22 August, 2010

Negro Spirituals

I've spent a week distractedly listening to "Let My People Go: Negro Spirituals." And I thought I'd never listen to Jazz. (That's how iTunes classifies the album.)


The songs use the word, "I," an awful lot, and that sounds pretty immature. They don't sing much about God. Instead, they sing about themselves. Most of the songs could be mistaken for children's songs, or are even childish. And they appear to be the original fountainhead of dozens of musical conventions about which I've complained over the years. They repeat themselves. They seldom seem to engage the mind, but always the emotions. They scream.

Or ...

What if it's me that's wrong.

These are the songs of people who rose from strength to strength and hope to hope and faith to faith while suffering inhumanities I can describe but not possibly imagine. Slavery in the American South was a mixed bag, with some owners dealing honorably with their property as people and others dealing out unimaginable cruelties. The faith of these Africans stood equally strong under both tests.

What's more, when the long awaited blessing of freedom came to these people, they could hardly rise up and call it blessed. Lincoln ended ended some cruelties but Jim Crow Laws ensured the blessings of liberty were yet denied to them and their posterity. In a time before welfare, a time of deep, true poverty I've only seen in foreign lands, these African-Americans continued to declare and live within the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

If it's me that's wrong. If, by some chance it's the fat and happy product of the richest generation that has something to learn about the kinds of songs that strengthen the spirit to face a world where Satan wears a size 11 boot, then I've got much to learn indeed.

I wonder.