New Songs, New Harmonies
An excerpt from the sermon for the 179th Baccalaureate Service.
by Rev. Elizabeth Manning
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. is an African American preacher in his 80’s who labored with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights struggle from the 1960’s to the present.
He speaks of a time he and his colleagues in the struggle were thrown in jail in the 1960’s. The other prisoners there had heard Rev. Dr. Moss and other activists would be arriving there after being arrested. Although the other prisoners couldn’t see Rev. Dr. Moss, they knew he was going to arrive sometime that day, so the inmates started singing the songs of the civil rights movement and didn’t stop until sunset. They filled the prison space with the sounds of the songs of freedom, and liberation, and release for the captives. No matter what time Rev. Dr. Moss arrived, they wanted the entire jail, and the cells and the hallways and the corridors to be filled with the transcendent gift of music.
Because they knew something profound—that melody and harmony and song have the ability to transcend the current time and place, and in some mysterious way, offer fortitude and sustenance and hope for the difficult journey ahead. Music is that link between heaven and earth—the song, is a signpost of the kingdom of heaven, on earth.
This gift of melody and harmony and song matters to the human spirit always, but especially in unharmonious, cacophonous times.
So I wonder, graduates, as you stand on the precipice of your future in this beautiful, yet very complex and fractured, time and place in America: Will you help us find new harmony for this unharmonious world?
Will you compose and then offer our nation new songs which speak to and include men and women; black, brown, and white; gay and straight; rich and poor; western and eastern; red and blue; Republican and Democrat; and in doing so, realize, give voice to the words that were already there ready to be sung—words that are intergenerational, intercultural, already present in the human spirit among us? What would a new songbook look like that acknowledges your song as men, my song as woman, our song as human beings in community of Christians, Muslims, Jewish, Hindu agnostic people singing the melody and harmony of lives lived together, communities formed together?
No one is doing this, Wabash men, and you’ll win a Nobel Peace Prize if you do.
To do that, be immensely patient. Yours is the first generation in the history of the world that can want a thing—go on Amazon and order that things, and a drone can deliver it that same day! You are used to this expediency. But relationships, tending to community well-being, loving someone well, that takes time. Tend to the things that take time. They are the stuff of abundant life.
Stay connected to the friends and brothers you made here. New harmonies can’t be written or created in isolation, nor best sung in solitude. We need each other every step of the way for the songs to be created, written, shared, and sung.
That’s the beauty of it.
Rev. Manning is the associate director of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.
Watch the entire sermon, “New Harmony for an Unharmonious World.”