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J U L Y  1 9 9 8

The online version of this article appears in two parts. Click here to go to part one.

THIS community of old-fashioned civilities is pastored by the Reverend Jeffrey L. Brown, a lean, brilliant man with a droll sense of humor and what one of his co-pastors calls an "on-fire heart." Not yet forty, Brown was one of the founders of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, a group of progressive urban ministers whose effect among our city's most disenfranchised young people has been so profound that the coalition's model is being translated to Tampa; Louisville; Philadelphia; Gary, Indiana; and other urban centers. The Ten Point Coalition has caught the eye of government policymakers, who are looking at the possibility that faith-based institutions, specifically black churches, may have the know-how to renew the inner cities. And it has caught the eye of leaders in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Rio de Janeiro, other places where children suffer from nihilism rooted in injustice, violence, and poverty. Reverend Brown studied at Harvard, but he learned to preach -- we can be thankful -- elsewhere, beginning at the foot of some master in a hamlet of North Carolina. Brown is at ease penning op-ed pieces for The Boston Globe,leading a prayer protest in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, delivering a scholarly paper, negotiating a midnight peace with gang members, or visiting a Unitarian pulpit across town. In his own pulpit he can, as he puts it, "cut loose."

In America more black women than white are in the pulpit, although until recently most of them ministered to small congregations in storefront and home-based churches. Following traditions brought to America by Africans, women in mainstream black churches have considerable authority as worship leaders, prayer warriors, and teachers. Officially, however, the major black Christian denominations have been as slow as their white counterparts to ordain women. Significantly, Jeffrey Brown shares the pulpit at Union Baptist with two distinguished women: the Reverend Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, a scholar of African-American studies and the sociology of religion; and the Reverend Zina Jacque-Bell, a devoted teacher of biblical texts and a luminous innovator. About this trio I feel what everyone else in the congregation must -- lucky in the way we feel when, say, a couple of planets and a full moon make a rare conjunction in the evening sky. Each week the pulpit at Union is alive with story and exegesis of text, with cultural diagnosis and calls to action, with counsel for souls and flashing wit -- all interwoven in the best tradition of black sacred oratory. "God's trombones," the author James Weldon Johnson called the men and women who inhabit the black pulpit. Lucid and subtle on the significance of Job's suffering, bracing on the nature of courage, passionate on the supreme importance of nurturing children, Jeffrey Brown usually manages to work into his remarks how fine someone looks -- or how fine everyonelooks -- and the fact that Bible study is at six-thirty on Wednesday night.

This sanctuary is also a home to the sounds that have spoken to me from the beginning, that inexplicable alchemy of longing and joy. Here a middle-aged woman in sunglasses sings a bluesy version of "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus" that could qualify as one of the proofs. Here the congregation stands each week to sing choruses of "Glad to be in the service, glad to be in the service, glad to be in the service one more time" -- several hundred people on their feet giving every human indication of gladness. "God is good," an elderly man declares. "ALL the time!" responds a chorus. Here, as a pastor makes an especially nice point, a young man shouts, "Tell the world!" A woman in a trim business suit stands. "Teach!" she calls, in a penetrating voice that zings through the air and lands on the pulpit like a flower thrown to an opera star. The woman raises one arm and waves it slowly back and forth above her head. More women stand, and the air is full of graceful waving arms. Four men begin an antiphonal exchange with the preacher, elongating "well" into a two-syllable word that rises at the end like an encouraging question.

"There is one more thing ... ," Reverend Brown says.

"Weh -- ell?" the men say.

"The Christmas message came from someone in particular ... "

"Weh -- ell?"

"From someone who could not stay at the hotel ... "

"Weh -- ell?"

Here pastors often begin in a whisper, and slowly, with the sermon as one text and the voices of the congregation another, build voice until the room is a sea of "Say that!," "Fix it! Fix it!," and "Preach!"-- a call-and-response tradition whose template must be the creative play and reciprocity of life itself. On any morning the air is rich in metaphor: living water, the tender hand that lifted me, friend and comforter, redeemer, mighty maker, the lamb, the lily, the love divine. And yet on many days Brown must stand back at last from the pulpit and shake his head, having arrived at the border of silence, a depth of feeling where no words may go.

