They weren’t ready for white people.


Throughout, the music was so loud I couldn’t hear it.

The mission announced the concert in a Facebook post 11/18.  I had an immediate negative reaction.  There was no more notice of it until it happened, 12/08.

The first thing I heard was the screaming.

IT WAS BILLED as the 4th Annual “Lets Give Back [sic] Holiday Concert.”  I could not find anything online about any previous such concert.  If any occurred, they didn’t at this venue.

The host or organizer had recruited a dozen like-minded acts from the Baltimore-Washington area to perform for free.  That was the “Lets [sic] Give Back” aspect.  (I don’t like to say “perform” when people offer their gifts in worship, but right now it’s the only word that comes.)

Throughout, the music was so loud I couldn’t hear it.

The host performed.  His song was revelatory:

Tune:  all quarter notes:  mi re do la do re do
First stanza:         I just come to clap my hands.  (Repeat many times.)
Second stanza:   I just come to stomp my feet.  (Repeat many times.)
Third stanza:       I just come to shout.                    (Repeat many times.)

When he saw that not many of us were clapping our hands, stomping our feet or shouting, he stopped and said, “A lot of you stuck up.”

I don’t “just” come to do any of those things.  I will tell what I do come for later.

THE ASSEMBLY was half black, but these blacks aren’t those blacks.  There were about 200 total.  There were about 25 performers, all black.  There was their entourage of family and friends, about 25, also all black.  There were us Overnighters(a), 45 black men and 15 white.  And there were the Programmers(b); I don’t know their racial ratio; you can do the math.

(a) Overnighters are the homeless men, “guests” of the overnight shelter, who are here only one day at a time.  You must leave every morning and take all of your belongings with you.  You cannot use the mission as a mailing address.
(b) Programmers are “clients” of the 12-month residential drug treatment program.  They never have to leave; they keep their belongings here, and can use the mission as a mailing address.

This was not worship for all Africans.  Some African churches, deemed too noisy, have been shut down.

Related: Africa’s Biggest City Shuts Churches, Mosques To Fight Noise Pollution
Related: Rwanda closes ‘700 unsafe, noisy churches

We Overnighters, 75% black, have chapel every night, and our services aren’t like that.  This was instead worship for people who live at the intersection of two independent traits:  they are both oral personalities and kinesthetic learners.

ORALNESS has been a subject of my remarks many times.

From “Two Jews, three opinions:”
The dining room at the homeless shelter where I stay is about 40 feet wide and 60 feet long.  The other night, they gave us pizza for supper — lots of it — and Shon got excited.  He was hollerin’ at guys at the distant far ends of the room — this one, that one, the other one.

The population at the shelter is 75% black.  The black guys aren’t all loud, but the loud guys are all black.  All.  Does it bother me?  It doesn’t seem to bother them.  They don’t seem to feel that it’s  A Problem.

Numerous differences between black folk and white folk pertain to how they value different uses of the voice.  Black folk are more likely than whites to enjoy melisma; ululations; a repetitiveness prone to induce a trance; and screaming; as, for example, in the works of J. J. Hairston.

From “Upward mobility:”
“Oral” people live in squalor.  They take pleasure in what they ingest — drugs, for example — rather than in what they do or create.  They value things people do with their mouths — eating (in inappropriate settings[2]), chewing, talking, oratory (preaching[3]), shouting.  One loudmouth bully who attended the shelter for about a year normally kept candy and gum and a toothpick in his mouth.

The mission serves two populations.  There are the “clients,” about 500 men enrolled in the 12-month residential drug treatment program; and the “guests,” us 60 homeless guys who are here only one day at a time.  We are strictly not allowed to mix.  But in the dining hall, sometimes both are present, them on their side, us on ours.  The noise level can be deafening, but it all comes from them — the shouting, the yelling, the loud talk — from the oral people, the addicts, not from us homeless guys.

[2]Man arrested in April shooting over chicken bones
[3]Louis Farrakhan addressed the Million Man March for 2½ hours.

[NOTE:  Per other information in this post, the Programmers are more than 75% white.]

Till now, I have always associated oralness with squalor — material, spiritual, emotional and sexual; with poverty, emotional immaturity (a.k.a. folly) and with need. I may need to re-think this.

KINESTHETIC LEARNERS.  The Wikipedia article, “Learning styles,” sets forth half a dozen different models, and suggests there’s no empirical evidence for any of them.  The article “Kinesthetic learning,” in contrast, expresses complete confidence in the model I rely on here, first set forth by Rita and Kenneth Dunn.

Some folk are principally visual learners, others auditory learners, others kinesthetic learners.  These principally reflect one’s neurological endowment, and have profound ramifications for personality and culture.

Visual people learn through what they see.  They tend to be more right-brained, spatial thinkers, and like to look at any proposition from many different angles.  They like to see the big picture.  They tend to use, and most easily understand, language that refers to sizes, shapes, colors or positions.  They may say, “It looks like …”  They remember faces, not names.  They will sit toward the front of an auditorium, so as to have a good view of all that happens onstage.

