This is a lament with a note of hope.
But first, a confession: I’m a huge fan of the rock trio Rush. There, I said it. It’s out there. Now for most, that bit of trivia may mean little to nothing. But for those of you who know something of the band, you may now have some insights into my personality. I could write at length about why Rush’s music resonates with me in a deeply spiritual way or about the recent bittersweet news of their retirement after a masterful 40-year career. I could go on and on about their musicianship, live performances, complex composition, erudite lyrics, and maverick creativity, but this piece isn’t so much about Rush as it is about something I noticed at a Rush concert.
In 2015, I drove to Austin to see Rush in what turned out to be their farewell world tour. We all suspected this was the last we’d see of their legendary live performances. We spoke about it with reverence and traded stories about concerts we had attended, when and how we became fans, and favorite periods in their ever evolving style. When I say “we,” I mean the capacity crowd of about 12,898 people. We were an eclectic gathering of friends with a common interest in a band that never fit in the pop-music scene and never sought out the limelight but, instead, marched forward to the extraordinary beat of their own drummer and focused on simply creating excellent art as expression.
Beside me at the concert were my two teenage sons. Behind me was a guy who had been a fan since ’75. Next to him was someone who had only recently discovered their back catalog of classics. There was a guy on our row who looked as if he had time traveled straight in from a Hell’s Angels convention in the 70s. In front of me was a clean-cut young man and his wife in a hijab. There were doctors, mechanics, computer programmers, and a least one Methodist minister. We were young, young at heart, hipsters, hippies, headbangers, yuppies, goths, and other varieties of social subcultures. Across the aisle was even someone who loved Rush’s questionable synthesizer era. (Did I just reveal my bias in the great Rush synth controversy?) We had our various reasons for loving the band and likely had our own interpretations of the meanings behind the music. You get the picture: it was a diverse audience—not necessarily the picture of perfect variety, but diverse enough to make a point.
When the music started, this mismatch of misfit rock-music geeks joined in a joyful three-hour unity of singing and air drumming to 40 years of our band’s deep cuts. (Every Rush song is, in a sense, a deep cut.) Here were all these seemingly random people who, at first glance, might have appeared to have little in common. But we were bound together by a common music—a music that transcended our differences, connected our souls, and gave us a unifying song. We were humanity in concert.
But I said this is a lament, and it is.
I lament that so much divides people. In our society, in our politics, in our religious traditions, even in our places of worship—so much divides us. I don’t lament that we have differences. In fact, I’m perfectly happy that we approach life with different perspectives, different interests, different experiences, and different beliefs. Those differences, while they can be frustrating at times, enrich our human community.
What I lament, though, is that we seem to resist singing and air drumming the music that binds us together—a music that transcends difference, connects our souls, gives us a common song.
I know in my heart that self-giving, compassionate loving-kindness is the beat of our ideal song, and I lament that so many are content to let differences divide our world into hollow hemispheres. We know better, yet time and time again, we square off against one another. Race, gender, nationality, ideology, language, sexuality, age, education, religion, and so much more: we manufacture all kinds of reasons to let the differences divide us into competing camps, kick people out, cut people off, perpetuate fear, moralize, demonize, harm, ignore, and mistreat. It’s the insidious part of the human story. It’s the frequent reality of our political landscape. It’s often the brokenness in our culture, our communities, and sometimes our families. It’s certainly a cruel theme in the story of my religion and my particular denomination. We let so much divide us. And we even come up with clever reasons to accept the divisions as canon. “That’s how it is,” we tell ourselves in conscious and unconscious ways.
I’m not naive about how some differences are serious barriers to community. Certainly, some people are brimming with ill intent, some insist on espousing beliefs that cause harm, and some perpetuate ignorance, prejudice, or injustice, often without even realizing it. And the way of love calls us to stand with courage and compassion against that which is unloving, anti-loving, and community breaking.
But for the most part, we tend to fear and exaggerate innocuous differences just because they don’t fit our narrow tastes in music. I lament that this happens over and over again in so many different ways and that, all too often, we don’t even realize it.
I also said, though, that this lament with a note of hope. I still cling to hope, and I believe in love. There are still a few—and likely more—who have some sense of living closer to the heart, who understand deep in the soul that love opens eyes and bridges divides and transforms relationships, and who are willing to sing a song that brings people together. Maybe you’re one of those people, or maybe you want to be one of those people. I have hope because I still believe that enough of us can still sings songs of love and teach that song to others.
We are all these seemingly random people who, at first glance, might appear to have so little in common. But we can be bound together by a common music—a music that transcends our differences, connects our souls, and gives us a unifying song, the simple song of self-giving, compassionate loving-kindness. Life doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. We can be humanity in concert.
People think of salvation in so many different ways, all too frequently in an awfully individualistic and personal way. But I wonder if salvation, in the deepest sense, is really about learning to sing and air drum together to the music at the heart of who we are–humanity in concert. And that’s what I saw at the Rush concert.
We have work to do, my friends, we have a concert to attend, and I have hope.