I had another birthday this week. Yep, another year older. I usually ask myself questions like, “What have I learned in this last year?” And, “How have I grown?” Sometimes I add the philosophical question, “Am I going to eat a piece of birthday cake or just have some fruit?”
But this year’s different. My biggest question is a wonderment. “Will there ever come a time in my life when I am no longer surprised by events?”
It’s a question with an underlying warning and a prayer. A warning to not become so accustomed to the times that I am no longer shocked. And a prayer that things will change and I will no longer need to worry about the former.
When I heard about the violence at Charlottesville, I simply shook my head in disbelief and sadness. Then I asked that very articulate question that I seem to be asking myself more and more lately. “What?”
What? There are still white supremacists in this country? What? They feel comfortable enough to hold a rally? What? Some people are protesting peaceably against them, exercising their freedom to do so and some guy rams his car into them? A woman dies. Others are injured.
What? What is going on?
I just cannot wrap my head around it. It makes no sense to me. Like I’ve been plopped into the middle of a science fiction movie without a script and I’m at the mercy of a neurotic director who changes his mind on a whim. One incomprehensible thing after another happens with no warning. As I turn the corner members of the KKK are dancing the can-can arm in arm because they can. For some reason, they think they’re entitled to reign supreme. Oh, wait. That’s not just a movie. The last part. That’s reality.
My son, Ethan, and I are catching up on our week. We’re talking about Charlottesville. He’s talking and I’m listening. We both shake our heads in disbelief. Then there’s silence. What more can be said?
I remember a song from church camp so long ago. I’m in high school. We’re at Lake Okoboji. It’s summer. Lightning bugs are writing messages in the air. We young people are sitting around the campfire after a long day of activities. It’s dark outside. The only light is the campfire. For some reason, we can’t see the stars. We talk about Jesus. Someone plays the guitar and we sing the song “Kumbaya.” It means, “Come by here.”
"Someone’s crying, Lord. Come by here. Someone’s praying, Lord. Come by here. Someone’s singing, Lord. Come by here." And he does. The Lord joins us around the campfire. We can’t see him, but we feel his presence. And we see him in the eyes and the voices and the hearts of one another.
It’s a time of innocence when the sky seems to go on forever. A time when our camp leaders seem to know everything. It’s a time when faith is easy and all around us. As plentiful as one boy’s freckles. As pure as all the girls’ hearts. We don’t know yet that life isn’t fair. We don’t know yet that bad things can happen to good people. We don’t know yet that our faith can be shaken to its core and for some, will not survive. We don’t know that some of the monsters we read about are real and are also home-grown.
I’m thinking about all this as my son sits near to me. And I remember one other song we used to sing, written by Harry Dixon Loes, and I start singing it out loud. The version I learned at church camp.
"This little Gospel light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. All around the neighborhood, I’m going to let it shine. Don’t let Satan put it out, I’m going to let it shine. It will point the way to Heaven, I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine, all the time. Let it shine."
Ethan looks at me and he says, “Oh, I feel so peaceful.”
Come by here, My Lord. Come by here. Help us, Lord. May we all shine with the light of love that comes from our Lord and in so doing, may we snuff out the seeds of hatred and darkness. Kumbaya.