As I finish the topic of “Amazing” Grace, I mentioned in a recent column the author and one-time slave-trader John Newton and the chant "Amazing Grace." Newton was pure evil and he committed atrocities on enslaved Africans. He would later believe only God's amazing grace could and would take a rude, profane, slave-trading sailor and transform him into a child of God.
Can we talk? Do we ever think about the words when we sing any song, chant, or poem, and especially the song "Amazing Grace"? Let’s look at the second line: “That saved a wretch like me ….”
Keep in mind the author is talking about himself. If you look up the word wretch, you see it comes from the old English word wrecca, meaning banishment. Someone has to be purely evil or has disrupted society to be exiled from their tribe, town, city, state or nation. This is not a pleasant word, has the characteristic of evil.
Let’s look at its first meaning; unhappy and unfortunate person. Both words are adjectives—being unhappy is not a wretched person. A synonym for an unfortunate person is wretched, but the meaning is having or marked by bad fortune; unlucky.
As a believer of Allah, we should not believe in luck. Therefore let’s eliminate the watered down version of the word wretch by not using the term unfortunate and unhappy. Wretch as a noun means someone you feel sorry for. Therefore someone else is being judgmental and labeling another human being by naming them a wretch.
Let’s look at the second meaning; despicable, contemptible and deplorable are all adjectives describing wretch. As a noun it means someone who performs some wicked deeds. This is more in line of what the author was testifying to. For the vast majority of the singers of this song, it’s not their testimony. Why do we sing this song proclaiming to be something we are not and asking our Lord to save us from being what we aren’t?
When I ask about the meaning of wretch, I’m usually told it means sinner. Instead of changing the meaning of wretch to sinner, just replace the word wretch with sinner. There aren't any copyright restrictions on this song, therefore you can change the word.
What really blows my turban is when I hear African Americans singing this song. Their ancestors were abused, mistreated, murdered, classified as property and as chattel. When John Newton heard the chants from the enslaved Africans aboard his ship, you really believe the chants were about them wanting someone to feel sorry for them? No, they were chanting to Allah for their freedom. As descendants of enslaved Africans, ties to our motherland were cut. Therefore as natives of this land, we don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us, we want what was promised to all that live in this nation—freedom, liberty and justice.
Just because someone wants to label us, we don’t have to accept the label, and by no means must we own it. Most of us missed the message about being labeled in the 1960s, we accepted negative labels from those that didn’t love us; we own them and we glorified them. We are dishonoring our ancestors' struggles, those who fought for freedom, those who died for freedom and liberty by singing that we are a wretched people.
I love humanity and my intention is not to offend but enlighten. If I do, I apologize and maybe you need to look within yourself, maybe not today but in the future.
May we be tolerant and respectful to one another, develop patient, strive for peace and love as we be consistent in our journey through the light.
Alibaba Lumumba is a believer of peace who sees Arcadia’s potential and wants to participate in the evolving process in the future of the city and DeSoto County