Just My Soul Responding

Just My Soul Responding

Every father hopes to pass on a part of himself to his children. Mine was no different. He would be pleased to know that I have taken up his love for music. I have come to love the music of his time as much as he did and his favorites have become my favorites.

I recently read a response to a pastor who is actively engaged in the struggle for racial justice. The young woman who posted the response was concerned that social justice was becoming all he talked about and, as a result, he was losing her as a follower. I too struggle with the thought of being consumed with the racial fires recently stoked to a flame. I’ve heard from many that it’s becoming all I talk and write about. It’s turning them off as a reader. I was at a loss to explain my consumption. It pulled at me in ways I didn’t understand. Am I being consumed?

While out for a run and doing some soul searching, one of my father’s favorites came up on my run playlist. At first, Smokey Robinson’s smooth blend of Rhythm and Blues and Native American drums revived me. It’s beat and my cadence fell in sync and steadied my faltering stride. Then like a lightening bolt, Smokey gave me the words that explained my inward struggle. And in his words I found my own.

I was born and raised in the ghetto

On the run down side of the track

And there are forces who do everything they can do

To hold me back because my skin is black

Oh but more and more I mind

Hell, it’s about time

It’s just my soul responding

To being second-class in a land I helped to form

It’s just my soul responding

Just My Soul Responding by Smokey Robinson

It was here that the soulful Native American drums that lay beneath the struggle of the indigenous people, recalled in the previous lyric, gave way to the mournful sounds of the blues guitar, that called up the sorrowful seasons of African Americans in the deep south. It matched Smokey’s mournful wail. There was something in the way he sang the words. The words said it, but his voice gave it life. His soul was responding.

The music spoke to my pain, but I smiled knowing I wasn’t alone. Smokey understood why I find it so hard to keep quiet. His words explained it. They were the words that gave expression to my feelings.

My father listened to his music at night, after we went to bed. His stereo was just on the other side of my bedroom wall. Many nights I drifted off to sleep listening to Miracles, Temps, and Tops. Smokey Robinson released this song in 1973. The words had little meaning for me as a child; it was just good music. But now I know why my father liked it so much. I’m sure it spoke to his pain too.

Smokey wrote the song as a protest, as the country flexed in response to the Civil Rights Movement. More than four decades later his words still speak. And though much has changed, not enough hearts have changed to make things new. No, these are the old flames of racial injustice. And my soul is responding just as my father’s and Smokey’s did in the sixties and seventies. The great American author Anne Rice encouraged writers to, “go where the pain is.” Well this is where my pain is. So if you think I’m talking about it too much it, Smokey had words for that too…

If I’m bitter don’t blame me.

It’s just my soul responding.

4 thoughts

  1. Everybody needs God’s love and everybody needs to learn to love like God does. Everyone needs God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. Galatians 3:26-29:
    ” For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Off topic (sorta… but not entirely…) but I still give time and thought and prayer to interracial matters/concerns almost daily. I want to write about it more too.

    Race definitely plays a PART in the matters I typically blog about, but not typically AS the main feature of homelessness and church matters.

    That said … and I must admit that Richard Hughes, a theologian/scholar whose books I read and promote, recently went back and revamped his former book called Myths America Lives By adding to the list THE MYTH OF WHITE SUPREMACY. He did this, as a white man/scholar AFTER it came to his attention (he was publicly confronted by fellow black scholars) that the most important myth in his list of myths was missing. As a white man trying to have sympathy for racial justice and the subjugation of minorities had actually fallen prey to the myth himself and overlooked it due to his own embroiled state of mind. Thus, he humbly resubmitted the book with a second draft.

    I don’t think anyone would call Hughes a racist, and certainly not a hater, but he is a prime demonstration of the fact that we have work to do. Even those of us working our way around the learning curve have whole levels of work we have not even begun and major blind spots.

    I mention all this because I recongnize that not only is my blog not directly devoted to these things, but I am no authority on these matters. So… why would I write about it?

    Well, I find that blogging is, in some respects, LIKE neighbors talking over the back fence. It is public, of course, but my offerings ESPECIALLY in this discourse, are NOT intended to be taken too seriously – at least not as prescriptive. More a matter of exploration.

