Admitting that the times we live in can be terrifying, Bishop David Bard turns to a Country Western song and a poem to wish The Michigan Area a blessed Thanksgiving.
BISHOP DAVID BARD
Michigan Area, United Methodist Church
It is not much of a secret that I enjoy music. I remember when I was in my early teens tuning in on my transistor radio on New Year’s day to listen to the top 100 songs for the previous year. I recall buying my first Bob Dylan albums, Greatest Hits Volumes I and II, curious because a community Christian youth group used some of his songs when we sang together. I later found out that Dylan was born in Duluth and graduated from high school in Hibbing, Minnesota. My enjoyment of music casts a wide net – rock, jazz, soul, pop, classical.
It will not surprise you, then, that I have been enjoying Ken Burns’ new public television film on the history of country music. To be sure, when I was in high school listening to country music would have been considered very uncool. Yet exploring the roots of rock and roll in my college years, there was country and western music, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and others.
One of the persons interviewed during Burns’ County Music series is singer/songwriter Tom T. Hall. One of Hall’s well-known songs is simple and delightful. I remember hearing it as a teen, and liking it even if it was “country.” It’s entitled “I Love” … “I love little baby ducks, old pickup trucks/Slow-movin’ trains and rain/I love little country streams, sleep without dreams/Sunday school in May and hay/And I love you, too.” The final verse: “I love honest, open smiles, kisses from a child/Tomatoes on the vine and onions/I love winners when they cry, losers when they try/Music when it’s good and life/And I love you, too.”
What’s on your “I love…” list? What are you grateful for as we come into this month where we set aside time for giving thanks? What would you sing about in an “I Love” song? What simple pleasures bring you joy? When has beauty last touched your heart and blown it open? Whose smiles find their way deep inside? What memories warm your soul? What songs lighten your load? In what wonderfully amazing ways does God’s grace find its way to you?
In her book Almost Everything, Anne Lamott writes, “Maybe more than ever before in my lifetime, my friends and I are aware of our brokenness and the deep crazy, the desperation for light, hope, food, and medicine for the poor. What helps is that we are all not crazy and hopeless on the same day. One of us remembers and reminds the rest of us that when it is really dark, you can see the stars. We believe grace is stronger than evil and sin. We believe love is stronger than hate, that the divine is bigger than all huge egos simmered together in a bloviation stew, and this makes us laugh. And laughter is hope. We believe, and we hope that we will get through these terrifying times.” (page 138)
There is a wonderful image of the church, for which I am also grateful in Lamott’s words, a place where perhaps we are not all crazy and hopeless on the same day. It may not be theologically eloquent — like the UMC Faith and Order ecclesiology paper Sent In Love that will be presented to General Conference — but it is delightful practical ecclesiology.
There is much in the world that weighs heavy – the persistence of racism, our penchant for violence, the ways we get trapped in self-destructive behavior, climate change, denominational turmoil. We need not look any further than our own souls to find brokenness. The church, at its best, is a place where we are not all crazy and hopeless on the same day. It is a place where we remind each other that you see stars best on dark nights. It is a place where we affirm the strength of God’s grace, the power of God’s love. It is a place where we can know hope and joy, and laughter. It is a place from which we can reach out and touch the world with kindness and justice and love. Among the things in my “I Love” song is the church.
These are challenging times and difficult days. Yet there remains beauty and grace, the smiles of friends, held hands, justice done, goodness lived, kindness furthered. There are simple joys and pleasures like songs and paintings and movies and meals. There are places where we are not all hopeless and crazy on the same day. There is God’s never-failing love and the persistent presence of the Spirit.
Remember some of those things this Thanksgiving month. Remembering them keeps us a little saner in this sometimes crazy world. Remembering gives us the energy to tackle the very real problems that are before us. Remembering them reminds us of the deep goodness of God, and helps us tap into the energy of God’s Spirit.