“Roots People”

It’s Rick Fowler’s birthday, and the Anniversary of the late Rev. Benny Claytor and his late wife, Prophetess Gerry Claytor. My friend Pete Allen said of Rick and Me , “Long lost twins, separated at birth?” and it got me to thinking. Yes, Rick and I are kin, just as Charlie Crook was my “brother from another mother”.  What is it that these people all have in common in my eyes?  The are “roots music people”. Let me explain.

 Rick and I talked about another classmate/friend who — because she was honest enough to say she believed in gay rights and women’s ordination — never got ordained. After a few tries, she gave up. Rick said, through his carmudgeon face, “isn’t that sad?”. And look who did get ordained… he spoke of a pastor who was ordained and powerful who maintained his standing despite professional misconduct. I know of a few myself, and I know people who didn’t/couldn’t because they weren’t powerful or pretty enough or who didn’t hang with the right crowd. 

The people I mentioned: Rick, Benny and Gerry,  Charlie, our unordained colleague , and others have one thing in common: they know right and wrong and  try to live by it, all they while knowing via their experience that it doesn’t always matter to the world.  They don’t care. It matters to them. It’s their true soul and they couldn’t be anything else.

My types of music are just like that: simple, honest, passionate, and not particularly polished.  By that, I mean blues, country, reggae, folk and — oddly, punk. For instance, blues –with the musical notes E A GE — were an entire career for Muddy Waters. Country is stories about real life people. Reggae? Get in the groove and stay there for hours. Folk? Listen to early Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, playing one guitar chord while singing with Joan Baez. Punk? Early punk isn’t music. It’s angry guys playing the same power chords as fast as they can.. 

Each of these people, had, in the words of John Lee Hooker, something “in ’em, and it’s got to get out”. They didn’t have the money yet to play “correctly” , but it was in ’em and had to come out. Benny’s preaching and Gerry’s healing were like that. The contrast between what they knew should be and their life experience was created passion/expression. Benny was an engineer who originally couldn’t find a church building that treated him with dignity. Gerry was an educator who saw kids growing up with toxins in their schools, and later hungry people who needed to be fed and — without complaint, because the work had to be done, did the work. Charlie grew up in a town made briefly famous by a woman gang raped on a pinball machine in a bar. Charlie played guitar in church and I never once heard him complain about his life. Rick fixes cars because they make sense to him and well… people need to get their cars fixed. Our colleague gives her time to a church in a tough part of Boston. Her mother lost her house because of Bernie Madoff’s scam.

Each of the people I listed are brilliant (or above average, at least) in their own ways. Rick has an incredible theological vocabulary. Benny was smart — being an engineer is not a job for slouches. Gerry knew politics and politicians, and the value of love. Charlie could read an entire Stephen King novel in two days, while keeping up his theological studies. Our friend made it through 3 years of grad school, took care of her mother for years, and knows etiquette very well. Me? I pray nightly.  None of us has a particularly high tolerance for hate or the BS that passes for decorum. They do the things that have to get done for people nobody else cares about. The things they do for others are simple and monotonous, but they are recognized by people of all stripes as being good. 

All of the people I had lunch with last time I was in Boston are roots people like that.  Though they didn’t all know each other, I knew they would get along … and they did because they have good, simple and kind hearts, blended with a brain that won’t quit in a world that wants a fabulous show.

Lately, I have been following politics, and I guess I see “roots” in one particular woman: Maxine Waters. It was she that came out of an important meeting and said “the attorney general (or maybe FBI director) has no credibility”. It was she who stood up for Meghan Riley when the future-and-President was sexist.  She reminds me of a “church mother” and seminary friend. 
While I’m here, let me say that none of them are against decorum or law or a really good Classical music piece. We just call them kindness, justice, and good music. Meanwhile, we drone on, doing what has to be done in our own little way. We love beauty. We love intellect, we appreciate it in others, but “clever spin” does us no good. Over the years, we’ve picked up a few notes now and then. We can appreciate them and the dexterity it takes to do the things that society would like. When society gives us time enough, we’ll get there, too. Until then, we’ll try to do what is good. “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ”

Resisting with Peace, 
John

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