There it was, right in the middle of last Sunday’s sermon. It didn’t catch me until sometime on Sunday afternoon, even though the sermon was recorded on Friday. Just before I launched into an appeal to us all to reflect on how we ourselves are caught up in systemic racism and lingering personal prejudices that fracture our sense of human oneness, I used the lyrics from a Bob Marley song to illustrate those moments of “hearts beating as one” at a musical concert. Nothing seemed particularly inappropriate about that as I wrote it and presented it. And yet …. When I presented it orally, I sang the lyric with a bit of a Jamaican accent. It isn’t difficult to imagine that someone of actual Jamaican descent, or any Black person anywhere might take offence to a white preacher using that sound and tone. They might hear it as someone mocking the way they speak. Racism can be that subtle, yet still offensive.
In my own mind, it’s a song I enjoy. I am also conscious of the fact that I have some facility with linguistic accents. I truly love all the variations of spoken English in its multiple dialects. I enjoy re-producing them as best I can. However, does that give the right to do so in a public presentation? In my heart of hearts, I believe I am not out to offend anyone through ridicule or mockery, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that that’s how I may be heard. Is my awareness of that enough to excuse it? Or do I need to be more prudent in my public speech so that I am respectful of anyone who might be in the audience? Might I seek out some non-white people with whom I could engage in conversation and reflection about this?There is another concern about using that lyric from the song “One Love, One Heart” in a public presentation. Did I violate copyright? If the sermon were to go into print in publication, I would certainly acknowledge its source. Even though I wasn’t making money from singing that line out loud in public, was that yet okay? Or … was it just a way of illustrating a point? Was it comparable to any of us just singing along with a song like that while it’s playing on the radio in our car? Or when, say, attending a concert by Bob Marley or some group with permission to perform Bob Marley songs, the lead singer points his microphone at the gathered crowd and says, “Yeah, go ahead, you sing it”?
Yes, this Covid-19 time that affords us extended times of social isolation does leave us time and space for personal reflections and self-examination. I don’t think I’m overdoing it; but neither will I be beating myself up too hard unnecessarily. It does seem appropriate though to entertain reflections that seem to worthy of further conversation and exploration with others sometime along life’s way.