“Red and Yellow, Black and White”

When I was a little girl, we lived in a big house that was built in 1860, in the middle of the historic district of our town. Catty-corner from our home, was the church where my sister and I spent our most formative years. It was very old with the facade built of stone, and sat facing the corner of the lot with its big wooden doors just a few steps up from both sidewalks that met that corner. I learned to ride my bike in the small parking lot behind the church, and my sister and I played with the neighborhood kids all over the grounds of the church….rain, shine, or anytime at all, except for after dark because that’s when children were expected to go home. On Sundays, we worshiped inside the church, with many of our neighbors. My parents sang in the choir, and my sister and I spent several years participating in the children’s choir. Our choir director, Mr. Smith, was animated and lots of fun, always employing his humor to motivate us to project our tiny voices during rehearsals, so that we’d be heard by all when it came time to sing on a given Sunday. Of course I didn’t know or understand it as a tiny child, but Mr. Smith was gay. He passed away several years ago, and to think of him now, I think it must have been difficult for him….to be a gay man in the early 1980’s, in a non-metropolitan town. But there he was, not only attending but serving others as the Choir Director in our church, pouring himself and his talents into that ministry.
I’m fortunate to have countless fond memories from that part of my childhood, and one of my earliest memories of spending time at church–both during Sunday School and in children’s choir–is learning and signing that well known song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Many of you can probably recall a similar memory of learning this song, somewhere along your path, or perhaps your own children have learned this song. It has recently come back into our home on a more regular basis, as our youngest daughter has found her sweet singing voice, and this is one of her regular favorites right now. If you are not familiar with it, here are some of the lyrics:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
These famous lyrics were written by Clare Herbert Woodson, and the composer of the even more famous tune is George Frederick Root, who quite ironically, was a composer who wrote songs, some with the purpose of rallying northern troops during the Civil War. So its of no real surprise, that since the events that occurred in Charlottesville last weekend, this song has played on repeat in my mind, and undoubtedly, on the minds of so many whose hearts are heavy laden.
In recent years, this song has taken some heat, as of course nobodies skin color is actually red, yellow, black, or white. However, the song remains ever popular and the message is clear, profound, and everlasting. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” The tune is catchy, its memorable, its simple, and it stays with you for a lifetime. You can not hear it or sing it for twenty-five years, and then recall it from deep within your memory bank, and it can transport you back to the little child you once were, singing to a congregation, in a big majestic, very old stone church across the street from the house that built you. And that fills you up inside and brings a smile to your face.
But this song, special to me as it is, even with all the sweet memories attached to it, both old and new, is not the reason why I love people of color. We are born fresh and new, with a God given capacity for loving others—anyone and everyone—all with the same unconditional love that God gives to us so freely. We learn from example, and most often, from the example of our parents or those closest to us during our most formative years. Catchy songs with profound lyrics are wonderful, but nothing can mold the tender heart of a child quite like the example and leadership of the ones who raise you.
Over the past week, I have given a lot of thought to this particular notion, and it has made me even more thankful than ever, for my parents and the way in which they raised us. The home and the life they made together, even before my sister and I were born, was blessed by God and His love. Their hearts and home have always been open to everyone–“red and yellow, black and white.”  Its not something that I remember “learning” but just simply witnessing over time. The capacity for loving others, that we are all born with, was simply guided…directed…encouraged by the example and leadership of my parents and grandparents. Its generational, and rooted in our faith. None of us are perfect, in fact, far from it. We all, no matter who we are, fail our teachings at one point or another. We fail in the midst of teaching the next generation. But the good news is that we have the Grace of God, and each day is a new opportunity to love and be kind, one to another.
My grandmother died in 1996, and her funeral was held at that same old stone church, where she and my Grandpa worshiped in for many years after my family moved away from the home across the street. Several years before her passing, she served as a Docent two days a month at the DAR Museum, here in Washington.  She and my Grandpa would make the three hour trip from their home on the eastern shore of Maryland, and stay with us for the weekend, she would docent on Monday and Tuesday, and then head back home. The head of security at that museum during those years, was a black man named Larry. Of course, throughout her long life, she had many friends of many colors, but Larry and my grandmother struck up a special friendship. She brought Larry a homemade pie every month, because he loved her homemade pies, and because he was special to her. When I was a teenager, a few times I went into the city with them, and Grandpa and I would drop Grandma off at the museum and go tour other museums, and pick her up when she was done for the day. On those occasions, I had the pleasure of meeting Larry, and he always told me how much he enjoyed my grandparents, and especially how thoughtful it was of my grandmother to bake and bring him a pie. Larry learned of her death, and he drove three hours to that stone church on the eastern shore of Maryland, to pay his respects and to help celebrate her life. I don’t remember everything he said when he stood up at the front of the church to share his remembrances of her….I just remember the first words he spoke, which were something close to, “I heard she had died, and I had to make this trip here, because she was my best friend.”
When I think of Larry’s kind words, it reminds me of the love of God, and takes me back to when I was a little girl singing about how God loves all the little children, “red and yellow, black and white.”  As Christians, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, and we are told to leave our burdens at the foot of the cross. It seems impossible to understand the type of hate displayed on the campus of UVA last weekend, and it seems even more impossible to imagine what our children must think of it. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think that people actually think that they are superior because of the color of their skin. I don’t have an answer to how we combat that kind of ideology, except with leading by example. One of my sticky notes (see previous blog post) says, “Teaching Precedes Understanding” which applies so strongly to what I’m talking about right now. We are all born with an endless capacity for loving others. So show your children how to love others, “red and yellow, black and white,” and by the time they grow old enough to even understand that their skin differs from their friends or neighbors, that love they are born with, has a foundation to stand on forever.
** The featured image for this post was taken last summer. It is my four daughters, standing in the children’s choir room, in the old stone church where I first learned to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I took this photo after the funeral of our former next door neighbor, Dorothy Hudson, who also served as one of my Sunday School teachers.

4 thoughts on ““Red and Yellow, Black and White”

  1. Great message, Tiffany. Leading bu esample is the best way to teach our children what it means to love and care for others. I pray we will learn to look past what we look like, and instead, examine our hearts and minds. That’s where God dwells.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing with such love and honesty. That part of your life was a special part that I got to watch and share

    Like

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