What’s Going On?

I listened to Marvin Gaye’s song What’s Going On yesterday. And I listened again today. I felt he was speaking directly to me. His challenge to me, a white woman: You tell me what’s going on.

I can tell you. And also, I can’t.

Gaye laments, in 1971, “Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.” Why, oh why, are his words still so timely, with their talk of brutality and blindness? And how can his song also convey hope? How can it convey supreme confidence in love and generosity, directed to (and expected from) the very people — the very system — that creates and maintains our baffling brutality and blindness?

“Talk to me, so you can see,” begs Gaye.

I pray for eyes that will truly see what’s right in front of me. I pray for ears to listen to cries and calls and stories that are all too ordinary to too many people, to you my friends of color. I pray for a way to use my gifts – whatever they are — to help push this moment into a movement and to stand as an antiracist at every opportunity. The work is mine to do, and I will do it.

I make that pledge.

But I’ve pledged that before. Beautiful words — and still I do not change.

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In another song on Gaye’s powerful album, his words almost bleed. He pledges, when “the rest of the folks are tired and weary, oh Lord, and have laid their bodies down. Ah, yeah, I go to a place where danger awaits me.” What is that place for me? Rage and anger discomfort me. Is that my place of danger, the hill I must climb, rising up from the plains of sorrow to the higher view awakened by anger — even if that view destabilizes me and brings me to my knees?

As I write that, I see that I must fall to my knees and that I must do so from rage, not from my customary place of humility or supplication or peace. And then I must rise. I must be angry because I love, not in spite of love. I think of Jesus, in supreme rage, upending the tables of the money changers because they blasphemed God’s holy place. Now it is I who have blasphemed God’s holy place by quietly forgetting that race-awareness is an option for me and never an option for people of color. My friend, sixty years old, walked her dog one night in her lovely neighborhood through a small field across from her lovely home. And she is stopped by the police. You can forget about race, she told me; I never ever can.

I, meanwhile, once stupidly attempted to drive through DC with a table insecurely bound to the back of my Prius. When the police stop me, I promptly got out of the car to acknowledge my guilt. Lady, they said, don’t ever do that. And I realized that if I had been black, I might have been shot. I’m not, and I wasn’t.

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Sixteenth Street NW in Washington DC, from the front page of the June 6, 2020, Washington Post, Photograph by Marvin Joseph

I am the moneychanger. Christ’s rage must first be directed to me. As I write this and the tears overwhelm me, I see that perhaps grief — not rage — is my place of danger. I must grieve. I, who flings her arms wide to joy, must instead kneel in grief.

Marvin Gaye again speaks directly to me. In Save the Children, he laments, “When I look at the world, it fills me with sorrow.” And yet his music is infused with hope and a belief that we “can save our sweet world.”

From the same song on the second time through his album — literally as I struggle to conclude my writing — Gaye offers me this: “I just wanna ask a question: who really cares, to save a world in despair, who really cares? Who’s willing to try?”

Oh, Marvin Gaye, hear me and believe me: I care. I’m willing to try. I am the money changer, grieving and risen.

What about you?

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Photo by Michael E. Miller, Washington Post, June 5, 2020

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8 thoughts on “What’s Going On?

  1. Love your commentary. The really said thing is Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” still applies. Not a lot has changed. But I am hopeful today, as painful as it has been, that if things are ever going to change, now is the time. If not, we can forget it!

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    1. Thank you, Laurna, for joining this conversation. I gasped as I listened to “What’s Going On,” and not only the parts I quoted. The entire album walks the line between despair and hope. Now is the time. (It’s been the time.) I pray that the tipping point has come at last and that I actually do the work I must do.

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  2. Suzanna Hillegass June 6, 2020 — 8:47 pm

    Beautifully written! I read it all and feel the same.

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    1. Thank you, Suzanna. My challenge is to figure out what action looks. At work, I promoted Ibram X. Kendi’s antiracism reading list. I posted a link to Just Mercy. I fostered a conversation. I weep and pray. And there’s still so many more opportunities for me. Maybe we can act together?

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  3. Thank you for this, Carol Ann

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    1. Thank you, Elaine. Your voice, like mine, matters.

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  4. Here is a beautiful reflection from my friend Jesse:
    Carol Ann,

    Thanks for your post today.

    So real and down to the bone. I relate to so much of what you say. I appreciate your working with brother Marvin’s text. Naming the need for profound humility and the willingness to grapple with totally discomforting and yet totally human feelings like rage.

    “As I write this and the tears overwhelm me, I see that perhaps grief — not rage — is my place of danger. I must grieve. I, who flings her arms wide to joy, must instead kneel in grief.”

    In my experience, grief is the bedrock human emotion of our time. And the scariest, because we are a culture that totally denies grief.

    Thanks for your faithfulness. May we all keep on keeping on, willing to be stretched way beyond our comfort zones, into newness.

    Jesse

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