Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Your Best Life Ends in Dust

Sunday night, the wife and I drove downtown and caught us a play.  It's one of the blessings of living inside the Beltway, I suppose, being able to get in some theeee-Ah-Tah now and again.

I like live performance, I do.  It's rawer and more organic than the carefully edited and crafted perfection that is presented to us at the Omnimegaplex 17.  This show was excellent, a performance of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children.  The entire play is a musing on the meaninglessness of war, and the odd interplay between human violence, commerce, and faith.

It was good stuff, staged wonderfully.  That Kathleen Turner was starring as the eponymous Mother Courage was cool, as I was sitting in a front row seat that would have allowed me to lean out and ask her to sign my Betamax copy of Romancing the Stone.  The whole cast was great, proving up to the remarkably varied demands of the show.  Acting, singing, and dancing makes for the classic "triple threat," sure, but what if the show also requires that you know how to play the tuba?  Or the saw?


One of the later songs...and yes, there were songs, of the boozy existentialist beer hall Tom-Waits variety...struck me.  It was a defiant slam against those parts of human understanding that fall apart in the face of life's reality.  Wealth?  Pshaw.  Wisdom?  You still die.  Martial power?  Someone stronger will always come along and stab you in the back.

And faith?  Well, the line was, as I recall, that religion goes on and on about love and the glories of eternity, and doesn't recognize that we really aren't special at all.  "We're just dust and ashes," sang the defiant vocalist, shaking his fist at faith.

To which I thought about my liturgical week, and gently shook my head.

A service of dust and ashes?  Yeah, we do that.  Tonight, in fact.

But as I reflected more, I wondered at the way that Christianity...of the American popular variety...seems to stumble a bit when it comes to the reality of our human condition.  Our mortality, the inescapable reality that we all fade, and wither, and die, that doesn't show up so much in the health and wealth churches, the bright and shiny temples to well-being that sprawl across our stressed and striving land.

We prefer to hide that away, in the same way our culture hides away our old and our dying.

Instead, we hear that we are destined for greatness!  Faith is about abundant life and striving and success and attainment! God wants us to prosper and to thrive and to be amply blessed!

Perhaps.  Some of us will.  Some of the time.  It does happen, and it's good when it does.

And striving and making the joyous most of every one of these precious moments of life is well worth while.  A little bit of positive attitude goes a long way.  Even the grimmest and most world-weary voices from my faith can't steer away from that bit of existential wisdom.

But more clear about God's intent for us is that once we were dust, and to dust we shall return.

All of us.  Even the best life returns to dust.  Even the most extraordinary life ends in ashes.

And if faith is to be real, being able to speak a blessing over that reality is important.