The Gospel According to Carole King: Tapestry
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved out of the pastoral ministry and into full-time engagement with the civil rights movement, especially attracting as much attention as he did for that cause, most people apparently came to think of Dr. King as a single-issue person. As a matter of fact, he believed the same human fundamentals that demanded human rights for all people regardless of race spilled over into any number of other areas of concern.
For example Dr. King became absolutely convinced that American involvement in the Vietnam War was highly immoral. His least known speech or sermon, you really couldn't tell the difference between speech and sermon with him most of the time, was delivered at Riverside Church in New York City at a gathering of Clergy and Laity Concerned, April 4, 1967. He titled his speech/sermon, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” and that oration cost him overwhelming support. Here’s a snippet of what he said as he began that evening:
...as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstandings, I deem it of signal importance to try to state...why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church--the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began [pastoral ministry]--leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.
Call it a “tapestry of concerns.” Where injustice has taken over, or never let go, there almost never is only one issue that needs to be corrected.
Inasmuch as would-be problem solvers want to repair little facets here and there of much larger problems, it is either not possible or necessarily a temporary fix. I’m not suggesting that unless we can solve the huge problems that threaten to undo us, we should just throw up our hands and adopt that que sera sera worldview; not at all! All fixes of societal brokenness start with small repairs, don’t they?
When President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, it was a HUGE step forward, but it was a part of a tapestry of solutions. The Act alone was not a fix-all.
Incidentally, and sorta kinda on topic, the first sermon Lyndon Johnson heard as President of the United States, less than 48 hours after President Kennedy’s death, was preached by Mrs. Johnson’s pastor, the Reverend Bill Baxter, of the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in DC. LBJ often attended St. Mark’s and liked it though he was a member of the National City Christian Church, and his pastor was the Reverend George Davis. Baxter received a call at his home on Saturday at some point telling him that the President and Mrs. Johnson would be in attendance at his service the next morning. Baxter scrapped the sermon he’d already prepared for the day and crafted an entirely new one while the Church’s secretary, Mrs. Mary Anderson Cooper, came into the office to toss the bulletins she’d prepared for the next day’s service and prepare new ones to reflect Reverend Baxter’s new sermon subject. That sermon was so powerful and so memorable that the Church decided they couldn’t just let it float in and out of the memories of those who had heard it. Therefore, they had a broadside print of the entire sermon made. Historically, the broadside print is a huge poster used for proclamations and advertisements. Some few of those Baxter sermon broadsides remain in the possession of the history committee of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and when my students and I visited there this fall to study the preaching of Bill Baxter they presented the seminary one of those broadside prints and one to me as well. I have it here today. Who knows how President Johnson might have been influenced by that pivotal sermon.
In any case, Dr. King recognized the depths of the societal ills he wanted to help heal, and that required of him investment in seeking cures for illnesses other than the cancer of racism. He invested his life weaving a tapestry of concerns.
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous, woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
There are plenty of things that happen in life over which we have no control, but I believe in a country like ours in most situations most of us have a tremendous amount of say-so about how our lives are going to unfold. So today when we're thinking about the beautiful music from Carole King’s song, “Tapestry,” and I thought it might be a good time to reflect on what we are weaving into our life tapestries in those areas over which we have influence or control.
I like to think that to the extent I am able the tapestry I'm involved in weaving should have noticeable balance to it. For example, I would want to be certain that in my tapestry there was a warp (the threads that create the length of the tapestry) for selflessness that intersects with a weft or woof (the threads that run crosswise) that is selfishness. I don't mean by that, that if I have some material goods or some available time, which would help somebody, I’d be sure to hold back for the sake of balance. What I mean by selfishness is in my life tapestry I would like to think that there are certain experiences such as time with my children and others whom I love that I guard selfishly. Same with necessary time for self-care and self-improvement. By selflessness, I mean I am investing myself in activities and projects and processes that benefit others besides myself, both those who are living at the time I'm living on planet earth as well as those who are going to come after me.
