Living in This World, Politics

Lift Every Voice

(For the church's weekly email)

You may have heard me speak about growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the brick sidewalks and old houses and the church of my childhood. But in my first year of seminary, I met a classmate who also grew up in Portsmouth and realized I quite literally did not know the half of my hometown.

While I skipped around Olde Towne, Gordon grew up in the neighborhood of Effingham Street, where our maid, Catherine, lived. His dad pastored a church, and when he told me the name, I realized there must be a whole world of churches in Portsmouth that I never knew. In a class called "Hymns and Worship," we compared our backgrounds while singing music from lots of traditions and working on a group project together.

One day the instructor had us turn to a hymn I did not know, and as was our practice, we stood to sing it together. Gordon said to me, "This is the Black National Anthem." The beautiful words written by the poet, James Weldon Johnson–how did I not know them? I lived, still, in a cocoon of comfort and privilege, without realizing.

Lift every voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.

As a nation, we begin a new day today, one in which limited images for who can be President or who might live in the White House will be changed forever. I hope I will continue to have my eyes opened about the differences between my reality and the way other people live, the challenges they may face and the commonalities we share. As the President-Elect said in his speech last night, "Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared."

And however we feel about specific issues, may we have the grace and the graciousness to support our new President and his family with our prayers.

Lift every voice!

Obama family

17 thoughts on “Lift Every Voice”

  1. Lovely. My first Sunday back in the pulpit after two weeks away will be a “Celebration of Hymnody” and this is our closing hymn of the day.

  2. I was just trying to think of a song appropriate for today (see for my daughter’s choice) and then I came here — perfect!

  3. Yes, oh yes.
    Thank you for your fabulous live-blogging, and also for the up close pic of the necklace. That St. Casserole! She’s a cool one.
    And that widget looks marvelous on you darling!
    Question: why are they not calling North Carolina if 100% of the precincts are in and Obama leads?

  4. lovely post, songbird. i grew up in los angeles, remember the watts riots, and will always remember the heat of shame when one of my college classmates told us about his memories of the riots. they happened in his neighborhood, which was literally a war zone. we were some 20 miles away, in a pretty darned white neighborhood — and for some reason i will never understand, my mother thought we were about to be shot at any moment. my experience was not the definitive one. we all have eyes, ears, minds and hearts; it is a good thing to keep them open.
    one of my friends ran across a photo in her research, and she used to keep it on her office door. it was a pre-depression, pre-civil rights photo of the graduating class of an african-american girls’ school, every graduate dressed in white. the school motto was “lift as you climb.” not a bad sentiment for any of us.

  5. I adore this hymn. Have never heard it sung in church…although it is in our hymnal. Go figure.
    Maybe I need to request it. 🙂

  6. may we have the grace and the graciousness to support our new President and his family with our prayers.
    Lift every voice!

  7. I heard this hymn for the first time in an African American congregation. We sang it every month.
    I am happy today for our future.

  8. The musical style of hymns usually leaves me a little numb but I love the words and that holds true particularly for this one. I had never heard it before. Thanks for sharing. I think the hope of that poem has been realized.

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