People Are People
“Somewhere, somehow somebody must have kicked you around some. Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped, tied up, taken away and held for ransom. It don’t really matter to me, everybody’s had to fight to be free. You see you don’t have to live like a refugee. I said you don’t have to live like a refugee.” ~Petty/Campbell~
There are intervals in our lives when Tom Petty’s sneering voice can define how we’re feeling or give insights into our self-image: Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some . . .
Refugee was the second single from Damn The Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I purchased it hot off the press while living on Goulais Avenue in a never to be forgotten northern steeltown. I placed the record on the turntable, where it stayed put for several weeks. The album spun at a time in my life when defeat had me up against a wall and was thrashing me with relentless determination. I urgently needed to apply the defiance of Refugee. The song peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1980.
It also has stood the test of time—it remains as fresh and energetic as ever. From the opening drumbeat and muscular guitar to the soaring keyboard the song has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer on an anvil. It is a howling anthem to the backbone and grace required to shed and rise above the slippery sludge of life.
The need to develop the grit to overcome is universal. Rejection or the fear of rejection can cut deeply. When we’ve been ditched by someone we love, or hung out to dry by those we have trusted we can be immobilized by emotional wounds that slash like a double-edged sword. We can feel betrayed or angry when we hear through the grapevine that someone has a serious problem with us. Of course, so-and-so treats us just fine and dandy face to face. And when confronted, dances or denies, which leaves us edgy and mistrustful.
In the electronic wonder of the Internet age, there are new and improved ways to devalue integrity and relational well-being: A friend or family member can defriend us on Facebook with a simple click.
Was it something we wrote? An opinion expressed? A link posted? Or a message sent to express where we truly stand in the eyes of the one who did the defriending?
People are people and endeavoring to be at peace with everyone can tax us, stretching faith and love in ways we may not particularly enjoy. The roads we travel can have some unpleasant surprises. Others disappoint us as we also disappoint them. We do our fair share of falling short of the mark set for us, while placing the weight of unspoken expectations on their shoulders. Tension in interpersonal relationships may be a part of our daily lives, or conflict can come out of nowhere to slap us down. Either way, too often by active choice or passive acceptance, we nurture the whipped-dog attitude of a refugee.
If the day to day mucking along doesn’t pound us down, there’s that old reliable buggy-boo of rotten memories. We all carry baggage and junk around with us—one way or another everyone is affected by past happenings. The question is: Are we influenced by negativity or do we choose to set it aside and press on toward hope and healing?
Considering these matters while contemplating death and the stuff of eternity caused me to review a line from a prayer of Moses: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
A heart of wisdom is revealed in actions rich in the practical application of what we know to be right. It occurred to me—not for the first or likely last time—that the saying of words is easy but living a life of authentic faith can be perplexing. Despite a culture that glorifies the spectacular, our lives are put together with some very ordinary nuts and bolts. We cut the grass, rake the leaves, shovel snow, take out the garbage, pay the bills or do a thousand other everyday chores that cause us to wonder about the significance of our lives.
There are moments that stir faith: We cradle a newborn baby in our arms as we marvel at the innocent sparkle in their eyes and the miracle of it all. Then there are times that arouse doubt: The anniversary of a violent accident that stole a huge chunk of our future comes upon us, and unbidden and unwanted, we recall every bit of minutiae, every traumatic detail. Or we sit at the bedside of someone whose body is racked with the pain of a debilitating disease. As life ebbs away, we hold their hand and find ourselves questioning what it all means. Pulitzer Prize winner Bob Dylan had it correct years ago when he sang “that he not busy being born is busy dying.” Why does all the promise within an infant’s eyes always run its course to a graveside?
Periodically doubt takes hold of our hearts and minds. To make matters worse, there are those who spew condemnation whenever we express our deepest apprehensions. Perhaps it is not the politically correct thing to do, but it is my practice to dismiss those disapproving voices with a big wet Bronx cheer. Making sense out of the vagaries of life is tough enough without giving credence to self-appointed purveyors of guilt.
God Is God
We all have seasons of doubt so we must come to terms with it. Doubt is completely normal. So much so that God’s Son was inflamed by doubt when confronted by the horror and brutality of the cross. Jesus absorbed the same kind of uncertainty that we all encounter: Can we trust God? Can we rest secure in his love? Does God really know what he is doing in our lives? Jesus of Nazareth cried out to his Father as he struggled with misgivings and reservations in the garden of Gethsemane. He stripped himself of all pretenses to subdue inner fear and qualms in an intense bout of honest prayer. Ultimately, faith triumphed over doubt, for indeed, God is God and there is no other.
There is a lesson for us in Christ’s example. We choose how we respond to the doubt that we each face—we decide what we’re going to do when we’re tied up, taken away and held for ransom by circumstances that have kicked us around some. Do we capitulate and toss in the towel? Or do we draw a firm line in the shifting sands of doubt, soldier on and fight to be free? We can jettison faith and thereby unravel into a tangle of unanswerable intellectual dilemmas. Or recognizing our spiritual poverty, we can fight to be free by embracing faith with all its baffling mysteries.
Fact is, faith and doubt coexist side by side within us. There are many days when I am full of faith and full of doubt—many hours when I revisit the ancient tenets of Scripture to be reminded that the One who moved upon the face of the waters when the earth was without form cares for me with a love that extends from everlasting to everlasting.
Round and round life goes, but balance can be achieved when we humbly admit our constant dependence on God. To doubt his love need not defeat us; to doubt his presence or plan ought not to send us into spasms of shame or depression—we don’t have to live like a refugee. On the contrary, when properly channeled doubt fuels faith for doubt is the catalyst that drives us to prayer. Figuring faith and putting it into gear is quite often messy. However, whether it is being sliced and diced by pundits in the public square or being tested and tempered through difficult personal struggles, faith is an essential element of life.