Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Vincent Harding's seeing, part 3

Lucas Johnson, my dear friend from the journey to Palestine in October, 2012, has a wonderful post (originally from Krista Tippitt's "On Being" blog) on how Vincent Harding listened deeply to and saw everyone. That was a theme of many voices at a gathering at DU this past Sunday (three occasions of 15-20 minutes of short statements each followed by a half hour of meeting people and having some food; it was conversational just in the way that Vincent loved). That he touched so many lives in this way, including mine - see here and here - is an enormous gift, to see what people are capable of, to further the work and arts of each person on a path that she does not quite yet see - that is eldering (eldering is easier for those who have been around, but can also be done, learning from the experience of having been eldered, at a young age)...


I met Donna Smith, a reverend from Philadelphia, who works on the "far side of the desert" as she puts it with young men who are often motherless as well as fatherless. The Veterans of Hope brought some of them to Denver, and in the warmth of Vincent's listening and questioning, one asked "why do you love us so?"


Some of them are bringing Vincent's spirit "back to the desert" to work with younger ones.


We all introduced ourselves with our name and where we were from and our mama's mama's name and where she was from (the gathering stretched to four and a half riveting hours). Someone described Vincent meeting with another group of black teenage boys who were not too happy to be with him, and he asked them about their father's and papa's papa's name. Often they didn't know their father's or their father's father's name, and as the third young man spoke, tears welled up and Vincent thus embraced, bonded with them.

Another speaker said he brought "God's love" and there is some truth in that.


Vincent was raised by Mabel Lydia Broome, a single mother, and did not have a father (except for the Victory Tabernacle Seventh Day Church). George Bailey, his childhood friend, recalled an early fire and brimstone statement by Vincent at 7 years old. George is today the preacher at Victory Tabernacle (George's dad was a reverend before) and the very first person who spoke.


Rabbi Arthur Waskow puzzled over how a man who stayed in the background, did not seek limelight though he spoke in many places and beautifully, could have been written about, after he died, in the New York Times and the Washington Post. It is partly his drafting of "A Time to Break Silence" which was a hook - see here and here. But more deeply, it is working with many people from the civil rights movement and the Institute of the Black World on to Palestine and Pendle Hill and Detroit and a dialogue center, organized by Richard Yoahimichi in Cambridge, and many other places. It was the sunshine that Vincent's listening and questioning brought, one by one, into so many lives that grew towards him, took up his spirit. It was beyond the Times to get this (though Vincent, a New Yorker once upon a time, did love reading the Times) - but perhaps the answer to Arthur's point about how startling the notice was is that all this relationship pours through even into "the paper of record."


Ray McGovern, the Presidential daily briefer for the CIA across 4 administrations and leader of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, sent me the beautiful response below to my first post on Vincent (he was not at this gathering). Ray is a courageous figure, standing for something that my father also did - that one must know when to resign in government, and underlining the point that Christians (and all humans) need to be counted against war crimes. He, too, was eldered in a workshop and continuing friendship with Vincent...


Sunday, May 25, 2014 - 5:59am
Uncle Vincent, A Man Who Could See
A young preacher remembers the legendary Vincent Harding and "his gift of sight to help us see ourselves and each other."


Vincent Gordon Harding’s death is being grieved and his life is being celebrated all over the world. From courageous activists in Palestine to visionary leaders in Detroit, to the young men and women of the Atlanta University Center, there are thousands of people who will never be the same because of his life and his willingness to live it faithfully, earnestly, and lovingly.

This man of Harlem and the South Bronx, this son of Mabel Lydia Broome named Vincent Gordon Harding was a gift. Through tears I give thanks to God for him. Through tears I give thanks for being seen by him, known by him, and loved by him. To describe what he meant to me in the brief time I knew him seems impossible, but I can attempt to testify to a grace-filled life that I knew and saw with my own eyes.

It’s not only that he could recall for us the visits to brother Martin’s body at Sisters Chapel or the conversations he had with “Jimmy” Baldwin about American democracy; that ability to recall was a great weapon against this forgetful and alienating culture. Against the alienation, against the dismembering, Uncle Vincent had another power too — he could remember. And by remember, what I mean is that he could see. Or rather, he had the gift of sight that must have been passed down from the Spirit that so permeated his life and community.

Amid so much blindness, this gentle man could see. He could see us, each of us whom he encountered. He did not see the caricatures of ourselves, not what our ideological commitments had made us, or our fear had tricked us into becoming. He could see in us who we were destined to be: more fully human. And he used his gift of sight to help us see ourselves and each other.

For the photograph, see here.
Credit: Steve Pavey

He helped us to re-member, not just from where but from whom we had come and to whom we belong. This country, this world, can be so splintering, so alienating, and mean, especially when one is young, when one is black, when one is gay, and when one has been wounded in the many battles for freedom in this, his home country with countless ways to imprison one's soul. By pointing behind us, to a man killed years ago, he helped us to see forward. By helping us see within us, to the love we have attempted to kill, he helped us see beyond.

There was strength, a remarkable strength, even until the end of his life in a hospital in Philly. This was a man who knew how to wrestle: with difficult questions, with powerful adversaries, with fear, with life, with death, and with God. Though I am still crying, I cannot help but give thanks for the gift he was. This remarkable, beautiful man loved me and showed me how to love others more deeply, more consistently than anyone I had seen before. I called him Uncle Vincent, and he was known and loved by my family. I have to give thanks to his family who shared him lovingly with so many and I am grieving with them.

Many of us are trying now to do what he told us to do after every phone call or encounter: to be strong. His encouragement of strength was not a sentimental phrase to be spoken, it was a real sending forth, given in hope and wisdom born of years in the struggle.

He knew that the work that we are called to do, the work of” building up a new world” as he sang it, requires strength. It requires strength beyond which any one person can possess. We have to be strong. It may be that a bullet will take our lives when we are young, but ”be prepared to be in the struggle for 50, 60, or 80 years he told us.” Are you ready? I can hear him asking, Are we ready?


"Alan, this for me was pure gift. I have been mourning ever since I heard of Vincent's going home.

He was elder to me, as well. One of the elders asked by Ched Myers to take part in Word and World, initiated by planning sessions and then a glorious week in Greensboro in April 2002. By some special grace, I took Vincent's class there in Greensboro....and sang Vincent's songs. Rosemary was also one of the elders and a blessing to get to know; sadly, she was already starting to have health problems.

Vincent mentored and encouraged me, just as Gordon Cosby did....and set me on the journey I haven take since the late nineties. My friend Ruby Sales, and so many others, always referred to him as Uncle Vincent....and the Veterans of Hope videos are precious indeed. And racism persists; and I am con-Vinced that we would not have done Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya....if those poor folks looked like us.

A warm thank you.

Your brother,


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