by Harold Ford
“You’re going to make the difference between loving and resistance/So hear me when I say you’re able, you’re willing and strong/This is your call.” …lyrics from This Is Your Call by Summer Osborne
These are indelicate times for Earthlings of any persuasion, no matter the spot they occupy along the socio-political spectrum. From Pussy Riot(ers) who crashed the World Cup in Russia to bring attention to that government’s apparent wont to terminate dissent(ers);to Brits divided by Brexit; to North Americans wrestling with immigration, trade, and tariffs, the planet has enough conflict to fill the remainder of this space, and many more.
Singer-songwriter Summer Osborne stepped up to fill the room at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Flint (UUCF) July 14 with wisdom and a way to navigate the stormy seas of our turbulent world in a recent concert. UUCF was the latest stop on a 365-day-a-year road tour schedule for the singing poet-philosopher.
Osborne navigated her way through a powerful and professional performance that included insightful analysis sandwiched between passionate, personal anthems. She was accompanied by lifelong friend and musician Kristen Goodman, who soloed the first half of the evening’s program.
“There are no swamps to be drained,” Osborne said near the start of her performance. “There are no baskets of deplorables.” And thus, it became clear early on that her prescriptions for that which ails America were intended for both the right and the left.
Osborne envisioned aloud the space wherein an egg transitions to a chick but is not yet a chick, where a seed becomes a plant but is not yet a plant. That space appears chaotic and America currently occupies such an analogous adolescent space, she said. “What we can’t wrap our minds around is that there is a divine order to the chaos resulting in brand new life.”
“We are consciously evolving,” Osborne stated. “Change can be difficult, it can be challenging. It really looks like a shit show.”
Not so much a lateral problem:
“This is not so much a lateral problem, left versus right, red versus blue,” Osborne said. “The angry left is just as angry as the angry right.”
“We’re so busy drawing lines in the sand, choosing a side, defending our side, reactions ricocheting off of reactions, erroneously assumed assumptions, misguided missiles of hate,” she declared with the passion of a Sunday-go-to-meeting preacher. Fearful and angry feelings will most assuredly merge and boil over, she predicted.
“Fear presents itself as anger…rage, anxiety, depression, self-righteousness. Fear can present itself in many, many ways none of which heal.”
A dangerous but inevitable time:
In her interview with EVM, Osborne allowed that these are impersonal and dangerous times, but times that were inevitable. “I feel that it is very dangerous with the split in ideology and the advance in technology. We’ve dehumanized each other (as) we’re sitting behind computers,”Osborne said.
“Donald Trump represents a consciousness that’s been simmering under the (American) floorboard for a very long time,” she added. “This stuff has to come up or we can’t fix it. It is painful, it is chaotic, but it’s part of the process.”
Osborne’s observations have been informed by her travels from coast to coast, Canada to Mexico, while performing at concert venues as disparate as those hosted by Christian, atheist, and pagan groups. Shunning motels, she opts for the hospitality offered by private homeowners that she referenced as a “thousand lighthouses on the American continent.”
The power of words:
The dangerousness of the times is exacerbated by the reckless use of language, according to Osborne. “We are so worried about guns, how easy they are to obtain, or whether or not our rights are going to be taken away, that we forget that we’re using a type of weaponry every day and maiming others. We’re using words as weaponry,” Osborne said.
“We can use something as small as a sentence as kill shot, spray it willy nilly and take every innocent passerby,” she warned. “The first thing that every single one of us can do, no matter what, is be impeccable with our words. Words carry power.”
“Words can talk a man off the ledge, words can pull a woman up from the ashes…words can burn like acid. Men, women, and children have scarred and maimed themselves, taken their own lives, because they could only see what they heard,” Osborne added.
Osborne alluded to the power of Jesus’ words. “I do not consider myself to be Christian,” Osborne said, “but I do strive to be Christ-like.” She also acknowledged the powerful words of others: Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, and her own mother.
