The whipper snipper died the other day – well it actually started its rapid descent into death just before Christmas. I managed to get a little bit more from it just after Christmas with a new spark plug. It spluttered and then started and I was able to get a fair bit of the remaining long grass around the edges of the yard trimmed. Its spluttering became a deep cough, a groan and then silence. I left it to cool down, supplied it with new fuel and a range of other things within my capacity (google and youtube are wonderful!). The whipper snipper would not start – it turned up its toes. I pondered the possibilities and decided I would get some advice from someone who knew. It was repaired only 12 months ago so I was a little frustrated. On a recommendation I went elsewhere and asked the repairer his advice: ‘Is this worth fixing?’ He smiled and gently said ‘No, it would cost you a hundred bucks and maybe last another year.’ So I smiled back and asked if it was a piece of junk. He said it was. It was a cheap model bought from a large hardware chain. It had done its job, served me reasonably well but wasn’t going to see me into the future.
I was faced with the broader question of what to do. What would serve my needs and give me trouble free service, good lawns and ease of use. The guy in the store asked me some questions about how much use, how big the yard etc and then gave me some options. He gave the pros and cons of the various options, answered my ignorant questions and when I pushed him, he showed what he’d buy – so I did. It is a new day in the Stevenson yard. I came home and ran the new whipper snipper, cleaner and greener than the old model and it did the job very well with minimum fuss. I confess that everything was easier with this new model. It took a little getting used to – it’s a different shape and style but much better! We are singing a new song for a new day.
I listened to U2’s song ‘40’ today. It comes from Psalm 40 and asks how long will we sing the song, the old song? How long, to sing this song? I felt that this is what I had been through with the old whipper snipper. How long was I going to wrestle with its spluttering and what else could I pull off it or fix? How long would I put up with the dysfunctional gadget that had done its thing? How long? Would I finally sing a new song? Would I venture into something new and sing a song for a new day? Well, I did!
It was only a whipper snipper but perhaps it is a metaphor for life. How long will we sing the song we have been singing? Is the song working or is it a bit old now? How long will we continue to offer up the same old, same old, to the questions and puzzles that confront us? How long will we continue with the song that has been done to death and should be laid aside or given a decent burial like my whipper snipper? The song we are singing in contemporary society is a bit outdated, old-fashioned and its beat has faded. The song is about prosperity and wealth as the answer to our deepest longings. Power, prestige and ambition follow in verse 2. If we are in conflict then violence will resolve our problems – that comes along in verse 3. So the song goes on, honouring the rich and famous, the stars and starlets, the beautiful people on the A list, those whose lives are splashed in monotonous colour across magazine, TV and the internet.
The phenomenon of social media has connected us in ways previously unimagined and in some ways helped us to consider a new song but it is still an individual song, sung alone behind the safety of our screen. The song echoes through a lonely world, one where we seek or sojourn into places of refuge and safety. The Western pandemic of anxiety, depression and addiction does little to dispel the sense that our song has lost its power. We have an inner existential longing, a need for new meaning to engage us and propel us forward in hopeful, passionate living. We need something to embrace or to embrace us in a way that fulfils the essential reality of what it means to be human – this is togetherness, community, of being in a place of belonging. Social media fulfils something of this certainly but nothing can replace the actuality of real flesh and blood people to laugh, cry and share life with and to journey into the future together.
I came to the story of Jesus for this week (John 1:29-42). It speaks of a little known disciple, Andrew, who is following the firebrand preacher and baptiser called John. He casually points out to Andrew and others that Jesus is the one from God. Curiosity, and a desire to quell the inner yearning perhaps, drove Andrew to follow Jesus around for a day to see, hear and experience him. At the end of the day Jesus responded to Andrew’s following him by asking, ‘What are you seeking?’ Andrew asks a question in response: ‘Where are you staying?’ This leads to Jesus’ invitation: ‘Come and see.’ It is a funny conversation but interesting in that Andrew was seeking something and went looking, first in John and from there in Jesus. He listened and watched and recognised he had found what his heart yearned after. He continued to follow Jesus. In fact he went and got his brother and some others and told them to come and see who he had found – the Messiah, the Promised One of God. This was the new song that Andrew was looking for. The old song had become frayed at the edges, out of tune and perhaps less relevant. What was the new song of God, the song that would touch his heart and being and find expression in his singing, dancing and living a new song, a new way, a new life?
This is a story of one who was looking, searching and seeking to discover a new and different way in the world. This is the story of a seeker, a pilgrim, a searcher, maybe like the wise ones, the magi we read in the Christmas stories. It is a story of someone who recognised his song was sad and dying, like my whipper snipper and so he began to look, to search and seek until he found. It is the story of U2 who have sung songs of seeking and searching as they wrestled with their faith in a world where institutional faith let them and their nation down and personal individual faith felt lifeless without a community that is open, loving and gracious. They travelled through various expressions of Christian faith in various churches and Christian communities but many were exclusive and looked askance at boys with long hair and loud music who loved performing and were on a path that was different. How long, intones Bono, How long will we sing this song? How long will Northern Ireland live in violence and hatred? How long will the church exclude people who are different and tie others up in regulations and institutionalism? How long will the world ignore the poor and oppressed? How long will wealthy and powerful nations exploit the poor and use military violence to impose their ways? Is there a new song? Where can we learn it? Andrew followed Jesus a day and learned a new song! Do you want the new song to sing? The song of inclusive, gracious love, peace and justice?