Sometime in early junior high, when I was just as cool as the next guy (assuming the next guy wasn’t very cool), I bought my first CD’s… Bush’s Sixteen Stone and Gin Blossom’s New Miserable Experience. Instantly, I became even cooler, but it would be another several years before my coolness peaked with a portable CD player hooked up to a tape adapter in my car, with so many CD’s strapped up to the overhead visor that it always flopped down a little bit. Unfortunately, this was the type of car that started with a screwdriver (story for another day), had a sunroof that could only be lifted out manually (maybe a moonroof, and another story for another day), always had full water jugs in the back to refill the radiator (couple of stories there for later), and had doors that didn’t lock (story for right now). So somebody stole my sweet portable CD player, complete with its translucent blue cover and its 55 seconds of anti-skip G-force protection. And they ripped off my CD’s, the vast majority of which were burned anyway. (Burned means copied, because my computer also rocked a CD-burner back in the day.) So that was a rough day. Down the line, I had a new car and a new CD player, and I installed a couple of 6×9’s in the back, and life was good… until I crashed it into a dump truck (story for another day).
That first day buying music, I may have also bought a Foo Fighters single not realizing it was a single… and I wish I could say not realizing it was the Foo Fighters. And since there’s not a single discernable cohesive thought on Sixteen Stone, we’ll be taking our literary example today from the Gin Blossoms. On “29,” this stanza always inspired my 13-year-old self:
“There’s no intentions worthy of mention / If we never try / So hang your hopes on rusted out hinges / Take ‘em for a ride”
And that’s a great sentiment, but it’s incomplete. I’m not going to tell you that when you play it backwards, you hear the devil, but if you put your complete trust in worldly wisdom, then you are indeed deceived. Before I sound too much like my mother, let’s frame things for our context today.
Throughout this virus thing, other than the direct suffering and death, I think the thing that has unsettled me the most is the way it seeps into our conversation, and I see it doing so in two ways.
One is that I don’t have to give people background before it comes up. Normally, when discussing something significant, you have to tell the other person, “Yeah, my sister just had a baby,” or, “My dad’s in the hospital,” or, “My aunt died,” or, “I got fired a week ago.” Then, they acknowledge what happened, express the appropriate joy or sympathy, and the conversation goes from there. With respect to the virus, we all skip that part. We’re having this new collective experience together, essentially globally. Whether I’m talking to my next-door neighbor or someone in Honduras, the framework is already there. Honduras had its first two cases the same day Michigan did, so while the experiences in Michigan and Honduras are very different in many ways, there’s a context which is the same. As you read this, I don’t need to specify COVID-19, because you know exactly what virus I’m talking about. (Actually, the virus is SARS-CoV-2 and the disease is COVID-19… and I’m just throwing these details in here for clarification to help the historians put things in context when they pore over my blogs centuries from now.)
The second unsettling thing about the virus in conversation is how dominating it is. Even in catching up with friends, it’s a massive talking point. And I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, I’m just noticing that it is. We do need to talk about it so that we are helping one another to behave wisely, and there are definitely nuances and challenges socially that are healthy to talk about with the people around you. But the fact remains that it’s a dominating point of conversation.
So we all have a good fundamental understanding of it, and it dominates our thoughts, conversations, and behaviors…. Hmmm…. I do believe there’s something else in this existence that was intended to be treated with such attention and passion…. And it’s not something that fades away when this life does.
You can’t live very long on this earth without experiencing some kind of trauma. It just so happens now that we are all experiencing a similar type of trauma at the same time. This doesn’t make it a good thing, but it does allow the opportunity for a different type of conversation, a different type of growth, and fertile ground for the work of redemption. God may or may not initiate certain events in our lives, but he absolutely intends to redeem them all.
Often (although certainly not always), the end result of a difficult experience in an individual’s life is that when they choose to be optimistic, they come out the other side more knowledgeable, stronger, more prepared. There are scientifically demonstrable examples of optimism being linked to successful outcomes. But that worldly example is just a reflection of what God intends for us.
The worldly truth expressed in the Gin Blossom’s lyrics is a great motivator… “You have to actually try it, even if your hope is hanging on something that might soon and eventually will fail, like rusty hinges.” But if our hope stops there, we miss God’s other-worldly truth that tells us we have certain hope in him. Hebrews 6:19 (The Passion Translation) says, “We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold.”
Don’t just give it a try with your hopes on rusty worldly hinges that are actually one day assured of failing. Secure your hopes to the unrustable anchor linked by mercy to the very throne of the one who rules the universe today and forever, never changing, never failing.
Our current collective experience is one motivated by fear. It is not the experience that God intended to consume our existence. He intends for our thoughts, experiences, conversations, and behaviors to be consumed by love… to be filled with his essence, which is love.
What if we had a new collective experience epitomized by love, not fear. One that doesn’t seep into our conversations insidiously, but rather illuminates them with eternal light. What if we didn’t just get through life by reacting to bad situations, but chose to live to the fullest by proactively recognizing the people all around us as image-bearers of God, eternal beings whose truest form is love.
I know it’s possible because I’ve seen this type of collective living before in various places to one extent or another. Whether going on a mission trip, or working in an explicitly or implicitly Christian environment, when people seek Christ’s mission before their own, he brings people together and blesses them in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible if I hadn’t seen it over and over again. Psalm 133:1 (NIV) says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” We aren’t able to experience this to its fullest form on this earth, but as Christ-followers, we are empowered to catch glimpses of it… and even spread it… with an eternal infectious power not even worth comparing to anything temporal.
That experience is out there and available to all, as a result of the ultimate extension of grace and mercy that we actually honor today, Good Friday. Jesus was willing to go to these unthinkable lengths because he ultimately chose to trust God’s word that his actions would lead to the availability of eternal grace to all. In the same way, we must choose to trust his word and accept his grace. The result is utterly liberating and completely transformational, and must be lived if we are even going to begin to understand it.