I would want to make sure in my tapestry for every warp of reverence there would be a weft of ruckus. Life is at its core something to be revered. There's no question about that. But being reverent towards the gift of life doesn’t mean there should be failures to enjoy raucous moments from time to time. The one doesn't cancel out the other.
In my tapestry, and I don't really know what the visual equivalent of musical dissonance I can hear is; but I would want visual dissonance. I would want some colors woven side by side that don't really look like they go together, and I’d want this in my tapestry because there is somewhat frequently an absence of sense and consistency in life. Also, there are things in life that conflict with each other and will always conflict with each other. There are truths that do not appear to be able to be true if something else is in fact true. And yet as we go down the road of life we find out there are some things that we want to classify as absolutes that can’t be as absolute as we want them to be.
In my tapestry I would want a balance of self-demand, which would push me to do my very best in all circumstances in which I need to show my true colors, with plenty of gentleness toward myself. There should be evidence of patience with myself.
I like to think in my tapestry there would be colors demonstrating courage to reflect those times when I took a risk in standing for something or someone or trying to protect something or someone. I would hope for lots of strands of the color for courage, but I would also want there to be the occasional color showing that I did not find it useful or helpful to make every cause my cause.
I would want my tapestry to show that there were those relationships and opportunities to which I gave myself fully and with abandon. There would also, then, need to be strands revealing those I did not hold onto for the sake of what I refused to let go of.
Let the threads for the sacred and the secular be intertwined in my tapestry because Fosdick taught us many years ago that the sacred and the secular are inseparable. And whatever designs are created to represent parents and children let them not show too much separation since a parent is never far removed from a child emotionally.
I would like in my tapestry for there to be indications of lots of friends, all different kinds of friends. One of my pastoral care professors in seminary told us way back then, when diversity was hardly popular in the south, that we needed friends from a plethora of backgrounds and that we intentionally needed to be sure it was so, like arranging a multi-colored bouquet. He was wise. I took his advice, and I would like for that to come across in my tapestry.
In my tapestry, I want a representation of light from multiple sources since I've learned that enlightenment can come from many people and many groups, even some I don't like. I'd want my tapestry never to be finished, but rather constructed so that additions and repairs could, as easily as possible, be woven in.
What about our communal tapestry, the tapestry we are all involved in if we are members and friends of Silverside Church? The Apostle Paul gave us much to think about in that regard. In one of his letters to the Church in Corinth, for example, he wrote:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with [Jesus’ church]. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Jesus made it happen in his life. Starting with his twelve disciples, the men’s group who followed him. In that group of twelve, there were many kinds of people. Some were highly regarded in their society such as the businessmen, brothers James and John. And there were those with whom many in Jesus’ world intended to have as little contact as possible such as smelly fishermen and at least one IRS collections executive. Some among the twelve had manners, some didn’t. Some were highly intelligent, others not to much. Some understood Jesus fully; others never quite caught on. But Jesus never gave up on any of them. A women’s group also followed Jesus, almost certainly under the leadership of Mary Magdalene; some were poor, and others were women of substance whose financial wisdom and wherewithal contributed to the support of Jesus’ ministries.
I have been amazed across the years of my ministry--part-time and full-time, in smaller churches and in larger churches--that there almost always somewhere in the church family is the talent and the know-how to get everything done that needs to be done. Someone, officially elected or not, keeps us on task with regard to service to persons in need; someone knows how to watch after the church’s money; someone has the gift of teaching children. There are those who have musical gifts; those who understand sound systems and boilers; those who have the gift of hospitality. This amazes me, and it’s true right here.
With the amazing gifts reflected in this congregation we are all involved in creating our communal tapestry. It’s truly lovely, and it’s getting better all the time. Really. Everything each one of us does for our church makes it more beautiful. Let us weave on, warping and wefting, with intentionality!