Gentle Mercy: Paul Simon and Growing Up in America

Tonight I was reminded of my need for mercy through the last tour of singer-song writer-theologian-American: Paul Simon.

When I was a little boy, radio brought us folk singer and song writer, Paul Simon. When I was a young man, I married a musician who taught me that Mr. Simon had been up to good since splitting up with the musical partner he calls “Artie.” She showed me that pop music could be excellent and I disposed of a great deal of worthless vinyl under her tutelage and Simon was a worthy role model.  Paul Simon took us to Graceland, where everyone is welcome. His experiments are endless and sometimes too difficult for me musically, but always interesting.

Now he is old and will not tour again and we are growing old. Yet Hope, who gave me hope that my end could be better than my beginning thirty some years ago, was transfigured as she listened to Simon take us back to Graceland.

We need a trip to Graceland in 2018.

Perhaps because his voice has always been in the air, I learn from Mr. Simon easily. We do not agree on  many important things, but he is merciful man and I have always been much in need of mercy. Imagine starting adult life badly and you will get my beginning. Simon’s music is hopeful for all of us and that is much needed just now. Hearing Simon in concert reminded me that we begin, if we are decent, in love, mercy, and grace for everyone. 

Around the Fall of last year, I took a sabbatical from criticism of “them.” We seem awash in partisanship, there seemed no point in continuing. Atheism is false, I believe, but then I have learned a great deal from decent atheists. Christianity  is true, but I am far from being the Christian I should be.

We are (0bviously) in a dangerous time, but also in a glorious season. What if I focused on learning from everyone I could?

This has been (generally) glorious.

Of course, we must oppose evil, but too often our opposition to evil is merely a dodge so we do not have to love the good. Finding the good, learning what there is to learn, in as much of God’s creation as possible is hard work. It is far easier to find the “ungodly,” “unBiblical,” or what does not fit a “Christian worldview.”

Instead, we could do the harder work of learning what is good, true and beautiful in everyone, every culture, every work of art. I see this task done over a lifetime by that child of God, Paul Simon. We certainly do not agree on important religious ideas, but Simon gets one thing right: he hears the music of all God’s children. He is willing to write and think about everything and anything if something lovely can be made.

Paul Simon is for things more than he is against them. He does not appropriate other styles, he honors them by listening and learning from them. Paul Simon applies a gentle grace to the world and the world is better for his work.

Christians, at least, should never love power: we serve a God who emptied himself of all power to become human. We cannot be nativist: all humankind is my family. Christians can never be close-minded: all truth is God’s truth. Those that close themselves off will become ugly. Leadership that loves power will become abusive.

We must have mercy on other people and their art as we need mercy.

Let me stop. There is loving to do, but only after I listen to the sound of silence.


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