An email discussion with the music leader about singing “We shall overcome” at our Lifeline recovery ministry took me to YouTube and a tour of faces.

I watched a young Joan Baez sing the civil rights anthem alone on stage, her eyes gleaming with hope, her smile inviting thousands to sing along with her. It was the mid-1960s, when protests against injustice took many of us to places we had never been.

I followed a link to Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968, where his widow and close friends sat stunned, weeping, as they played a tape of King’s final speech. His voice rang so strong, so true, with a refrain that he hoped to be remembered, not for peace prizes and honors, but for small acts of love and for trying to do right.

I’m not losing myself in nostalgia, but rejoicing in the reality of hope. As we see once again in Occupy Wall Street, hope is alive.

People are so hard on each other. We want what we want, and we don’t want to share. We will commit unspeakable crimes to get our way. We will trivialize those who disagree with us.

But then a young woman stands to sing, and a song born in slavery comes alive, a song of hope saying that, as awful as we can be, we shall overcome ourselves, we shall be all right, we shall live in peace, we shall not drown in fear.

And a brave man cries out for justice, for small acts of love, for lives given to noble purpose.


Q: With the current state of the mainline church, what does a church have to offer an unchurched person?

A: Probably not much, as long as they see them as “unchurched,” a term that tends to connote “defective,” “needing to be fixed,” “needing to be more like us.” But if congregations saw people outside their walls as the beloved of God, as guides in the new ways God is reaching people, and as friends not yet made, they would have a great deal to offer.

Lessons in humility, for example. Lessons in rising above intolerance and hatred. Lessons in the radical diversity and inclusion that Jesus modeled. Lessons in dying to self and living to others and to God. Imagine a church listening, not preaching; loving, not judging; serving, not counting the cost.

Such a congregation could change the world.