I have just been listening to a man sing to his friend and his people, at a funeral service.
Such a gift is always something to move the hearers to tears, and I always marvel at the ability of the singer to ‘hold it together’ long enough to finish.
The music carries a meaning that is deeper than its words or melodies, as it is woven with shared histories, with shared memories and emotions. The choice of musician carries honour. Sometimes the audience sings the music, too, with tears of release. Sometimes they listen out of respect and ponder the reasons for the choice. As always, the music leaves us open.
In this case, the song was sung by Barack Obama, the President of the United States, at the funeral of nine black Americans murdered by a white supremacist, while in church.
Nothing could have said more powerfully to the grieving people, to the whole country, or to the world, that he was one of them.
It was not scripted or announced. He didn’t ask people to join in, although they did.
He didn’t ask for accompaniment, although after a few lines, the musicians gladly played.
He was simply a black man at home.
That is the thing. He owned all of himself and his heritage, all he is, in the way he sang. He was simply a black man opening his heart, expressing it in the way that is his by birthright.
I know there are many who criticize him for not being able to work miracles in his role, but today I saw a man unafraid to stand alone and say in his very person the truth that cries out to be said to racism, to structures of oppression, to histories we would all rather erase and forget.
He said it has not gone away, this is still present and part of our living now.
He knows the danger. He knows the fear for his children. He knows the fear and despair of the congregation. He too is never safe simply because he is black. He is outraged and angry, but he does not stop there…Even in the middle of anger and grief, as he challenges the evil that needs to be challenged, he reaches out to the whole nation. The offer is there.
He moves us to go further than tears. He moves us to respond, to find hope and courage to continue wherever we live or work. How we do that will be the measure of who we are.
He stands there and sings and people join in, reaching to be connected to hope again.