Friday, January 6, 2012

Johnny Horton and the Meaning of Life

So here it is – the game:

1) Learn the #1 single in your country of origin in the week you were born.
2) Find it on YouTube.
3) Post it on your Facebook page without shame.

Sounded fine – a couple of Google clicks and I find out that the number one song on the Billboard Charts in June of 1959 was Johnny Horton “Battle of New Orleans.” I posted, but I cannot say without shame. While Johnny Horton was talented enough to earn a place in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and one has to bemoan his early death in an automobile accident, this song has never really done much for me. It was some consolation when I discovered that Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City” was atop the Billboard R & B charts when I was born.
So here’s a news flash, there are some things that you cannot change. I appreciate the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer: God grant me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed. I did not pray the prayer when I found out “Battle of New Orleans” was the number one song on the charts in June 1959. It really isn’t that tragic. There are things that cannot be changed. We cannot change our genetic makeup. We cannot change our past, including those early experiences for which we did not have words. I think the psychoanalytic insight is spot on, our early experiences, even those for which we did not have words, shape, in part, who we are. Neither our genetics nor our earliest experiences determine fully who we are, but they play a role and we cannot change them. This is part of the mystery of life. “One never recovers from being human” (Michael Eigen, Contact With the Depths, 9).
I just finished reading Rebecca Goldstein’s wonderful novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. The final chapter is beautifully written and filled with penetrating insights. We end up beholding a world that is lavished with our own disgust at the uncleanliness that pollutes us, and with our yearning for a mythical purity that remains untouched, and with our vertiginous bafflement at the self that is inviolably me and here and now, and with our desperate and incomplete sense of the inviolable selves of the others that we need so crucially, and with our fear of all that’s unknown out there and that can hurt us, and with our suspicion that almost everything out there will turn out to be unknown and able to hurt us (336).
For good measure, there is this complimentary reflection offered by Michael Eigen. As a human group we are in the midst of a great journey, exploring ways we make contact with reality, contact with subjectivity, ways we constitute reality and reality constitutes us. It is awesome to be a living being who feels, cries, laughs, sings, dies. Who hurts others and is hurt, who goes mad, becomes inspired, or is just happy to be alive to each day to the extent one can. Life never ceases being an unpredictable sea, raising up, dashing down, pressing us through ranges of emotions, more alive, threatened, empty, deadened, eager (Contact With the Depths, 8).
For me, God is part of the mystery and complexity of the human situation. God is one who holds us on the journey. God is the voice calling to us out of the whirlwind of our lives luring us toward wholeness, maturity, graciousness. The God I know in Jesus does not take away the mystery of the world and of existence. I don’t think I could believe in a God who simplifies too much. God is part of the mystery, beckoning with enough light to help us see the mystery more completely and navigate it with a measure of grace.
And so we try, as best we can, to do justice to the tremendousness of our improbable existence. And so we live, as best we can, for ourselves, or who will live for us? And we live, as best we can, for others, otherwise what are we? (Goldstein, 344).
And I see God as a companion on the journey to do justice to the tremendousness of our improbable existence, helping navigate the mystery and balancing living for others and self.
And I cannot change that Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” was the number one song in America when I was born.

With Faith and With Feathers,