Lessons in Gospel


I saw the documentary about Mavis Staples last night, Sunday night of the Thanksgiving weekend. You can’t help but be struck by her joyful energy. How amazing she is, finding her calling so early in life. How amazing to have been born into a family who nurtured her gift. How amazing to have been part of a moment in history when her words were used to inspire a movement, to help change society. How amazing to walk through the world in love with it. How amazing the power of music to unify.

There was a line in the movie that I was very moved by. Her father, Pops Staples, says:

Gospel ain’t nothing but the truth and we’re telling the truth in our songs. That’s what I’m so proud of. For the last two years we’ve been singing message songs. The Staple Singers thing is to sing love, peace and freedom. And we feel that when we sing the truth, it doesn’t make any difference what kind of beat it has and all, it’s still gospel.

I was thinking about that idea, about truth and about family. I was thinking about the songs I’ve been writing lately, and how desperately I long to speak fully the truth. Thinking about how many barriers we put up in front of the truth out of fear. Fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of being exposed for weak thinking or for just being weak. Fear of being put down. Fear of public opinion.

It’s always fear that holds us back. I guess that’s a power of the documentary film, to shine a light on lives lived without fear.

I spent my Thanksgiving holiday on Lake Tahoe with my sisters and my step brothers and their families.

Our family, like most modern families, is made of people with different ways of seeing the world, different political sides, different ideas on the issues of the day.

I am fortunate to have a family that puts aside all of it for the three days and just enjoys each other. I adore each of them. We laugh a lot, play games, eat delicious food. It’s easy and comfortable. We celebrate our parents who brought us into this reality.

At the end of the Thanksgiving dinner, we each received a small card. This is my seven-year-old nephew’s idea. Each card has a name on it, and as the food was being prepared and the football rooted for, people drifted through the living room and wrote things on the cards about each person at the table. Just one sentence, simple and kind. After the massive dinner had been eaten and the plates cleared, we went around the table, youngest to oldest, and read the nice things said on the cards.

Even Henry the pug got a card. Some of his comments were:

I like the noises you make.
I like how you stare at people waiting for food.
You are cute.
I like how you sound like a pig.
You are the best behaved dog ever.
You are a good dog.

Mavis Staples says:

Pops taught me that the family unit is the strongest unit in the world. As long as you stick together, ain’t nobody come between you.

I think about my little nephew, and his view of the world. Every seven-year-old should have such a life. Peaceful, surrounded with love and comfort and challenge and great food. Freedom to speak of love and not be put down. Surrounded by people who might differ in their outlooks, but who, called to, would help anyone in need. Loved by people who move through the world looking to make their piece of it a little better.

I didn’t write a blog post last week because I had fallen into a hole. Too much news and division and it sank into my skin. I felt helpless and frightened and for a little while, I wallowed in giving up. When I got to the Thanksgiving weekend, I was worn out. When the time came, I didn’t write on the cards. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that I was raw and afraid to connect. That fear again. Later, I was ashamed that I didn’t participate. My family, as always, was completely forgiving of my moody ways.

They say that Lake Tahoe is so deep that the water would cover the state of California 14 inches high. I think about the wealth of this country, and imagine it spread out in a similar way. At least 14 inches everywhere to make sure everyone is covered with what they need for a happy life: housing, enough to eat, profound education, to be inspired and to feel love and comfort every day of their lives. That is what our family, our small families, the family of our country, the family of our planet deserves.

The divisions in our family are not as strong as the power when we sit together. Together, we grace the table in strength and love. Divisions keep us from seeing the big issue, which is that there are a handful of people in this world who work to keep everything for themselves when it is possible to make sure everyone on the planet has their 14 inches. This is Truth. This is the gospel Pops was singing about. There is enough for everyone.

Instead of fighting over these divisions of the smaller issues, how about if we start finding ways to unite to force our due? How about if we start uniting against those who do not have our best interest at heart? All it takes is to see the final goal: peace and prosperity for each person. No Human Left Behind. Once the goal is established, we can now unite against anyone who does not have this as their aspiration. Now we see one common enemy, those who keep us from our true potential of a peaceful, thriving planet. Now we can work.

I have traveled and played music in every state but one (Alaska). I have slept on floors and been cared for by music fans. I have been invited into strangers’ homes and hung out with people from every walk of life, united by music. I do not believe that our divisions are stronger than our connections. I do not believe that one-on-one, I can not find common ground with nearly everyone I come into contact with. I believe that every single person I have met in my life deserves all of the advantages that I have been given. I do not believe that if I give others an advantage, it lessens mine. I believe to strengthen one person in a family strengthens the family. The person afraid to be vulnerable, to speak the truth, is lifted up by the other members, and finds her way to love and lets go of fear.

This is the gospel, this is the truth. We are One. I will continue working on letting go of fear, to be brave with my heart. I will work to be as open as possible to make sure I say to everyone I meet, you are valued. You deserve everything that everyone else deserves. My seven-year-old nephew sees it. Why not me?


Hear me read this post here: https://soundcloud.com/clemthegreat/my-movie-1

6 thoughts on “Lessons in Gospel”

  1. I imagined you skipping the blog last week because you were busy with holiday revelry and joy. I was wrong about that, but I’m not wrong about this. I know with unshakeable absolute certainty that the weight of the whole world is not enough to keep you down for very long. Welcome back!

  2. My God this is your best one yet! Mavis, Pops, and the Staples Singers have long been an inspiration for me. And Pops has this AMAZING guitar sound, I always transcend when I hear it. Relating the Staples to your own family experience is profound on many levels. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, thank you!

  3. It seems this Christmas the theme was “family”. I’ve seen many pictures on Facebook of big family get-togethers, lot of people with smiling faces. You’re so right about getting connected, not only to our own families, but to the families in our communities, the families in the world. If we were one big loving, caring, family….think of the possibilities!! Endless. I love your writing, it’s so thought provoking.

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