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Listen Listen Listen

Listen. Listen. Listen.

While the storm in your heart rages.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Leslie Odom Jr., “Speak Now” from the motion picture, One Night in Miami

Went to hear Leslie Odom sing with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra at the Fox Theater last night. Best night of music I’ve been to in a long, long while, and that includes all dates PC (pre-COVID). Odom became famous for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in the Broadway show Hamilton, opposite Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he has since gone on to be nominated for an Academy award for his portrayal of Sam Cooke in the movie, One Night in Miami. The man has a voice of an angel, and there wasn’t a single tune sung last night that I wouldn’t happily listen to a hundred times over. The Spokane Symphony’s accompaniment was flawless, and even Odom remarked at one point that last night was one of those special nights of music that doesn’t come around too often. He and his band couldn’t contain their smiles – you could tell they were having a fabulous time – and the evening ended with four standing ovations and two encores. It was truly a magical night, made all the more so by the fact that many of us were venturing forth into a large crowd for the first time in 18 months. It reminded me of what life used to be like PC, before all the politicization nonsense that has poisoned this country. Last night was a catharsis.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a protest was raging. People in big trucks with even bigger American flags, some of them the black colored flags of the Confederate Army that flew during the Civil War as a protest against Union sympathies and as a sign to all that the Confederacy was not going down without a fight – a call to arms, essentially – were readying for a fight, and as far as I could tell as I walked by and saw a large group of white folks wearing combat boots and military fatigues, yelling and shouting and generally carrying on, they had gathered to protest all things democratic, promising to take over school boards, not lose the fight to the “infidels” who were taking God out of school, protesting Biden and everything he represents, from his “illegitimate” presidency down to the “fictions” of climate change and the “heresy” of Critical Race Theory. In other words, they were calling for a revolution, and they looked fully intent on carrying it out.

And there I was, a few blocks away, with my fellow Spokanites, a mixed group of old and young, black, white, and brown, all of us not only supporting the arts and having a great time doing it, but celebrating the gift of music and of being together under one roof. It was a celebration, not a call to arms. Though the irony of the evening wasn’t lost on me. The man celebrated for his role in a Broadway play about the American Revolution, and who played the ultimate agitator, was now a peacemaker as another revolution was brewing a few blocks away, an illegitimate revolution at that, but a revolution all the same. But where I sat, it was a joyous evening full of song, not an angry night full of vitriol. It was call to join hands, not make fists, a call to build up, not tear down. We were essentially beating swords into plough shares, and everyone left that night a little better person than they were when they arrived.

It appears that, down the street, things ended a little differently. As Jenna and I walked through downtown back to where I had parked the car, next to where the protest had happened, three guys were marching down the opposite sidewalk dropping F-bombs and yelling something about “it’s game time!” As we approached our car, another group of folks from the protest were laughing as they carried one of their clearly inebriated friends to a car. I’m not sure anyone at the rally left a better person that night. In fact, I’m quite sure just the opposite happened. A little more hate was introduced into their collective psyches, a little more poison made its way into their souls.

The contrast couldn’t have been more obvious, or more painful. One group was celebrating life together, the other was calling for a life apart. One group had not a single hateful thing to say, even though you know that most of the folks in that theater would not have attended the rally down the street even if they’d had the option to, while the other group had not a single kind thing to say, and they likely wouldn’t have attended the Leslie Odom and Spokane Symphony concert even if they’d had the option to.

Contrasts can be instructive, if only because they allow you to see in bold relief the differences between two sets of ideas, two groups of people, two visions of life. You shall know a tree by the fruit it bears, which isn’t to say that there aren’t times to protest and even to revolt. There are, and when they come, we should be prepared to march in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. But as Martin Luther King reminded us, and Gandhi before him, and Jesus before him, you don’t become the monster in trying to defeat the monster. You don’t respond to hate with hate. Love is the ultimate protest weapon. Love is protest, and it is only love, in the end, that can break the cycle of hate that is endemic to the human psyche.

But we shouldn’t be naïve in thinking that love is passive, that it doesn’t resist, that it sits idly by, utterly defenseless. No, love takes up arms, too, but they are the arms of education and political action, of awareness and justice-making. And though it was good to celebrate at the Fox theater last night to the gorgeous tunes of Leslie Odom, we should be aware that just a few blocks away all over the country, a storm is gathering, and the storm troopers are organizing, and if they have their way, shows like the one at the Fox will be threatened. The entire arts enterprise will be compromised, and the education of our kids, which leads some of them to go into the arts, will be curtailed. No greater sins are committed than when they are committed in the name of God. So yes, celebrate, join hands in song, but don’t be lulled to sleep. Down the street, hate is brewing, and you’d best listen, listen close, then be ready to sing a new song, a protest song, as you march arm in arm against the hate that threatens to devour us all.

Listen. Speak. Now.

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