This Sunday at Virginia-Highland Church we will explore the Broadway musical Porgy and Bess. I have no idea how I let them talk me into this. I knew right from the start that it was going to cause trouble. Even if no one else is bothered by it, I am.
Still, I think sermons should bother you. Perhaps the only way for that to really happen is for them to bother the preacher first. If we aren’t bothered by the text or the topic then maybe we really haven’t looked at it deeply enough or we have looked at it from only one side. You know, that isn’t true only about sermons.
My friends often find me excruciatingly annoying, mostly because I work very hard to see things from more than one side. It gets me into trouble all the time. I’ll write a Liberating Word that challenges how we progressive folks think about an issue, and a flurry of “unsubscribes” will follow. Most people don’t even bother to disagree, argue, or try to correct me; they simply walk away.
We don’t want to be bothered. We don’t want to read things with which we disagree. We aren’t willing to stay in relationships with people who don’t think like us or feel like us. It is too much work, too much trouble, and, frankly, it is too dangerous. The last thing any of us want to feel is doubt.
So, I’ve studied Porgy and Bess from every angle. It is a show that has always made me feel uncomfortable. As a white Southerner, that is a good thing. I should feel uncomfortable because the poverty that is depicted is all too real and all too current. It makes me feel uncomfortable because the dialect feels like it is demeaning to African-Americans. Intellectually, I know it is not. I had friends in high school whose families were Gullah or Geechee, and their dialect was sometimes incomprehensible to me. It didn’t make me feel they were ignorant; it made me feel I was. They could speak two languages, one at school that resembled mine and one with their family and friends that nearly shut me out.
Seeing things from another perspective sometimes makes me doubt my own point of view. Sometimes it makes me realize how much I still have to learn. Those are the things that should bother me, not the fact that I might disagree with someone or that they might disagree with me.
Rev. Michael Piazza