Sometimes pastors shouldn't use their imagination to embellish Scripture. There are certainly some passages that need a little nudge. The spies hiding on Rahab's roof, little David and big, giant Goliath, even Peter's magic shadow might be candidates. I remember reading Sarah Hadas's great take on Abraham from the perspective of his wife Sarah.
Perhaps, church life is running in a kyklos. The kyklos is how the Greeks viewed government -- in a cycle -- always turning in on itself as regimes are formed and dismantled, models made and then splintered. It goes round and round. Monarchy turns to despots turn to tyranny turns to oligarchy turns to democracy turns back to anarchy.
According to the Greeks liberty eats itself. That's Paul too - everything is permissible but not beneficial. There are definite ends to it, and, at the end of things, it's not pretty. It's usually not worth much at the start either, since liberty most often begins with war. For the Christian that war is within the soul, the wrestling match with God himself and his word.
"I know that many wiser and better Christians than I in these days do not like to mention Heaven and hell even in a pulpit," says Lewis (The Weight of Glory). He goes on to say that nearly all the references in the New Testament about both destinations come from Jesus himself, and, "If we do not believe them, our presence in this church is great tom-foolery. If we do, we must sometimes overcome our spiritual prudery and mention them."
It’s heavy; I don’t know if I can bear it; the whips are driving into my back; my feet are sore; beneath me the riveting rocks press in; my eyes sting from the sweat; I am hot; I am cold. “Why don’t you save yourself?” jeers someone close to me from the lynch mob that has surrounded me. Father even now forgive them.
The moon rests just the same over New Orleans and Indonesia. The gutters of Japan bucket out the last of their dead onto a radio active ocean. The tsunami heaps onto its record - a prized fighter finding punching his opponents down for count after count. Africa is baked in tyranny as children are fatherless due to years of civil war and bombs burst all over the air.
Resurrection is a subject that is central to the Christian narrative. Lewis addresses the idea of resurrection in his stories (Aslan and Eustace come to mind, for example), in his theological works, and in his letters. In this simple series of articles during Lent, I want to point out several occasions where Lewis discusses resurrection with hopes that his take on the subject might better refine ours as we head into Easter.
It's not grace, but it's like it - the gap that occurs between intentions and needed rest or worship and debauchery or hatred and love. I've been in the gap of "hiatus" for about 12 months. The gap is no gaping wound or something beyond commonplace busyness, but time builds up a void like hornets on a summer porch. By the time you get back at something, the days are weeks and months.
I think it's on the account of busyness that I wage the battle for "free time" and no one - least of all me - will wager that it will not seep through the crack of the door or simply beat the door down. It wants to keep my hands from idleness and I appreciate it's proverbial role, but I think the devil and his angels orchestrate the speediness of life.
See, my hiatus is bastardized because the gap was full of activity; it wasn't a needed rest from daily chores. My hiatus from writing and organizing MHP is a result of a move to a new state, new job with more responsibilities, new, new, new. The roar of activity has no tamer at the moment, but tonight I thought I'd get back to it and start again. Hiatuses, as we all know, must end at some point or whatever you've let up will die.
MHP is still a viable place and one which I hope will be referred to in the days to come. It will never be part of the crazy speed of Internet norms, but occasionally, the space between the noise, a different sort of listening might be appreciated. We hope so.
Make me your Bethlehem
humble and waiting
for Israel's prophet who sows the root of Jesse
to reap the very Son of God.
She means a house of bread and
from her table falls a trail of crumbs
that leads to a broken-last-supper king of the Jews.
If I should stand as a city on a hill,
make me your Bethlehem,
lowly and without pretense.
She has no moses glows or sinai camps,
yet the heavens drop into the earth (not the earth into itself)
as the cooing messiah brings God down to his footstool
and ushers in foolishness to shame the wise.
Make me your Bethlehem,
silent and ready
to host principalities and powers the flood the sky
She holds water that David longed to drink.
Yet when three of his strongest men retrieved it,
he poured it out before the Lord.
If I am to lend my life as a living sacrifice,
make me your Bethlehem,
absorbed in a myth rung true -
For to us a child is born in the city of David.
He is to be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Shel Silverstein’s famous giving tree tale points out the gravity that bends us to the ground… to sit, to retrace our steps, to finally die.
If you believe nature is cursed with death, you might likewise find aging as a standard fare, but maybe it’s not.
The only difference between death and life is breathing. Nothing more. Yet, lines of experience bring scars, bed sores, thinned skin, and faulty backs. So, in the temporal corners of this huge house the body ages alongside the soul. It shrinks inward until it bursts out a jack-in-the-box type spirit, which, depending on your theology, roams the earth or the marches straight up to God's gate.
