I recently wrote that Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is a faith song, not a fact song.
It declares a hope for a different world in the midst of bruising experiences. As someone shaped by reading Alex Haley’s Autobiography of Malcolm X and then watching Spike Lee’s film interpretation of it, I respond to Cooke’s song as something of an anthem. It plays during one of the last scenes: Malcolm’s final walk to the Audubon Ballroom, the room where his enemies shoot him to death in front of his family.
This is a song that, more than twenty years after I first heard it, still stirs up slightly fuzzy, black-and-white memories. It makes me long for the river Cooke tells us he was born by, even though I’ve never seen that river, and even though I’ll never go myself.
Through the song, I can taste the world Cooke sings of. It’s like when I read the final visions of John of Patmos: I can just about touch the renewed Earth that transfixed him enough to write and I can envision for myself what a world restored might look like for all of us.
And then something about life reminds me that the song is a faith song, not a fact song: our collective story isn’t quite complete yet. It’s a hard chapter in the story for those called to actively reconfigure this world for justice, not just from the streets but also from the pews.
In Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse, Joanne Carlson Brown and Carole Bohn explain:
In our struggle to remain true to our tradition and to ourselves, we are criticized by both sides. Those within the tradition, resistant to any challenge, accuse us of being heretics and say we can no longer claim to be Christian. And those who have left the Christian tradition behind say that we are still trapped by participating in our own oppression… Yet we continue to struggle and the debate goes on.” (p. xiii)
They go on to say:
The concerns and questions raised here are painful to address because they strike at the very heart of our tradition. However, we discuss them because we are convinced that confronting these issues is essential to our religious commitment, our sense of connectedness with our tradition, and ourselves.” — Joanne Carlson Brown and Carole Bohn
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “I will die standing up for the freedom of my people.”
And that’s what he did: the photo for this article features the Memphis sanitation workers whose 2-month protest was fundamental to King’s planned tour through the south. It wasn’t a tour he was able to complete before death, however.
Even with an imagined death ahead of him, he was able to hold that vision of all restored, and to work for it doggedly and patiently until it was no longer necessary.
I’m learning from that.