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Corey’s Corner: A call for remembrance and progress

DBC directs attention to chapel on April 4th—the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.  |  Photo Courtesy of Tomber Su [file]

 

Last Saturday night Paula and I listened to the music of Philadelphia native, Ruth Naomi Floyd. I first heard her seven years ago singing in Biola’s Calvary Chapel. With her ensemble this past weekend, she performed a tribute to Frederick Douglass, born 200 years ago. The evening’s songs recalled this enslaved man, this statesman and orator, this abolitionist and author. The words of her songs were drawn from the speeches and writings of Douglass. It was a powerful message conveyed through soul-filled jazz.

At one point a haunting solo saxophone played as Douglass’ words were recited, words adapted from his 1865 Boston speech before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

“People are now in tears. There is mourning in the streets. We see tears falling by the fires. We see blood flowing all around… but we need to find a righteousness. Press on.”

The night’s final song departed from Douglass’ speeches but not from Douglass’ message. “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” a well-known spiritual written by slaves around the time Douglass grew up, spoke to the courage and hope that God would do for them what he had done for his enslaved people in Egypt.

SONGS OF FREEDOM PROMOTE CHANGE

Sitting afterwards at a dinner with Ruth Naomi, she and I talked about these songs of freedom. From our conversation, I picked up that each of the six musicians in her band are a descendant of slaves. This was certainly true of Ruth Naomi, her two names recollecting the Old Testament Moabite refugee widow Ruth and her grieving mother-in-law Naomi.

On the way home and even the next morning, that song kept replaying in my mind.

“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumblin’ down.”

A few weeks ago, Paula and I walked through the tumbled archaeological remains of Jericho, 25 kilometers from Jerusalem, the city the Israelites conquered on their march to the Promised Land. I thought again about that city’s ruined walls as Ruth Naomi began singing the concert’s final song, a spiritual I have been humming since.

The slaves in the 1800s who wrote those words knew the Bible. They loved the Bible and its stories. They believed the Bible. They talked about the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. They knew of the years of wandering through the wilderness. They remembered how God provided his people manna and quail each day to meet their needs. He parted the sea and the river. He defeated their foes. These antebellum slaves knew of the Israelites awaiting the Promised Land where finally the people of God would not only be free but settled. And they knew that on the way to freedom, Jericho’s walls needed to come tumbling down.

Like the slaves of Sinai, these 19th century American slaves journeyed the darkness with hope for their eventual freedom. They sang the Jericho song with emancipation on their minds, for this world and for the world to come, when walls of injustice would come tumbling down.

DISCRIMINATION’S TUMBLED WALLS

Walls are coming tumbling down, thanks be to God. Walls of slavery led by people of conviction and courage like Douglass in the 19th century. Walls of Jim Crow laws led by people of conviction and courage like Martin Luther King Jr. in the 20th century.

One way we at Biola will remember discrimination’s tumbled walls from our past will be at our April 4 All-Community Chapel service. Alumnus Christopher Brooks, a pastor and apologist from Detroit, will speak that day when we reflect on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination. I will be sending Biola a message that day from Memphis’ Lorraine Motel—the place of MLK’s death—where I am joining the Church of God in Christ and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to honor the life and legacy of this civil rights leader.

May we not forget how far we have come. May we still remember we have work to do.

 

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