November 30, 2014

excerpt from Five Smooth Stones

The year is 1933. Professor Bjarne Knudsen is visiting in the home of a poor, black couple - Joseph and Geneva Champlin.  The conversation between these three unusual friends continues:

Knudsen went on. "As for your people ... I tell you there is more hope for your people than for those who oppress them. Believe me, it is so. There will be changes. That baby your wife is holding, he will see them, and his children will see them...."
...Knudsen said: "Mrs Champlin, I talk too much. I talk too much because I am an angry man, and an impatient one. You understand? Anger can be good, very good, but it must be coupled with patience. ... And for that patience, Mrs. Champlin, I turn to your people. And perhaps to God, if there is such a being, such a force. I do not know. Your people have never failed me when I have turned to them for patience.  God --" he shrugged.  "God baffles me. I have said that I am afraid of babies and that children baffle me. God does not frighten me, but He baffles me, as children do. Why is it, Mrs. Champlin, that God does not baffle you and your people, who have known a dark crucifixion all your lives?  For He does not."

Geneva was bringing things from cupboards, setting them on the table. She spoke slowly.  "We're ignorant people," she said. "And most of us poor. Dirt poor. We got nothing to come between us and God. No book learning, no things like a pile of money brings. Maybe we sees Him plainer. We been kept ignorant. You knows that. Ain't no colored person I knows of what ain't praying his children get an education like he never was let to have. I mean, praying for it. I knows."

She was silent for a long time, coaxing the fire in the stove to a hotter blaze. Then she said: "What they going to do with that education when they gets it? They going to let it come between them and God?"

Knudsen drew a deep breath. "I had not thought of that."  His voice, low, rumbled like a train. "I had not thought of that," he repeated. "When your people come into the light of learning, Mrs. Champlin, they must drive their learning and their God abreast, yoked together? That is what you mean?"

"Yes," said Geneva. "I reckon that's what I means. We got God here now, with us; we got Him close because we needs Him so bad. He ain't never far from us. Just so long as we keeps Him and keeps His son, Jesus, near us, we ain't plumb lost."

from Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn,  pp. 32-33