I. There is only one black church left in the neighborhood where I grew up. When I hear about the “decline of the American church,” I think not of what this means for Sunday mornings, but of what it means for Sunday afternoons. Particularly summer Sundays—those that tend to stretch their legs long into a hot night on porches in areas like my neighborhood. Places where (mostly black) poor families live pressed against the edges of a city that wants them gone. And yet, the Sunday afternoon was still a sacred thing, when I was growing up. A place where everyone had enough to be fed, even if they didn’t truly have enough to be fed.
On Sunday afternoons where I’m from, someone’s father would put on a soul record. And then another. And then another. Maybe some funk, or a little jazz. But it would always come back to soul, maybe a little taste of late R&B, but not TOO late. You go to Redding for the pleading, Cooke for the praying, Marvin for the pleasure, and Aretha for everything else. It is almost an initiation, learning how to most effectively give language to our desires, our deepest loves. Turning your face away from whatever sadness the world has placed at your front door, taking off your shoes, and sliding across somebody’s mama’s wood floor. The right love song is the truest equalizer. There is a type of surrender in it. To grow up in a climate of violence and fear is to find a very particular joy in watching the perfect love song disarm even the hardest of your peers.