For some reason I have been going through a David Bowie phase. My kids keep asking me, “Dad, what’s up with you and David Bowie”. I bought the book, The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made a World of Difference, by Paul Morley. I purchased two new David Bowie vinyl records (The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory). I believe certain music finds us at certain times for certain reasons so I have been thinking about why David Bowie and why now. My current phase started with the song, “Life on Mars”. I had heard it before, but became obsessed recently. For those that don’t know it is a song about dislocation. It is about feeling that the world is not of your own making. I will let David Bowie explain, “I think she (the girl in the song) finds herself disappointed with reality…that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s far greater life somewhere, and she bitterly disappointed she doesn’t have access to it.” As I turn 45 this is how I am feeling dislocated from the world. I have spent my life trying to construct a different world, and hopefully one that is better.
I have always believed that we were moving to a new place. I have tried to live a life centered in God’s love. I have tried to find a way to understand people, even the people I don’t understand. I have dedicated my life to preaching and teaching that all people are created by God, and loved by God. And I am feeling that all of that work has failed. We live in a world that seems to be getting crueler, nastier, and harder of heart. Recently at a family dinner I broke down and apologized to my kids for the world they would inherit. I asked them to remember that I did try, but failed to produce a world that was better. I failed to create a world not being destroyed by corporate polluters, taken over by racial hatred, homophobia, and xenophobia. I have failed because we live in a world that wages war on the poor and disenfranchised, allows kids to be slaughtered at school by guns, separates families based on where they were born. In the words of Jack Black’s character in the movie, School of Rock,“The Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnappedShamu and put her in a chlorine tank!”
I don’t know if 45 is the middle of my life. I know all too well that we simply don’t know how long we have on this earth. But it feels like the middle, like I am walking on a razor edge. And half of me is sad, frustrated, disappointed about the world we live in. I hear it in the stories my kids bring home from school. I hear the cruelty, the meanness, the violence, the disrespect for human life. I know that the world was like this when I was kid. I know that kids were cruel then too. Racism, sexism, homophobia all existed before now. I was hoping to make a difference. To create a world that was different for my kids to live in. I am also well aware that all those things exist in me too. In my human brokenness is my own sin. I was hoping to be better myself. It has been hard year to realize that the world is just mean, as mean as it ever was. It is hard to think that there is something better out there and realizing you don’t have access to it.
But middle age means not only losing our optimistic view of the future. It is not only realizing we live in a world that we wish was different, that we were hoping to create. It also means a nostalgia for something that never was. I am finding myself being very nostalgic for days I can only remember as endless and free. I am nostalgic for summer days spent going to beach, jumping from cliffs, sitting in a movie theater, goofing with friends. All of the past is clouded in this nostalgia. It all seems so innocent now, so wonderful.
I have been listening to songs about nostalgia. Not songs that make me think of a certain time and place, but songs that speak of what was and how great it was. I have been listening to songs that sing of that longing for that time gone by. I came up with a playlist of these songs.
Poems, Prayers, and Promises – John Denver
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
We all Go Back to Where We Belong – REM
Touch of Grey – Grateful Dead
These Are The Days of Our Lives – Queen
Glory Days – Bruce Sprignsteen
I Wanna Go Back – Eddie Money
Runaways - The Killers
Shining Through the Dark - Ryan Adams
Yesterday - The Beatles
Fire and Rain - James Taylor
Losing Days - Frank Turner
Ode to My Family - The Cranberries
When it Began - The Replacements
Home That Never Was - Chadwick Stokes
Stars are Crazy - Lindsey Buckingham
100 Years - Five for Fighting
The Toast - Adam Ezra
It might seem from what I am saying that I am depressed about turning 45, or that I am going to have some major breakdown. I will buy some fancy sport car, or run off on some crazy adventure in order to recapture my early days. The truth is that what I really feel is gratitude. It seems weird thing to say considering what I have written above. In the middle we walk the razor’s edge of what was and what is going to be. I can only be thankful for what has come before. I can only be thankful for those memories of glorious times gone by. I am thankful for those summers on the shores of the Lake Ossippee, the people I have met, the friends I have, the Church that formed me, the family that raised me. All of those things are what brings me to this point. They have made up a fabric of my life that is far from ordinary or boring. I am nostalgic, but I would never want to live those days again. I actually like these days a lot. They are filled with different things like picking up my kids from school, sharing a fancy dinner on Friday nights, snuggling on the couch and watching a movie, trips in a car together, getting away for a night out, working on a sermon, visiting people in a hospital, sitting around a table with family and talking about the challenges of life. These are great days. In some ways these days do seem like a life on Mars. They are better than I could have dreamed. My life is so rich and wonderful I am thankful for it. When I was young I am not sure I imagined it to be this good.
I am still dismayed at the world’s cruelty. The good news is I am not done yet. I still have some more years to convince others of the power of love, the goodness of God, the beauty of grace, the importance of justice. My hope lies in God. I also see in my children an improvement over what I lived through. They are more open to things that were taboo in my day. They don’t care if someone is gay, transgendered, or whatever. They are open to the world in such wonderful and beautiful ways. So I see that this is the way of life. We pass things down. We hand off the work that is always ongoing. I am sure they will face their own challenges, they will have to make the world they live in their own. They will have to decide what kind of world they want to create. Will they live here or move to Mars? I hope they choose Mars! I hope they don’t accept that things are the way they are. I believe in the kingdom come, in God making something new out of the dust we create.
And ultimately this is where I am right now at 45. I am in the middle, in the space in between, on the razor’s edge. I am living somewhere between despair and hope, acceptance and rejection, what was and what is to come, life and death. I am in between life as it is and life as it could be, between life here on earth and life on Mars. All in all it is not a horrible place to be. I am happy for this time of my life to live in that in between space. I am grateful to be alive. I the words of John Lennon, “Where there is life there is hope”. I can honestly say that I am looking forward to what comes next, because you never know there just might be life on Mars.