But why? Why does old age often accompany death? Why the cataracted eyes from seeing too much, the aided ears tired of noise, the sinking stomachs with no roller coaster surprises, the chemically stimulated sex to feel what once was, the morphined drips from hospice lips… waiting with graveside manners, waiting and waiting?
Rewind. Does childhood only make sense because adult life follows it? In other words, when I was a child I talked and thought and reasoned like one, but when I became big I put away small stuff. I don’t buy it. Years can breed maturity and experience often fosters a more exercised faith and outlook, but growing up only means growing old, and growing old will find a way to humble us through a loss of faculties or memory or by disease.
Let’s remember. For those of us who still find the Scriptures a telling patchwork of God’s long history with humanity, note how seldom old people are mentioned in longwinded ways. Those first cats certainly grew old, and they also were taken advantage of. Remember nude Noah, daughter-loving Lot, fooled-by-the-hairy-hand Jacob, and eroticized Judah? Enoch and Elijah make it out okay. In more recent days, Simeon and Anna grew old in their wait for Jesus, but not much more is said except, “Dismiss your servant in peace,” or, “Thanks God, now I can die.” Peter’s mom did get sick and needed Jesus’ magic touch. Thorny-sided Paul was probably old, and tradition says that John, wired perhaps on opium, lived long after Domitian tried to french fry his legs in a cauldron of boiling oil.
However, many more of the main-stage players in God’s narrative are far from old age when they enter the scene - Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Ruth, Sampson, Josiah, Samuel, David, Daniel, Mary, Jesus, The 12, Stephen, Timothy, John Mark, Eutychus, etc. My point here is simply to make aware the absence of old sage tales when one looks at the Christian story. There are few mopping white beards and hunched over wizards with wise words and large canes. Young guns are the norm.
So, why old age? I do think machine enhanced aging is problematic, but that’s more a question of life’s quality and whether human ingenuity should prolong it in Vader-like proportions. More to the point here is the reason we age at all. Would it not be more strictly the Eden curse to live and then die? Why the ailments and wrinkles? Why not collapse at age 80 or 90 while feeling and looking 25?
Some might say that all creation is fallen and thus bugs die with one sting, dogs live seven years at a time, trees hover overhead with very slow decay, and humans catch the diseases they once spilled onto nature and quickly lump up or rot out. Buddha’s adherents may say that nothing is lost even when it withers, so the circle is always complete despite the vulnerability of life’s stops and restarts. Perhaps Muslims, along with Christians and even deviant groups such as Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses would find comfort in a life beyond the one we live now. No matter how we settle in or squirm under the weight of those blue haired days (if we’re so lucky), the sun and rain indeed fall onto all who subscribe to faith groups and everyone in between.
What holds value is whether we can trick the sun into lighting our altars ablaze or convert the rain into a cleansing agent. For that trick, many of us need years of practice before such Faustus mischief takes over our souls and rightly places those dirty details of the Gospel – don’t worry, be Gods, love unlovelies, believe – as front and center behavior.
The struggle is immense, and growing old stands squarely against our hope to find immortality. However, it might break our hearts for love of neighbor and ready us for a long journey to Abraham’s side.
Maybe one point of old age is to kill our arrogance and give fresh ease on the path we see faintly around the bend. I found a lyric that demonstrates a bit of the angst I'll continue to feel until I'm a ripe old age of some God fearing number... let's say, 87.
It’s the comedy of God
That sends us back to infancy
Helpless and without dreams
That sets our souls wandering
Needful of community
Lost in noplace thoughts and
Round the corner whispering
Insanity trapped at every turn
Leaking, slim hope wrinkling
Anticipating a punch lined smile
Knowing it may not happen.
Back to the tree. True. Its projection is visible and exposed. But, a great oak and a weeping willow is under-girded by a great network of roots that make up its soul - just below the surface of things and living long after the show up top is chopped off. That's why the stump of the giving tree still invites us - Sit down. Relax. Tell me about all your adventures.
Trace back. Cain and Abel began the dance with great flare. What follows? The drunkenness of Noah; Abram’s lack of faith; the sin of Lot’s daughters; Isaac and Rebecca playing of favorites; the neglect of Jacob for his other sons; God’s rebuke of Eli for he honored his sons above his faith; the spear that divided Saul from Jonathan; the mess of David that his crafty eye began, that included rape and murder, that had Absalom hanging from a tree by his jealous hair, that brought the wisdom of Solomon who offered several songs about relationships despite a life riddled with misplaced priorities.
