Thursday, August 18, 2011

We shall overcome!

The 1960's and 1970's were years of great change in America especially in the area of race and social change.  In some of those years I worked as pastor in the Inner City of Omaha, Nebraska.  In those days the Inner City anywhere in America was a place of danger and violence.  Parts of Omaha were burned down following the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Those years were also years

of challenge for people everywhere in America who ventured out into society with words and actions of reconciliation and creative relationships across racial lines.

A week ago I watched and listened on PBS an entire program, rich in memory for me, of nearly all the folk singing groups that flourished during those years.  Peter, Paul and Mary, The Limelighters, The Kingston Trio, Pete Seegar, The New Christy Minstrels, so many others.  Their music enriched and encouraged, challenged the status quo in America.  Last evening, also on PBS, I watched a program of some of these musical prophets.  There was Peter, Paul and Mary again, and my mind went back to those times in the Inner City when, with others in different forms of ministry, we gathered in churches, community halls, back rooms and even vacant buildings, talked together, prayed together, and above all sang together the songs of faith, protest, affirmation and hope. There were times when these small clusters of workers with their prayer and song, were about the only voice of hope there was to be found.

So, in letting these two programs wash over my spirit with their memories, I sang the songs as they were being sung by the groups. I sang the song which was really the theme song of the whole protest movement in those years, "We Shall Overcome".  I can never forget in those halls and churches and community buildings standing in a circle, holding hands, often with tears on our faces, letting the world know of our hope:

We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day,

O, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day.

So much of what was believed in that time has come to pass.  But the message remains.  There is still much to overcome in our society and of course always in our personal lives.  Singing and believing, and acting on that singing and believing with creative and courageous action, is an everyday event in lives everywhere.  In the midst of fractured families, breaking or broken marriages, children losing their way, dealing with our own personal demons,

We'll walk hand in hand, we'll walk hand in hand, we'll walk in hand some day,

O, deep in my heart, I do believe, we'll walk hand in hand some day.

When that walk is one of freedom from bitterness, freedom from strife, freedom from selfishness and hardheartedness, we can come to that freedom and let it wash over us like the Balm of Gilead.  O, deep in my heart, I do believe!