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Written January 2017


I’m imagining a church in a small town, a mostly-white town like the one where I grew up, where a hymn becomes a dialogue and a Woody Guthrie song becomes a one-man play.

“And now,” says the pastor, “the choir will give us their interpretation of an old favorite by Horatio Spafford, ‘It Is Well with My Soul.’”

The choir rises, the organ plays an introduction, and two soloists step forward.  We’ll call them Gold and Blue.

Gold begins with a smile.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way —

Blue interrupts with a frown.
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll —

But Gold continues.
Whatever my lot,
Thou hast taught me to say
“It is well.”
It is well with my soul.

The choir echoes that assurance.
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul).
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Meanwhile, Blue has been frowning about something else.
My sin —

Gold interrupts, happily anticipating what’s coming.
Oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

Blue starts again.
My sin —

Gold can’t help adding something.
Not in part, but the whole!

Blue is finally able to finish testifying.
— is nailed to the cross,
And I bear it no more!

Gold can't be restrained.
Praise the Lord!

They sing together.
Praise the Lord, O my soul!

And the choir joins in the refrain.
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul).
It is well, it is well with my soul.

The pastor thanks the choir.  “And finally,” he adds, “the Junior Choir will bring us one more selection.  I think you all know it.”

Two dozen children stand up and sing enthusiastically.

This land is your land!  This land is my land!
From California to the New York island,
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

They repeat the chorus, encouraging the congregation to join them in clapping.  Then they return to their seats.

“Wonderful!  Thank you, children.  We must always remain proud of this beautiful country that God has given us.  Our promised land, if you will.  Our exceptional nation.

“But perhaps, as we clap along with the music, we’re missing something more that Woody Guthrie's words are trying to tell us.  Something else is hiding in the words of that very same song.”

There’s a noise at the rear of the sanctuary.  A door opens, and a man enters.  The congregation turns to gape.

“In the shadow of the steeple,” he growls, “I saw my people.”  The stranger walks down the aisle.  “By the relief office I’d seen my people.  As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking, ‘Is this land made for you and me?’”

Approaching the front pews, suddenly he halts.  “As I went walking,” he says, “I saw a sign there.”

He takes another step and pantomimes grasping an imaginary placard.  “And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing.’”  He leans forward, peeks at the back of the sign, swipes his fingers over it.  “But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing.”

He points at the congregation.  “That side,” he says, “was made for you.”  He stares at the faces, left to right, for an uncomfortably long time.  Finally he steps back and begins shuffling away.

But then he stops.  “And me!”

The stranger begins to tell how God spoke to him.

“I've roamed and rambled,
and I followed my footsteps
to the sparkling sands
of the diamond deserts.

“And all around me,
a voice was sounding:
‘This land
was made for you!’ 

“The voice come a-chanting.
The fog was lifting.
‘This land
is your land!’”

He turns again to the congregation and clasps his chest.  “This land is my land,” he repeats.

Then he spreads his arms wide and fervently declares, “This land was made for you ... and me!”



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