Joy and I enjoyed a little road trip this past week. By little, I’m talking just under 1,800 miles. We slogged our way through something close to a blizzard the first morning but nothing was going to stop us from making it to Albuquerque to spend some time with our oldest who has almost finished her first year of university studies there (that can’t be right can it???). We enjoyed a few days with her and her fabulous friends and then on Tuesday headed across to the eastern border of the state to where Joy’s brother John lives in Clovis.
As fortune would have it, when Joy changed out the CD’s, one that was stuffed in the door of the car was Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Stones In The Road” album. I think Chapin Carpenter is a fantastic artist, that rare combination of musician, poet and storyteller that appeals perfectly to me on almost any day. One of my favorite Chapin Carpenter songs, Jubilee, is on this album. Halfway into an 1,800 mile drive leaves you a little time to meditate on certain themes. And so this little post in the nexus of those musings and the celebration today of Easter. I posted fragments on FaceBook, but perhaps this will be more coherent – perhaps not – and that’s OK too.
The day draws to a close... and soon Easter overwhelms us. The words of a poem from Mary Chapin Carpenter are ringing Easter in for me this year.
I can tell by the way you're walking
That you don't want company
I'll let you alone and I'll let you walk on
And in your own good time you'll be
Back where the sun can find you
Under the wise wishing tree
And with all of them made we'll lie under the shade
And call it a jubilee
The idea of jubilee is to me an important element of the Easter mystery. Something that makes no sense certainly in our culture, and probably made no more sense thousands of years ago... NO ONE should permanently lose their inheritance.
For those not familiar with the Judeo-Christian notion of jubilee it was originally a year at the end (or beginning perhaps) of a 50 year cycle – the year of jubilee. In this year of jubilee all Israelites who had sold themselves into slavery were set free, and all land that had been sold reverted to its original owners. In practical terms then, this ensured that no Israelite could ever be in permanent slavery; nor could any Israelite permanently lose his inheritance. If you’ve never heard of this concept before, it probably seems rather odd, and likely it is. It may in fact be quite a stretch to refer to it as a Judeo-Christian idea as we see little evidence of it in the modern church or societies that have strong Judeo-Christian roots. It is certainly fair to say that then as now, this practice was RADICAL!
The poem continues...
And I can tell by the way you're talking
That the past isn't letting you go
But there's only so long you can take it all on
And then the wrong's gotta be on its own
And when you're ready to leave it behind you
You'll look back, and all that you'll see
Is the wreckage and rust that you left in the dust
On your way to the jubilee
Jubilee to me is more that the big picture. We like the idea that there are big solutions, that government in particular can tackle the big problems, and indeed as we have seen just this week, that large social issues of our time and provide a sweeping solution – a “New Deal”, a “Grand Bargain”. And to some extent this may be true, yet I’ve always struggled a little with it. For redemption is and always has been, personal - something we need to figure out one with another as much as with our creator. When someone else provides a sweeping one size fits all solution, we lose the intimacy, we lose the personal connection.
As an example, a few years ago, the government of my homeland Australia issued an apology to the “Stolen Generations” of our Aboriginal people. I’m not going to go into detail of what all that means - most of you unfamiliar probably get the gist of it and by all means look it up. But part of me struggled with this. And not because I did not think the apology was warranted, for indeed it was, and for what it was, in reality as little more than words, was largely symbolic. It was too little, too late. My discord was that for too many, this sweeping gesture took care of the issue; put it behind “us”, in an impersonal and distant way. It conveniently avoids the requirement for personal responsibility.
Each of us needs to be able to come to terms with our own life, its past and our present. Then and only then can we begin the process of moving forward into something new, something radically different from that past.
And so continuing on the theme with this beautiful poem
And I can tell by the way you're listening
That you're still expecting to hear
Your name being called like a summons to all
Who have failed to account for their doubts and their fears
They can't add up to much without you
And so if it were just up to me
I'd take hold of your hand, saying come hear the band
Play your song at the jubilee
But here’s the amazing thing about moving on. To some degree, we can do it on our own. But there is almost always a better way. We are communal in nature – it is part of our DNA. As afraid as we are that our shortcomings will be apparent to others, we have within us, most of us anyway, an innate compassion that would extend a hand to help someone just like us – if they only were willing to reach out for help in the first place. Being able to reach out though, to take that first step is hard. And sometimes, that helping hand can only come from our creator God, whose desire for communion with us was so great it collided with human history culminating with Easter.
Continuing with the poem…
And I can tell by the way you're searching
For something you can't even name
That you haven't been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came
And when you feel like this try to imagine
That we're all like frail boats on the sea
Just scanning the night for that great guiding light
Announcing the jubilee
Grace to me is also key to jubilee, and something else we struggle with, that idea that we can receive from someone else something we don't deserve. To me this builds on the previous verse. We struggle so much sometimes to see ourselves as worthy. I think this often begins with ourselves, the messed up idea that we are not worth the effort. Something has got messed up to where we can’t even value or love ourselves. This for sure precludes going beyond that, but for sure it just gets harder sometimes even if we feel OK about ourselves, to see ourselves as of value to others, worthy of love from others, and certainly of value or deserving of the love of the God who created us – and yet we are. So much more than we could ever imagine.
And the poem closes
And I can tell by the way you're standing
With your eyes filling with tears
That it's habit alone keeps you turning for home
Even though your home is right here
Where the people who love you are gathered
Under the wise wishing tree
May we all be considered then straight on delivered
Down to the jubilee
'Cause the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
We're talking 'bout jubilee