Did we, like the Emporer, assume that we were grandly dressed in our new clothes? And now, somehow, an ugliness has been exposed as we’ve seen ourselves in the mirror of South Carolina and Birmingham before that. Now social media is lit up like Vegas over a Supreme Court decision. Loaded words and vitriol.
I’ve been trying to find my own words, but are they needed? It seems like there are too many out there already. So maybe this is just for my own peace of mind and soul.
Early this morning I was out for my walk. My earbuds were in and my playlist reached the letter T. The list was:
- Take Five by Dave Brubeck
- Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
- That Spirit of Christmas by Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy
- Things Have Changed by Bob Dylan
- This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
- This Masquerade by Leon Russell
- Tight Rope by Leon Russell
- The Times They Are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
- Try A Little Tenderness by Florence and The Machine
- Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds
- Turpentine by Brandi Carlile
As I listened and walked and thought and cursed the neighbor’s yippin’ little dog, I was struck by the poetry of each of those songs, and each held words that helped me find mine, making some sense of all this. Especially the first few lines of Leon’s masquerade song:
Are we really happy with this lonely game we play
Looking for words to say
Searching but not finding, understanding anyway
We’re lost in a masquerade
Both afraid to say we’re just too far away
From being close together from the start
We tried to talk it over, but the words got in the way
We’re lost inside this lonely game we play
Are we “just too far away”, too polarized? Does it seem like when we do try to talk it over the words get in the way.
Not to point out the obvious but polarization leads to isloation, and isolation to aloneness, and Leon is right: “We’re lost inside this lonely game we play.”
So I’m an old guy with a blog; which is just more words. Most of my words come out of me feeble attempt to accept growing old with some style and grace. Sometimes though I see the telltale signs of geezerhood. Like the other day, I think I actually said out loud, “Looks like we’re all going to hell in a handbasket.” Another of those signs of senior adulthood is to blame it all on the next generation, i.e.: they keep changing everything and screwing everything up.
As I’ve recorded here on this blog, our youngest son just finished infantry training. As we visited Fort Benning for his graduation, I asked him if everyone he started training with finished. Unfortunately, no. Some were injured, some dropped out. “You can do that?” I asked. “Yes, their ‘less than honorable discharge’ is called ‘Failure to Adapt.’”
Maybe that’s my state: “failure to adapt”. Dylan’s song is still right: the times are a-changin’. The pace of the change is such that it is hard to adapt. But adapt we must. All of us. We live together. All of us. On this big ball.
Several years ago, a guy named Robert Fulghum wrote a book he called, All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. [Spoiler Alert] Here’s his list:
These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put thngs back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.”
― Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
Maybe we could put that on a monument in front of the Oklahoma State Capital. (Get real Pops. Even that would piss off at least a few people.)
Sometimes I think I learned all the theology I will ever need in Sunbeams. For those unfamiliar with southern baptist tradition, Sunbeams was a community for little baptists, where we learned that “Jesus LOVES the little children! ALL the children of the World! Red and Yellow, Black and White, they are precious in His sight. Jesus LOVES the little children of the World.”
See this picture? The one of the beautiful little African-American girl holding her homemade poster? A few days ago, I stood in a museum in Memphis, inside the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, JR, was shot. This photo was on the wall there and I stood and stared at it for a long time, pondering her question. The answer is blindingly obvious—isn’t?! The answer is an unequivocal “NO!” Right? If there is any doubt about that; then I have a failure to adapt.
If Jesus didn’t really mean it when he said, he greatest commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself,” then I have a failure to adapt.
If we’re going to reduce everything to black and white to the point where someone can’t fly a rainbow flag, where African-American churches are being burned, where Righteousness for some means inhumanity for other… Are we “lost in a masquerade”?
That's it. I’m out of words.
So, let me leave you with someone else’s. This is from an interview with Mallory Ortberg and Carvell Wallace following the slayings at the church in Charleston:
These folks were praying for peace and expressing forgiveness by letting this dude into their church when they were slain. Their pants were pulled up and they weren’t “challenging authority.” And they still got killed.