The Color of Me: Just As I Am
Time goes by quickly. Time heals old wounds. Times change. Time is relevant. Time is linear. All are true, in their own way but time also has the power to provide insight into past events when viewing them from our present – but the past’s future. So, let’s take a look at a past event that occurred on May 14, 1994 at a Sunday church service in a small church in South Mississippi. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, we might gain insight into The Color of Me and learn to accept you or me Just As I Am.
The Color of Me: Just As I Am
My purpose in writing this is not to bring disdain on the church in question nor is it to cast ill-will upon those I considered/still consider to be the instigators of the events. For that reason, the names of people and places are modified so as to provide a level of anonymity; however, my belief in the power of this story is as strong as it was on that fateful day. If anything, it continues to serve as a testament to the character of one woman. This woman, who we shall call Louise Locke, taught me one of many lessons. You will see, it was on this day that her words and actions were as one.
Time has healed some of the wounds and age has provided wisdom that I didn’t possess 20-years ago. I do not place Louise upon a grand pedestal while painting a picture of closed-minded church leaders plot to swap the pedestal for a stake. Had I written this in 1994 it would have probably taken the title of The Trials of the Salem Witch. But, alas, it isn’t 1994. I know now that those “closed-minded church leaders” were only doing what they thought was right – no matter how wrong they might have been.
Enough with the disclaimers because a story awaits that must be told.
In Mississippi – in SOUTH Mississippi – in 1994, things were not as they are in 2014. The idea of church integration wasn’t really considered and this was especially true in rural areas. Louise Locke served as a part-time Minister of Music at a small church that we will call Church Road Baptist (CRB). She also had another full-time job as an educator and entertained the idea of a joint Christmas program with another church located not far from CRB. After all, it wasn’t the first time two churches combined voices during the holidays.
Unfortunately, there was a problem. The Deacons, as we shall call them, didn’t quite agree with Louise’s actions. Perhaps she didn’t petition their approval prior? Perhaps she acted on her own against their wishes? Perhaps, in the end, it shouldn’t matter! Why? Well, it all has to do with the problem. This was a delicate issue and not something black and white.
That’s wrong. It WAS something black and white. That is EXACTLY what it was.
“What would we do if they asked to come here?”
“Why is she doing this?”
“Who does she think she is?”
I was unhappy to hear about the above. I was not happy to hear that one of The Deacons, a man who I regret harboring ill will for him and his family for the remainder of his life, confronted Louise, informing her that “You are not a minister.”
Their actions went against everything I believed. Whether they realized it or not, they were spreading ignorance using the scripture as a shield. Isn’t the purpose of a church to open the doors to all sinners? Did God sit in judgement and turn someone away because the person might be of a different skin tone?
My faith in CRB diminished in the early months of 1994. A new pastor, who we will call Brother Jack, leaves little impression upon my memory – with the exception of May 14, 1994.
What Heaven Will Be
Louise Locke was always an advocate of my creativity. She encouraged my writing. It was at her whim that I sang my first church solo as a teenager – trembling in fear as I did. It was Louise who supported my belief that all people are created equal – regardless of whatever label society might force upon you.
It was Louise who once told me, “We were born in the wrong time, weren’t we.” I would always agree.
This day brought my second-to-last solo at Church Road Baptist. The song I chose, Heaven by Michael English, talked about windows of Glory swinging open wide. It said that the lamb and the lion will walk side-by-side. It was a very emotional song for me being that I still was in a deep depression post 1992-1993 losses. The last thing I needed was to have The Deacons destroy the church foundation upon which my life had been built.
It was this day that Louise’s own road diverged from that of CRB. In doing so, it was on this day that Louise also showed me a little inkling of what heaven will be when someone chooses to stand up…take control…acknowledge…and speak out. It was her words that are imprinted upon my soul even to this day.
The Person God Is Speaking To
I left the sanctuary post-solo to compose myself. I sat on the steps leading to the door outside the choir loft and listened to the sermon. I don’t recall the sermon but I recall the invitation song, an old hymn – Just As I Am.
For anyone unfamiliar with Southern Baptist tradition in predominantly white churches in the 20th century, the invitation song generally was one with a message prompting anyone who might wish to make a decision to do so. The Minister of Music would stand at the pulpit while directing the organist and/or pianist and leading the congregation.
Louise did the above as she had many times over many years before.
“I know God is speaking to someone,” Brother Jack said. “I know God is speaking to someone’s heart today.”
What I witnessed sent chills up my spine while tears poured out of my eyes and down my face. Louise, in her usual grace, silenced both instruments. A brief silence was broken when she said:
Brother Jack, the person God is speaking to is me.
This church has been an important part of my life for almost 50 years.
Everything that I am…every part of my ministry…was given to me by this church.
Yet, I am no longer the leader that this church needs.
I cannot continue to teach that God loves everyone – equally – when this church does not support that.
I can no longer lead when what I believe in is not what this church believes.
Therefore, I must submit my resignation as Minister of Music.
I would like to stay until June 7th but, after that, I must find a place where I can minister
and, right now, this church is not it.
We Will Stand
I was in shock.
I was angry.
I was appalled.
Yet, in the lessons I’ve learned in life, this counts as one of the most important.
The weeks between May 14th and June 7th were long but went by quickly. On June 7th, I performed my last solo at CRB. I felt silenced but wanted to make my own statement. I felt, as someone in his early 20s, that my opinions didn’t matter. Blogs didn’t exist so I expressed myself using the only outlet available then – song.
The song I chose was Russ Taft’s We Will Stand. I changed the words of one line from “I don’t care what label you may wear” to “I don’t care what color you may be“. Was my motive pure? Was I attempting to make a point rather than promote spirituality. I can’t say since I did have anger in my heart.
Sitting on the front row directly in front of me while I sang was one of the prime members of The Deacons responsible. I remember making eye contact – direct and purposeful eye contact – with him as I sang the words “what color you may be.” Was I wrong? I don’t know. Or, perhaps, this was God’s way of allowing me an outlet while attempting to break through to the Misguided.
I choose to believe it was the latter.
To this day, I have held true to that promise as I can count less than 20 times in 20 years – most of which were weddings and/or funerals.
Louise Locke moved on to other things and other churches. Church Road Baptist moved on to other Ministers of Music. (I would note that I don’t think they’ve had a woman minister of music since….just saying.) The Deacons have moved on to continue their lives. My parents remained at CRB because “if all the good people leave, those in the wrong win.”
What happened to me in the aftermath? Yes, as I stated above, I left. I held grudges but I matured. Most importantly, I witnessed a miracle that day. I witnessed God proving that The Color of Me doesn’t matter. God accepts us all – Just As I Am
This post is dedicated to “The Real Louise Locke” for her inspiration. You, who touch so many, are our gift. We – I – am lucky to call you my friend.
The videos below are of We Will Stand and Heaven.