catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 17 :: 2008.09.26 — 2008.10.10


Into this ol’ world

In 2003, Over the Rhine’s Ohio would have made it onto Christianity Today’s list of the best Christian albums from the previous year if it weren’t for one big word embedded in the song “Changes Come:”

I wanna have our baby
Some days I think that maybe
This ol’ world’s too fucked up
For any firstborn son

Karen Bergquist goes on to sing passionately the words she co-wrote with her husband Linford Detweiler:

There is all this untouched beauty
The light the dark both running through me
Is there still redemption for anyone

Jesus come
Turn the world around
Lay my burden down
Turn this world around
Bring the whole thing down
Bring it down

Last year, we listened intently to “Changes Come” with a group of colleagues at the college where I work, hoping to give voice to some of the despair we’d all been feeling.  One fellow shared that his grandma was so cynical about the current state of the world that instead of being happy with her grandchildren’s pronouncements of pregnancy, she would get angry with them for bringing another person into being only to suffer.  I think she would have resonated with Bergquist’s longing lament.

Sitting on my porch on a gorgeous autumn afternoon with a bottle of ice cold rootbeer, I feel a bit sympathetic toward this ol’ world.  The light on the yellow house across the street, the neurotic twittering of the runt squirrel who lives in our garage, the eclectic assortment of cast-off seating that has provided for so many guests-surrounding me are small gifts of being human in this world, right here and now.

However, I don’t need to let my mind wander far from my rocking chair to understand what Bergquist is saying.  From the personal to the global, the world of the mind to the world of geopolitical structures, suffering is all around us.  Darkness dares to tread in broad daylight, with or without a clever mask, as if death had not been defeated.  An Ohio mother grieves the death of the toddler she forgot in her back seat.  A Palestinian man still holds onto the key for his home after 60 years in a refugee camp.  A child in Somalia searches alone for her next meal, even though it won’t be enough to save her life anymore. The world is indeed “fucked up,” and Bergquist assigns the most powerful words she can to our despair.

But the song doesn’t end there, and neither does my imagination.

In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch explores the ability of human beings to shape worlds, for better or worse, beginning on the microcosmic level of the family.  “A basic unit of culture is the family, where we first begin making something of the world,” Crouch writes.  “Food and language, two of culture’s more far-reaching forms, begin in the home.”  Humans who take seriously the cultural mandate found in scripture realize that we have a calling to shape culture for the better, and this calling begins at home because it is within our sphere of influence.  “Family is culture at its smallest and most powerful,” says Crouch.  “…I can do very little about the horizons of the English language, but I can do a lot about the culture of my family.”

For those of us who seek to change cultures, to diminish the darkness and invite the light, Crouch advises that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it.”  For example, protesting an offensive painting until it’s destroyed won’t negate its cultural impact, but producing a public, creative and true response can expose a lie in order to lessen its influence over future cultural endeavors.  Perhaps in a similar way, refusing to bring babies into a suffering world won’t reduce the scope of pain, but raising children who are kind and passionate might shine just a little bit of light into the darkness.

Just a few months ago, on this very porch where I’m writing, a wise friend encouraged my husband and I to have children.  Sure, they change your life significantly, he said.  But you just take them with you.  Pile the kids and the dog in the back of the four-door sedan.  Build bunk beds in the grad school apartment.  Let them fall asleep in a corner of the room if the party goes late.  It’s not selfish, it’s empowering, as they realize that love is not a static one-way road, but a way of life that circles back on itself over and over again and exposes us to all kinds of scenery on the way.

My husband and I aren’t planning to take a little one with us quite yet.  But dreams about babies- feeling a child move in my sister’s belly, nursing, giving birth, feeling the clutch of a child-are preparing my heart to say, “May it be to me as you have said,” when-if-that time should come.  In spite of all of the potential obstacles, merely the decision to have children is, I think, the most radical act of hope.  It requires us to look squarely into the faces of our greatest fears and reassert that, yes, the light still runs through us.  There is redemption, redemption for everyone.  Hallelujah.

I will sing lullabies that are mournfully reassuring and together we will fold our hands, learning and remembering how to give thanks and how to intercede for this ol’ world-this beautiful, terrible ol’ world.  And in the quiet of the night, after they’re asleep, we’ll whisper about the thing she said, the thing he did that filled us with humility and wonder that this experiment in making culture might actually work in spite of ourselves, as the world turns around.

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