A recent weekend was rich in experiences that reminded me of another element of love – courage. Last week’s post reflected on the many ways that we can look back at a person’s life when they die and see all the love that was present. I shared about the life of Rudi Rudran and all the good that came from his life of service. In his story and for many others, the daily acts of loving require courage fueled by faith of some kind.
Geraldine and I went to Ford’s Theatre to see the musical Shout Sister Shout! For those not familiar with it, Ford’s Theatre is in downtown Washington DC and is where President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and white supremacist.
Besides offering inspiring plays in a cozy auditorium where every seat is a great view, Ford’s Theatre is an educational center that, according to the theatre program, examines “Lincoln’s multi-faceted legacy through exhibits, workshops and educational programs.”
Before the play, we visited the basement museum which details Lincoln’s legacy and the planning for his murder. While Lincoln’s commitment to racial equity and freeing those enslaved was not perfect, equally clear, in looking at his life and decisions, is his commitment to lead from the heart. His lofty language in the Gettysburg Address and in his everyday conversations give witness to an undying love and respect for all people. He had the courage to act on this commitment in one of the more trying periods of American history.
Shout Sister Shout! tells the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and her life as a pioneering musician and searcher for love. Thanks to research by professor of American History, Gayle F. Wald, the little-known story of this African-American musician who shaped most forms of American music is now better known. The musical is based on Wald’s biography Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
The play abounds with irrefutable evidence of the connection of courage and the desire to love. Sister Rosetta (as she was called by her friends) was born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas and began singing and playing the guitar at age four. By age six, she and her mother were on the road on weekends singing at churches in Arkansas and neighboring states. In the mid-20s, Rosetta and her mom moved to Chicago where they continued their family gospel music practices in local churches.
Rosetta faced two challenges as a young woman that tested her. She wanted to broaden her music beyond the church gospel hymns. Unknown to herself and her listeners, she was developing early rock and roll and blues songs.
She was also hungry for love and married her minister with her mother’s blessing. A few years later, Rosetta with her mother’s encouragement left her husband. To her mother’s disdain, she continued to expand her singing repertoire beyond gospel music and introduced the electric guitar and a wide range of powerful songs to her performances.
As a Black woman singer and guitar player, there were no role models for Rosetta to follow. She courageously persisted in the face of prejudice against both women and Blacks and became an early and popular performer of her songs and guitar playing on Decca Records. She is considered the first Black gospel music star of the 1930s. She is also acknowledged as the singer of the first rock and roll record Strange Things Happening Every Day.
In her quest for love, Rosetta had a two-year relationship with a female singer who became her singing partner. While the relationship ended, some credit Rosetta with being among the first gay women singers. Her life of courage, against overwhelming odds, resulted in her induction in 2018 into the Rock and Roll of Fame and her being called “Godmother of Rock and Roll.”
The same weekend as our visit to Ford’s Theatre a sermon at our Sunday service about Jesus meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection reminded me of how courage and love are connected and how faith in something seems to make the courageous acts of loving, big or small, possible.
Father Joe pointed out that the two disciples were heading away from Jerusalem when they met Jesus. They were scared for their lives and were getting as far as possible away from Jerusalem. After initially not knowing who this stranger was, they recognized him as they shared an evening meal. They reported their “hearts were on fire” as they listened to him explain the Old Testament and its connection to him. At the end of the meeting, they decided to return to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples. Their experience of Jesus gave them the courage to face their fears and return to Jerusalem.
Daily for me there are opportunities to have either the courage to love or to let fear rule and turn the other way. The multiple choices to say or do something kind or be a wise guy with a smart comment shape my loving. Deciding what thoughts to pay attention to and which to ignore requires courage. I have come to see that my first thoughts may often be negative or not helpful to the situation.
No matter what we do each day and how big or small our decisions and contributions appear, there is a courage required to lean into love and loving actions. Sister Rosetta and Abe Lincoln point to the courage required to follow one’s calling no matter the cost. This is love. It is the same for us in our everyday lives. We have a purpose and to follow our purpose requires courage and a commitment to love.
Faith comes in many forms. It is hard for me to imagine persistent courage without faith in something or somebody. Is there someone or something in your life that gives you the courage to love?