Hi. First of all, in case you haven’t noticed. I’m white.
This is me.
So, let me start with the caveats…
I have not been raised in the black church. This is just my story.
I have no degree in race relations or our nation’s history. This is just my story.
I have not achieved a divinity degree nor am I ordained by the church. This is just my story.
I’m learning and journeying. This is just my story.
I’m going to use some “they” and “me” words/phrases in this post. That’s for ease of retelling, not trying to make sweeping generalizations or drawing lines. This is just my story.
I grew up with black friends, black neighbors, black teachers and role models. I’m still white. This is just my story.
Bottom line. It’s my story.
Because it’s my blog/heart/words/experiences.
Finally, I’m referring to these two groups (blacks and whites) because these are the two main (by a hands down landslide majority) segments of the American (USA) church.
Let me add too, if we’re just meeting, that I’m a singer/songwriter and worship leader all over the country and, most regularly, at our home church, Grace Church. I’m the daughter of musicians; they did much of their playing in the church. I’ve been singing and playing in the church my whole life. (You can find out more about my music at www.sarahtunes.com).
About two decades ago (yikes) Recently, I was a freshman at Anderson University. I went there because I stepped onto campus to visit a friend the year prior and fell in love with the community. At that time, I had no aspirations to pursue music. I didn’t know of the wealth of talent that came from that place. In fact, I graduated with a business degree and a music minor. However, I spent countless hours in chorale, wind ensemble, pep band, jazz band, theory (I’m a total band nerd and still love it), composition (it’s my living), aural training (is there anything better than understanding intervals and harmony???), and private piano lessons (where I met McHusband by the way.) I was in the practice rooms a lot. Like a lot, a lot. (Not because of my hubz just to clarify.) I LOVED music but found that I didn’t really want to teach or follow an exclusively classical route, which is what was offered at the time. So I picked a different degree somewhat based on some business professors that I thought were exceptional.
I started my first album of original tunes halfway through college after beginning to write and connecting with amazing musicians in the area. It represented my season. It told stories that I’d written in the middle of the night in the practice rooms. You know, in between “study” sessions at Perkins.
It was during these years that I played for the jazz band and was asked to fill in on piano with the gospel choir. Sure, why not? I was up for filling my schedule and development with every single thing possible. Habitat for Humanity weekends, prison ministry, radio deejay, tennis team, you name it, I signed up. I was enjoying figuring out who I was, what I was into… those were the kind of all-nighters I was pulling; the over-commitment kind.
Rehearsal #1. I sat down and asked if there was any music or chord sheets or something?
No. We’ll sing it for you.
Shortly after, a choir director, a beautiful middle-aged black lady, sat down at the piano to show me the tune. All black keys.
Next song, all black keys.
Next, mainly black keys.
The piano has 88 keys. Somehow I’d barely been using a number of them the way that I could’ve. Still plenty of room to grow in this area, I might add.
It took being the minority to learn this.
It was eye-opening. It was a new way of playing, hearing, and interacting with music and people.
Fast forward to my newlywed days. We were invited to play at a Red Cross event. It was a diverse line-up and crowd. The bass player – a black gospel player who was 13 years old said he’d just stand behind me and watch my left hand. (For you non-musical types, that means he’d watch the lower part of the piano and follow my lead to grab the tonic/bass parts… during the show.) I’m no Herbie Hancock, but I don’t typically write 3 chord songs either. I thought this was a recipe for disaster… but, alas, he was related to the event coordinator. What was I to do? I was FLOORED. He was unreal. There was an intuition and a musicianship that was just plain different than what I’d heard and seen. It was beautiful.
After the show, we hung around for hours playing with him, his cousin, his other cousin, his Godparent, God-cousin, his uncle, and other assorted friends and family. We heard riffs and licks that were just not happening in our circles. And most of the band were teenagers who just played together at church everyday. We were the only white people.
It took being the minority to appreciate this.
That night has been permanently etched in my memory and on my heart. McHusband and I talk about it frequently and revisit the experience. Something came alive in me that hadn’t before.
A few years later, I put out a new album of original tunes. The songs had to do largely with varying kinds of reconciliation. I invited these friends from the Red Cross jam night to come be a part of it. They sang on a song called “We are all the Same”. It represented Truth for me. Red or yellow, black or white, we all know laughter and pain. We have much more in common than we have different. That’s my experience.
A few years later, I was invited to be a part of a team that was strategically trying to bring together the white church and black church in a particular denomination. The team had been handpicked to meet certain demographics, really. It was an epic fail the size of Texas. That’s, ironically, where the event was also. Sure, there were white people and black people on the billing and even on the same stage, but there was not community.
It took diversity without unity to feel the pain of this.
So, when I joined Owl Music Group for a concert last year and then again last month, it made my heart come alive again. I showed up for my first rehearsal with the house band. Somehow due to an email glitch, my opening tune we were to rehearse was swapped with something else. There was confusion when I was explaining the feel and changes because they’d heard a solo piano (no vocal) ballad instead of an up-tempo soul tune.
No worries, they said. Just play it once for us.
#HolyCrap. To hear a group of people who have history and music in their blood, in their culture, in their family, in their fingers and toes weaving together a masterpiece on the spot was amazing. What a privilege to be a part of it.
It took diversity to [begin to] understand this.
And, go figure, the bass player ended up being that same 13-year old boy. This isn’t a metaphor. It was literally the same boy. It was 10 years later now and in a different city. What are the odds? This was a full circle moment.
Here’s a short instagram clip of our first rehearsal HERE.
What was happening in all of these situations and what was both becoming clearer to me and, I’m certain, changing the trajectory of my career from this point on was the sense that we all need each other to see a glimpse of heaven.
It is time that Sunday morning ceases to be the most segregated hour of the week.
That is a damn shame.
Do I go to a diverse church? Somewhat, yes.
Is our leadership working toward and praying for that more and more so that we can see a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth? Absolutely. Fervently.
Perhaps you’ve been a minority before. Perhaps you’re always (or nearly always) a minority.
Perhaps you (like me) think you’ve experienced diversity because you’ve been on a mission trip to another country. Welp, in my opinion, you weren’t unless you went completely devoid of a group with which to travel or an organization with which to plan. I’ve been on tens/twenties of mission trips. This is my experience.
Perhaps you (like me) think you’ve experienced diversity because you’ve journeyed on a short-term cultural experience/vacation trying new foods and seeing famous spots. You only kinda have because you can have one foot back home any time you need it to be. I’ve been to twenty-some countries(thank God!!!). This is my experience.
Perhaps you (like me) feel you understand diversity because you went to a huge melting pot (in lots of ways) of a high school. It’s possible. Chances are though, people mostly staked out their parts of the lunchroom based on color. This is my experience.
It takes diversity to see heaven. It takes interaction like music – equal playing fields without disproportionate power; the ebb and flow of feeling out music together, yielding to the drums or the bass when the groove is changing, trusting the singer or pianist to lead the group to the “head” or the “B section” ; having dinners around the table because you are friends, you are brothers and sisters as children of a King; it takes acknowledging that we are, in a sense, all the same. Not in that weird “I don’t see color” (impossible unless you’re blind) or “my best friend is black/white/fuschia” (so what?) kinda way. In a rubbing elbows while you’re cooking food in your kitchen together and finding insane resonance because you’re harmonizing kinda way.
Where do we go from here? Well, I’m praying for change. I’m praying for reform. I’m praying for restoration. I’m reading books on this. I’m talking to friends about it. I’m collaborating with people that don’t look or play like me.
I’m praying for it for all of us.
Hanging out with my insanely talented, big-hearted friends Soul Purpose.
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