In Job there is hope. The Scripture explains that he regularly sacrificed burnt offerings for his sons and daughters. “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts,” he reasoned. His account concludes, “And Job saw his children and their children to the fourth generation.” I suppose Hannah provides the chief Old Testament example of a faithful mother as Mary and Elizabeth offer similar examples in the New Testament. Others may be pieced together, but for much of Scripture, family relations are seen- for sin is blinding- through an eye always in squint.
But the story is redemptive as all stories can be. Who was Terah that Abram became the father of many nations (despite his setbacks); who was Amoz that allowed Isaiah the eyes to see the prophesy of Messiah; who was Hacaliah that gave Nehemiah the charge to rebuild the wall and prompted the return of Israel from exile? Trace back and find a patient God who embraces time with love and a people who desperately pull away from that embrace.
How about it? Faithfulness has a lineage but it is speckled. Maybe this promotes “real life.” Are David’s deceits a reassurance for our own unfaithfulness, or do we cry out with naked vulnerability, torn and diseased before a God of cures?
It is far easier to sympathize and rationalize our behaviors than to hear what prophets Samuel, Nathan, or John the Baptist might say? The purpose of Scripture is not first to promote reality but to exhort truth in which reality can be confirmed.
May our days be marked by his faithfulness, not by our excuses; may our affections be for his cross not for our philosophies that cuts sin’s sting without reconciling it.
(Genesis 4:8; 9:20-21; 16:1-4; 19:30-38; 25:28; 37:3; 1 Samuel 3:13-14; 20:30-32; 2 Samuel 11:4; 13:11-12; 13:30; 18:9; 1 Kings 3:12; 11:2-6; Job 1:5; 42:16; 1 Samuel 1:21-2:10; John 19:26; Luke 1:57-58; Genesis 11:27-12:3; Isaiah 1:1 and, e.g., 9:1-7; Nehemiah 1:1 and 11:1-2.)
Bufford Jones went outside on the steps and sat down. He couldn’t sleep. It was four in the morning. The lights didn’t work. “Storm’s on its way,” he said to himself seeing the dark clouds piled up atop the night sky. “No doubt about it.”
Sarah Prather’s trailer next door didn’t have its usual porch light on. Perhaps the whole park lost power. He didn’t know. He went back inside and lit a candle he had rummaged up from under the sink. It was stuck behind the bucket that caught a drip from the leaky kitchen pipes. He wondered if all the guts underneath his mobile home could actually move. He guessed the whole thing would if it wanted, move clear over to Birmingham or all the way up to Chicago. That’s what his son said. Here Bufford was, shacked up in a cardboard-nothing on wheels that wore a bastardly disguise of faux stucco. “Faux stucco, Joseph,” Bufford shouted last he saw his son two Easters ago,
“Whose ever heard of faux stucco?”
Joseph was a banker. That’s about all Bufford knew. “He’s making something of himself,” he said to Sarah one day when she asked why he lived alone. “Joe likes the big city and I told him I wouldn’t get near it - that I was staying put. And put I am and I don’t have to put up with him, you know? All that bank talk. He’s making something.”
Sarah just listened. She always did, and Bufford liked that about her. They both sat on his front patch of grass, rocking slowly in their chairs, back and forth like two pendulums making time. The park kept tiny dirt lanes down each side of the trailers and small flaps of grass at the front, just enough for a couple of old cathys like themselves, chatting from can’t see to can’t see.
The closeness of neighbors only mattered when Deacon Fry came out. Deacon was a big black oak of a man who layered himself with new rings of fat each season. Now, with a railcar-sized berth, he blustered out of his trailer like an untamed elephant booming his voice with some gospel hymn; tapping his right foot:
O my good Lord's done been here
Blessed my soul and gone away
My good Lord's done been here
Blessed my soul and gone
Over and over again. Sarah and Bufford had only enough warning to hobble inside and adolescently hold their breath. If Deacon didn’t knock on Bufford’s door, they knew it took him four times through the spiritual to clear the way from front door to vehicle, a used up Honda that sank low when Deacon wedged his body inside. And if Deacon knocked on Bufford’s door it was because of some pronouncement or dream he “received from the Lord” the night before. “Ever since Mama Fry died,” he explained to Bufford one day, “ever since, the Lord’s been using my mind as his canvas, paintin’ the richest stories of how he’ll do it... he’s gonna do it.”
“Do what?” Bufford asked, full well of what Deacon might say.
“Do what? Mister Jones. Are you kiddin’ me. The do was already done and the what is just being carried along like sweet Moses in his basket of reeds.”
