Friday, May 16, 2008

I don’t know how to love him

I don’t know how to love him

It’s Corsicana, Texas, 1964, where and when the Jim Crow laws are still in effect. I’m a little white boy. Mother and Daddy are at church (also white and Southern Baptist), some meeting or something, where he’s the preacher. Nancy is a black woman, our nanny, at home. She’s telling us stories, my brother and me, until she can go home at the end of her day and tuck in her own kids, and tell them the stories, rightly resisting somehow. Somehow she’s teaching us: singing now, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and then “He Never Sleeps.” But we beg her to play the turn table, and this weird thing happens. She presses down a little 45 and lays on the needle. Through the cracklings we hear a choir of women singing, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations, that shall turn their hearts to the right, a story of truth and mercy, a story of peace and light, . . . for the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday light, and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light” (Side A). So we say “flip it, please, Nancy.” And the three of us listen, to a choir of men: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus, going on before. . .” The door opens; Daddy’s face flushes, “The children are not to play with the turntable.” “Yes, Sir,” we hear, and “Sir, I am sorry; please, they just wanted to hear a little of the songs of yalls church.”

It’s Fort Worth, Texas, 1969, Travis Avenue Baptist Church. Our family is standing in front of the congregation like the Von Trapp family. Except we’re singing in Vietnamese. (We’d seen “The Sound of Music,” in Sai Gon in late 1965, so I know what they felt like). We’re back for furlough from the mission field, South Vietnam. Our childhood friends, and enemies, had taught my brothers and me to rock fight—we did live in a war zone, after all—and some pretty choice words, the tones on which make for some good singing if you get the melody synced right. (Missionary hymns didn’t). And Chị Năm, our nanny, had taught us this little song, which makes for pretty weird worship in the USA: “Vì Đức Chúa Trời yêu thương thế gian, Đức Chúa Trời yêu thương thế gian, đến nỗi đã ban Con một của Ngài, là Jêsus, hầu cho hễ ai tin, hễ ai tin, hễ ai tin Con ấy, không bị hư mất bao giờ, không bị hư mất bao giờ, mà được sự sống, được sự sống, được sự sống đời đời, A-men!

It’s Ba Ngoị, Việt Nam, 1971, at home. Bill Roberts, an American GI, is over and has brought a new record. He likes to taunt Daddy and Mommy with worldliness. It’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but not weird worship at all, if you keep it out of the churches. Mary Magdalene or Yvonne Elliman is confessing, “I don’t know how to love him.” Bill looks at us kids and says, “She’s a prostitute, ya know.” Of course, we did know that English word. It came blurting out alongside those dressed up women on the streets in Số Chín (which the GIs called “Sue Chin,” a place they seemed to populate as well in broad daylight), on our drive to Cam Ranh. What’s really weird is this: the great worship song, the same year, was Elliman’s #28 chart hit and Helen Reddy’s #12 in the USA (with Reddy even titling her album after the song), and in Ireland, for Tina & Real McCoy, it hit #1. The next year, in the UK, for Petula Clark, it made #47. Less known is Angela Carrasco’s version en español “Es más que amor” and the Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps arrangement of it. You Aussies will remember Kate Ceberano’s #38 hit in 1992, when we in the US heard Sarah Brightman sing it here. You Brits have brought it back time and again, by Joanna Ampil in 97, Leanne Dobinson and Helena Blackman in 06 (on the reality television “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”), and Bonnie Tyler but also Sinéad O’Connor last year. But did anyone visiting LA in August 2006 see Yvonne Elliman’s one night come back, with the original Ted Neeley Jesus, but also Jack Black as Herod? Did I mention it is weird that the same churches allowing Mary Magdala in keep her great worship song out?

It’s Jakarta, Indonesia, 1976, Asrama Baptit (the missionary kid high school dorm), where the Kebayoran Baptist Church youth group meets. My hair is as long as they’ll let me grow it, a closet atheist aware of the penalties of getting caught doing certain substances and doing certain other things with certain types of people (all with long hair for some reason). We’re made to go, to youth group that is. And some sing: “Cotton candy clouds so fluffy and white, who put you there in a sky so blue, or do you just happen to float along, pretty and white, in a sky so blue?” There’s some weird lines too about “tall mountains, deep valleys, fast rivers, cool streams,” and I think the song is worshiping the “Master Designer,” although evolution, for us, is just a smoke screen argument for doing certain things (with smoke). If it’d been done right, the Beatles could have sung the song (and I always wondered about those lyrics to “Lucy in the Sky.”)