Among the traditions of this church are the testimonials given before the official service begins. Every Sunday morning someone will stand up to give thanks because "He woke me up in my right mind this morning!" An octogenarian will rise to say "I'm breathing today, I have a roof over my head, and I'm satisfied!"

Listening to the clarified voices of one church, I, too, remember to be glad that I woke up in my right mind, glad for the roof, glad for breath. How simple it is, but it is, of course, the shift, the turn, the conversion from a constant whine to the bass note of gratitude. The turn is not an easy one for anyone in this culture, which treats all its citizens to the cruel premise that there is no such thing as enough. It could not have been easy for these elders, who have had more reason than most Americans to doubt Providence. What a subtle thing is going on here: at the same time that this community is steadily helping its members to gain a fair share of the nation's goods, it is steadily infusing material reality with another idea of wealth altogether.

LIKE other black churches in America, this one is both an oasis and a center of community life: meals for the homeless, fashion shows, Kwanzaa celebrations, career-day fairs, scholarship awards, tribute dinners, lectures, and the purely social gatherings that Union refers to as "having a good time in the Lord." Once, the membership would have come largely from the immediate neighborhood, but because many African-American families have migrated to the suburbs, members now return from all points on the metropolitan and socioeconomic maps.

One morning the theme from the pulpit is inclusion -- meant to address cultural diversity within the black community: the Caribbean, Afro-Latin, Euro-African, and African-American heritages represented in the congregation. Some of the things said: That we cannot be judging one another, for we don't know who might be an angel come into our midst. That cliques are forming in the church, and Reverend Brown does not like that. That the church is not the building, not the pastors, not the officials. The church is not the choirs, great and fine as they are. No, the church is love. And another thing -- the pastor does not want to hearabout anyone not coming to church because of not having the right thing to wear. He recalls being a small boy sent into church to secure a pew for the family, remembers rushing in without his coat, being stopped, and being told he could not come into church without a coat. "That brother didn't know if maybe I didn't owna coat," Brown fumes. "I will neverforget that. Couldn't comeinto the church because I didn't have a coat! As long as I am pastor," he declares, "anybody can come in here in anything. If some raggedy person outside wants to come in, I'll go out and bring him in -- personallyset him down."

He means it, and the church describes itself as having "the widest doors in the city." This is a place that aspires to communitas,where society's distinctions are softened. So I, too, am welcomed. All visitors are warmly welcomed. But when it seems that I might become something more than an ephemeral visitor, a great tentativeness comes upon me. The church has long been black America's most precious institution, theinstitution that African-Americans control completely, a nurturing place of leaders, of artistry and mind -- the place where a microcosm of sanity and goodness can be conjured. I can only imagine that many members must cherish one realm free of whites. ("Of white control,"Reverend Brown later writes on a draft of this essay.)

Given history, and given the chosen apartness of many blacks in the post-civil-rights era, what the journalist Clarence Page has called the "social apartheid," does my presence diminish the creative refuge of this sanctuary? I don't yet know anyone in the congregation well enough to ask outright, and my smattering of African-American friends are either amused or appalled to learn that I am going to anychurch. Like me, these friends left organized religion long ago, and either are still getting over it or have taken refuge in the Buddha or in their art, spending many Sundays, as I have also done, in one of nature's cathedrals, or in what Wallace Stevens memorably called the "complacencies of the peignoir."

The dearest of these friends looks at me earnestly. "You want to know what the members of that church are thinking about you? They're thinking, 'Uh oh, there goes the neighborhood!'" He holds his serious face a moment longer and then bursts out laughing. "I couldn't resist," he says. "Actually," he continues, now truly serious, "I have no idea what they're thinking. And you know better than to ask me that." He wags his finger at me. "Why do you assume I'll know what other black folk are thinking? You need to realize that your church is very different from the one I grew up in. We were never hallelujah people, except for my aunt Ethel. I grew up just like you did, in a Presbyterian church. And we were quiet.We were God's frozen people."

"One more thing," he adds firmly. "Don't get any ideas about me coming with you."

Another friend also levels with me. "Don't hope for a welcome from everyone," she says. "But remember, your spiritual life isn't about other people's approval." She pauses. "Now, if you don't mind me asking, girl, why are you going?"

