Wikipedia lists dozens of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, including Viking Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal, Gothic Metal, Metalcore and Grindcore, though the two that most intrigue me are Folk Metal and Stoner Metal, which seem to me to be oxymorons.
And I listen to none of them. Led Zeppelin is about as hard as I rock out. Heavy metal may be the only style of music I avoid completely, but there are portions of other genres I can do without. I can’t listen to the rap music that is filled with misogyny and glorifies drug violence and cop killing, though there is a sub-genre called alt hip-hop that I love.
I’ll happily skip a Richard Strauss opera, though there is something to be admired in that man who wrote in his diary in 1933 that described “the Streicher-Goebbels Jew-baiting as a disgrace to German honor, as evidence of incompetence—the basest weapon of untalented, lazy mediocrity against a higher intelligence and greater talent.” Risky but true words indeed, and a reminder how badly the intelligentsia misjudged the situation in Germany at that time.
Having lived in New York City, I’m also okay if I never again hear a Peruvian pan flute.
But overall, my musical horizons are broad. While my range is wider than his, my love of diverse music comes from my father, a man who loved both Hank Williams and Tchaikovsky, both composers I also love. Dad had hearing loss in one ear, so he’d have the volume up a little too much, all the way up to eleven as they say, sitting between the speakers as the cannons fired in the 1812 Overture. In his last years he loved the Capitol Fourth on PBS, and would have been disgusted with the proposed defunding of that great American institution.
For all of his eclectic taste, Dad had this weird thing I noticed even as a child. He didn’t like Stevie Wonder, but R&B wasn’t a genre he particularly loved anyway. He didn’t like Ray Charles, a little weird, as there were other performers he seemed to like that weren’t that different, folks in the Rat Pack for instance. But he also didn’t like Ronnie Milsap, a country musician, and he loved country.
The thing these musicians shared was the fact that they were blind. I became convinced that my father simply didn’t like blind singers, which made no sense at all. No one chooses to be blind. But then near the end of his life, my father quite liked the Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, so that theory went right out the window.
In the end, I decided that people are just weird, a belief reinforced almost daily, the sum of billions of inputs and interactions, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” as Churchill once described the Soviet Union. And here we are, in another cold war with the Russians. The new old or the old new, depending on how you look at it.
When I listen to my eclectic collection of music, Pearl Jam one minute, the African singer Fatou the next, I am often listening through iTunes or my iPhone, both of which periodically update, requiring me to read and approve a new user agreement. Or to at least scroll through and check a box, for in truth I never read them. They are long and written by teams of lawyers in language that looks vaguely like english, but clearly isn’t. I’d need a full time squad of lawyers myself to keep up with all of the ways I am asked to sign away my rights every week, and I have a professional degree, am part of the educated elite.
Many are not so lucky. For an entire class of Americans, every time they have been screwed over, by their health insurer or mortgage holder or pay day lender or landlord, there has been somebody smart there to use big words and show them all of the ways that it was perfectly legal to rip them off. It is no wonder they distrust intelligence. They have been outsmarted all of their lives. Their jobs were destroyed by a private equity firms, their pensions pilfered in smoke and mirrors plots on Wall Street and K Street and by politicians kicking the problem down the road.
We cannot see, are blind to the ways that they see. We accuse them of creating scapegoats in their rage, but so do we. Ours are just a bit more sophisticated. We are the educated Scribes to their Galilean peasants.
That doesn’t mean we have to accept the racism, xenophobia and hate, that we have to accept policies that will destroy the planet and public education, that will make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That doesn’t mean we have to stop using logic and reason. We can be angry, for even Jesus became angry, but we could do with a whole lot less self-righteousness. And we can encourage the white working class to stop buying the false narrative of victimization.
Today’s scripture readings are all about light and vision. The story of the man who was blind from birth continues to set-up the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, and exactly like the early Christians, the man who is given the gift of sight is expelled from the synagogue, is cast out of the covenant community.
