If Bayard Rustin is the architect of the progressive movement in America, perhaps Woody Guthrie is the soundtrack. He seems to be rediscovered as each generation finds itself, once again, in lean times. Then he is forgotten when people forget that hard times can happen to them, too. Woody always remembered because he lived it. Although he started life in a comfortable home with some wealth, by his teenage years his family was fragmented and destitute, the victims of one tragedy after another. By the time the ground fell out from under the U.S. economy in 1929, no one was in a better position to be the voice of that generation. More importantly, despite success as a radio star, musician, and writer, he never forgot suffering because he constantly put himself alongside those whose lives had taken a turn for the worse.
In the 1930s, Woody headed west. As he travelled, he met thousands like him, driven by terrible drought that had turned the middle of the country to dust. Massive storms buried whole towns in dirt. There was no food, no water, and no work. They left Oklahoma and Texas and Kansas because their farms and homes had been repossessed. California was said to be a land of plenty where everyone could get a fresh start. However, when they arrived, they discovered that they were unwanted. The L.A. Police Chief went so far as to send 125 policemen to the border to turn back undesirables. Refugees were told that there was “nothing for them” in California. One man responded, “Well you ought to see what they got where I come from!” Woody heard their stories and turned them into songs, saying: “I cannot help but learn the most from you who count yourself least.” WWJD, indeed.
Woody is not a religious figure, so it might seem odd to canonize him as a saint. However, embodied in his songs is a theology, certainly unsystematic, but absolutely clear. In 1940, “God Bless America” was a hit song. He hated it. Saccharine sweet and, in his estimation, completely untrue. He looked at America over the previous ten years and saw a battered people. If that was God’s blessing, he wanted no part of it. He sat down and penned “This Land is Your Land.” If America was to be blessed, it was because its people loved it and worked for a common good. He once described the human race as “a hoping machine, a working machine.” America – and humanity – is best when it remains hopeful and works toward that hope for the flourishing of the whole. That hope and working toward justice is Woody’s God. I hope that it is ours as well.
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we discuss the life and theology of Saint Woody Guthrie. Be prepared to sing!
Grace & Peace,
Vote on Genny’s Ordination
The board has voted to recommend Genny Rowley for ordination by Church in the Cliff. I enthusiastically support this nomination! Genny has tremendous gifts for ministry and it has been a pleasure to see her find her voice and place in this church. We are not sure where she is headed after her residency ends, but CitC would be fortunate to have our name attached to her future endeavors. If you would like to join us in supporting her ordination, please do so by voting via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in person at the community meeting on November 3. Her ordination service is tentatively scheduled for November 10.