Monday, January 05, 2009

Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World

Perhaps because I have entered my 50th year, I have lately been acutely aware of the constant interplay of change and stability.
Out for a run this afternoon, my regular route took me along Four Mile Run near my south Arlington home. Heraclitus famously said that you cannot step in the same stream twice, but it seems to me that for almost six years now I’ve been running alongside this same creek. Sure, I know the rest of the quote and the others like it, about other waters flowing in, and that everything flows and nothing stands still, and that the only constant in the universe is change, but I’ll be damned if Four Mile Run changes in any way worth noting.
Along about the time I was pondering the ancient Greeks, I passed a young mother with her toddler son. He must have been about two and a half, and he was dragging a branch that must have been about two and a half times longer than he was. My oldest, who turns 18 next month, used to do the exact same thing. You want to engage the swift flow of change, then try parenting! Of course, as I was having a sweet memory of my son, it occurred to me that he really hasn’t changed at all. He’s just dragging bigger branches now.
I was running to the tunes of Johnny Clegg, a white South African musician who cofounded the first racially mixed band in Apartheid-era South Africa. I was listening to the title track of Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World:
You have to wash with the crocodile in the river
You have to swim with the sharks in the sea
You have to live with the crooked politician
Trust those things that you can never see

It's a cruel crazy beautiful world
Every time you wake up I hope it's under a blue sky
I’ve never been to South Africa, so I can only wonder if that blue sky feels the same now in a post-Apartheid world. Is it constant? Does it change? Is the blue sky of sweet, home Alabama – to name another song from a world with its own Apartheid history – the same at the beginning of the Obama era as it was at the time of my birth there in the days of Jim Crow?
It is, indeed, a cruel, crazy, beautiful world.
And we cling to whatever we can get a strong purchase on in the midst of profound uncertainty.
Now, of course, is the time for the preacherly move: point toward God as the unchanging one, the unmoved mover. But I don’t think that is the God revealed in the life of Jesus, because the gospel paints a portrait of Jesus moved often, to tears, to healing, to speak and to act for justice. If Jesus is the one, for Christians, who points us decisively to God then he points to a God so bound up in human history as to suffer with us in the midst of the cruel craziness of it all.
Which suggests trusting in what you cannot see in the same deep way that we trust those whom we love and by whom we are loved. They are, of course, moved and shaped by our shared histories, but the love itself points toward the same constant suggested in that most simple of Christian theological statements: God is love (1 John 4:7). Beloved, as the author of that letter would have addressed you, that enough theology for today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey, bro--funny how your thoughts of last week echoed my thoughts this morning in meeting for worship. It IS a cruel, crazy, beautiful world--beautiful in spite of all the cruelty and craziness, in the midst of all the cruelty and craziness. But the poem I was thinking of this morning is called Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye.

xx yo sistah