It’s Fort Worth, Texas, again but now 2008, at a church. The band plays like the Beatles sometimes, and hair is not such a huge thing now. And yet, there’s weirdness again: “We're gonna shout loud, loud until the walls come down shout loud, loud until the walls come down, loud until the walls come down, Because we've already won, And You don't have a chance. . . [on and on and loud].” The “You” isn’t the one who they started worshiping. I wonder what my kids are thinking. Anyway, is that five yet?

Can I just add three more things (before I tag anyone)?

First: thanks to Eclexia for her power of persuasion. Second: we could blame David Ker for weirder things I suppose. (But there’s enough of that from Miss “bitty” Wilson, which explains why he played dodgeball so long; may he get technorati ratings galore now.)

Third: one of my own teachers once said this thing.
I only know that because one of the other students translated it this way, so that even Aristotle and I could understand it:

προσέχετε δὲ τὴν δικαιοσύνην ὑμῶν μὴ ποιεῖν ἔμπροσθεν τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι αὐτοῖς εἰ δὲ μή γε μισθὸν οὐκ ἔχετε παρὰ τῷ πατρὶ ὑμῶν τῷ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς . . . σὺ δὲ ὅταν προσεύχῃ εἴσελθε εἰς τὸ ταμεῖόν σου καὶ κλείσας τὴν θύραν σου πρόσευξαι τῷ πατρί σου τῷ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ καὶ ὁ πατήρ σου ὁ βλέπων ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ ἀποδώσει σοι

My dynamic equivalent relevant translation of Matthew 6:1 . . . 6 is this:

“Woe, a Warning: worship is woefully weird in every way whenever and whereever one is waiting on someone, anyone, to watch. It’s not a dance for, it’s a dance with. At the risk of cliché, it’s not rules but a real good natural relationship. I’ll wait for you, but never overwhelm you. Unless you find me loveable, forget it. When you don’t know exactly how, then you’ve got it down.” (Keep reading because there’s a verse 7,8 warning about all us and yall who are goyim too).

now tagged:

Iyov, who like David Ker at first avoided my one and only meme, but who unlike Lingamish doesn't get his feelings hurt while waiting to be tagged. Wow, look he already did it.

The curiously quieter Voice of Stefan, who I must remind also, like Lingamish and Iyov, avoided that best teacher meme.

Molly, who has likely already been tagged, but for her Adventures in Mercy, we have to make sure.

Nathan, so he can take time out from his Greek lessons for something really weird. He said No, then Yes. (It was around his birthday, and he was working on saying how weird this really is.)

Sue, aka Suzanne for the incredible Suzanne's Bookshelf. She's so quick, maybe I tagged her after the fact.


Nathan Stitt said...

I have opted to pass on the current meme. Sorry for any disappointment.

David Ker said...

This is lovely from start to finish. Google tells me where in the Bible the song comes from but the rest can only be translated by the heart.

J. K. Gayle said...

Happy B-day, Nathan, and thanks for changing your mind.

Thanks, David; so you like it?

David Ker said...

Gostei imenso. A biografia sempre me provoca a atrae mais que a pedagogia.

eclexia said...

Oh, shoot, I did the introvert thing, again, where I read it, was deeply moved, pondered it (and have continued to do so) and then somehow forgot that just because I've thought all these things doesn't mean you are going to know that, if I don't put it into words :)

In any case, thank you for this post. I love real stories, and how they make me feel and what they teach me and what they stir up in me that connects with other things to teach me and change me. Your stories, in this post and elsewhere, do all of those things.

I'm also thoroughly enjoying the different shapes this meme has taken among my blogging friends, and how each one who has done it has not only made me think a little bit more, in different ways, but also has shown a bit more of who they are. Too fun. Thanks again.