MY reasons can be traced back very far, but as it happens, I began to attend this church named Union during the years when black and white Americans were beginning to say out loud that for all the gains we have made, we still do not know each other well, do not frequent each other's social worlds, and that the line may even be congealing again. In my life I have only rarely been in predominantly black gatherings, and almost never incidentally. Now, in Union's rooms, I am doing just a little of what African-Americans have done a good deal of for three centuries -- sojourning in institutions dominated by another group, adapting, becoming adept at style switching. Crossing the color line is different, of course, for the historical oppressor than for the historically oppressed, and though I gain a keener sense of how it feels, viscerally, to be radically in the minority and to lack insider knowledge, assuming this status voluntarily, for a few hours each week among people of good will, is hardly a parallel to black America's experience.

Less agile at the crossing than are members of this community, in the beginning I am also hyperaware, ever mindful to present a positive face of whitedom -- a self-conscious, walking-on-eggshells politesse that can make me clumsy. One morning, as I stand for a responsive reading, the hymnal in my hand grazes the head of an elderly man in the pew in front. Holy moley, I have hit an elderly black man on the head with a hymnal! I lean down to apologize, and as I do, the man turns his head to look at his wife, possibly thinking it was she who touched his head. He now receives a second shock -- an unfamiliar white face looming just inches from his own -- and he starts. He visibly jumps in the pew. His startle startles me, and I jump too, and no one near us fails to see this scene. Most manage to keep a straight face, but the small boy next to me begins to giggle. His mother frowns at him and then at me, too, and as soon as possible the boy and I slink down in our pew, silently, side by side, both of us, for our own reasons, trying to contain ourselves.

In another church I might volunteer for something as a gesture of good intentions, but here I grasp that the most respectful thing is to do nothing. Is to wait. (And to try not to hit anyone else with a hymnal.) There is no quick, easy way to override the long accumulation of meaning that America has ascribed to color, and here there will be only personal answers to the matter of my presence, across the usual vagaries of human chemistry. A few members are cool at first, but the great majority are entirely gracious, and some -- a retired professor, several of the deaconesses and pastors, and Union's great tenor, Emma Nance -- go out of their way to give me clues and actual things to do, including proposal writing for the social-action committee. One day, after a meeting, I am in conversation with a woman who has become overworked at the church. She's going to take a break, she says, to take stock. I applaud her decision, and then observe that I am in the opposite situation, that my participation is limited -- by history, I say. "Well," she replies, "some people do get stuck in the history. Oh, my, yes, the history is there-- but it doesn't have to define us."

James Baldwin was thinking about how to negotiate this history when he predicted that any real dialogue between blacks and whites would require a personal confession from whites that is "a cry for help and healing," and a personal confession from blacks "which, fatally, contains an accusation." One Sunday not long after I find that passage, the Reverend Dr. Gilkes is in the pulpit. "I am talking about our men this morning," she says. "Our men can be paid to be entertainers and basketball stars, but the enemy will not open the doors of higher education! The enemy will not let our men become educated! And if one of us gets over, the enemy changes the rules!"

She catalogues the effects of the enemy's ways -- the number of black men in prison, the number likely to die before the age of twenty-one -- and she likens America's black men to Samson, who when shorn, blind, and imprisoned could yet summon a divine strength to crumble the house of his captivity. "We will tear downthe enemy's walls," she says -- her voice is blazing now, her arms are outstretched. The woman has reached with her voice down into the torment of centuries, and seems to be speaking for all that time. The other pastors stand and go to her, gathering around close, as if to hold and bank her cathartic fire. The wooden floor of Union begins to rumble under a slow stamping of feet, and the whole room is weeping.

Afterward, as I remain seated, sobered, Grainger Browning, the head of the social-action committee, comes up, greets me in his usual ebullient manner, and lingers to ask, "What was that like for you, to hear that sermon -- what I'd call a completely black sermon?" He pauses. "I mean," he continues, "it happens to us all the time, to be the only one in a crowd, hearing something from a completely white point of view, but what is it like for you to hear that kind of sermon?"

A retired professor of sociology, Dr. Browning is curious, and he is also being kind, guessing that I might feel, as of course I do, a mingling of implication and empathy. I form some words about solidarity, but my friend interrupts. "I know your politics," he says. "You probably agree with the sister more than I do. What I am asking is how did it feelto hear a sermon from a completely black point of view?" Before I can muster an answer, he continues. "You know, I don't think in terms of black or white much anymore. I really don't. Of course I notice. I'm not color-blind; I'm not that far yet. But I do not let it affect my actions. I check myself. And as a teacher, I made sure that I was fair to all my students. I think that a percentage of us now -- not the majority, but maybe twenty percent of people, both black and white -- will not divide along racial lines, will not let that happen again to our country. We are the people standing in the gap, just wanting to solve it."

