Thought Provoking Insights from Vincent Harding
Vincent Harding died this May at the age of 82. Hearing his interviews with Krista Tippett on her podcast On Being inspire and challenge me. He offers us the wisdom of someone who has “been there” and “seen it” firsthand.
Born in Harlem, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr., a leader in the civil rights movement, Harding offers great wisdom and experience. He was a writer and teacher, and listening to him made me feel like I was sitting with a wise elder imparting nuggets of insight that I better pay attention to.
Our need for story
Harding says, “there is something deeply built into us that needs story itself. That story is a source of nurture that we cannot become really true human beings for ourselves and for each other without story.”*
So Harding tells stories. In one moment he talks about Martin Luther King Jr. who “was seeking…not simply equality or rights, but…the creation of the beloved community.” This was a “deep spiritual responsibility” to see “everything that crushed against our best human development and our best communal development, like segregation, like white supremacy.”*
Insightfully he notes that when it comes to creating a multi-religious, multi-racial democracy, America is still a developing nation. [selah]
What it means to be human
Harding pushes us to reclaim our understanding of democracy as really another way of talking about what it means to be human — to understand our purpose and our responsibility to one another and to our world. How do we together live into and create a more perfect union?
Harding connects identity, purpose, and the formation of a more perfect union to calling. He warns us:
“If we teach young people to run away from the darkness rather than to open up the light in the darkness, to be the candles, the signposts, then we are doing great harm to them and the communities that they have come out of.”*
Creating the beloved community
He then challenges us to do the hard work of creating the beloved community:
“To develop the best humanity, the best spirit, the best community, there needs to be discipline, practices of exploring. How do you do that? How do we work together?…How do we talk together in ways that will open up our best capacities and our best gifts?”*
Our need for hope and vision
The final part of the interview, Harding moves on to talk about the need for hope, the need to be able to envision the possibility of the beloved community. Hope and faith ground us in times of crisis and uncertainty.
Hearing songs differently
Also worth hearing: A powerful story is when Harding describes why he will never make fun of people singing “Kumbaya”. And his description of “This Little Light of Mine”. Context is everything.
This interview is well worth listening to in it’s entirety. There are two options: listen to the edited version— which is good and adds music clips that Harding references. But I really enjoyed the unedited, raw conversation that you can also listen to here:
Another worthwhile interview with Vincent Harding and Phyllis Tickle on “Racial Identity in the Emerging Church and the World” can be found here.
*All quotes taken from the transcript of the interview found here.
**Image of Vincent Harding comes from The Veterans of Hope Project website