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Meditation offered by Mike Kinman at Jazz Vespers on Sunday, October 15 — reflection on a text by Maya Angelou with inspiration from Hamilton: The Musical.

Preacher, Don’t Send Meby Maya Angelou

Preacher, don’t send me
when I die
to some big ghetto
in the sky
where rats eat cats
of the leopard type
and Sunday brunch
is grits and tripe.

I’ve known those rats
I’ve seen them kill
and grits I’ve had
would make a hill,
or maybe a mountain,
so what I need
from you on Sunday
is a different creed.

Preacher, please don’t
promise me
streets of gold
and milk for free.
I stopped all milk
at four years old
and once I’m dead
I won’t need gold.

I’d call a place
Pure paradise
Where families are loyal
And strangers are nice
Where the music is jazz
And the season is fall.
Promise me that
Or nothing at all

It was almost two weeks ago, the morning after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and I was in the struggle. I was deep in the struggle. It wasn’t just Las Vegas. It was Puerto Rico. And St. Louis. And the attacks on health care and women’s health and LGBTQ rights.

I was in the struggle. And I was feeling myself starting to slip down the slope into hopelessness. It felt that no matter how hard we worked, the best we could do was stay in place. It felt like every day was a new game of whack-a-mole with injustice, and our arms were getting pretty tired. It was starting to feel like two steps forward and ten steps back.

And I turned on my computer and someone had sent me a link of Ta-Nehesi Coates being interviewed by Stephen Colbert, and so I clicked on it with great anticipation, hoping to be inspired by this incredible writer. And toward the end of the interview Stephen asks him:

“Do you have any hope for the people about how we could be a better country?”

And Ta-Nahesi paused and shrugged his shoulders and said, “No.”

And then he continued, “But I’m not the person you should go to for that. You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope.”

And my first thought was “Thanks a lot!”

Don’t look to me for hope.

Three years after Mike Brown was killed and nothing has changed.

Nearly five years since Sandy Hook and nothing has changed.

We have marched. We have registered people to vote. We have written our representatives. We have gotten arrested. We have had more thoughts and prayers than there are grains of sand on the beach or bits of information on the Internet and still we keep coming back to the same places over and over and over again.

But then I had another thought.

He was right.

As a pastor, I am supposed to do at least two things. Tell the truth and ground us in hope. And that means I have to reach for the truth that isn’t hopeless, and I have to reach for the hope that isn’t just blown smoke and whitewash. And if I’m in the struggle to find it, I just have to look harder. I just have to struggle harder.

Because if it’s not out there. If all there is when we die some big ghetto in the sky, where rats eat cats of the leopard type and Sunday brunch is grits and tripe, then we might as well just close up shop.

Ta-Nehesi Coates is right. Maya Angelou was right. The struggle is real. The struggle is all around us. Hopelessness is for sale on every street corner and social media newsfeed and they’re giving away hopelessness for free and yet it is costing us dearly. What we need is a different creed.

And so I was in the struggle for two days, and then on the third day I went down to the Pantages Theatre and I saw Hamilton.

And I heard the words of revolution on the lips of people who looked an awful lot like those on whose lips I had heard it in Ferguson. Young, black queer, raising their glass to freedom, something they can never take away. Raising a glass to three or four of us and indeed three years later there are more of us, telling the story of that night.

And I heard Aaron Burr sing

Love doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners
And the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep loving anyway
We laugh and we cry
And we break
And we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m by her side
When so many have tried
Then I’m willing to wait for it
I’m willing to wait for it

I heard them sing

Death doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints,
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway.
We rise and we fall
And we break
And we make our mistakes.
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When everyone who loves me has died
I’m willing to wait for it.
I’m willing to wait for it.
Wait for it.

I saw Hamilton and I had one of those moments where I was in pure awe. Where I was literally looking at the stage and realized I was still capable of being surprised. Looking at the stage and all I could think was “I didn’t know we could do that. I didn’t know human beings could do that.”

And I come in this place and we say “God dwells in you” and “The peace of Christ be with you” and we hear beautiful music that is the promise of what is possible, that is as if angels themselves are lending their voices and striking their chords. And I know that there is truth that isn’t hopeless and hope that isn’t blown smoke and whitewash.

And I look at my country, and I see the mistakes we have made – and yet we keep living anyway. And that very living. That very act of getting up in the morning is an act of resistance. An act of joy. And I realize there is a reason we’re still alive.

And I look at my family, and I see the mistakes I have made…

And I look at our city and I see the mistakes we have made…

And I look at our church, and I see the mistakes we have made – and there’s a reason we’re still by each other’s sides when so many have tried. And even though it can seem hopeless, even though the struggle is so real, even though it seems like we keep ending up back where we started, we have to be willing to wait for it. Wait for it.

Because there is a place called paradise where families are loyal and strangers are nice. Where the music is jazz and the season is fall. We get glimpses of it every now and then. Just enough to know that it is there. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes, but it is out there and we will be there some day, telling the story of tonight.

No, life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And still we rise
And still we love
And still we live
And still we dance and sing and surprise ourselves with what we can accomplish

There is a place, a pure paradise, where families are loyal and strangers are nice. Where the music is jazz and the season is fall.

I’m your pastor. And I promise you that. Or nothing at all.

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