MUCH of what happens in this great room happens in other rooms where people gather to think about meaning and to give thanks for the blooming universe. But some of what takes place here is unique to the black church tradition. One of the pastors makes an allusion to that uniqueness one day. She is praying. "Lord," she says, "we are the descendants of a people who choseto survive. We are yourpeople, and we have come together this morning to worship you in a special way -- for we have a special history, and a special way of knowing you."

The special world inside these walls is not an inversion of the pathology outside -- that is, it is not a world of presumed black supremacy. The temptation to imagine such a place must be great, if only as poetic justice. And certainly African-Americans, who have long observed the debasing effect of racism on whites, may know a moral refinement that an oppressor cannot. But something more original than inversion is at work, a move that slips the knot of reaction. African-American spirituality comes in many varieties, of course, but the several Christian forms have common themes. Scholars in today's seminaries understand black theology as a distinctive interpretation of Christianity. Building on African metaphysics, on a view of the universe as informed by benevolence, black American Christians have drawn especially on the social-justice teachings of Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah, on Christ's love for the neglected, and on the exodus into a promised land. The symbolic narrative of black Christianity is one of survival and resistance -- and creativity. The story is told in highly allusive language that moves easily between stately and earthy tones, between redemption and fish fries -- language that presents the temporal and the spiritual as inseparable.

Many have agreed with Martin Luther King Jr. that the African-American saga transcends its historical particulars to speak to common human hopes. For generations the black church has been at the heart of that saga, and Reverend Brown now speaks of his spiritual tradition as a body of thought that offers "correctives" to the dominant culture -- a moral and intellectual discourse that issues a steady call for America to fulfill its promise.

We might think that a place that can do that -- a place that fueled one of the great transformations of this society, and has preserved real community through the twentieth century -- is a place that has some clues not only for its core members but for the larger community of the nation.

ENTERING slowly into the life of one church, I begin to grasp how many of my hopes for America, and even the style of my generation, can be traced to rooms like this one. "Oh, yes," Reverend Gilkes says one day in conversation. "Whites have always liberally borrowed elements of black spirituality and style. And white people love our spirituals, our music. But traditionally they have never accepted black leadership."

One morning, as we are singing "We'll walk in the light, beautiful light, Come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright," my eye happens to land on the mirror above the organ loft. A great swath of the congregation appears in the reflection, and among us is one jarringly pale face. "Who can that be?" I think, and am surprised, seconds later, to realize the answer. The wish to belong, to know and be known, is deep in us. And the wish to travel, to expand into the unknown, to carry messages across borders, is also deep. Both instincts are probably linked with survival, though the traveler is sometimes viewed with wariness. Hermes, the ancient god of travelers, is not only a guide but also a trickster, very like Eshu Elegbara, the African guardian of the crossroads, another of those changeful figures that show up in every culture.

Old pagan emanations like Hermes and Eshu are probably not often admitted to the church basements of Christendom, but some kind of shape-shifter hovers there the first time I cook for a church supper. I have made a large pot of Portuguese kale soup, a hearty, fragrant soup that people have loved at my table for twenty years. I am attending my soup, which sits between a bubbling macaroni-and-cheese casserole and a huge bowl of rice and peas, from behind the buffet table, ladle in hand. The first people through the buffet line look at the unfamiliar soup skeptically.

"What is it?" one hungry teenage lad asks.

"Portuguese kale soup," I say proudly, ladle raised for action.

"I'll have the macaroni casserole, thank you."

Nine or ten more people in line give the soup one look and pass it up. My debut is not going well.

Finally someone comes along and asks, "Is it collard greens?"

"No, it's kale greens."

"No, thanks," he replies. But he has given me a clue.

"It's greens and beans," I say, truthfully, to the next person who asks -- the choir director, Brother Philip.

"Oh, I'll have some," he says, and upon tasting this greens and beans, adds loudly, "It works for me."

Brother Philip's endorsement gets me two more takers, and then a young lady comes along and peers with interest at the soup.

"This looks like Italian minestrone," she says hopefully.

"Well, yes," I say. "It's a lot like minestrone -- almost exactly."

