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  • Malisa Payne

'Ain't Got No, I Got Life'

“Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”, which came out in 1968, is a powerful song that speaks of singer Nina Simone’s life. It is soulful and rings with pride, beauty, and intimacy. While watching the video I can’t help noticing that the audience is uniformly Caucasian. They are genuine in their love and appreciation for her music, and we can safely assume for her as a person. The audience is captivated by her story. They find great depth in the portrayal of her struggles. They don’t hold any malice in their hearts, yet they are not participating in Nina’s experiences. The audience has not come with close friends of color that they share life with.

Watching this video caused me to search myself and see all the times that I have kept a safe distance and didn’t share the experience of others, even while I loved them.

I am grateful that loving from a distance is a concept that is completely foreign to Christ.

“So He had to be made like His brothers in every way, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, in order to make atonement for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 2:17

Nina’s line, “I’ve got a headache, toothache, and bad times too - like you,” is her statement that we are not so different. It is an invitation to participate in life together. It is in participating that we get to know just how similar we are and what the other might have that we’ve been missing.

I would have loved to share my life with Nina. She was a deep lady for sure. One of six children and the daughter of a North Carolina preacher, she fused gospel, pop, and classical music into her unique sound. I can’t help but ask, “What could the audience have learned by sharing life with folks from a different background? What could the people have learned about their own faith or their interpretation of God? It is in the partaking and growing that we even begin to resemble our God who is never distant and always intended each of us to bind in unity, shared life, and faith.

In Remember This House, James Baldwin comments that integration ends at the door of our churches and schools, though life happens in the kitchen.

Life doesn’t happen in the audience but in the kitchen. Let’s join Nina and so many others in the kitchen to share this one, unique life we’ve got.


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