On forgiving Michelle Shocked

The dichotomous Michelle Shocked.

I recall sitting on the lush lawn of Fort Adams State Park during the Newport Folk Festival 12 years ago. It was a hot Saturday in August, and it was drizzling. There were hundreds of sturdy New England ladies similarly lounging around the perimeters since the Indigo Girls were headlining that weekend.

My tarp was damp, my veggie burger was mushy and I was cursing the rain-or-shine event. Sometimes in life, you have to choose to concentrate on the positive until the positive becomes the dominant element of the moment. So when Michelle Shocked began her set, I allowed myself to burrow into her soulful hymn “That’s so Amazing” from her album Deep Natural, her most gorgeous song to date.

“Guiding my way toward dawn when the sun will rise/And shine on everyone/That’s so amazing!”

Fittingly, the sun began to poke rays through the clouds until a sepia light enveloped the audience. (I know, I know. This part is schmaltzy but it is also true.) I continue to believe that the same Shocked who sang that altruistic lyric in which she acknowledged her love for the collective is not at heart a bigot. On the heels of a very disturbing and inexplicable event last week in which Shocked linked the overturning of Prop 8 with the End Time at a concert in San Francisco, I am reminded of my many Shocked moments.

Those memories include one of a conversation we had during one of the most challenging times in my life. I had fallen and literally broken my neck—shattered the fourth and fifth vertebrae of my spine. I was home, recouping, wearing a thick brace up to my chin, and waiting nervously for Shocked to call for an interview I was slated to do for a profile piece in Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Music journalists typically edit their transcripts to feature what they think will interest their readership. So I did not include Shocked’s very kind, albeit irrelevant, words to me in my final piece. She said, “Take it slow, and it will all work out.” A very simple phrase, to be sure, but it soothed my anger that day at my injury, which ultimately took a year to heal, and gave me a measure of patience with my frailty.

These personal fragments are in no way meant to excuse Shocked for her recent confusing, contradictory and painful comments. In writing this, I have sought to reconcile the righteous Shocked with the Shocked who showed up last week at a gig and torpedoed her own career. Ultimately, I arrived at my position regarding how to feel about Shocked: Love the sinner but hate the sin. Michelle, I don’t understand you but I forgive you.

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