Monday, April 20, 2015

When I Say I Am a Christian I Need to Get it Right

I am woefully behind in posting sermons here- in part because I was fighting major sickness before and during Holy Week, and then there were the funerals both at the church and beyond. Normally I wouldn't bother to say any of this except to say- for all of us, sometimes there are clusters of busy-ness that we are trying to work through. And when we are busy, sometimes we don't get to pay attention as closely as we might tend to or want to. So in the midst of that I was heading into Sunday feeling like the car coasting on fumes.

And wrestling with a sermon that wasn't quite clicking and I was looking for just that certain something to wrap up with and I found it! Or so I thought. I was preaching on 1 John and wrestling with the notion of Christian perfection and somehow I came across "When I Say I'm a Christian" and it clicked! And the poem by this name was attributed to Maya Angelou. I loved it, and I spoke of it in my sermon and several people were really taken by it.

The dream for pastors is that people tell you how they connected with the sermon, or what they will be thinking about, or in this case, one person was taken by the poem and went out to find it. Only to discover that there was a whole lot more the to story- and as grateful as I am that he was listening to my sermon, I am even more grateful for what happened next.

It seems that the Internet has co-opted "When I Say I am a Christian" and by that I mean that it has been adapted, and given different attribution and circulated in a variety of ways, BUT these things have all happened without the permission or desire of the true author. The true author is Carol Wimmer.

Her website is HERE. Carol wrote her poem in 1988 and it was first published in 1992. She holds the copyright to her poem.

So, perhaps now I should add that in addition to being a pastor, I am a lawyer and in fact have taught at Gettysburg Seminary and at the Region 7 Leadership Guild on the subject of copyright permissions. It is absolutely a question of Christian ethics concerning Luther's notion of vocation, not to mention the 10 Commandments has a thing or two or two to say. And of course the federal law has a lot to say about the rights of those who create.

We want people to create beautiful music, art, poetry, photography, and resources that enhance our lives and ministry. And we want immediate access to the things we want to use. As much as I am a creature of social media and the internet, I was reminded yet again of the deceptive nature of what is "instantly available." This is not the same as instantly usable.

Those who create have a legal right to compensation for use of their work, and a legal right to oppose the use or adaptation of their work in ways they do not wish to consent to. It is a matter of compensation and dignity.

So often in our world of instant digital media, we fall into a trap of a combination of impatience and desire.

Here I was a "late in time" sermon writer who now realized that what I thought was the truth was not. And of all things, in my own area. Ironically, the sermon I was preaching using I John 3 focused upon what it means to be God's children, not only in the great beyond but in this life. The challenge of  living as the epistle says " that those in Christ will not sin." The struggle of the concept of Christian perfection and the sense of gratitude and humility we can sense when we remember God's love. We cannot achieve the vision of what it means to be pure or without sin. Yet over and again, the God who loves us and calls us children invites us to strive to draw closer. Our lives are lived somewhere between perfection and "who cares." " I want to" is not enough of a reason to run roughshod.

There are lots of reasons to care and to do all we can to get this right, rather than become indifferent or even defensive about the value of the work of others. What did I do? Well, first I went back and took out the incorrect information before my sermon will be published and this coming Sunday I will tell my folk that I misspoke. And, I contacted Carol Wimmer and explained that I wanted to use her poem- the real one in my sermon blog ( sermon to be posted later) but that I also wanted to tell the story of how her poem and rights have been infringed upon. She graciously agreed ( thank you, Carol!)

Here are her words- "So many people have NO understanding of the purpose of copyright law. There is NO perception of the need to guard and protect the spiritual intent of a work! I literally receive hate mail from people who have had the copyright infringement removed from their social media accounts. I am accused of not being a Christian. Judged as being spiteful, or against sharing the gospel in order to make a name for myself. These judgments come only from those who carelessly share the altered version of the poem which changed the original intent of the work...It's all about protection of inspiration and intellect...In all my years I have never had anyone come to me with the desire to use my work in the context of discussion on copyright issues. This is wonderful!!!"

Imagine, sisters and brothers, discovering not only that your words have been twisted, but that all kinds of merchandise appears with what is not quite right but also for which you receive NO compensation- coffee mugs, posters, calendars, and more. And to boot, the poem you felt inspired to pen is attributed to another person altogether! I hope you can hear her pain in the words above. This is the way many whose work is lifted feel. And well they should!

While I am sorry I originally got it wrong, I am delighted to have connected with Carol and the rest of her website HERE.
And I am grateful she provided me with a download of the original poem along with permission to use which appears below.


When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not shouting, "I’ve been saved!"
I'm whispering, "I get lost sometimes
That's why I chose this way"

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I don't speak with human pride
I'm confessing that I stumble
Needing God to be my guide

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not trying to be strong
I'm professing that I'm weak
And pray for strength to carry on

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not bragging of success
I'm admitting that I've failed
And cannot ever pay the debt

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I don't think I know it all
I submit to my confusion
Asking humbly to be taught

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I'm not claiming to be perfect
My flaws are all too visible
But God believes I'm worth it

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I still feel the sting of pain
I have my share of heartache
That’s why I seek God’s name

When I say, "I am a Christian"
I do not wish to judge
I have no authority
I only know I'm loved

Used by Permission
Copyright ©1988 Carol Wimmer
All Rights Reserved

Sisters and brothers, may we strive to do what is right, walk in grace and honor what others create.

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