“The world is changing!”
~ One gleeful friend said this, waving her invitation to a lesbian wedding.
~ Another said it, removing a bill from her wallet, predicting a day when it would bear a woman’s image.
~ Another said it, pointing to a “Black Lives Matter” banner and sharing the news that the largest retailer in the U.S. will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise.
~ Another said it, retelling a joke she’d heard from her witty Muslim co-worker.
On the other hand, there’s nothing new under the sun (as it says in Ecclesiastes) when it comes to the chaos and suffering inflicted by those who are hate-filled and frightened, tethered to bigotry. This year, Pride celebrations come on the heels of the massacre in South Carolina. Our nation is reeling, steeped in mourning.
Fortunately, the songs of our faith help us express all that is in our hearts. We sing despair. We sing comfort. We sing hope. As we sing, we pray for courage to continue the hard work of dismantling old prejudices, and we cling to the words of Martin Luther King who said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
One who found both change and diversity blessings to be celebrated was Rev. Al Carmines.
A MAN OF THE CLOTH AND THE THEATER CURTAIN
Al Carmines (1936-2005), the openly-gay assistant minister of Judson Memorial Church (American Baptist and UCC) in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s and 70s, earned his degrees from Union Theological Seminary. Later, he founded the Rauschenbusch Memorial United Church of Christ.
At Judson, he was asked to reach out to people who didn’t like church. Carmines was uniquely positioned to do this. He had one foot in the church sanctuary, the other on the stage. By the end of his life, he’d won a number of “Obies” and other drama awards for his theatrical productions.
He said, “If you want to know how to live, go to church. If you want to know how your life is in its deepest roots, go to the theater.”
Carmines founded the Judson Poets’ Theater, which became a seedbed for experimental and avant-garde performances. He wrote the music and lyrics to dozens of Off-Off Broadway songs and rock operas. His Sunday services had something of a “salon atmosphere,” filled with music, dance, “Happenings,” and dramatic readings.
FROM OUR DIVERSITY, WE PRAISE ONE GOD
Some among us hold fiercely to perceived differences of “the Other”; reinforce separation with legislation, rhetoric, and violence; resent and resist change. Trusting that people can change, we must help them relinquish their fear and invite them to join us as we tear down old walls, open closed circles, build bridges, wave rainbow flags, shout “Welcome!”
In Carmine’s 1973 hymn “MANY GIFTS, ONE SPIRIT” (#114 in the United Methodist Hymnal), we are called to overcome our fear of change, embrace inclusivity, celebrate the Giver and the gifts, and, in whatever voice we know, praise the “one great heart” who created the human family, a living rainbow. Emboldened by Carmine’s lyrics, we praise the “God of many colors,” who welcomes the singing of joyful, healing hymns.
TO GO DEEPER
> Hymn (“Many Gifts, One Spirit”)
Words and music (printable score) from Hymnary.org
“History of Hymns: Many Gifts, One Spirit” by C. Michael Hawn, United Methodist Discipleship Ministries (thorough analysis of the hymn and background on Carmines)
> Gay-Inclusive Hymnody / Singing Activism
“What’s your favorite LGBT hymn?” June 12, 2010 on Jesus In Love Blog
“Open and Affirming (gay-inclusive) Anthems and Hymns” by Bonnie McClain, Choral Net
“Gay-Inclusive Church Choir Sings Hymns Before Memories Pizza” by Evan McMurry on Media-ite, April 5, 2015
“JMU Students Challenge Anti-Gay Preacher with Christian Song” (includes video clip) by Kristin Musulin, USA Today, September 17, 2014
> Al Carmines
“Al Carmines (1936-2005)” a remembrance by Michael Feingold, The Village Voice, August 30, 2005
“Al Carmines Reflections by Roger Cunningham” (4:37 mins)