Some people might call it post-modernism, others contrarianism, and still others liberalism. I’ve always been a person who asks irritating little questions. There’s the Law of Large Numbers where majority rules, the utilitarian realm where where almost everyone is happy, and then there’s me– asking about the remainders, the leftovers, the minorities. Ever looking at the other side of the coin.
When I was a kid growing up in church, folks would tell these stories about how they were running late for church and fighting with the spouse and kids and how traffic was bad and how they were driving on the highway and traffic got worse and then even worse until they saw a big steaming bloody wreck and wow that could’ve been our family on their roof if they’d been on time and wow wasn’t God great to protect them from such calamity and bring them safely to church to be among faithful friends.
Such a story was intended to evoke a handy conclusion, but my mind always kept working: Why do we drive cars, and why do we constantly engage in such inherently dangerous activity and expect that we’ll always be safe? What’s so unimpeachably noble about meeting our friends in a church building? And most of all, what about that family who was maimed, and what about their destination and their destiny? Where was God for them?
These questions come all of the time: reading books (especially books for my daughter), having conversations, and thumbing through magazines at the dentist. Watching TV is a particular problem, what with all of the good folks getting their record or medal or award and thanking God and family and offering those earnest and ubiquitous words to their audience: “follow your dreams!”. But that’s a pretty bad idea, in my mind. Because these fortunate souls are one in a million who have overcome odds and competition and adversaries, who’ve collected blessings and lucky breaks. Most of us shouldn’t necessarily follow our dreams, because most of us don’t have the opportunity or bandwidth to pull them off.
And the other day, these questions came up while watching a perfectly nice man wearing Birkenstocks and playing a guitar and singing. His is an amazing story, and I would never, ever want to take anything away from it: a sudden discovery of a major brain tumor, surgery, and death sentence. Hearing the crushing news that his odds of beating the cancer were 1 in 500. Now, a dozen years later, he’s still here, waving a flag of hope and working the heavy-handed leitmotif of his deep admiration for coffee into every song.
Part of me says, God bless him for doing so, for transforming his pain and anger into healing and encouragement (and I certainly took great note of the man with the obvious surgical and radiation scars on his scalp who drove from New Jersey to hear the concert). But a bigger part of me cringes for the 499 who didn’t make it. Does death = defeat? What about the millions in history who just got a headache, keeled over, and died? What about those who got better without faith and hope, who just get more angry and bitter, and live out their lonely days still shaking their fist at the sky? What about those who have the same faith and hope and healing, but who don’t get the chance to go around singing about it?
Of course, I could be trying hard to justify my ornery, questioning, cynical nature. I’m sure I’m guilty of that. But at the same time, this seems good to me, asking how policies and theologies and personal beliefs affect the least, the lost, and the left out.