Singing a Song of Refusal

I had been thinking for a year or two about putting together a post with some of my favorite song lyrics, and got a start on it the other night. But, as things tend to go (or not) with my plans, it didn’t work out so well.

It’s impossible to separate performance from lyrics. Even the same lyrics by the same artist come across differently from performance to performance, so just to throw some words into a post doesn’t really do justice to the cause. I happen to think that Joan Baez’s later performances of her “Diamonds and Rust,” and certain performances of Pearl Jam’s “Black,” are examples of tremendous lyrics made clear by particular performance, but even these songs lose their impact when only the words are presented. Other lyrics/performances on my list were Meat Loaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” Patti Smith’s and Bruce Springsteen’s “Because the Night,” and Jewel Kilcher’s “Foolish Games.” But, after watching various performances of these five works for an hour or two, and as is often the case with me, I got distracted by tangential thoughts.

I started thinking about the times of intense passion, devotion, ecstasy, heartache, futility, exasperation, love and loss between the partners in romantic relationships. I think that’s why I like this group of songs; they do a better than average job of capturing some of the more potent emotional aspects of human relationships. So then I started thinking about how a great deal of what it means to be human becomes the exigency for songs like these. And then I thought of the need to expand our thinking from the idea of romantic relationship, and to think of things like disease, hunger, ignorance, economic struggle and all forms of poverty that involve the deepest, rawest aspects of our humanity. Then, I thought about the need to think beyond these and to the issues of basic, individual human identity—the struggle for the most basic apprehension, understanding, and expression of who and what we are as creatures and creations.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll mention the rest of my thoughts like this: These issues are manifestations of the dirty issues of being human. I don’t mean morally dirty; I mean they are dirty in the sense that they aren’t simple and tidy and easy to define and constrain. If you want to look at them, recognize them, acknowledge them and talk about them, you have to be willing to get dirty yourself; you have to let go of absolutes and preconceived judgments and wander in a less certain moral, ethical and spiritual landscape. Metaphorically, you have to be willing to step off of a nice pristine sidewalk in the middle of an affluent and fashionable neighborhood. You have to be willing to go into the inner city, hang out on the street at night, and be exposed and vulnerable. You have to be willing to hear things, to witness things, to be confronted by things, find yourself in the middle of things and contemplate things that you’d rather pretend don’t exist. You have to be willing to leave the sanitized, wax-museum world inside your privileged mind and be slapped with the cold realization that human life isn’t the make-believe story you think it is. You have to be willing to admit that your fiction of perfection will never become reality. You have to somehow come to realize that no matter how much you want your fiction to be true, it never will be, because it can’t. You have to be willing to take your lament that says most of the people in the world don’t fit your paradigm of what people should be, and honestly ask yourself if maybe your paradigm is questionable.

And my final thought was, fundamental religion is completely unwilling to do any of these things.

So here I am a few days later, wondering what that means in practicality. It seems to me that if you refuse to acknowledge and deeply contemplate the dirty aspects of being human and of the human condition, you are in all practicality refusing the reality of what we might call The Human. If the only thing you are willing to consider and accept as Human is a pristine, sanitized, stylized view — this is, your own sanitized paradigm— of what it means to be individually and collectively Human, then you are refusing The Human altogether.

And here’s the kicker: if true religion is about the relationship of the Human to God—and most fundamental monotheistic religions claim that it is—then to refuse the Human is to refuse the possibility of an authentic Human/God relationship (as if there were any other kind).

The conclusion I come to is simply this: fundamental religion rejects and refuses the Human, and in so doing it at once rejects true religion, and refuses God.


I feel the need for a Part 2…

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2 Responses

  1. firewings says:

    Oh wow, I like where this went. This is a really, really good point. <br /><br />I&#39;m trying to write something on how weddings can become this very base experience until you focus on the the element of humanity in it. That if you forget what you&#39;re focusing on, the grittiness and the beauty of the commitment, all the decorating and catering in the world won&#39;t amount to anything.

  2. a lee says:

    Oh yeah definitely; I think that&#39;s a great case in point — in fact, I think somewhere in there is a color swatch and butter cream icing metaphor that is way better than my city sidewalk one. <br /><br />I&#39;ll look forward to the post. And mucho congrats, btw.

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