Wednesday, February 08, 2006

'It's Just Sickness'



You know, there's just something about the South.

It's kind of like a cookie jar.

Most of the time, you put your hand in and out comes something sweet and sugary.

But every once in a while, you pull out a fistful of mouse dirt. Or, maybe a big, nasty cockroach.

In the past few days, nine churches in remote locations in Alabama have been set ablaze. Could be a race thing, although some of the congregations were predominantly white. Could be a religion thing; all the churches were Baptist. Could be an "I don't like Gospel music" thing. Whatever it is, it's a hate thing.

Now, I understand that, for many folks, a church is just a building. God is a concept. Religion is the opiate. But for the rural, predominantly African-American communities along the "black belt" of Alabama where most of these nine churches used to thrive, church is a central force in their small and often poor little towns. They are also targets; during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, white supremacists routinely set them aflame. And as many as 60 churches have been burned down in Alabama alone since the late 1990s.

But there's no certainty about what drove an individual or individuals to torch these centers of worship. As a member of one of the congregations put it, "It's just sickness."

One of the things I have struggled with in regard to Bluegrass and traditional music is that there is the Gospel side of the music, and in the mountain music, there is that mystical but Christian flavor to some of the songs. While I have a certain groundedness that I attribute to a lifetime of spiritual questing, I have come to understand the world in a very different way of late, and that understanding does not embrace the notion of an all-knowing, all-seeing God-like being watching my every move, nor accepting Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. (Ok, that's not how it works in the Catholic Church, anyway, so who am I kidding?)While I might not believe in the same things that these songs communicate, they are still beautiful, and for many people, they do hold deep meaning.

This is one such beautiful song. It's very quiet and meditative, and in the tradition of the Southern Baptist ritual. For those whose hearts were broken by this string of violence, I hope they will think on this song, and wash the hurt away in the river. This clip is taken from the "O! Brother" soundtrack, and is also featured on the film, "Down from the Mountain," which captured a formal celebration of the music from the movie, filmed at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Down To The River To Pray
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/clipserve/B00004XQ83001004/0/ref=mu_sam_wma_001_004/103-
As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord show me the way

Oh sisters let's go down
Let's go down come on down
Oh sisters let's go down
Down to the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord show me the way

Oh brothers let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
Oh brothers let's go down
Down to the river to pray

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord show me the way

Oh fathers let's go down...etcetera

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord show me the way

Oh mothers let's go down...etcetera

As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord show me the way

Oh sinners let's go down etcetera
As I went down to the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord show me the way

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