The young woman has two helpings, and her girlfriend asks for the recipe. Hovering near the line, but not in it, is a young man who has obviously overheard the several names already given to this soup. Now he steps up to the buffet table with a sly grin.

"I wonder if your soup could be a jambalaya?"

"Yes," I say without hesitation or shame. "It's jambalaya."

"Oh, this is my lucky day," he says, chuckling. "So, if you will, please put that jambalaya over the rice and peas. Not too much sauce," he adds, showing me how to make the concoction. Tasting the mélange, he says, "That's bug!"

Now all this young man's friends want the bug jambalaya spooned over rice and peas -- all except one young man with braids, who says hethinks my soup looks more like North African food.

"Isn't that North African beans?" he asks.

"North Africa is very near Portugal," I say.

ANYONE with my tendency toward travel does well to take stock of cautionary advisories. "We need to go over into those other racial and ethnic communities," the critic bell hooks said recently, "and we need to speak about what happens when we do, including what makes it hard." But hooks excoriates whites who appropriate black culture in an exploitative fashion, and once nearly vaporized Camille Paglia, who imported some of her sassy style from gay black queens and has gone about enthusing over her rapport with African-Americans. "Whooo!" Paglia once gushed. "It's like I feel totally myself." That was too much for hooks, who wrote in response, "Naturally, all black Americans were more than pleased to have Miss Camille give us this vote of confidence, since we live to make it possible for white girls like herself to have a place where they can be 'totally' themselves." Similarly, Ward Churchill, a Native American writer, is furious that Euro-Americans have presumed to take up Native beliefs. (First you take our land, and now you want our spiritual treasure, too.) Neither hooks nor Churchill is lamenting the influences that peoples have on one another, which, they well know, can be stopped about as easily as the wind. Rather, they are distressed by the ways in which power imbalances distort exchanges between peoples.

Closely following the debates about identity within multiracial and African-American communities engages me in thinking not only about how (and how much, and if, and where, and why) I may participate in elements of other identities, but also about how these social constructions may fare in an emerging transracial society. I find myself seeking out and listening to others grappling with the possibilities of more-permeable identities. In Notes of a White Black Woman, Judy Scales-Trent proposes that "the difficulty in understanding the notion of ethnicity comes from asking the wrong question all along. The question should not be 'Where did your people come from?' but rather 'What countries did your people travel through on their way here from Africa?'" And then, recalling the notorious "single drop" rule in America, by which any African ancestry rendered a citizen legally black, Scales-Trent offers a disarming proposal: "Those Americans who call themselves white," she says, "are all pretending to be something else -- 'passing.' ... For Mother Africa is mother to us all."

During a conference given by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard, a widely traveled anthropologist stood in the audience to recount, with amusement, the chameleon nature of her identity. "In America," she says, "color-coded identities are the norm, so here I am a black woman. But to the South Sea Island tribe I study, all outsiders are other,and all others are identified by the word for 'white.' Visually, I am close to the islanders' color, but I am an outsider -- therefore I am white! In Brazil I am seen as a member of cultura branca, white Western culture, as opposed to Afro-Brazilian culture, whereas in Europe I am perceived, first and foremost, not as black but as an American, second as a woman, third or fourth as a person of African descent. What color am I?" she asked the assemblage.

We try all our lives to be human, to know what kind we are. It is not an easy job, and it can be encouraging to gather with those who seem like us. It can also be terrifically dangerous -- so say the Eastern European poets and writers who have witnessed the power of the group to silence the individual conscience, who are trying to warn Americans about investing too much of our identity in any kind of ethnic or cultural tribalism. (Thinking about the recent savagery in the former Yugoslavia, the poet Charles Simic writes, "Here is something we can all count on. Sooner or later our tribe always comes to ask us to agree to murder.")

Even for those of us with just the ordinary amount of displacement and assimilation, identity is a shifting thing these days. As the journalist Jim Sleeper has written, "We are all being 'abducted' from our ancient mythical wellsprings and moorings by forces we no longer control and do not fully comprehend." What we will become is unknown, but many who are proud of their origins also value the freedom to claim the elective affinities of which Goethe spoke. Those who feel that matters of realpolitik power and control underlie and sculpt many aspects of identity are undeniably right. Even political and physical survival can sometimes be at stake in maintaining strong group identity. Plainly, though, for a learning species like ours, which has moved slowly over the globe, gleaning from others is not a denial of native identity but a true and fundamental part of it. The writer Richard Rodriguez surprised and delighted an audience in Miami one winter by saying that it is the Maya Indian in him that loves Shakespeare, that likes to wear Milanese suits, that is nimble and adventurous enough to say, "Yo soy chino," "Yo soy italiano," "Yo soy inglés" (which, Rodriguez puckishly noted, he was saying in the language of the conquistadors).

