"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

2.07.2007

way up high

"Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true."

Over the rainbow. Twice today.

I know it's horrible and un-American, etc., etc., but I kindof hate the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It's sentimental and a little bit tacky. It makes me think of Judy Garland and yellow brick roads. But there it was, weaving a silver thread through an incredibly busy day.

First at Jerry's funeral, which was a beautiful service in every way. Joe Martin played the piano, the choir sang a lovely anthem (a full choir, in the middle of the workday - this spoke more about who Jerry was and how much he meant to our church than anything else could have), someone sang "Over the Rainbow," and the pastor gave the right sermon. Friends spoke of a man who loved his family, devoted himself to his church, and worked to help the disadvantaged in our state. The preacher said Jerry dreamed of a world where everything is beautiful, where the handicapped aren't seen as different, where injustice doesn't reign. Somewhere over the rainbow.

Later, after teaching another class and teaching the GA's and regretting not having stuck another pair of shoes into my bag for a fourteen-hour day, "Over the Rainbow" came back. Tonight began the CBF Current retreat, three days of meetings for the under-40 set in moderate Baptist life. It's at my church, and the theme is social justice, so it seemed like the thing to do. Before the speaker preached, there was a slide show about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his words and his actions speaking to the necessity of creating justice if our faith, ir our lives are to mean anything.

And the background music was "Over the Rainbow."

Sitting next to Preacher J, who's one of the only people I know who gets that there is a tension between what Africa is and what safe, wealthy, sheltered American churchgoers want it to be, listening to the speaker recount a lot of familiar statistics - about AIDS in Africa, about the Clinique Bon Saveur in central Haiti, about promised levels of disease treatment funding from the Bush administration - and his analysis of Paul's words about the body, I thought about that mythical world over the rainbow. The speaker challenged us to become advocates for justice, to commit to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to pray for a cure, to challenge our congregations and friends to do the same.

It was inspiring. Or it should've been. I'm sure it was for someone. Maybe I was just too tired. It was a long day.

Or maybe my capacity for belief in a perfect world of bluebirds, sunshine, and no-HIV over the rainbow has diminished with time and experience and knowledge. The truth sets you free, but knowing the truth of the eastern Congo has only made me feel more trapped by my inability to fix it, and by my own hopelessness in the face of unending despair. I have seen too many well-intentioned aid schemes go wrong. I've seen too many international ngo's that are more committed to donor goals than to developing projects that will serve the needs and interests of the population. "Over the rainbow" has nothing to do with reality for people who'd be thrilled just to have clean water, vaccinations, and a year without disruptions to plant and cultivate crops. Who just want God to hear their cries for deliverance, just once. Who just want peace.

Over the rainbow. It doesn't exist. It's a myth, overexposed and overindulged in a sentimental song that's generally associated with off-key beauty-pageant contestants who couldn't come up with another talent.

Or does it? What's interesting about the way "Over the Rainbow" ran through my day is that those who spoke of it used it as a metaphor for talking about the kingdom of God. What Jerry was interested in was not a dreamworld in which everything that goes wrong is glossed over, or disappears. What Dr. King dreamed of was not a world in which we all pretended to like one another, or in simple tolerance of those we hated. Both men, I think, were more interested in redemption - the work of God bringing together all that is different and broken and wounded and piecing it together as a new, pure whole. And the call to seek justice, love kindly, and walk humbly before God is not a call to fix everything. It is not about wishing on a star, or hoping to fly into a new world. It's a call to see the world in a new way, to see broken pieces and broken people as the building blocks of a new creation.

So why, oh, why can't I?

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