There is a preconception in our culture that to be a person of faith means to live a small, tight, narrow life, but that has not been my experience. Far from it. In truth, the deeper I go, the freer I get, until all there is are the gifts God has given me and the desire at the core of my being to use them as He intended. This means some days I’m writing or creating liturgies or sitting on various Boards of Directors with big stickie pads and really smart, faithful people. Other days I’m coming alongside young people to inspire and empower them, or cleaning out old boxes and patterns to help a dying church come back to life, or consulting with seminary profs about what people need to know to mature in their faith. More and more lately, I’m standing in front of large groups speaking about how we’re crushing our young people by raising them to look good on paper, or about sin as “man turned in on himself” and connecting those dots to our 21st-century ills of anxiety, depression, disordered relation to technology, loss of purpose, and loss of identity. Usually as the Word moves through me I weep.
The gift of tears is not one I would have asked for but it seems to be one God likes to use. Maybe this is why I wanted to share this clip—so you could see the fruit of those tears and the great joy and creativity and power and purpose and, yes, playfulness there is in a life of following Jesus.
You can read about how I came to be standing on this stage kicking off the first annual Labor of Love Concert here. And you can see a bunch of pics from the event in this blog. (Rumor has it there’s an awesome video of the night in the works–not one captured on my husband’s phone:)
Or you can just watch me introduce the MC and the event and, maybe, allow a new thought to enter into your frame of reference: what if allowing God into your life was actually the most liberating and empowering thing you could ever do?
The year was 1972. I was living in a house on top of a hill in Mandeville Canyon, L.A., playing the songs of my coming of age in a perpetual loop. There were other people who lived in the house but my memories are of being alone a lot while my mom was out on dates and my brother was holed up with his bong and my sister was too young to be in my field of vision. My dad hadn’t lived with us since I was seven, a heartbreak I never quite recovered from. Kate Campbell was born the same year as me—1961— and lived in a cheery home in Nashville, Tennessee, a Baptist preacher’s kid raised in the thick of the civil rights movement, surrounded by people— friends, family, admirers of her father. We each remember hearing the song, the foreshadowing hum, the line that launched the timeless seeker’s tale… “Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together.”
So begins the Simon & Garfunkel tune that was forever seared on our eleven-year old psyches; one line, we recount now, perhaps above all the rest. “Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said “though I knew she was sleeping.” In an instant we knew the power of art, and the stuff of truth: in the human condition we will forever struggle with being known, understood, heard, even by the people who know us best. We can never quite form the words. Not in time. Not before the moment passes. “Kathy, I’m lost,” the song which is called America says, an anthem to pining and searching and the ineffable ache of longing that is, perhaps, felt most keenly in this country where we fell in love with the idea that we could have/be/do anything we wanted, a freedom which has proven to be a greater burden than anyone imagined. Perhaps this generation, with their gnawing fear of missing out, will spark to these lyrics anew.
Kate and I have helped each other carry the load of the artist’s burden of uncertainty for 15 years now. Shared stories of lifetimes spent pouring out the gifts we each knew we had at eleven, at nine. I started reading at three. Kate begin singing in church at seven. “Out of the heart will flow rivers of living water.” Kate would have known that this was from Scripture decades before me; still, she was no clearer than I where the outpouring was leading, how it was all meant to add up. “What am I doing here?” How many times had we found ourselves saying this over the years, and then, by some primal mix of self-knowledge and faith, we kept going, certain in the way that our “friend” Thomas Merton captured so beautifully in this prayer:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Kate pulled into my driveway in L.A. yesterday, making a loop to see me as she finished several tour stops in CA. The tracks for the new album are almost done. She recorded a lot of the songs on her iphone accompanying herself on an old Wurlitzer, or her guitar. Although 99% of her work is her own magnificent writing, she has covered three tunes in this one. The K.O.A. Tapes the album will be called when it’s released this summer. It is the soundtrack of her life on the road. A life of asking, “what am I doing here?” and continuing to show up anyway. And now, after 20 years, those answers are becoming clearer in a way that brings peace. It is this peace, this deep sense of being in our “right house” that we all seek. The peace that D. H. Lawrence describes as “sleeping on the hearth of the living world, yawning at home before the fire of life, feeling the presence of the living God like a great reassurance, a deep calm in the heart.”
When we struggle to find it, may songs like this let us know that we are not alone.
(America, sung by Kate Campbell, lyrics by Paul Simon)
Just came back from a wonderful lunch at a great old Venice haunt where artists and locals of all stripes have gathered for the past 30 years. This little verse was displayed by every booth and, really, what’s not to love about it? It has all our favorite words: passion, dream, kindness, inspire, truth, love, and a healthy dose of our favorite modifier: your, which in these instructions means my. Breezing past this easy wisdom is like taking a shot of wheat grass juice—or tequila. Your choice.
Either way, that’s about how long the buzz of aphorisms like these will last—or help—over the long haul. Like when the love of your life has left you. When your dad has brain cancer or your mom has dementia or your baby has something wrong that no amount of wit or rank or determination can heal. When you’ve lost your job or your way and you find yourself disappearing more and more into a haze of booze or pills or sex because somehow—despite looking great in your yoga pants—your meditation practice is not bringing you peace. When you’re starting to suspect that it really might be you that is the source of your recurring troubles but don’t have a clue what to do about it.
In the land of sandwich board wisdom there is only one “hard” word even mentioned. Cry. Tucked in between laughing and loving it seems more like a salty reflex of living a fabulous life than anything anchored in real pain. But pain is a real thing. It’s not avoidable. Not even if your start-up becomes an IPO before your 30. Or your film gets Special Jury Recognition at Sundance. Or you figure out how to shed—even briefly—your incessant Fear Of Missing Out. Down the road, you’ll be forced to discover that there’s simply not enough Botox in the world to restore the infinite possibility of youth, or the primal rush of being desired, and you can nip and tuck and “speak your truth” of denial like a mantra, but it will not make heads turn or doors open. And it will surely not hold your wounded spirit in its hand.
The reminders to Be Here Now and to Live In The Moment are much needed, of course, given our collective and constant techno-twitch. More than that, though, I think they’re a wormhole into the ultimate lens of this “scripture” —to deny any reality beyond this moment. Your moment. Your truth. As if nothing came before, or will come after. All the world’s a stage and all the players are just potential followers of your life platform, right?
This notion of your truth has no precedent in human history. It’s a bit surprising that so many educated people cling to it when it defies all logic and reason. Either something is true or something is not true. Either your kid stole the cookie from the cookie jar or she did not. Either you closed the deal or you did not. Either there is a God who created the universe or there is not. We can pretend that it’s a choice that we make, but it is not.
Last month, Hal’s Bar & Grill announced that it was closing its doors. Across the social media landscape of West L.A. there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. There was sadness and there was shock: this was the cornerstone of the whole hipster scene of Venice, CA. How is it possible that life would go on without it?
Next month, next year—a hundred years from now— there’ll be a new crop of cool places to gather and new foods to rave about and new variations on the idea of being spiritual or transcendent or perfect or happy or saved.
We won’t be here to enjoy them. But the Truth will be.
Same as it ever was.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Either this is true or it’s not true.
Our preference for it to be one or the other is irrelevant—at least so far as Truth is concerned. As for the human heart, well, in that, my friends, it makes all the difference in the world.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
“Orthodoxy moves, because times change. It is not a matter of always saying the same thing in the same way, but of responding faithfully to our changing setting as our ancestors did to theirs.”