I am thinking about these matters when Roots Day is announced -- that day each year in late spring when, as Reverend Brown merrily phrases it, worshippers are invited to come "wearing as much African garb as you have Africa in your heart." This comment is meant to set people with different stylistic preferences at ease, but it might have caused me considerable wardrobe deliberation that first year had I not forgotten which Sunday was Roots Day and arrived in my usual 1940s-style gray-silk suit. But many others wear their regular outfits too, including one mainstay of the church, a tall, elegant man in his late fifties, who arrives wearing his standard double-breasted charcoal suit, and is greeted by a woman in the lobby. "Deacon, is that old suit how much Africa you have in your heart?"

"My sister," he replies easily, "I wore dashikis all through the seventies, and to tell you the truth, I am just about dashikied out."

More difficult than the wardrobe question is the label on which I am to write the name of my root place -- "the place you come from," a little sign on the table says. How should my label read? Where is that place? A man next to me writes "Georgia" in felt-tip pen, peels away the backing, and presses the label to his chest. Others are writing "Jamaica," "Gambia," "Congo-Angola." All the tags point to history's diasporas and migrations. I stand at the table, pen in hand. Members rustle around the table in an array of African robes, kente cloth, turbans, dashikis -- the sisters presenting themselves in what the scholar Cornel West has described as a rich stylization. Deaconess Lillian Allen approaches the table, stands next to me, and writes on her label, "West Africa and Massachusetts." As she peels off the backing and taps the label onto her dress, she notices my hesitation. She touches my arm lightly, looks me in the eyes, and says, "You're home now."

ONCE, for a few weeks, I was completely at home in a place called Aphrodite's Rooms-To-Let. I have been at home walking among Brancusi's polished bronze eggs, hunched over tide pools at the edge of several seas, in red-clay fields, and on the eastern shore of Chincoteague, eating blue crabs that my father had caught with a string. Like so many other homes, the one I have found in this community is comforting, quickening, haunting, exquisite, and thorny -- sometimes all at once. With one hand I take communion with a congregation, and we are the body together. Meanwhile, my other hand is caught in stubborn patterns no individual gesture can undo, most especially the myriad built-in affirmative-action programs for white America, all those privileges so nearly invisible to many whites. Doubtless, too, there are inscapes of understanding that pass me by in these rooms, but on Roots Day, as we stand by the folding card table, Deaconess Lillian leaves her hand on my arm a moment longer. "Some things transcend," she says.

Then she must hurry to join the choir, which is readying for its entrance procession -- a procession made in a slow, syncopated step, led by a grandmother, a line that can send you into a long meditation on the one and the many. Nearby, Dr. Browning is buttonholing people to buy space in the Men's Fellowship calendar. "For five dollars," he says, "you can put up to five names, birthdays and anniversaries, in the calendar. How many may I put you down for?" Three children run up the carpeted stairs with tambourines in hand.

"Turn to your neighbor," Reverend Brown says when he steps into the pulpit. "Your neighbor is the one next to you," he adds, deadpan. "Say, 'Neighbor -- '"

"Neighbor -- " the word swells up from several hundred congregants, amused by their pastor's playful side.

"Neighbor, you look maaahvelousthis morning."

The Reverend Zina Jacque-Bell comes to the pulpit. "And now," she says, "please turn with me to that great old hymn of the church, number two hundred and twenty-two in your books. But you won't need your books; you know the words: 'We've come this far by faith ... Oh -- Can't turn around.' No, we can't turn around.

"Everyone who can stand, please stand."

The online version of this article appears in two parts. Click here to go to part one.

Emily Hiestand is a writer and an artist. Her essay in this issue will appear in Angela the Upside-Down Girl, to be published this month by Beacon Press.

Illustration by Robert Goldstrom

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; July 1998; Hymn; Volume 282, No. 1; pages 70 - 80.

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