“I swear,” Sarah said, “Deacon Fry’s going to announce one day the skwooshing of God.”
“Either that, or the fact that he ate him one night,” Bufford said getting up from his chair. When he stood up he raised his hands high and bellowed, “And now we must wait three days. Yes, God has been eaten by the whale!”
Bufford stumbled around to find the weather radio and went back outside. The report said the storm would pass through Hickory Creek within two hours and the wind would sail through in a ravishing speed. Bufford didn’t believe it but he decided to knock on Sarah’s door anyway. He thought he’d let her know the danger.
“Sarah,” he whispered into the door’s crack. “Sarah, are you up? A storm’s coming.”
Sarah didn’t come to the door so Bufford went around to the back of the trailer to see if he could wake her up. He felt like a kid sneaking around, anxious and hopeful in the same breath. She never answered.
He went on around and then remembered that Sarah left the day before for Tulsa to visit her sister.
He went on inside to start his Tuesday routine. Three days a week he went to Huddle House - Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Biscuits with gravy, side of eggs and bacon - that was on Bufford’s mind when he heard a knock at the door.
“Bufford, Bufford, Bufford - you in there?” said Deacon Fry.
Bufford opened the door.
“The sky - did you see the sky?” said Deacon, with enough huffs and puffs to blow down Bufford’s trailer.
“Deacon, what are you anxious about?” said Bufford. “It’s just dark clouds.”
“Yeah, but them, they amassin an army up there, fur sure, and they’re ready to attack.”
“Maybe the day’s here,” said Bufford facetiously.
“You funny, Bufford Jones, you’re real funny, but I tell you something, it’s your soul the maker’s hungry for. He’s already got mine.”
“OK, Deacon,” said Bufford diverting a sermon, “What do you want to do about the sky?”
“You need to get out of here, straight away,” said Deacon.
“Me? I’m staying put.”
“Where Sarah? She’ll knock some sense into you.”
“She’s with her dying sister. And besides, are you heading out somewhere?”
“For sure, I’m staying, Mr. Jones. I done run enough. I’m not running from no clouds even if they be brought down to slurp me up like the mighty prophet Elijah.”
“Why not? And why do you think I want to leave out?”
“You hear that?” Deacon asked as thunder rolled around in the sky. “That’s the devil. He’s beating his wife with a frying pan and the fight come to Hickory Creek. You ready? I don’t think you ready to fly from your nest.”
“What are you talking about?”
The sky began to drip down. Morning light barely had the chance to wake up before the thick clouds punched it back down. Deacon’s screen door blew open. By now several neighbors had come out in their bathrobes to measure the temper of the storm by staring up at it. They quickly went back inside.
But Bufford and Deacon didn’t. They stood there looking up from the grassy nook in front of Bufford’s trailer. No one talked anymore. They both knew it was too late to go anywhere; instead, they wanted to see what came to them.
“Cats and dogs,” said Deacon. “It’s about to unload them. We need to get inside.”
With that, Deacon - the trailer of a man he was - tumbled off to help weigh down his home. If Bufford still had hair, it would be clear to the side of his head. He knew it was time to go inside, but he staying there, the rain beginning to pound down.
“Joseph! You hear me?” he said, yelling at the wind. “I’m stuck here in the middle of a raging fury and... all I have is faux stucco! That’s it! And Deacon Fry!” He reached out to embrace the rain and laughed like a lunatic. “I got nothing else. No barriers. Nothing.”
The wind picked up and Bufford slowly walked inside, beaten by the rain. His candle had long since gone out. The darkness was interrupted by the firestorm of lightning outside. He stripped off his wet clothes and found his way to the bathroom and sat down in the tub. He’d wait it out there as if a character in the miller’s tale, waiting for what may never come.
Deacon Fry was in his kitchen. He held onto the pipes under the sink. “Don’t you know that the trailer can move but those there pipes under your sink are sunk way deep into God’s soil below,” he told Bufford once. “If ever you need to hold on, hold on there and pray. Don’t forget to pray.”
Bufford wasn’t praying. He didn’t believe in it. “Why would you send out a message into the same sky that was about to drop on your head anyway,” he thought to himself. His home started shaking but he didn’t budge. “Joe’s probably watching the radar,” he said out loud. “‘I told you Dad. I told you it wasn’t safe.’ That’s what he’s saying. But who wants to be safe? I’d rather brave it out. Deacon’s right. If the end is coming, why tuck yourself away? Step out in the gunfire.”
Bufford went on with his monologue as his trailer heaved and howed with the wind and rain that swept through Hickory Creek that morning. He felt quite a bit older as he struggled to get out of the tub and unstick his body. He didn’t bother putting clothes on because he forgot he was naked. He went outside to assess the damage.
