Spiritually Speaking: As Good as
Spiritually Speaking: As Good as…
In one of my favorite Toby Keith songs, “As Good as I Once Was,” the country singer croons:
I ain’t as good as I once was
But I’m as good once as I ever was
Maybe not be good as I once was
But I’m as good once as I ever was
A tongue-in-cheek tune, the singer is confessing in a series of scenarios the things he can no longer do from partying to fighting, but admits to a potential love interest that there was once a time he was that good. He adds that he might have it in him one more time. You can picture the scene playing out in a bar in the rural Piedmont.
Memory is a funny thing really when always drawn from the rear view mirror. We compose our lives in a story that makes sense from the present moment, often forgetting that much of the preceding time may have felt uncertain or aimless. I tell my own call to ministry story as if the stars aligned for me to be here, but truthfully, if I turned my head a tad while looking in that rear view mirror, I could see an entirely different, if not positive outcome by being a trauma therapist or a chef.
With the recent bombardment of news, many folks have said that this time is the worst time in our country. A few folks shared quietly that it reminded of the late 1960s. The pulse and presence of change in the midst of the shock of violence today reminded them of previous times. I am not sure how useful it is to compare the violence or chaos of decades up against one another, except if it gives some sense of grounding and direction. I know that from my vantage point this time seems about as chaotic as any time of rapid change has been in our country. While the violence is soul-wearying, it gives me hope to think that history would teach the other side of this wounding is not only healing, but the next phase of social and spiritual evolution. That feels hopeful to me, and admittedly, I have a hunger for hope in these days.
I was re-reading some of Theodore Parker’s work recently. You may recall that Parker is the one responsible for the original drafting of the phrase,
“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.”
This phrase was later adapted by Martin Luther King, Jr. who shortened it to “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Then, shortly after his election, President Obama would quote King. As I read about Parker’s life, I learned that he kept a pistol at his side while writing and later delivering sermons for fear that anti-abolitionists would come looking for runaway slaves. Parker was an abolitionist who supported runaway slaves and helped African Americans get to safety.
In the midst of writing a sermon about recent events, I thought quietly on the statement “Things are the worst they have ever been.” I went home and my spouse asked me how my day was. “Well, at least I don’t need a pistol when I write my sermons,” I replied. She looked up, baffled (not an entirely unusual response to me).
Parker, at the end of the bends-toward-justice quote foretells that one day all America will tremble. I am not sure that has yet happened, but I do believe that more and more of white America, in particular, is waking up. Though waking up from the pleasant dream of privilege is anything but easy, I still keep hope in what can come of an awakened country: the spiritual and social evolution that may be on the other side of this pain and struggle.