As a visitor on The Today Show, the violinist Isaac Stern spoke about his good friend, Irving Berlin shortly after Berlin passed away. Talking about the songwriter’s philosophy of life, Stern described it as simplistic, comprised of three existential phrases: life and death, loneliness and love, hope and defeat. At first glance, we might see two opposite lives, best described as either savory or bitter. One or the other. However, our lives are complex and filled with conflicting experiences, emotions, and uncertainty. So I question Stern’s assessment of Berlin’s supposed outlook on life. Perceptions about life—our own or another’s—depend greatly on our view of ourselves, culture and its changes, the world, and subsequent consequences.
From the moment we are born, we snuggle into our mother’s breast as she feeds us. Feeling the warmth and comfort of human connection, we want it to last forever. However, once we reach adulthood, life can be either satisfying or a mundane existence for some, while others long for more than the world can give. Our everyday existence has periods of loneliness and defeat, no matter who we are. Illness, divorce, loss of a loved one, financial stress, and distrust of the government take their toll. Nevertheless, and in spite of what we may think—these hardships are nothing new.
In some ways, the events in the evolution of Christianity, such as violence, tyranny, and ignorance to the teachings of Christ are similar to today’s woes. In ancient times, extremism over differing opinions about interpretations of the Bible brought chaos into a graceless society. Furthermore, there were times when Christian scholars’ suffered from ridicule, and in some cases, lost their lives. So as we look at the disconnect between nominal religion and authentic faith, let’s not forget what we’ve learned about Christian history, ourselves, human nature, and the world around us.
Until next time…