I never thought I would see Lenny Kravitz cry on stage. But as the show went on, he just seemed to get more and more frustrated. I felt a little bad for the guy, to be honest. I mean, on the one hand, he’s Lenny Kravitz. But on the other, no matter how many times you repeat your song lyrics and ask the crowd to sing along, it’s not gonna change the fact that the crowd of 300,000 people on the Copacabana beach were primarily Portuguese speakers, and don’t understand what you’re saying, and even though they were super excited to be there, weren’t really able to sing along…
Of course, the five english speakers I was tagging along with didn’t really know the lyrics either – we were just there cause… I mean, c’mon, how often do you get to go see a free Lenny Kravitz concert on the beach in Rio?
I was reminded of this ridiculous scenario the other night as I was driving home from my internship out in the suburbs, listening to a podcast of Walter Brueggeman teaching an Old Testament Survey workshop. As he closed out a portion of his talk, he said:
“For the most part, the wisdom teachers are problem solvers. But they knew that underneath the problems are mysteries to be lived with.
One of the problems with an electronic culture is that everything turns into a problem to be solved.
Creation is a mystery to be lived with, and not a problem to be solved…”
I turned it off to think about his words for a moment in silence, but right then Lenny Kravitz began blaring through the radio, and I was back on that beach in Rio.
As the two threads wove together in my mind, I smiled at the beauty and absurdity of it: Brueggemann and Kravitz combining to remind me of truth, of experience, of lived hope, of a time when I was learning to give up expecting God to solve my problems, or the problems of the people I cared about, and embrace the mystery of faith and trust and dialogue and honesty and anger and questions and relationship with God in all its wonder and complexity.
The time around the concert was tumultuous. I had recently moved into the favelas, and was confronted on an almost daily basis with police brutality, gun-fights around the corner between traffickers and cops, friends dying of drug overdoses or drug-deals gone bad, systemic oppression and hopelessness and despair. I saw lots of problems that needed to be fixed.
But God wasn’t doing it. At least not the ways that I wanted it to happen. The violence continued. Bullets flew. People died. Hope died.
Mystery. Beauty. Death was present. But even as death seemed to reign, there were signs of resurrection, of new life, of people transformed and choices made new, forgiveness opening doors and hearts, people risking love even in the darkness. This was the Kingdom at work.
This tension goes back to the disciples. I think of them asking Jesus, “Lord, are you now going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?” They wanted flash. They wanted bang. They wanted power. They wanted solutions. They wanted the Kingdom to come in now – powerful and majestic and impossible to miss. They wanted torture to stop, chemical and nuclear weapons destroyed, the oppressors ousted, the vision of Isaiah brought to earth where every one could sit and eat under their own fig tree, “and no one would make them afraid,” and freedom and liberty and justice for all.
And against that stands the path of Jesus.
“Yes, that will happen, but not in the way you want it to happen.
Yes, I will make all things new, but it will be like a slowly growing tree instead of an avalanche of light.
Yes, there is hope.
That is the mystery…
And how do we live that?
“Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ‘em like a father and cared for ‘em like a mother…well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like ‘there are two sides to every question’ and ‘we must respect other people’s beliefs.’ You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgiving sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mena, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declaring’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. That’s religion. Anything else is just…is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors.”
She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice: “Anyway, that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say ‘oh deary me, we must debate this.’ That my two penn’orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie. Don’t chase faith, ‘cos you’ll never catch it.” She added, almost as an aside, “But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.”
May you live today faithfully…