The tornado had ripped through the park, touching down and throwing about trailers on either side of Bufford’s and Sarah’s row. He walked further on toward Deacon’s way. There wasn’t a trailor to speak of nor Deacon’s car. All he could see was Deacon.
“Deacon!” he called out, “Are you OK?”
“Is that you, Mr. Jones?” he asked, still gripping the piping from his kitchen. He was unwilling to let go and turn Bufford’s direction.
“I think the storm’s over,” Bufford said.
“Sure is. Oh Jesus, it sure is. But you a storm in your own self. You need to get some clothes on straight way, my friend. You’s naked.”
Bufford just stood there looking at the wreckage and Deacon, who seemed untouched in the incident.
“Let me tell you, Bufford Jones, God had his hand on my ass,” Deacon said, slapping himself, “right there on my ass, so two-hundred mile winds whispered by like Jesus in the garden - like the Lord God sleeping in the belly of the boat with the seas tizzyin’ outside. I told you he’d do it - take this earthen dwellin’ right out from under my feet and take me home.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t take you home,” Bufford said. “You’re right here. And he didn’t touch me. I was as bare as born and the storm ”
“That’s cause God had his hand on me,” Deacon said. “And God’s been lookin’ for you, Bufford. Alls it is, is that he missed. That’s it. He’s looking for you.”
He moves into place and pushes off the uterine wall, lodging his head in the cervix. He sinks lower, ready to break out, or in, like a thief.
Nine months ago it happened. 46 chromosomes and 30,000 genes gathered inside Mary. At day 14, a heartbeat thumped and 40 days brought fragile brain waves. All appeared normal. Arms and legs, fingers and toes replaced buds as he was woven together, fearfully and wonderfully. He kicked his legs and sucked his thumb. He slept and woke with his mom, and he knew her voice and her touch before he saw her face.
He pushes and pushes again, tunneling his way down the canal. He hears voices and sees a light pulsing in and out of site. His head feels a tinge of cold and Joseph gently pulls at him. Joseph cuts the umbilical chord and holds the swaddled clothes close to stop the bleeding. It's finished and it's just begun. Mary sits up, expecting. Joseph places Jesus in her arms. The baby roots to find his mother's breasts and collapses into her security.
Divinity draws a deep net. Though Jesus would be born into Jesse's shoot, he'd not be of it. Wrapping God up in the embrace of woman is one thing; forming God from single cells, through the gestation cycle is another. The profound mystery is that Jesus, fully God and man, of whom we borrow breath, breathes in and out, in and out, born inside of time and place. At that moment, the ancient myths came true: God grew legs and lungs and eyes and ears and heart and head. God became flesh and bone.
It began in the orange grove. They were too young to realize that their curiosity had blind-alley eyes. The earth tone pickup truck melted into the turns and weaves of squatty trees that dripped its fruit. Michael’s adolescent senses naturally hunted for a solace space to take his girl. He was a hound sniffing out the chase.
Citrus oils sting the eyes and make bitter the first bite of an unpeeled orange. He didn’t think about that. Jodie sat next to him in the cab, a little restless from the ragged path that brought them to the middle of the grove. If film can modify your perspective, think zoom out and up. There sits a small truck, its naked bay stuck out, an odd duck in a neighborhood of a thousand trees. You can see the crooked spine of Michael’s path inward. It probably won’t be his getaway. Creativity precedes lust; it never follows it. There’s a straight shot back and right of screen. Jodie didn’t know it. She would have run it down, scared, if she had. The orchard hemmed her in and quickly ate up the outside world.
The sun grew tired of the whole affair and said good night as Michael rigged makeshift quarters in the back of his truck. Blankets, pillows, a few candles soon to be lit. He knew what he wanted. He planned it out. Jodie was not limp in the exchange though they hadn’t talked about it; that would have shamed the event for sure. She put on delicate attire, and giddy, asked, "Where are we going? Where are you taking me tonight?"
Neither one knew the details of how it would play out; two teenage Baptist virgins wanting to embrace the forbidden.
First times happen once; hunger follows then routine sets in. The spaces between are anxious or boring.
Michael went over and opened Jodie’s door. He spent some time organizing the props just right. Jodie strolled down the path that brought them here, hands in her pockets.
She reached up and picked an orange. It was just right.
“All ready now,” Michael said with a motion for Jodie to come.
Jodie walked back. She felt herself moving in slow motion caught between the now and then, the lost and found.
They climbed onto the truck's back and looked up at the stars.
