9 Years Old, Race, and a White Baptist Church
If you have recently concluded that black lives matter, good for you. I came to that same conclusion as a young child. Every summer, my mother would dress me up and drop me off at the local Vacation Bible School, or VBS for short. Dozens of other kids roughly my age would mostly drink milk, eat cookies, taste white craft glue, giggle, yell, jump up and down for no reason during the Bible story, and sing.
We kids could sing. The hardwood pews of the little Baptist church weren't used to such enthusiasm but took the abuse stoically. A sweet little church lady would patiently play the piano but with little benefit. We kids would belt out the lyrics any way we wanted. The louder, the better. The tune seemed lost on us, but the result, I am certain, was pleasing to the Almighty. Another result of the unbridled gusto by which we sang was the stickiness of the lyrics. Even today, my now withered and weathered synapses can recall every word. But maybe there were just really good lyrics- inspired perhaps.
There is this one song I remember over all the others. As a young boy, I interpreted the lyrics literally. We boys do that. If we were into subtleties or nuances or identity politics at nine years of age, we would have treated little girls better. So, when we sang the lyrics, "Jesus loves the little children of the world. Red and yellow, black or white, they are precious in His sight," I believed it to be literal and true—straight talk from the Almighty Himself. Every child of every color in every part of the world is precious. There is no ambiguity in those lyrics.
50 years ago, in 1970, that simple children's song was immortalized when it introduced the Ray Stevens song titled 'Everything is Beautiful.' The song would become an international pop hit and earn Mr. Steven's two Grammys. Against the backdrop of significant racial disharmony of the day, the race riots of 1968, and an organization called the 'Black Panthers, the public was yearning for a feel-good song that might heal the wounds. I hope you take the three and a half minutes it takes to listen to the song. It's an aspirational song that dreams of harmony and finds beauty in all of our colors.
If you remember when you hummed along to 'Everything is Beautiful,' then you also remember other times when our country was torn by racial and political mayhem. Some of the same memes resulted in some of the same groupthink. The various groups had different names, but the signs marched said nearly the same things, and the objectives were very similar. Some of the same neighborhoods were burned and looted.
If you're too young to have ever sung 'Red and Yellow, black and white, they're all precious in His sight,' then I understand why the phrase 'black lives matter' is important. It is essentially saying the same thing. But if you are yelling it at me, forgive me if I recall my VBS days standing on the wooden pews with a slew of eight, nine, and ten years old's jumping up and down and singing our version at the top of our lungs.
And thank you, Ray Stevens! We need your message of love more than ever.
If your interest in racial equality goes beyond just memes and cliches, I would encourage you to read Tom Wolfe's book 'Radical Chic.' It's available at bookstores and Amazon.