Harry Chapin was, and remains, one of my favorite singers and storytellers. He and his band played at my college after the release of “Taxi,” but a year before “Cat’s in the Cradle,” so his audience was rather small. I think only about 100 people showed up in the chapel that seats 1,400. So, everyone crowded up front and Harry talked to us in between songs. He was honest, irreverent, kind and made us laugh and cry.
One of his most poignant songs, then and now, is entitled “A Better Place to Be.” It tells the story of a little man who comes into a bar and begins to drink early in the day. He tells the story of a woman he once met in a diner who accepted his invitation to return with him to his apartment, because, as she said to him, “I’m going nowhere, and anywhere is a better place to be.”
The song goes on and is really about loneliness and how we sometimes find allies in the most unexpected places.
At this time, in our country, we need to figure out a way to be allies to one another, because we are so terribly divided now. It is very easy to place the blame on our political leaders, because members of both parties fan the flames of division, even those with noble goals.
We each stand behind the political, philosophical and theological walls we have erected, and seek protection from the tumult outside. We are seeking “a better place to be.”
But isolating ourselves will only further the corrosive effects of polarization that have rent our nation in 2.
Let’s begin by dealing with our racial differences. When I was in high school, a teacher spoke during a time of racial unrest and said, “We don’t see colors here.”
He was encouraging unity, but I have come to see that we do, in fact, need to see colors. It is only by acknowledging our differences honestly that we can become true allies and friends. I have often thought back on my high school days and how few were the numbers of black students and faculty there.
I cannot imagine how isolating it may have felt to be a person of color in that huge school. I cherished my friendships with some of the students whose race was different than mine and appreciate even more now the difficult path they walked each day, seeking to be appreciated for who they were as people, as God’s people, and as Black people in a sea of White people.
We must seek to accept and respect one another, not in spite of our differences, but with all of our various racial, theological and ideologies intact. That takes a great deal of effort, and I am coming to believe that we as Americans don’t like to be asked to exert extra effort.
Just look at the complaining about wearing masks for protection against COVID-19, because it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient even when it has been proven to reduce the chances of spreading the disease.
We cannot choose to live exclusively among people who believe as we do or have the skin color we do, or, at least, I hope we don’t want to live that way.
With all of the unrest that shows no sign of abating soon, might I suggest that seeking to find ways to live together, with all of our differences on full display, is “a better place to be”?
Those who claim to be people of faith can lead the way, but only if we stop molding scripture into a form that supports what we already believe. The keys to peace and reconciliation are all there, but, for generations, we have sought to tailor the commands of scripture to our viewpoint, which often results in our discriminating against those who differ from us.
But there is a new world coming, and signs of it have just begun as a glimmer on the horizon. People of all races are joining in the Black Lives Matter movement to protest the ongoing violence and structural racism that pervades our country.
The Supreme Court this week ruled that anti-discrimination laws apply to all, including members of the LGBTQ community, which presents a real challenge to those who have taught that Christianity tells us to discriminate against them, just as the Church taught for years that slavery was ordained by God.
The tide seems to be turning against those in leadership positions who use invective to divide the citizenry and foment hatred. So keep praying, but don’t stop there. Keep speaking out; build little bridges every day to someone who differs from you in some way.
Wherever that bridge takes you, it’s “a better place to be.” You might even meet Jesus on that bridge.