“And it’s you when I look in the mirror, and it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone.”
~ Sometimes you can’t make it on your own, U2
The Fifth Word is,
“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
When I thought about what song lyric could introduce this chapter in TEN, the U2 song above came instantly to mind. We bought our first house in November 2004, just after U2 released “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”, and I spent every night for a couple of weeks painting the rooms in the house while Rebecca slept and cared for our 7 month old daughter back in our one bedroom apartment. That CD was never out of the player. I remember one night putting this track on repeat – I must have listened to it for an hour or more. It touched something inside me I guess – still does, truth be told. The song is about Bono’s relationship with his father, and his recognition that so much of who he is comes from his dad, regardless of how painful the relationship may have been at times. The line that got me that night – and still does – is this one,
“I know that we don’t talk, I’m sick of it all. Can you hear me when I sing? You’re the reason I sing. You’re the reason why the opera is in me.”
Over the last three years or so, I’ve had the privilege of speaking at conferences, retreats and church services all over the US. Besides the presentations, I’ve had countless conversations about the life that I believe the Story of God invites us into, one that is profoundly at odds with our radically individualistic, consumerist and fear-based culture, a life that Rebecca and I are still growing into – painfully at times – with friends in our neighborhood. I am often asked something like, “How did you get converted to such a counter-cultural lifestyle?” to which I invariably respond, “I wasn’t. I grew up in it.”
My earliest memories are of people in our home. Neighbours drinking cups of teas in the kitchen with my mum. School friends having a biscuit and mum asking about their families. Folk coming over to put price stickers on donated items for the monthly jumble sale my mum and dad had in the garage to raise money for a cancer charity. People in distress falling apart with them in the living room, and me being sent to make yet another cup of tea. My dad up a ladder, cleaning out an elderly neighbour’s gutters. My parents have modeled what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself” for as long as I’ve lived. Not always perfectly, for sure, but it is in my DNA to live out what one conference I spoke at called “Radical Gospel Living” but what I think of as just life on Windsor Road. And here’s the thing. Neither of my parents were church goers when my brothers and I were growing up. They loved people in simple and profound ways without framing it in religious language. They still do, even though they are both followers of Jesus now. And chances are, if you stop by Windsor Road today, there’ll be an elderly neighbor having a cup of tea and discussing the weather and their grand kids. Or someone struggling with mental illness from the community housing down the street, just sitting. Maybe talking. Definitely being given time to simply be themselves. Being loved.
So I get it when Bono sings, “You’re the reason why the opera is in me.” My parents made it easy for me to respond to what some call the “radical gospel” when I heard it articulated by people like Tony Campolo and John Smith: it just rang true from my own experience. Of course you love your neighbours as yourself. Of course you look out for them. Stop and talk to them if they’re out on the stoop. Take them a few eggs. Give them the pack of cigarettes you found on the sidewalk. Open the door to them after you’ve gone to bed, but they need to talk. Get to know their story. Get disappointed by them, get angry, heartbroken, treated poorly, misunderstood and taken for granted. That’s what it means to be a human being in relationship with others. It’s what I see Jesus doing in the Gospels. And it’s what I’ve seen my parents doing on Windsor Road for close to five decades. I honor them by trying to love people the way they have loved people. The way that I have been loved.
So, for this week’s playlist, what song comes to mind about honoring your parents. Or, perhaps, about honoring people who have had a profound influence in making you who you are today? Write the lyric and the artist in the comments below, and my favourite will score a copy of TEN. And please pass the word on – the more the merrier!
Last week’s playlist for the Sixth Word, “Do not kill,” is up on Spotify – listen here. My favourite song suggestion was Bruce Cockburn’s wonderful, “The Gospel of Bondage,” submitted by another talented Canadian singer-songwriter, Bryan Moyer Suderman, who scores a copy of TEN – I’m looking forward to handing it over in person later this week at the Wild Goose Festival!