Freedom to PreachBy
In honor of the imminent arrival of the Rev. Billy Graham in New York, I thought I would resurrect my hitherto unpublished account of an interesting subway ride last year:
Freedom to Preach
Perhaps hearts sank when the doors closed at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and the evangelist, a slight, black woman dressed in a black frock, which sprouted white frills, began exalting the Lord. Or perhaps spirits were raised (Ã¢â‚¬Å“thank God, for it is still too early to appreciate another guitar-playing LatinoÃ¢â‚¬Â). Either way, the preacher failed in her duty of reaching out to the one in the carriage she may have thought needed saving the most when she addressed the subject of Ã¢â‚¬Å“gay evils.”
An Asian woman, slightly rectangular in build, rose a full 5ft 1ins from her seat and beseeched the bible reader to cease her proclamations: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Why do people like you always have to do this? CanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you just let these people travel in peace?Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the people did not want to travel in peace and the riders rose in unison and turned on the short-haired devil: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Let her speak! Let her speak! Freedom of speech,Ã¢â‚¬Â came the cry from a sizeable and wholly black section of the carriage, all of above average age and of a mainly female persuasion. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Let her testify.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the Lord worketh in mysterious ways. And the woman refuseth to back down, warning: Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you do not be quiet, I shall be forced to sing show tunes.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And so it came to pass, that as the Number 3 train hurtled beneath the East River the preacher continued preaching, and the woman raised her eyes to the roof, waggled her hands and sang:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very clear, our love is here to stayÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â
Half a dozen passengers shook their heads in disgust at the woman while an elderly black man stood in front of her intoning: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I rebuke you. I rebuke you.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumbleÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I rebuke you. I rebuke you.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re only made of clay. But our love is here to stayÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â
Around Wall Street the preacher and the elderly man departed. One young, portly black woman stood and turned on the singer with a stinging rebuke, delivered at full volume with all the passion of a daytime television show in which guests are encouraged to physically attack each other. Her breasts heaved and her finger proved incredibly effective (though not more so than her mighty voice) as she wiggled head, shoulders and torso in the delivery of her venom: Ã¢â‚¬Å“How would you like it if somebody didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let you speak? You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like what IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m doing to you now, do you? Huh?Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the singer stood her ground (though she did not sing) and the castigator continued to wiggle and heave before departing shortly afterwards around 14th Street. By this time the carriage had replenished itself with a more diverse mix of color and background, many of them having joined the fray during different parts of the performance. The short-haired woman settled into a quiet conversation with a female passenger sitting next to her, and a few people were heard to breathe a sigh of relief.
Around 34th Street, the doors opened and in walked preacher number two, another elderly black woman, this time wearing a floral dress and a somber black hat. Books, magazines and newspapers were lowered as the commuters who had been party to rounds one and two waited to see what would happen. A few chuckles were heard as the singer rose and said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just thought I should warn you that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve already had one preacher on here, and if you do not be quiet I shall be forced to sing show tunes.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I got freedom of speech, and god tells me that the gay devils are controlling New York,Ã¢â‚¬Â came the reply. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You are ungrateful and weak.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Stars shining bright above youÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You had better start crying to the Lord.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Night breezes seem to whisper, I love you…Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You had better turn to god.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Birds singing in the sycamore tree. Dream a little dream of me…Ã¢â‚¬Â
But this time the carriage did not rise in JesusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ defense. Instead the passengers turned towards the preacher and either stared, chuckled or smiled. The preacher did the only thing she could Ã¢â‚¬â€œshe continued to preach. But she backed hurriedly down the carriage, forced along the aisle by the sickly sweet lyrics and the weight of two dozen smiles. Soon she had been forced through the doors to the next compartment and the singer received a round of applause, which she acknowledged with a bow.
PS A few days later I came across the showtune singing rider’s version of this encounter, which can be found here.