Will Campbell: Jesus sounds

Read this today and had my heart broke all over again.

We watched them until they were out of hearing. And we listened for a long time after that. At those sounds. Whether the sounds we were hearing were those of a buried or modified culture, merging with another as the dirt road merged with the bigger one being elsewhere, it would not have occurred to us at the time to ponder. But later we would remember them as the articulation and recitation of two hundred years of pathos. An emancipation which still had not reached them, or us, if in fact it had reached anywhere at all. A manumission inferred by Christian proselytizers, but undelivered by the steeples and structures they represented. Whether West African or European, Nigerian or Mississippian in origin, they were the pleadings of an African peasant woman to the son of a Jewish peasant woman to be with her in her travail.

They were Jesus sounds, absorbed from a nation and a culture Jesus was alleged to have had a hand in founding and forming, drawing, too, on a nation and a culture where he had not been known at all, yet meaning more to that which was African in this scene than he had ever meant to that which was American in it. 

And they were sounds which would not soon depart from us. 

 — Will Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly, 62.

Jesus sounds break the heart and make it alive again. 

Precious Life in Orlando

I was already heart broken before I read in disbelief the news from Orlando. Sitting across from my very pregnant wife as our boys are playing I can’t help think of all the effort that goes into making and caring for a human being. Everyone one of the victims were woven together inside a mother’s body. Each of them had people who cared about them enough to feed them, change them, clean them up, sit up with them when they were sick, teach them to read and tie their shoes and brush their teeth. Each of them have people who love them now and ache for them and have no answers for the question that has no adequate answer. There is no sense here, no logic, no purpose, no destiny.
None of the rest of us have answers either. Some have been quick to retreat to the talking points they’ve been conditioned to repeat but I’m hoping these are coming more from desperate attempts to cope with this senseless horror than from genuine commitment to the same old tired arguments. This is first and foremost a human issue, an issue of whether we will commit to how precious all of life is, the lives of enemies, the lives of people who live differently than us, the lives of each person carried in a womb and nurtured by loving people who understand at some level how uniquely special human life is. Each of us understands this. The only question is how widely or narrowly we will apply our understanding of how sacred life is. How hard we will work to nurture life, how carefully we will treat these fragile and special lives all around us.
And the truth is, we don’t treat life as very special. We don’t care for each other the way a pregnant woman dotes on her belly. We don’t look on each other with wonder and awe the way we do a cute toddler (a redundant adjective, they’re all cute). Toddlers don’t shed their specialness. Our hearts grow cold and hard. We would rather protect our turf than care for precious life. Here in the U.S., we regulate about every aspect of our lives. Read the warning labels on virtually anything you buy and you’ll see efforts that have been taken to ensure our safety. Cars are the classic example. Safety inspections, design requirements, recalls years after production, all to minimize deaths and injuries caused by car accidents. And did you know, car dealers have to check a federally published terrorist list before they are allowed to sell you a car? You can’t buy a car if the U.S. government suspects you of associating with terrorists. You can’t buy a car, but you can buy a gun, even an AR-15 like the one used in Orlando. You can also buy as much ammo as you want for that gun and no one can or will question you on it at all. How does this make sense? How does this come from the same country that demands double-digit air bags in its cars? Surely if we reflect on how precious life is and how an assault rifle makes life cheap, common sense gun regulation is not only possible but a necessary conclusion.
It’s not just guns though. The precious people in Orlando were enjoying an evening at an LGBT club. They were targeted specifically because of that. And the truth here is that we don’t treat LGBT life as very special. When I think about all that community has suffered over the years, I can hardly stand the pain in my heart, the darkness that threatens my soul just in reflecting on it, to say nothing of the pain they have carried, the darkness they have walked through for many long years. This isn’t the first time LGBT folks have been targeted and mass murdered in this country. It is more than a shame, it is a national disgrace. To everyone in the LGBT community (especially to the ones I know and love), all I know to say is how incredibly sorry I am. I am so sorry for what has been done to you, the hatred, the heinous violence, the rejection and ostracizing. Your lives have been made harder than hard for no good reason. You have borne the brunt of so much evil, so much sin, so much demagoguery. Your lives are precious. You are special. I love you just the way you are. And I’m so sorry for the terror you continue to live with and in. I don’t know what else to say or do. I want to go to a gay club and just hug every person there. Would that be too weird?
One more thing. I can’t help think that the shocking climate of the current presidential campaign is a factor here. Our body politic has been subjected for a very long time to a sustained effort at gaining power through division (the old divide and conquer) by means of ‘wedge’ issues. Guns are a wedge issue. LGBT rights are a wedge issue. Islam is a wedge issue. Yes, I’ve read the shooter was influenced by ISIS. And because we’re conditioned to mistrust and not think things through, we’re led to equate ISIS with Islam. All that has been in place for decades, but Trump has taken the whole thing to its wicked conclusion. The irony is that if this makes people run to Trump, the U.S. could wind up electing a terrorist’s dream candidate. The division, vitriol, and disrespect for human life coming from the Trump campaign are representative of what leads to tragedies like Orlando.
What our political discourse must have – as in our very lives depend on it – is a renewed respect for the preciousness of human life. There is no counterargument to #blacklivesmatter. Yes they do. Only by committing to the preciousness of the lives of those our culture has disregarded – African-Americans, the poor, LGBT – can we ensure that all lives do in fact matter. We only regard our own lives as sacred as much as the life of the one we regard the least. And we should regard that life like a mother regards the life growing within.