The miracle itself is extraordinary, not restoring sight that had been lost but essentially creating sight that never was, one of the signs in this gospel that Jesus is a divine being walking the earth, able to turn water into wine like the Greek god Dionysus, even able to raise someone from the dead. These signs all seem to be drawn from a lost text referred to by scholars as the Semeia Source, after the Koine Greek word for sign.
But the signs work two ways in this gospel, are a doubled-edged sword, for while they offer proof that Jesus is divine, the text also makes clear that your belief should not be based on this proof. In the fourth chapter, Jesus scolds the royal official with the sick son, saying “unless you see signs and wonders, you do not believe.”
It is unfortunate for those who are visually impaired that the term “to see” is so often used to mean “to understand,” but we are, after all, animals, fleshy and finite, and our vision, along with our hearing, are our primary inputs, for our sense of smell is second-rate, we can see farther than we can reach to touch, and we stop sticking everything in our mouthes when we outgrow the toddler years. At least most of us do.
Jesus is using sight in this double way, both the literal sightlessness of the man born blind and the spiritual sightlessness of the Pharisees. We don’t want to get too wound up about the Pharisees, because we have a bird’s eye view of what is going on, understand that even the disciples, the innermost circle of those following this itinerant rabbi, don’t see him for who he really is yet. The world is as yet blind to the fact that the divine is at work, is walking the same streets.
The Pharisees have already decided what they will see in anyone who believes in a different way than they believe. They can only see through the lens of purity codes, inherited sin, a vindictive god. In times of stress, the Hebrews had always emphasized the most rigid and divisive parts of their faith, especially in the last decades of the Southern Kingdom and again after the Exile, and the Hebrew homelands of Galilee and Judea were powder kegs in the time of Jesus, soon to erupt.
The Romans were brutal and exploitive, the elite were looking out for their own interests and so were collaborating with the Romans, the Pharisees were fighting with every other sect, popular, charismatic leaders were popping up left and right starting movements, social bandits were rebelling, Barabbas and those like him.
They each saw the other as the enemy, and no one could see, no one could hear, as the newest charismatic religious reformer, a Hebrew prophet in the tradition of the great Hebrew prophets, announced that it wasn’t about power and might, wasn’t about legalism and purity, certainly wasn’t about division and social class. It was, he told them, about love, if they could only choose to see.
I am the light of the world. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.
The quality of goodness can be debated, and God’s justice is always more generous than human justice, but truth is truth. We might find the Ten Commandments to be a bit old-fashioned, but they are still at the heart of our faith. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Light produces truth, and liars are never of God.
Here is our riddle wrapped in mystery, a divine mystery we name as God and that humans experienced in Jesus. A power strong enough, creative enough, to create the world is made know through signs of healing and transformation, through the miracle of turning what was plain into something more, something broken into something whole, something stained into something clean. A power strong enough, creative enough, to create the world is made known through a broken body and an empty grave.
Everyone in today’s story is a Hebrew, yet they are fearful and divided, distrustful. The Pharisees interrogate, looking for an excuse to condemn. The parents dodge the question. Folks make claims of identity theft. They might as well ask to see the birth certificate. The Pharisees wrap themselves up in Moses, in religious nationalism, claim ownership of a heritage as if all other interpretations are invalid, for they believe all other interpretations are invalid. People accuse one another of lying. It is like the House Un-Hebrew Activities Committee, like the neighbor watching neighbor in 1930’s Germany, like the way so many of us look suspiciously at our neighbors in this time of anger and division, watching but not seeing.
We have work to do, sisters and brothers. To do that work, we will need sight. We will need healing.
A power strong enough, creative enough, to create the world, the beautiful world of amazing colors and lovely forms, the composer of the music of life, is still here, still offering to heal us, so that we might see, might know, the goodness of God, the God-ness of the world, the Jesus that is in our sister and brother. When did we see you hungry, Jesus? Today. You saw me hungry today. You saw me scared. You saw me distrustful. You saw me smile. You saw me cry.
See. Be healed. May we one day be so bold to say that we once were deaf, but now we hear, I once was blind, but now I see. Amen.