The power of parents:
Osborne’s parents were simultaneously Indiana-based Southern Baptists and free-thinking children of the counterculture of the 1960s. Mother was a music teacher; father was a farmer. When their daughter came out as gay and was shunned by the family’s church, the Osbornes immediately withdrew their membership and joined another, more welcoming congregation.
“My dad taught me to be a critical thinker,” Osborne told EVM. She arrived home once, after viewing slides of aborted fetuses in her middle school health class, a fire-breathing anti-abortionist. Her father calmly sat her down and asked eye-opening questions like, “What if the mother who got pregnant was raped?”
“I come from a long line of wise people,” Osborne pridefully asserted.
Osborne’s mother inspired her passion for music and her positive outlook. “I learned my positive outlook from her. I watched her wake up every day loving her life,” she said.
As an infant, Osborne was taken to church and perched on the piano that her mother accompanied the choir with. Eventually, the mic found its way to the infant Osborne’s hand. “That started my entire stage addiction. Once I got the mic in my hand, that was it. I’ve been singing ever since I was able to form complete sentences.”
When the teenage Osborne resisted learning sheet music, Mrs. Osborne handed her daughter a guitar and predicted she would figure out how to play it. She did, by ear. To this day, the 40-year-old Osborne skillfully backs her vocals with guitar and piano and no appreciable ability to read musical notes. “I’ve never had to work hard at playing an instrument…at singing, writing material,” she recalled.
The death of her mother sent Osborne, then 30, into a deep depression. She stopped eating and moving; she buried herself in bed as her musculature atrophied. Goodman, her closest friend and musical soulmate, may have saved her life with the gift of a book, Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsch. “It saved my life,” Osborne declared bluntly. “I had a spiritual awakening.”
As I Am:
Osborne believes that traumatic loss of her mother led to her most successful and identifiable musical creation, her signature song. “As I Am came all at once,” Osborne said. “It was punching on the inside of my forehead. There’s a space between sleep and awake” where the music and lyrics came to her. “I’m fairly certain that (mother) gifted that to me,” she confided to EVM.
As I Am brought attendees at the UUCF venue to their feet as they sang the chorus in unison:
I am safe, I am loved, as I am;
I am grateful and I’m free;
And I’m as perfect as can be;
I am here, I am whole, as I am.
A spiritual revolution based on love and action:
During her concert, Osborne rallied her listeners toward a spiritual revolution based on love—the kind you give yourself and you give others. “The spiritual revolution is urging us to unlearn some things: that if something didn’t turn out the way you expected it to, you must have done something wrong, that test scores are a measure of your worth. Unlearn shame. Unlearn blame. Unlearn the limitations that we are so conditioned to believe,” Osborne said.
“How is it that we can go about creating change in the direction of love without hurting others?” she asked. “You wanna’ see more love? Be loving, no matter what. If you wanna’ see more peace, be peaceful, no matter what…Not just when the conditions are right (but) especially when they are not.”
Osborne channeled Dr. King when she said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. You either have the presence of light or the absence of light. There is no switch for darkness. Hate cannot do that; only love can do that. Love equals light.”
“Knowing that doesn’t mean we sit back and wait, watch for the other guy to do do something,” she warned. “We still need our feet on the street, we still need to write the letters we need to write, we have calls we need to make, vote, love, change—whatever it is you have to do to be a catalyst for change.”
“Change is happening, whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, whether or not you approve,” declared Osborne. “One of two things will happen: you’ll either walk through it mindfully, or you will be dragged.”
“We’re not going to hell in a hand basket,” Osborne assured her fans. “We don’t have to live down in despair. It means get grounded, get centered before you go out slaying dragons.”
“You know, we’re going to be all right…It feels sometimes like we’re going backwards, but we’re not…You’re not broken, you can handle these chores…Standing for love is where we’re transcendent. We were built for transcendence.”
EVM staff writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.