Auditory people learn through what they hear — and read.  They tend to be more left-brained — Brokaw’s area, the brain’s language center, being in the left temple — and linear-sequential, or one-dimensional, thinkers.  They want things to be, or be discussed, in order (that is, in sequence): this first, that second, that third.  They will say, “It sounds like …”  They remember names, not faces.  They tend to sit toward the rear of an auditorium, since it’s more important to hear than to see.

Kinesthetic people learn through physical activity.  I suppose, but do not know, that they (1) rely primarily on the brain stem, and (2) like music so loud it shakes your body.  A kinesthetic learner may expertly disassemble and reassemble an automobile transmission, but not score well on a multiple choice test that asks how she did it.  I have been amazed how much attention black people pay to the minutiae of body language; for example, mimicking perfectly someone’s walk or facial expressions.

They may say, “Is that how you feel?”

AT THE OTHER EXTREME is the sterile, stiff-assed, “anal” worship common among those whose ethnicities trace to the Teutonic lands, where auditory learners dominate culture.  Luther, the German, emphasized that “Faith comes by hearing.”  One sits as still and silent as a rock, except when the words printed in a book tell you to stand or kneel or read these prescribed words out loud.  There is excessive attention to detail, and a Kantian emphasis on duty:  if the altar boy or altar girl deviates from prescribed movements in lighting or putting out candles, there’s hell to pay.

On Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor called the Christians of Lake Woebegon “God’s frozen chosen,” and the name of the Roman Catholic church was “Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.”

They don’t hug.

THE PREACHER admonished the performers — several times — that they were using their talents to glorify themselves, not God. This struck me as out of place, since the performers accounted for no more than 1/8 of the people present. She also admonished the audience — several times — that we were too quiet.

Her text was Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given.”  She said “a child is born” referred to Jesus’ humanity, and “a son is given” referred to Jesus’ divinity; Jesus being both wholly human and wholly divine.  She gave several examples of the contrast between the two.  I cannot disagree with her as to doctrine, but I may as to fact: the Jews I’m in conversation with hold that this verse speaks not of Jesus, but of Hezekiah.

I don’t know how much talent I observed.  One fellow sang and played his guitar.  The guitar was wildly out of tune, and he played it as is, alternating between two chords.  He never tuned it.  That may pertain to attention to detail.

DOUBTS AND QUESTIONS pervaded me throughout the “concert.”  The insight about oralness and learning styles would not come until days later.  I have had too few conversations with such people to know the answers.  For the moment, all I had to go on were my stereotypes and prejudices.

But there are some things I do know.

The folk religion of the ‘hood is a vast collection of excuses” to continue doing just whatever you please, whenever you please, with no regard for any boundaries or limitations whatsoever.

This is an ethos of acting out.

What does discipleship mean to these folks? Do they ever engage in self-examination, confession, cross-bearing or sacrifice? Is there ANY responsibility?

Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” is musically a work of genius, but ever since I moved into the ghetto, its lyrics have profoundly distressed me. They are diametric from what poor people need to hear.

‘Cause we’re the party people night and day
Livin’ crazy, that’s the only way
***
You can shout out all you want to
‘Cause there ain’t no sin in folks all gettin’ loud
***
Do what you want to do
There ain’t no rules, it’s up to you

I observe that sin is a taboo subject in most urban worship. In 8+ years at the mission, with Overnighters’ chapel every night, once, only once, has any presenter asked us to recite the Lord’s Prayer — one of the most central of Christian texts — with its line, “Forgive us our sins.” It was my own pastor who did that.

The past few months, one Glenn Wilson has preached at the Overnighters’ chapel the second Saturday each month. He testifies that back in his drug-dealing days, the “Christians” he knew never gave him any reason to pay Christianity no mind. They bought from him. They used with him. They did other degrading things.  And they went to church on Sundays.

I JUST COME in search of peace.

In the Mass, we re-enact Creation — what God did in Genesis, when God brought order out of primordial chaos. We re-create out world, our lives. The Mass BEGINS with a ritual of corporate (plenary) confession and absolution: we purge ourselves of, we sacrifice, the chaotic flotsam and jetsom of the wreckage, the frustrations and disappointments — the sin — of the preceding week. There follows the process of bringing our lives back into line with the fundamental harmony God instilled in creation.

Now and then someone calls out in response to a preacher’s remark, “I know that’s right.” I won’t do that. On the one hand, I don’t NECESSARILY “know” ANYTHING a preacher says is right. On the other hand, I do EXPECT that a preacher will confront, deconstruct, my presumptions. There is still, always, room for improvement, to bring my life into further congruence with the harmony of God.

Different strokes for different folks. For me, harmony does not include screaming. Maybe, for some folks, it does.

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