“Mike, you see the big dipper?” Jodie asked, pointing. “It’s right there.”
“Yeah, I see it.”
“Did you know that it points to the North Star? That’s what the slaves used to make sure they were heading the right direction.”
Paying little attention, Michael jerked up and lit some candles. He had balanced them on each side of the cabin roof. “Forgot that part,” he said.
“Follow the northern star; follow the northern star. That was their song,” she said.
“Who put all those up there anyway?” Michael asked. “And why?”
“You know the answer to both those questions,” said Jodie. “Maybe they’re not stars at all, just holes people poked out in the floor of heaven to see out.”
“Why would they want to see down here?”
“To remember, perhaps.”
Michael paused and looked over at Jodie. “Come here.”
Jodie scooted closer, putting her head on his chest.
Michael didn’t waste any time in reaching down and slipping his hand inside Jodie’s shirt. Jodie obliged, Michael thought, because she didn’t resist him. And besides, that’s what they came out to the orchard to do. Even though they never voiced it, they both knew it.
Jodie turned and kissed him. It was a signal to start their exploration. They unpeeled each other of their clothes and ducked under the blankets as if they were a cave overhead - as if they believed there really were voyeurs behind the stars.
The moment was too sensual for Michael. He forced himself inside Jodie and within seconds he had released all those inhibitions and haunts.
He felt free; Jodie just hurt. She was a exposed and sticky. She sat up and looked down at her body.
“Blood!” she burst out. “Look at this blood.”
“Let me help you,” Michael said with little triumph, but more embarrassment than anything else. He took the pillow out from under her and tossed it out of the truck.
Jodie lay back down and pulled the blankets up over her head. From underneath them she said, “I hope I’m not pregnant.”
“You’re not. It’ll be OK.”
“Yeah, you’re not bleeding.”
“I love you, Jodie.”
After a minute, Michael picked an orange. “Want one?”
He bit into it and cooly began to peel it open.
“I hope I’m not pregnant,” she said again.
“You're not, Jodie. It'll be okay. I love you.”
Jodie struggled to sit up. She fell into Michael’s lap which was full of orange peels. Love seemed to be exchanged between them though she never said anything. Her thoughts were on the northern star.
by Zach kincaid
Matthew's House has graciously allowed me to say a few words about the United States and the political world. Although my comments might cause some to side one way or another, my main observation is an historic one, rather than the want to lose one's head - namely mine- in the drivel of American politics today. I hope you'll oblige a reading and a discussion.
Last month Joe Wilson failed in his politicking and picked the pocket of honesty. But his, "You lie!" is not the first South Carolinian cry that challenged the federation and the president that is its head. South Carolina is the whip that calls out such abuses. For example, it is South Carolina who leads out in the succession of states that will form the Confederacy. And if we step back further, it is South Carolina that is so anxious about Andrew Jackson and his woeful tariff control that John Calhoun (who was Jackson's former vice president) leads out a rebellion. Yes, Jackson wraps himself around it and takes care of these would-be rebels but the first breaths of confederacy are inhaled... and that air is crisp and dangerous at the same time.
Now, Joe Wilson received disciplinary action for his "breach of decorum." Has "Mr.President" become "His Majesty"? John Adams tried to make it so and it didn't happen. Washington preferred a simple title and one that echoed a certain humility (along the lines of his 1783 resignation as a war hero and "retirement" to Mt Vernon after beating the most powerful nation in the world.) No, only Mr. President, please. And the title suggests a leveling that is unlike other nations. The president will be a regular person and his respect will be a regular respect, they said. Perhaps Wilson crossed the lines of common etiquette. That certainly can be argued. But he did not cross lines that infer the executive branch in a propped up manner.
What lies inside of South Carolina that coals at the idea of federalism run amuck? What is absent in her fellow southern states that they sit silently?
It's encouraging to see South Carolina cycle around the same block, whether it's Wilson's blast or DeMint's angst. At the same time, it's discouraging to hear the media connect the concern only in the theater that's called today. If we have a longer view, we recognize that "You lie!" is an echo that needs to be heard, even if it be mere rhetoric. It's the voice that has marked out statehood versus a united blob and it's a voice that might be willing to have another go at country status if the federation breaks the back of friendship for which we share our union. In the end, are we not part of a democracy that serves to be free and open, even when it means a union that is vulnerable?
A few weeks ago I saw the Indigo Girls at the Capitol Theatre in Macon, Ga. The place only sat 300 so it was close and intimate. As always, their harmony, guitar playing, and thoughtfulness proved impressive. I had the occasion to interview Emily and Amy a few years back and due to the shuffling to a new web presence the posting died a virtual death... but I've found it again and I wanted to resurrect it with portions of a review of their "Despite Our Differences" album (which I know dates the interview).
