In my native Ghana is the first co-ed secondary school which was established by the British colonial government in 1927. The school was first named the Prince of Wales College and School but the name was changed to Achimota (ah-ch-ee-m-oh-t-ah). The school is one of the leading secondary schools in Ghana. Christ Church parishioners Nii and Theo Jones-Quartey were students at that school. The first Valentine’s Day card I ever received in the mail was from my first 'girlfriend' who was a sophomore at that school. Prior to that, I didn't even know what Valentine's Day was. I didn’t attend that school but I have siblings, cousins, and friends who did.
I am sure you may be asking why on earth I'm talking about a secondary school in Ghana. Well, I am so inclined because of the philosophy of this school. That philosophy is summed up by the school emblem, which is a picture of black and white keys of a piano. The British governor, one of the founders of the school, spoke about the integration of Black and White, male and female, coming together for the good of all. The emblem, itself, was designed by Dr. Aggrey, a native and co-founder of the school. Dr. Aggrey expressed his rationale with these words: “You can play a tune of sorts on the black keys only, and you can play a tune of sorts on the white keys only. But for perfect harmony, you must use both the black and the white keys.” Perfect harmony! Think about that - perfect harmony is made possible by playing both white and black keys.
In a few days, we will begin the month of February, which is Black History Month. It is a celebration of African Americans and their contribution to the building of this wonderful and great country. My task this day is not to enumerate the immeasurable and incalculable contributions of African Americans, but to call to mind the possibility of the unity that we seek, the perfect harmony that is only possible when both the black and the white keys are played together.
I am very much aware of the challenges African Americans deal with on a daily basis. All of these stem from whether they have a place at the table, and whether their place at the table is deserved and should be honored. In fact, many are those who do not believe that there is even a table, much less a place at the table for the African American. For that reason, they perpetuate policies that seek to relegate the African American to the background. There are those who worship the systemic injustice and racism within our society for the sole purpose of maligning the African American. And there are those who question why the African American cannot lift himself/herself up 'by the bootstraps'. These people forget that there are some African Americans who do not even have the benefit of having boots at all.
What saddens me ever greatly is that there are those who out of the desire to hold on to power have created their own god, and have masked this god with the One God who calls us to be ONE. For that reason, some of us have a hard time discerning the actual God who calls us and this masked-up god who is a totem of a deranged mindset. There are those who hold on ever so tightly to this totem of a god because they want to possess this god instead of being possessed by him.
There was once a rich man who desired to follow Jesus. He was advised to go sell all his properties, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. But he could not. This rich young man believed he was defined by the god he had made out of his possessions - the god he possessed. To follow Jesus, you have to give up something... you have to give up the god you possess for a God who possesses you. The question then is, what are you willing to give up in order to follow Jesus?
Growing up in Ghana, I didn’t have to worry about racism. My real brush with the deranged mindset of racism occurred in Philadelphia, where a parishioner refused to honor their pledge because, according to him, a ‘Black man has been hired as Assistant Rector.’ I was totally shocked when I heard the story. I wondered to myself, which God does this person serve? Is it the one he wants to possess, or is it the one who possesses him? I need you, and all of us, to think about this. You, yourself may not be a racist. But you may not necessarily tolerate the idea of playing both the white and black keys for a perfect harmony because you believe that playing both the white and black keys may take something away from you. But I wonder what it is that can be taken away from you.
When my former Rector heard the sad, horrific, and patronizing rationale of this parishioner who had decided not to honor his pledge, he simply responded, "We will do just fine." Yes, we will. In fact, we will do more than just fine because our drive, and our hope, is to play both the white and black keys just so we can make that perfect harmony... that harmony which you need to hear, that harmony which I need to hear, and that harmony which our society, community, and world desperately need to hear during this time of deep division.
Look around you. Switch on the TV. Go online. Every part of our life is saturated with echo chambers that pitch each against one another... whether it's Americans against Americans, White against Blacks, or Liberals against Conservatives. And the noisemakers of these echo chambers tell us that we should be suspicious of neighbors like you with whom we used to chat with, enjoy a barbeque together, go out to dinner together, watch movies together, worship together, visit each other and watch our children play together.
Unlike our Director of Music, Adam, and many of you, I do not know how to play the organ or piano, but I can tell a perfect harmony should I hear one.
Our reality is one where none of us is going anywhere. Whites cannot build our communities all by themselves nor can African Americans build our communities all by themselves. Someway, somehow, we have to figure out the best way to play all of the keys in order to achieve a perfect harmony.
Dr. King figured it out when he said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” I do not want to die a fool, nor should you desire to do so. We should long for that perfect harmony that heals all our wounds and soothes the soul.
For perfect harmony, we should play both the white and black keys. Both you and I make up those keys on God's piano.