29 June 2015

Amazing Grace

I think Mr. Obama's oration at the funeral of Rev. Senator Pickney may be one of the great speeches in American history. Years, decades, from now, students of American history, politics, and speaking will study this speech. Do not miss it! Youtube has the entire thing for you here and you should listen to it.

"Amazing Grace" was written by a reformed captain of a slave ship. He wrote the lyrics, the musical settings have evolved through both the 19th and 20th centuries.

Think of it! That hymn is beloved in the African-American churches across the country. A brilliant poem, written by a white slaver, set to a number of melodies, sung, proclaimed across the American Christian experience, but especially in Black churches. Amazing indeed.

As Mr. Obama observed, grace especially amazing when the relatives of shooting victims confronted the alleged shooter in court. The will to forgive the sins of a man they believe (as do I) was guilty of the murders of their loved ones, is grace at its most amazing.

Rev. John Newton was a priest in the Church of England. My church, The Episcopal Church, is a daughter of the Church of England. So we have some claim on the hymn, and Newton. As the church that converted a slave trader to a clergyman, Church of England has a substantial claim.

For centuries, members of our churches participated in, and profited from the slave trade. In the civil war, bishops of my church became generals, for the Confederacy. gOur claim of grace requires a great faith in our receipt of grace.

In the diocese of Chicago, where I pray, the hymn has some history. Parish choirs love it, it is easy to sing, powerful and always appropriate. Well, almost. A former bishop of Chicago used to forbid its use when he visited parishes. He refused to sing that he was, "a wretch."

The Episcopal Church is my home, and I love it. One of the things I love is that we are not in the cover-up business. I have personally visited the church in Vicksburg where our bishop, then a Confederate general, directed the defense of the Union's siege. There are records of parish clergy who blessed local units as they formed to fight for slavery and succession. We know we have sinful conduct in our history, and we confront it. We rely on the grace the song proclaims.

I am white. Were I black, I think I would look into the AME. They seem to have themselves together. Thank you Mr. Obama, and the AME for a teaching moment.

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