    I want to get back to that. I want to explore race.

    I think that is a wide topic in some ways. There are differences to be celebrated and discovered and so forth. There is injustice that needs to be examined. Prejudice to be uncovered and jettisoned. And more too, I am sure.

    I hope you will come participate.

    Right now I can’t remember WHEN, but I am sure it was a couple of months or so before the pandemic broke out that I spent some time researching videos and news articles on James Byrd’s death in Jasper, Texas two decades ago. That was a unique case in a lot of respects – mostly due to the timing of it. Other white boys have done just as heinous a crimes against other black boys for generations, but 1998/East Texas made for some very unique dynamics.

    For starts, this was just a few years after the LA riots and Rodney King and the FAILURE of California to deliver justice. The crime in Jasper was “us” in a lot more ways than the California thing. But the Texans delivered justice in the end, which seems ironic compared to California.

    I have my own personal connection in a very round about way to Jasper (I have never been there) which makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up (a story for another time). But then the crime was so horrific as to be the stuff of legend.

    One of the videos I watched was called Two Towns of Jasper. The film crew broke up in two teams. One white and one black and set out to interview their respective races around Jasper and follow the trial(s) for a year… then come back together and compile one documentary out of both experiences.

    I find the video to be quite a contrast.

    All the townsfolk from both sides of the racial divide come across as fairly country-simple. I have done a fair bit of my growing up in small West Texas towns, and I gotta say, the people featured in the video strike me as authentic. I think the filmmakers captured a very real image of these folx. They are all shocked by the crime and mean well by addressing it, but the white folk come off looking very out of touch!

    Early on in the film, a group eating a meal at a local café gets interviewed all together as a group. The white woman speaking up most vocally expresses her concern for the crime, alright, but only just barely. In reality, she expresses far more concern that Mr. Byrd NOT BE depicted as an upstanding citizen. He was not some saint that got murdered, here, he had problems!

    I recall you interacting with a blog stepping right into that same pothole shortly after George Floyd got killed.

    There is SOMTHING else going on there. Something we KEEP allowing to go unvoiced. Why do these women, these white women, acknowledge there was injustice there, but the real problem they have is with claiming too much innocence for the victim? What is that about?

    If a group of Muslim Arabs captured the worst American soldier in Iraq and dragged him to his death in the streets of Bagdad, would you find a white American listing off that soldier’s sins in an effort to mitigate the guilt of the enemy? OR… or would you find millions of American white women ready to launch a new offensive in Iraq??? Just to seek a little justice?

    This seems to be a tactic to avoid too deeply identifying with the victim, his family, and people who might feel hurt by the way he was killed.

    I see it. It’s right there so clear you can touch it. But it isn’t talked about, named or analyzed. The white people all say it should not have happened, BUT… BUT… BUT… James Byrd did kinda ask for it… or so goes the mentality of it.

    Morally, the white people with this mentality look like deer caught in headlights! You would think their whole fragile construct of reality will just crumble to the ground if they actually said, “THAT is terrible and should not have happened. I want to work at curbing my language and attitudes to ensure that none of my white friends and family ever get the impression that I would support such a crime or in anyway offer my sensitivities for someone to behave like this.”

    Well, I watched that and I saw sooooooooo many of my own family and friends in those faces and in those opinions. I see that my own words and actions throughout the course of my life have harmonized with such sentiments. Careless words and actions that might create only a ripple in the pond here, but might feed into the tsunami on other beaches.

    I think this stuff is worth exploring further. I want to be a white man who sees the problem… even where it is in me and mine. I don’t want to pursue phantoms, but I don’t want to avoid the pursuit of LOVE in an effort to avoid phantoms too. I will make mistakes and be short sighted at some points. I have seen enough to know that is unavoidable. But I need to inventory my attitudes, actions, opinions and account for them. I need to work at getting this right. It won’t happen bumping through life on cruise control. I need to be purposeful and vulnerable.

    I aim to write again soon with regard to these things.

    I hope you will come and help.

    Thanx

    Oh… and here is a link to the video that most powerfully affects me regarding Jasper …

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Burt Empson Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s