Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Vaughn Williams’

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore

“No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood. … Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

Words spoken not today but nearly fifty years ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr during  this talk at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on March 31, 1968.  In this day and age of soundbites and tweets, it might be a challenge to read in entirety but I hope you have the opportunity to do so.  I chanced upon it while researching Dives and Lazarus.  I was curious about the parable that inspired one of my favorite pieces of music.

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus by Ralph Vaughn Williams I play to help me unlock a part of my brain when I am stuck on a writing project.  The music moved me long before I truly understood the story at its core.  A friend explained the story of the rich man, Dives, and the poor man, Lazarus, a parable appearing in the Gospel of Luke.  He recently summed it up as a story of inequality and early trickle down economics.

The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus by Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625

The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus by Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625

I was curious who else may have used or been inspired by such a perspective of that parable.  Thus, I found Dr. King’s talk from 1968.  During the talk, of Dives and Lazarus he wrote:

“… Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor. … Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”

There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. …  Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. …”

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Fyodor Bronnikov

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Fyodor Bronnikov

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, throughout the talk there is a sad timelessness to King’s words about racism, injustice, economic inequality, and silence.  But there is also a beautiful timelessness about the power and potential of people to make a difference. Near the end of his talk, he says:

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.  In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect.  … We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. … We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.”


 Sources/Additional Reading

Rich Man and Lazarus

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution by Martin Luther King Jr, 1968

More on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 1968

More about Ralph Vaughn Williams and his composition

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus on Youtube


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Today I made my annual donation to one of the nonprofits I support, WalkBoston.  As a card carrying pedestrian (and dreamer), believe me, I need help crossing the road.  I made the donation in memory of my Aunt Thelma who used to describe her walks to me.  Following is a blog post I wrote about her two years ago, about how she influenced who I am today, including how I can choose to give myself to others.  This bright, beautiful day is her birthday so it seems like a good time to give back, and give thanks for her having been in the world.  At the end of the post is a youtube video of Dives and Lazarus by composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.  It was music Steve had shared with me, and music I remember replaying until I could collect the words to write about a lovely woman who in her own unique way helped me learn to walk in this world.  Please enjoy the words and the music, and have a good day.



My mother taught me to cook, to plant flowers, and to tell stories.  From her I learned to love books and to love writing.  She passed away before I ever wrote and had published my first story.  During her life, I never traveled abroad.  She never knew me with a camera in my hand.  She never met Steve or any other fellow in my life.  But her sister, my Aunt Thelma did.

In Aunt Thelma’s bedroom dresser are the postcards I sent to her from my travels all over the world.  On her bookshelves are the magazines and other clippings of my work.  And, last year, after I returned from my travels with Steve in Japan, she made me create a photo book for her.  “I need tangibles I can hold in my hand,” she said when I pointed out the pictures were viewable online.  “And include a picture of that fellow you’re seeing.  I don’t know if I’ll ever see him any other way.”  They never did meet, but she read about him, and they spoke on the phone once.  I sat next to her on her couch as she laughed with him on my cell phone.  I remember him asking her what he should call her.  She laughed and said, “Well, why you don’t call me what everyone calls me.  Aunt Thelma.”  After she hung up, she asked me if he was a good man.  I said yes.  And then we went on to talk about my brothers and their families.

Growing up in Virginia, my mother made it clear early in my life if I was ever in trouble I could call my Aunt Thelma who was living in New York.  When my mother died, Aunt Thelma traveled to Virginia and was there with me and my brothers, along with the rest of the family.  When my father died unexpectedly a year and half later, she couldn’t make it, but I will always remember standing in a hospital waiting room on the phone with her crying and her saying over and over, “You go ahead and cry.  It’s alright to cry.”

In bad times but mostly good, I called her, especially after I got a cell phone.  I could call her randomly as I returned home from work.  She’d laugh at my stories and in the end, wind up telling me to be careful as I crossed the street.  She always ended her calls with, “I love you, Cynthia.”

My Aunt Thelma passed away this weekend.  I will miss her.  I am thankful that she was in my life.  I learned a lot.  In NY this weekend, as the family gathered, I held one of my young cousins in my arms.  She was crying.  “I’m sorry,” she said as she tried to wipe her face.  I said, “Why are you apologizing? For crying? Don’t ever apologize for crying.  It’s alright to cry.  Do you know who taught me that?” When she shook her head, I said, “Aunt Thelma.”

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A friend of mine teaching a course on race, class and privilege asked if she could use some of my writings on the subject.  Most of what I have written simply recounts my experiences as a brown woman abroad or of my family members in the American south.  In one of the essays, I reference Sam Cooke’s song, A Change is Gonna Come.  My family has long played this tune.  It is a beautiful piece.  Until today though I did not know its history:



I don’t know if my friend will use song in her course, but she has certainly reminded me of the influence and power of song, for creating change and for simply helping people endure.  Another song I shared with her is Billie Holiday’s rendition of Strange Fruit:



Moving me right now are songs without words by Ralph Vaughn Williams:

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis


If you don’t know these songs, they are well worth a listen!



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