On the horizon they all unfold… places, spaces that we inhabit, keep, abandon, fill or empty of the ruts and rewards of community and commerce. It’s this sense of place that haunts, reprises, and redeems us in the recent offering of the Indigo Girls, “Despite our Differences.”
“Place has always been important to me,” says Amy. “It’s the flora, the fauna, the feel of the earth. I have a strong connection to the South. It’s been that way in my family for generations. I don’t like everything that’s associated with the South, and if my relation was New York City, I suppose it would be a more urban feel. But, I look for connectedness with my neighbors and my community even though we may vote and feel differently about things...
“I haven’t been to that many places, but when I see, on a commercial level, similarities like GAP and Pottery Barn, it all looks the same. People like that convenience, but you don’t really have anything when you take away the landscape. I think people want to feel. Some plow down and rebuild the way it used to be in order to capture a little of that feeling.”
Emily agrees. “Since we are always on the move and always gone, place is particularly important,” she says. “You can feel thinned out on tour; it’s not really reality. It’s good to have a sense of identity inside your community where you are loved. I think human beings are born to live in community. We are hungry for a sense of place and to know who we are and how we fit in. I own a restaurant in Decatur and place plays out even when buying produce. We buy locally and that means you don’t get strawberries until the summer. So place is seasonal like that. And in spiritual life it’s that way too, with liturgy.”
So, the Indigo Girls are nourished by the idea of place, and they are equally fed by their indignant appetite against the thieves that rob communities of identity, lasting relationship, and those hooks on which we hang change - the “subdivision man,” “pavers,” and “associations.”
Open to “Pendulum Swingers” –
I see love and I want to make it happen
What we get from your war walk
The ticker of the nation breaking down like a bad clock
I want the pendulum to swing again
So that all your mighty mandate
was just spitting in the wind
It’s a rebel song about the elite that control society and wage its wars, and about finding out the emptiness of power yet its stronghold on the disenfranchised. It’s a call is to swing the pendulum and invite change like the swinging chariot of Elijah that broke the ancient passageways between the heavens and the earth.
These mandating powers not only trample on the individual who could introduce change, and reduces her/him to “a drop in the bucket,” says the song, but they also harm the ability to believe:
It’s fine about the old scroll sanskrit
Gnostic gospels the da vinci code’s a smash hit
Aren’t we dying just to read it and relate
Too hard just to go by a blind faith
“It’s like teeth in sugar; it tastes sweet,” says Emily. “You turn the page [of The Da Vinci Code] and you start thinking, ‘it might be.’ We all want answers. We are bombarded by pop culture which is looking for answers. The problem is that most of us don’t take the time to sit still and sift through this stuff. People are spiritually dying and need answers. We’re really asking, ‘To whom do we belong?’ and ‘where are the miracles?’ We want to see beyond the mundane and the reality we live in.”
Move to “Little Perennials” –
I look for words to fill the empty spaces,
all the life revealed in these back stages.
I reach for names like little puzzle pieces;
Oh perennial, come to me.
I asked Amy what perennials – those reoccurring things – provide her the assurances to make sense, even cautiously, of life. “Every time I see someone I’m related to, I’m forced back into life,” she says. “It’s a good reminder of reality. Probably for me, another is not being closed into spaces. We’re always hiking or doing something outdoors on tour. And also songs. We’ll go for some time without singing a particular song and then when we do sing it, it brings up something new – different.”
It's true. Amending one’s perspective in order to gain an ability to see the small things that charm life, give a gentle nudge of inspiration, and lean on a hope for relationship “despite our differences” is a simple message that defines the Indigo Girls today.
“I Believe in Love” carries the weight of the album title in a “New Year’s Day”, “Under a Blood Red Sky” smoothness –
I want to say that underneath it all you are my friend
And the way that I fell for you I’ll never fall that way again
I still believe despite our differences
that what we have’s enough
I believe in you and I believe in love
Is it that simple? Listen more. “Three County Highway,” the album’s next offering, demonstrates a wandering that is necessary to frame the touching lines that conclude the song –
So put your head on my heart and lay down
in the crook of my arm.
Everything’s okay, I’ve been found again,
I’ve been found again.
Amy and Emily seem to insist that finding authentic places means living within community and taking risks on people and their love... and your love for them. They seem to treasure honesty and genuineness in others. Maybe that’s the folk artist that’s ever present in their stories. “Dirt and Dead Ends” samples it as Amy tells of a friendship unharnessed and an authenticity tackled by hellish addictions that won't come clean.
