“God’s gonna trouble the waters”

About 20 years ago I was in a graduate seminar at UTDallas on the history of Dallas. Dr. Harvey J. Graff was the professor.

God's gonna trouble the waters

God’s gonna trouble the waters

That semester my newly-discovered allergies to the junk in Dallas air settled in my lungs and, after I passed out in a UTD parking lot and was ambulanced to the Baylor health center in Richardson, I spent two weeks in bed with pneumonia and failed Harvey’s class. Some sleight-of-hand by the Dean kept that off my transcript, and I took the same seminar the next semester.

Except it wasn’t the same course. I had begun my first course project of interviewing several old gay men in Dallas with the purpose of writing an oral history of the gay rights movement in Dallas pre-Stonewall. I don’t remember what my paper was the second time around (it’s on a 3 ½ inch floppy disk somewhere), but I have my recorded conversations with a half dozen of those old guys. Old guys! About the same age I am now. I did not finish that project. I wish I had.

One of the old (?) men I interviewed lived in Dickinson Place, a retirement facility run at least nominally by the Methodist Church. Dickinson was minister of the prestigious University Park Methodist Church, nestled at the corner of Southern Methodist University. I’ve written about the old guy before (back when I was a young 68). He, too, was a (retired) Methodist minister—who had lived the oh-so-common double life of a gay man which my generation is about the first to find unnecessary.

I wrote then mainly about the circumstances in which he was living. I felt sorry for the old guy. He was living in a safe and affordable apartment with his own (very nice antique) furniture, among about 200 other folks his age (even some gay men, he told me), with meals and transportation provided when he wanted them, with pictures of his children and their children decorating the small apartment. But I felt sorry for him in my forty-five-ish way.

I see Dickinson Place a couple of blocks over from Washington Street every time I go to exercise at the Landry Fitness Center at the downtown Baylor Hospital. Yesterday doing my exercise (walking in the “therapy” pool) I realized I should probably be exercising in some more strenuous way. That’s a switch! I’ve been exercising at Landry since approximately March 23, 2013, the day of record for my first physical therapy appointment for “fixing” the pain in my right hip. PT almost weekly (sometimes twice) for eleven months.

It’s time for me to be out on the Katy Trail jogging (even though I’ve been told by all of the professionals that I will not be able to jog again—as if I ever did!).

Every time I walk these days, at some point in the hour I sing to myself (or hum if there’s no one close enough to think the old man has lost his marbles) the Slave song, “Wade in the water.” It’s become my water-walking theme song. I’ve linked to my favorite YouTube recording of it.

I’m amused when I go there to listen to it by the “comments” (comments on YouTube videos are often more interesting than the videos themselves). One popped up a few weeks ago that is particularly inane:

Randy Banks:   The comments on here are so far from reality. . .  Firstly, this is not a SLAVE song, nor inteneded solely for Black people.  This is a Christian song.  Given the soul by Southern Baptist.  This song is not telling a story of slaves people. . . The course a lot of you traveled in your responses to this video is an embarrasment to the Southern Baptist Convention and Christianity in general.  Everything isn’t about race folks, regardless of the American norm to make it appear that way.

I, of course—you can guess—want to shout at the ignorant christianist that his self-righteous arrogance is unbecoming a Christian. Randy has no access to scholarship, so he would never have read the article By Bryan T. Sinclair, “Merging Streams: The Importance of the River in the Slaves’ Religious World.” Journal Of Religious Thought 53/54.2/1 (1997).

It is, I think, a truism that commenters on YouTube videos tend not to be scholars. Here’s my own unscholarly comment. Bryan Sinclair says that when

. . . these songs were sung so ecstatically at river baptisms, it seemed almost as if the slaves were invoking an ancient African river spirit or deity to “trouble the water” in preparing the young neophytes for their initiation bath. As the slaves sang on the Georgia Sea Islands,

Wade in nuh watuh childun,
Wade in nuh watuh childun,
Wade in nuh watuh,
Gawd’s go’nah trouble duh watuh,
(
From Lydia Parrish’s, Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands, 1942)

River personification might also indicate an African influence. . . These slave songs may be seen as evoking river image of a distant religious past.

My logic is taking a sharp turn to the left (or right) here, so I hope someone (anyone) can follow me. There’s a connection among all these disparate thoughts. Graduate seminar. Dickinson Place. Baylor Hospital and the Landry Fitness Center. Baptists. Retired (closeted) gay Methodist ministers. My own getting old (hip and shoulder surgery required by wearing-out parts of my body and my immanent day to retire). Water walking therapy.

I feel daily as if the waters are troubled. The waters of my life are being troubled, and the troubling is evoking river image of a distant religious past. Randy Banks, in all his racist Christianist ranting does not (I think) understand one reality. He’s right that the slave song isn’t about race. The troubled waters are an almost universal image (google the Bible and troubled waters, for example). An image of the end of slavery, an image of healing, an image of birth. Or an image of aging and dying.

My pool, but not my exercise

My pool, but not my exercise

4 Responses to “God’s gonna trouble the waters”

  1. Kay Shapiro says:

    I really like that song, too. One of my favorite versions is by Eva Cassidy.

    When I transferred from community college to my first semester at a real university (UTD), I realized, to my amusement, that the song playing on and on in the back of my mind was the Scarecrow’s lament, “If I Only Had A Brain.”

    When I was attempting grad school while also attempting to adequately parent teenagers, the song on repeat in my head was a little more oppressive: “Old Man River” from Showboat.

    Now, I guess by repetition and practice, I find myself chanting, silently or sometimes aloud, a Sanskrit healing mantra.

  2. Pingback: . . . an almost comminuting blow . . . | Me, senescent

  3. Pingback: “. . . the outcry of old beauty Whored by pimping merchants. . . “ (a short poetry lesson) | Me, senescent

  4. Oda Mccarty says:

    Interesting that stuff like this is only now being reported, after Taylor Amarel (617-76-7710) tried to report this ages ago.

    taylorscottamarelwhistleblower.gq

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