In mid-July, I attended the Frontiers of Democracy: Religious Pluralism and Robust Democracy in Multiracial Societies conference at Tufts University in the Boston area. They invited me to close the forum with a creative reflection. I wanted to channel and sample what I heard in the conference’s workshops and plenaries and reflect on my hopes for the nation while trying to represent the values of Interfaith America.
This poem is a breakbeat poem/prayer, meaning it utilizes the aesthetics of hip-hop cultural practice, which is to say I sample and riff and reference phrases and ideas that are not mine in origin, as well as adding my flavor to the mix. Hip-hop is a diasporic practice, blending pidgins, alchemy, fusion, magic, and democratic majesty. I hope you find this reflection valuable and fresh as we consider ways to bridge, heal, and uplift our nation.
we the people
we see it
an I in Thou
as Ali said me we
my destiny tied
to your freedom
pursuit. from the jump
the erasure of the dual
or the duel
yet here we are
there is difference
and a difference
between theory and praxis
in democracy and in religion
in what we say
and how we do
it’s hard work
to admit an original sin
that we f—ed up from the beginning
regardless of the revisionisms and goodwill.
america’s ideals drawn in blood and bondage
bound by bigotry
powered by the cotton gin.
whiteness is like this
the work of making this country whole
and holy and hopeful has always been those
born on the outskirts of where the ideal reaches
those who bear witness to our hypocrisies
numerous and continuous
and yet still have the courage
the decency, the care and love
to call our country to its higher self.
to its G-dself
america the ideal, america the utopian.
how many Moseses and Tubmans
have pointed the way forward
and continue to do so
we are fighting now
and have always fought
we are mired in toxic division.
our nation divided.
these states far from united
so it seems
we are bursting at the seams
at least that’s what the television screams
yet everyday i ride the bus with those
who rise to a different morning prayer
every day a firefighter saves
someone who votes differently.
whose opinion is not their own
how do we resist the urge to become contemptuous
in a culture stewed in anguish and anger
when will we reconcile our own death
and relinquish ourselves to our forever endeavor
there is no i in democracy.
we tend to a garden
we will not see the fruits of.
it will take revolutionary patience
and places of renewal
to curb our trauma and adhd.
our national amnesia
we must build new sanctuaries.
national monuments that honor and heal the many.
the masses who feel ostracized from the civic space.
what is the separation between church and state
anyway but another false division.
we call the whole self into the town square
welcome all into the conversation
no lines of separation
and we are working to counter an intentionally segregated citizenry
there is much to celebrate and much to be concerned about
but do we spend as much time listening to the voices singing
as we do to those shouting
do we shine light on the everyday person doing everyday work
do we highlight kindness as much as we do derision
are we prepared to listen
to the deep crevices within our nation
and within ourselves
and is there a difference
can we listen to the jingle jangle broken records of our commonwealth and deficit
we the people
are asking what does love look like in public
the non-hierarchical non performative kind
not a pyramid but a collective
not a death pyre unless we are burning the i as separate
to return to our body politic
to return to the whole in holy
the all in together now
the ah yeah
the yes and
singing in off and different keys
we are a mess
enmeshed and a wash in stress
we say the wildest of things
but do they not have etymologies
are our misunderstandings not understandable
by the misery in our histories
each moment teachable says the Zen master
therefore there is no conversation i am afraid of.
and if it’s difficult, so what!
and it it’s uncomfortable, so what!
and if my neighbor looks, sounds, smells, thinks, votes, f—-, prays, believes different than i
i am a radical listener.
a keeper of seeds and stories
from which this country will rise and build again and again
a center trying to find and trust itself
a beloved community whose framework is expanding and expansive
whose imagination is fearless
and will commit to fail and fall.
this work is tough
but we will get back up
and try this shit again
our joy, is in the work
not of perfection
but of attempts
the craft of building bridges that will hold
and honor and love us all
Kevin Coval is a Senior Advisor at Interfaith America.