Keep Singing Isaiah 12.2 Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins The reading today from Isaiah is part of a psalm. A psalm is simply a sacred poem or song. Isaiah offers a song of encouragement during a time of fear. “God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid, for God is my strength […]
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
The reading today from Isaiah is part of a psalm. A psalm is simply a sacred poem or song. Isaiah offers a song of encouragement during a time of fear. “God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid, for God is my strength and my might.”
Have you ever needed a song like that? A song to remind you that you’ve faced tough times before, you survived, and if and when tough times come again, you’ve got what it takes to face the challenges and keep your peace and joy as well.
It was the 1980s. Hot Springs, AR. Hot Springs was home to the only gay bar for several counties. The parking lot was behind the bar, which had no identifying sign on it. The state criminalized same-gender sexual relationships. Families would routinely disown their kids for being gay, churches openly preached a hostile and dehumanizing message about same-gender loving people. Since church, state, and family all conspired to demonize lesbian and gay people, some often thought it fitting sport to target LGBT people, to terrorize them.
It was not at all uncommon to walk through the dark parking lot to the front of the bar which had no sign, and go in only to hear someone say, “Hurry, get in here. There were gay bashers with sticks and bats out there earlier.”
We’d keep an eye on the door, encourage one another, walk each other back to our cars when it was time to leave…what we didn’t do was stop going to the bar! That somehow never occurred to us. We would, at all costs, come together, support one another, and face whatever threat was out there. And while we were at it, we’d dance and sing together,
We’re no strangers to love, you know the rules and so do I…
Don’t act like you didn’t love some Rick Astley.
We knew how to handle the fears…we’d face them, together.
At the same bar, we soon started noticing one friend and then another not showing up. We dreaded the reason: “Oh, he’s in St. Joseph’s hospital,” or “he never showed up to work last week and they found him dead at home.”
The viral holocaust known as AIDS had come to Arkansas and our friends were dying.
We knew what to do. We would make sure that they did not die alone. If their families rejected them, they’d move in with us. If their families wouldn’t attend their funerals, the funeral home chapel would be packed with sissies and dykes (as we defiantly called ourselves in those days). And we’d fill the chapel with our voices, sometimes singing the songs of childhood…the songs reminding us of a love that would never let us go:
Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me, the bible tells me so.
Neither fundamentalism nor politicians nor cold hearted families nor AIDS itself would keep us from laughing and crying and loving and singing together.
We sang a lot in those days. In the face of family rejection, gay bashing, and an untreatable disease, music healed our hearts. Every party involved a guitar or three, and people singing the old faves. Patsy Cline was a staple:
I go out walkin’ after midnight out in the moonlight
Just like we used to do, I’m always walkin’ after midnight searchin’ for you.
What were we singing about? What were we looking for? Hope? Health? Acceptance? Who knew exactly? But the music was cathartic.
We missed the people who abandoned us. We loved them and wanted them to love us, and we grieved because they didn’t. These relationships ended only because their fear of difference was stronger than their love of us. That hurt. But we knew what to do.
We sang. We formed families of choice. We affirmed one another. We relished joy whenever and however it might show up and we rejoiced that we had found one another, and safe spaces, and songs that could heal our hurting souls.
In time, some churches started embracing LGBT people.
In time, combination therapies made HIV something we could live with rather than die from.
In time, sodomy laws were struck from the books, and even the miracle of marriage equality came into our lives.
We faced the difficult days, and we ushered in better days. We still know what to do.
We made progress over the decades, but bigotry remains in our nation.
Today Muslims are targeted, vilified, and threatened.
The LGBT community is afraid that it might lose some of its hard won freedoms.
Immigrants worry that their families might be torn apart from proposed deportation programs.
We’ve seen the evils of Jim Crow and its lasting impact long after.
We’ve seen inaction in the early days of AIDS because of who the first people to suffer from it were.
We’ve seen weaponized religion try to demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people.
But as the angel said to the shepherds when Jesus was born, “Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!”
Yes, we’ve seen lives destroyed by hate, but from the ashes of that destruction we have seen a phoenix rise again and again.
We’ve fought this battle…We are seasoned soldiers. But we must remember that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.
Our weapons are what they’ve always been…hope, courage, goodwill, resilience, love, optimism, and the outrageous audacity to sing in the face of heartache.
Look for the silver lining, whenever clouds appear in the blue.
Remember somewhere, the sun is shining,
and the right thing to do is make it shine for you.
A heart filled with joy and gladness will always banish sorrow and strife.
So look for the silver lining and always try to find the sunny side of life.
Sunshine Cathedral is the church of the sunny side of life.
I don’t know what the future holds, or when the various wounds of our society will finally heal. But I know this, and I promise this:
Sunshine Cathedral is and will be a safe place for all people.
Republicans and Democrats, women and men, gay and straight, able and differently abled, young and old, cisgender and transgender, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, and other…this is a house of prayer, and a house of singing, for all people.
And this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
Before I call you forward today to pray for your needs, I want us to pray together for our nation. Wounds that are generations old still are need of healing, so before we pray for ourselves, let’s rise as we are able and pray for our country:
God bless America land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God Bless America, my home sweet home.
God Bless America, my home sweet home.
Now, please come forward as you will for anointing, receive a prayer card, and stand with us at the altar as we pray for and with you:
God has placed a song of hope in my heart.
I will live always in the power of hope.
I am forever safe in God’s love.