Strange Juxtapositions, Changing Times —by Jinny Batterson
This morning I woke to the news that Bob Dylan, troubadour of 1960’s radicalism and long-term chronicler of the American scene in song, had received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Throughout the day, in bits and snatches, I heard Dylan songs on newscasts and saw footage of the spokeswoman for the Nobel committee explaining why Dylan was a poet for the ages.
Mid-morning, I took a transit bus to downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, to sit in on a press conference jointly staged by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and the North Carolina Council of Churches. Speakers at the event, representing multiple denominations and several hundred congregations, wanted to encourage the North Carolina Board of Elections to adjust voter registration and early voting schedules in the wake of massive flooding in the eastern part of the state. The Neuse, Tar, and Cape Fear rivers had inundated large swaths of low-lying coastal plain after Hurricane Matthew dumped over a foot of rain in places. Among the hardest hit were areas around Lumberton, Fayetteville, Greenville, and Kinston. In some towns, rivers were still rising. Some clergy had ventured in from the impacted areas, and would soon return there. At the end of the 45-minute event, clergy were encouraged to sign a letter to officials asking for adjustments to original voting plans to adapt to conditions resulting from the flooding. I’m not a clergy member. Though I get frequent emails from the NAACP, I’m not very active. I didn’t see any follow-up action I could take. I used the gender-appropriate restroom at the legislative building, then wandered off toward the nearest bus stop.
After a couple of blocks, I noticed school groups and large sets of purposeful-looking pedestrians converging at the state capitol. Music was pumping from loudspeakers set up on the grounds. This, I soon learned, was the lead-up to a “Decision 2016” rally being headlined by Franklin Graham, son and heir to crusading evangelist Billy Graham. The tone and the complexion of the crowd were a good bit different from what I’d seen at the press conference. At first I was somewhat put off—these folks most likely had a different interpretation of the gospel than the “preaching good news to the poor” message I’d heard in the preceding venue. One of the younger women I spoke with assured me that God loves everybody, and we are not to sit in judgment on each other. It seemed only fair to stay for the message.
As I interpreted it, Graham’s talk mostly stayed away from overt political partisanship, but stressed the need to regain a more religious dimension in our civic life. I could agree with some of what he said, though it did seem to me that he was inclined to sit in judgment of the many devout Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims who live in parts of central North Carolina near me.
Partway through the event, it occurred to me that his exhortations to “vote your conscience” might have some commonality with the earlier event I’d attended. Hurriedly, I composed a brief handwritten petition requesting extension of registration deadlines and expansion of early voting in flood-devastated areas. After a quick detour to a copy shop, I began circulating the petition in the crowd, requesting people’s signatures between prayers. About fifty people signed, of the sixty or so I talked with. Once the rally broke up, I took the petitions the half mile to the offices of the North Carolina Board of Elections. I’m not sure if my efforts had much impact. Still, they seemed an appropriate follow-up action. They gave me a sense that perhaps there was at least a smidgen of common ground among the Graham organization, the North Carolina Council of Churches, and the NAACP.
On the bus ride home, I found myself going back over of one of the first Dylan lyrics I’d ever heard. The initial couplet seemed a little too apt—
“Come gather round people, wherever you roam,
And admit that the waters around you have grown…”
Perhaps the final stanza, though, is also apt for today:
“The line it is drawn the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a changin’!”