our Harry Moore
Walking on a Christmas night,
Don't run and hide, you killers,
He has no dynamite.

In his heart is only love
For all the human race,
And all he wants is for every man
To have his rightful place.

And this he says, our Harry Moore,
As from the grave he cries:
No bomb can kill the dreams I hold
For freedom never dies!

Freedom never dies, I say!
Freedom never dies!

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, editor Arlond Rampersad and associate editor David Roessel. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995, pages 588-590.

Another author Reagon cites is Y.M. Barnwell who speaks of how people get the strength to carry on:

We Are...
from "lessons" by Ysaye M. Barnwell (c)1993)

For each child that's born
a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.

We are our grandmothers' prayers.
We are our grandfathers' dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

We are
Mothers of courage
Fathers of time
Daughters of dust
Sons of great vision.
We are
Sisters of mercy
Brothers of love
Lovers of life and
the builders of nations.
We are
Seekers of truth
Keepers of faith
Makers of peace and
the wisdom of ages.

We are our grandmothers' prayers.
We are our grandfathers' dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

For each child that's born
a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.


This presentation encouraged me to stay on in the church - working for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, transgender persons, to stay on the Anti-Racism committee of our Diocese and with our work breaking down the systemic barriers of racism, and to continue with my Green Lent project to do my little part of saving the earth -so there will be a place for us to live together. The Wombat has it right. click here

Susan Russell in her blog An Inch at a Time uses St. Patrick and his choice to go back to the place where he had been a slave in chains. His choice to return and preach the message of freedom where he had no freedom. Check it out HERE. A quote:

"Our witness of God's inclusive love is not just a witness to the presence of the holy in our lives and our relationships and our vocations but a witness to the power of God's love to transcend ANYTHING that holds us captive or enslaves us. So let's remember on this St. Patrick's Day that the same God who inspired a former captive named Patrick to return to his captors and evangelize them in the 4th century is working in us as we work to call this church and this communion to wholeness in the 21st."



Lisa said...

Very, very fine, Ann. Thanks for this.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I have loved Bernice Johnson Reagon for more than 30 years - remember clearly the first time I heard Sweet Honey in D.C. and being completely amazed.

This is a wonderful series. I listened to it about 2 weeks ago. Thanks for providing the link. I may listen to it again tonight.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Ann, all of this sounds a lot meatier than Alpha. My mouth is watering. Is the James Carroll who preached the same as the columnist for the Boston Globe? I love his columns.

"We are our grandmothers' prayers." That's good.

Ann said...

Yes- the same Carroll.

Luiz Coelho said...

Gosh Ann, do you speak Portuguese?

"A luta continua" \o/

Ann said...

Luiz - I wish -- no Portuguese - only a little Spanish.