As the efforts to slow coronavirus in the United States drag on and some states begin to reopen, people are sick of being constrained to virtual interactions with real people. It seems Zoom fatigue is setting in. I have noticed the swift change as Spring begins to bloom and people grow anxious to leave their houses and have different types of interactions. I host a virtual open mic that had a terrific kick off last month. We were filling a void of weekly interactions at open mics. But in just the last two weeks it seems that interest is already beginning to wane.
This past Sunday, some folks in the US began meeting for public worship again. And in the coming weeks, more churches are sure to reopen. I haven’t really participated in a Sunday Worship service since my last time serving communion in June of 2014. In January of 2019, I finally demitted from my status as an ordained “Minister of Word and Sacrament” in the Reformed Church in America. So I will not be in church this Sunday or anytime soon. I’ll probably be home listening to Ian Noe.
I have written before about how much I love Ian Noe and his debut album, Between the Country. Almost all of Noe’s cast of characters share a similar longing. In the stories of substance abuse, religious yearning, bank heists, unrequited love, and even violence it would be easy – perhaps too easy – to name this shared longing as a desire to escape. While similar, there is also a substantial difference between escape and what these folks – hurting, broken, or even evil – truly long for, namely transcendence.
The narrator in the sorrowful and gospel-infused Junk Town recounts being stuck in the same dead-end place for most of his life: “Spending all my money on me and my junked-out wife.” He laments the cold winters that “never did anybody any good” and “burning up in the summer, hauling those heavy loads.” He and his wife have been “junkin’ through many troubled years” in an effort “to keep away those cold sweat fears.” But the drugs are not their ultimate hope:
And glory, glory
We are waitin’
That sweet someday
When we leave our troubles
And are taken
So far away
Escape is about leaving, departing, going somewhere, anywhere else. Transcendence is about liberation, evolution, changing yourself, or transforming your surroundings. When I was a conservative evangelical Christian, I thought the work of liberation was all about personal piety and transformation and getting others to join the club. When I was a progressive Christain, I thought liberation was all about confronting and if possible, transforming corrupt powers and institutions: the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this present darkness. I don’t have an accurate one-word signifier to describe what I believe these days.
But I can say, it’s all more terribly complicated than I once thought. Systems and individual people within them overlap, contradict, define, and constantly redefine the parameters for conversation. I can say for certain that I still believe that “what we believe” is important. Our beliefs inform all we that do. But how we live, what we do with this little bit of time we have, that’s the penultimate testament to who we are as human beings. Our beliefs – both personal and systemic – merely provide the language, the context for the final draft we hand in whenever our number is up.