“Can You Imagine Us Years From Today …”


“The first thing I remember, I was lying in my bed
I couldn’t’ve been no more than one or two
And I remember there’s a radio, coming from the room next door
My mother laughed the way some ladies’ do

Well it’s late in the evening, and the music’s seeping through”

I don’t remember not knowing Simon & Garfunkel. How old was I when I first heard El Condor Pasa? “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail…” I don’t think I ever didn’t know that song.

I remember when I became aware of Paul Simon as a solo artist. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world when I found out this guy with this catchy song on the radio was the “Simon” from “Simon and Garfunkel.” I went back to check to make sure he wasn’t also the “Paul” of “Peter, Paul & Mary,” another fave of the time. It would have been, what, 1986. Halfway through middle school.

“A man walks down the street, he says, ‘Why am I soft in the middle now? Why am I soft in the middle; the rest of my life is so hard.'” I’m not going to claim that I really understood the song about a roly-poly little bat-faced girl and dogs in the light and being someone’s bodyguard and calling them Betty.

Heck, for that matter, it would be decades before I really began to really understand the song at all. “Whoa my nights are so long. Where’s my wife and family? What if I die here? Who’ll be my role model, now that my role model is gone, gone?” I needed a few incidents and accidents of my own.

And that’s long been the appeal of Paul Simon for me. Yes, he’s a musical genius, with an uncanny ability to synthesize musical styles into something that becomes entirely his own, crossing genre from one song to the next in an album while still creating a cohesive whole. Whether the musical style is from South Africa, South America or south Louisana, it’s still, without question, a Paul Simon song.

But for me, that’s lagniappe. For me, the appeal that crosses through that, what makes a Paul Simon song a Paul Simon song, is that he’s one of the most brilliant lyricists of our time. He’s a brilliant writer, with an uncanny ability to capture the human condition, and the fact that he can make that writing fit music is incredible.

My musical tastes have changed over the years. Artists come and go. Entire genres come and go. Paul Simon remains. From the time I had developed having tastes of my own until today, there has never been a point where Paul Simon was not one of my favorites, because there has never been a time when his music doesn’t speak to something deep within me. With most artists, I eventually tire of their music or outgrow it. With Paul Simon, I grow into it. Every year that passes gives me a deeper understanding, a deeper appreciation, a deeper identification.

This month marked the first time I met my old lover on the street last night. Well, granted, it wasn’t the street, and, frankly, she didn’t seem so glad to see me she just smiled. But it was that much more real. Still crazy after all these years, indeed. (And, of course, she was from “Lafayette, state of Louisiana” and loved the sound of a train in the distance.)

It turns out that losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. And, sometimes, even music cannot substitute for tears.

Fat Charlie the Archangel was right about filing for divorce. And I don’t want no part of this crazy love either.

But that’s all part of it, isn’t it? I’m older than I once was, but younger than I’ll be; that’s not unusual. Paul Simon gets that. He’s marked the passage of time, and its effects on us, from the very beginning. He was twenty-one years when he wrote a song about the leaves that are green turning to brown. He’s sixty-eight now, but he won’t be for long.

And that was what made seeing Simon and Garfunkel in concert Saturday such an interesting experience. I’ve long wanted to, and for the longest time believed that even just seeing Paul Simon was an unreasonable goal. But in January, I crossed off the penultimate item on my concert wish list and so decided it was time to look seriously at the ultimate one. When I saw they were going to be at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, I had to go.

It was an amazing concert. It was incredible hearing the songs live. It was great knowing that I was seeing them live, in their presence, for the performance. It demonstrated how blessed I was to be hearing live songs I had listened to with Heather at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland just three days earlier.

But it added something to the experience that not only was I seeing Paul Simon, not only was I seeing Simon & Garfunkel, I was seeing them in 2010. When they were 26, the duo released a song where they talked about how terribly strange it would be to be seventy. Now, that’s only a year and a half away.

That song wasn’t sung Saturday, but, intentionally or not, the theme was present from the very opening line of the concert — “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me.”

I’ve grown up with their music. Heck, they’ve grown up with their music. Most of the songs they did were 40 to 50 years old. Can you imagine? But there, that Saturday, there we all were. Memories brushing the same years.

For a while there, it seemed the years had not rocked so easily while rolling past Art Garfunkel; the voice that came out when he began singing was not the perfectly smooth, beautifully sweet one of the albums. But it turned out that it wasn’t age that was the issue; he was sick. Despite that, he poured his heart into the concert, getting everything out of his still-amazing voice that he could. It was obvious to the audience how much he was giving, and it was deeply appreciated — I had the rather unusual pleasure of being at a Simon & Garfunkel concert where the star of the show was indisputably Art Garfunkel. And it was obvious that meant a lot to him as well.