“Lay My Head Down” and “Money Made You Mean” are dropped into the center of the album and seem to feed on each other, telling two sides of the same tale - the external and internal temptations to wear the mask of life upon the face of death.
“Lay My Head Down” pauses to catch the simple gesture of security and affection. “Money Made You Mean” drives at the opinions that our needs and righteous anger are always wrestling with the system of dollars and cents changing hands and making us want excessively. “Lay My Head Down” stumbles inside a party and “Money Made you Mean” kicks you in the gut.
“Money can be tied to meanness,” says Amy, “but money is a tool that can also do good. In the song, I’m asking that question about myself in a cynical sort of way. As an activist, you can do good with it, but that still drives you to want more money and that drive can take over the good.”
I asked about her opinions of campaigns like Product Red and the popularity of tying consumption that is fueled by tossing something charity's way.
“People are going to sell things and the opposite is that they don’t give anything back,” she says. “It’s a conundrum. What’s really being given back when you purchase something? How significant is it? And is the need created because of the products themselves – being made in sweatshops or something similar. It provides an easy out. It makes you sad. I’m taking myself to task. I get paid to do a record and that money comes from somewhere. Are we just creating a need and recycling it back? Our work on energy justice, for example. It takes energy to run the campaign. I think we need to do our best and try not to waste.”
As for a starting point, Amy suggests that we first find our identity and be comfortable with who we are individually. It’s at that point that we can reflect on the greed that often captivates us, and recognize the need for a more relational landscape that is stripped of some commerce that acts too often as a blind guide –
You could keep it all or give it away
but where did it come from in the first place?
Robbing Peter to pay me and I’ll just be
giving it back to Peter to feel free.
Cut to: “Lay My Head Down” –
And everyone’s tied to their thing
To their past or their drink or the date that they bring
I just get tired all of a sudden taking it in
And I want to lay my head down on you
Because you’re the only solid thing in this room
A room full of changes, strangers, illusion, confusion
I speak from my heart but I’m not really sure if it’s true
I want to lay my head down on you
“The way in and the way out is through a human being,” Emily says. “We have a human need for each other – to find our respite and refuge and rest. There’s a codependency. The song’s about a party getting loose and getting tired and among the music and temptation, you’re the one thing. It’s metaphorical as well.”
We talked some about Matthew’s House, about Jesus being there - being here - and the world as that house with the so called sinners of the day. We both agreed that Jesus is the way in and out.
And it’s that space that recognizes community, which Amy also speaks about when I ask her to define “hope.”
“Hope is symbolized by people in my community who have seen the worst but persevere and remain active participants,” she says. “When I visit the Zapatistas in the jungle and they’ve built schools and communities- people who have suffered but rise above it and still love each other and love people. When I’m down, I call someone I know that will help. It renews me. So, hope is very communal.”
And hope is essential in these songs. It’s hope that closes “All the Way”, “They Won’t Have Me,” and “Last Tears,” the final three tunes on the record. Here's the last line of each respectively –
At least we laugh about it now how we escaped alive
It’s remarkable the mess we make and what we can survive
All this love to offer, all this love to waste.
All this love to offer, all this love to waste.
And when I’m drunk on the last drop of sadness
about how we went wrong
I’m going to play this song
make some coffee black and strong
Give thanks for healing time, and finally make up my mind
These are the last tears I’m gonna cry for you
My cryin’s through I’m moving on
“Hope is the light at the end of the tunnel, to use a cliché,” says Emily, “and at the end is a place of rest, where you’re at peace again. I guess I’m an eternal optimist, even in those moments where hope is excruciating to hold onto because of pain.”
Music itself can carry hope, truth, and salve for cutting differences. “Music gives you the ability to find a way – pitch, space between notes, beats,” says Emily. “It’s reflective of the our physiology – the heartbeat and pulse. My dad and I wrote a book together about music. He’s a professor of sacred music. And we’ve had conversations about some Eminim song that sells a million copies, if that make it more or less valid than other music. I don’t think so, because it’s saying something that registers to those listeners.”
“Opening up the thought process is what’s important,” says Amy. “It’s about dialogue.”
The Indigo Girls offer this piece of dialogue 20 years and 10 albums after pointing to that crooked line that brought them a level of stardom. With a new deal on Hollywood Records (a “compromise” of its own, says Amy) it looks like they have more paths to journey, or, should I say “plenty revolutions left.”
After the mixed commercial success of their Hollywood Records album, they were dropped from the label and have since release "Poisiden and the Bitter Bug" as an independent release. It's worth getting a copy.