The duo closed the show, pre-encores at least, with Bridge Over Troubled Water, which is completely driving by Garfunkel’s voice. And he poured himself into it, obviously struggling, obviously suffering, but pulling it off. And during the song, Paul Simon looks over, sees him, and just rests his hand on his shoulder, finishing the song that way.

Old friends, indeed.

Decimation


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Tithing.”

And now it’s time for Heresy with Dave, the part of the blog where Dave comes out and spouts out heresy.

First of all — I’m not opposed to tithing. I’m really not. It’s a good thing.

OK, do we have that out of the way? Because the last thing I want is for you to read this entry and come away from it thinking I believe you shouldn’t tithe. If you want to, if you feel called to, please please please do. You have my support and respect. My problem isn’t with tithers.

But …

Let’s do a quick word problem; a good elementary school math problem. I give you ten apples. I make you give one back. How many apples have I given you?

Sure, you could make the case that I gave you ten apples. When I gave you apples, I gave you ten of them. But an elementary school student solving that problem is going to count the number of apples left and come up with the answer that I gave you nine apples.

And I don’t think God is a 90 percent giver. “I have a blessing for you, that I want you to have 90 percent of!” “I want you to have life, and life 90 percent abundantly!” I believe God gives fully and unconditionally. And I have a problem with any preacher that gets up and says God gives to you generously, but wants a refund. I’ve heard it countless times, in almost those words. And it maligns His character.

And this, to me, is the issue — Preachers lie about tithing. And in doing so, they lie about God.

How many times has a preacher told you it’s important to tithe? How many times have preachers told you it’s not a New Testament concept? That latter part kinda gets left out, doesn’t it. They tend to be much bigger on the first part.

Tithing is an interesting thing in the church. I know far more people who believe it’s something you must do than people who actually do. It’s important that you do it, but it’s much more important that you think it’s important that you do it. But why is it important?

In the King James, the word “tithe” appears only three times in the gospels. (In NIV, it doesn’t appear in the New Testament at all.) Want to know what Jesus says about tithing? “Woe unto you!” Jesus mentions tithing only once, in a story that appears in Matthew 23 and Luke 11 in which He criticizes Pharisees for being hypocrites in their tithing. How many times have you had a preacher point out that the only thing Jesus says about tithing is “Woe unto you!”? I never heard that. You? Yeah, that’s kinda what I thought. How about the fact that in the rest of the New Testament, tithing is only discussed historically? Yeah, kinda figured that, too.

Old Testament Israel was a theocracy, with a God-appointed king. Tithing was taxation; it supported the government and provided for the general welfare. By the time of Christ, that function had been taken over by secular government. “Render unto Caesar … ”

Preachers preach that tithing is important, because it is. It pays their salary. It pays for staff. It pays debt service on construction projects. It pays the mortgage. It covers overhead.

And you can’t have a modern church without overhead, can you? You have to have a preacher and a minister of music and a building. And if you’re a good church, you have a bus service and a nice projector system and a minister of outreach and a new Family Life center. And those things don’t pay for themselves. A business would charge a usage fee. Movie theaters cover the cost of their fancy new projectors by selling tickets. Churches can’t do that. So how do you make your usage fees mandatory without charging people. You let God do your dirty work. “Sorry, God only wants you to have 90 percent of what He blesses you with so that we can afford a new projector. Not me, you understand, just the way God withholds, you know?” And that, to be blunt, is sick. And the preacher who lives better than his congregation because he tells them that God demands they let him? Wow.

Make no mistake — God likes for us to give. But the most meaningful gifts are the ones that are heartfelt. If it’s a requirement, it’s not a gift. And He wants us to care for others. He wants us to support the church. He wants us to spread His word. He wants us to minister. And those things require money. But He wants us to want to do those things. He wants us to do them out of love, not obligation. The heart is more important than the action.

And giving is a gift; like others. Some people are called to teach. Some people are called to evangelize. Some people are called to show mercy. Some people are called to give. That doesn’t mean that everyone shouldn’t give some. Even if you have no gift for teaching, at some point you’ll probably have to teach some. It just means that each gives according to their gifts. Teaching comes more easily to someone gifted with teaching, and is its own reward for that person. Same with giving. Trying to codify some rigid universal standard for giving denies the beauty of the diversity of the body. And if what He’s gifted you with, or what He’s called you to do, is to give 10 percent of what you have to Him, then that is an honor and a blessing. And if you choose on your own to make that sacrifice out of love for Him, then that is an amazing show of love indeed.

God gives us gifts for our enjoyment, not His. It blesses Him to see you appreciate and be grateful for the firstfruits of His gifts. If He were really that concerned with the 10 percent, He would keep it in the first place. He doesn’t have to give it to us. But, you know, He’s sort of God. He’s got plenty. He’s not jealous of 10 percent of your paycheck. He’s jealous of your heart.

And 10 percent of that is not nearly enough for Him.