From as early as I can remember, I loved pop music. I started taking ukulele lessons at age eight because my hand wasn’t big enough for a guitar. I spent most of the 1960’s with a transistor radio next to my ear. Think about teens and smart phones in our day and you have some idea of what my portable radio was to me.
Most of the songs we were listening to in the early ‘60’s were songs about girlfriends or surfing or drag racing. By the time the decade was ending, the themes had changed. Now the songs were about war or drugs or revolution.
One song that didn’t fit any of the normal pop song categories in 1966 was a song written by the very successful songwriting team of Hal David and Burt Bacharach. The pair had more than 50 songs on the pop charts between 1960 and 1970, including 10 songs that hit the top 10. Singer Dionne Warwick charted with 24 different songs written by the two.
In 1966, Warwick recorded a Bacharach and David song that was written as the theme for a movie staring actor Michael Caine. The movie was Alfie, and the song which had the same name went to #15 on the pop charts despite the fact that it didn’t fit a conventional pop song mold, either musically or lyrically.
The lyrics are the musings of the main character in the film, a full blown hedonist who finds himself in an existential crisis, pondering the meaning and the purpose of life.
What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give,
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
The songwriters resolve the crisis by suggesting that ultimately, the key to life is finding love. “Until you find the love you’ve missed, you’re nothing, Alfie,” the song declares. The answer to Alfie’s crisis? “Let your heart lead the way.”
That was pretty standard advice in the ‘60’s. It didn’t work out so well for us.
What brought the song to mind this week were the contemporary musings of a modern day Alfie. A young man name Karl wrote to the author and columnist Rod Dreher with his own existential crisis.
I’m mid-30s and have gainful employment, but it’s a literal struggle everyday to get up and go to the office. I like my job, but its not a vocation (as it were), it just pays the bills. As such, I need to derive meaning from elsewhere. But as a single, non-religious person, where does that come from? I’d have more drive if I had a family to provide for, but that is not in the cards. I might be able to fill the existential ennui with god, if I actually believed he existed, but I’m not blessed with the gift of faith. What exactly am I supposed to do to beat back the darkness that has enveloped so many of my generation?
Dreher invited his readers to take Karl’s dilemma seriously and to offer suggestions on how to find meaning, purpose and joy in life apart from a belief in God. At last count, nearly 200 readers had offered their thoughts. Here were some of their ideas:
“Rock climbing is fun exercise, can be done as a mix of indoors and outdoors. Will get you to travel a bit and is somewhat social…”
One reader told Karl to get a job building cell phone towers. “Nothing cures existential angst like imminent danger. After a year or so of building cell phone towers you will seem like you are carved from wood. Nothing will bother you and you will have a trade that puts you in demand in any country on Earth. The next step is to fly to Anchorage, Alaska in June and go salmon fishing. Do it. Do it. Do it.”
Another: “Do something creative. Learn to paint, play an instrument, write stories or poetry. Brew beer. Do community theater. Get into carpentry like someone said. This will exercise the imagination.”
All those ideas are more concrete than the advice given to Alfie to “let your heart lead the way.”
I think I’d tell Karl to spend some time in the book of Ecclesiastes. There he’ll learn that questions about the purpose and meaning of life are not new questions. King Solomon, known for both his wisdom and his wealth faced his own existential crisis at some point in his life, and journaled about it for the rest of us.
Solomon was determined to pursue joy and meaning and peace in life apart from God and to see where his pursuit would lead him. The book of Ecclesiastes echoes one common theme throughout – apart from God, life is vanity and striving after the wind.
Solomon ultimately came to the same conclusion as St. Augustine who lived centuries later. The human heart remains restless until it finds its rest in God.
“The end of the matter; after all has been heard,” Solomon said. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Karl may toss out my suggestion because, as he says, he is not “blessed with the gift of faith.” I would tell Karl that faith is a gift God stands ready to give to anyone who will humble himself.
The gift of faith comes by hearing. And hearing by the word of God.
Following Jesus doesn’t insure a life free from the existential ennui that Karl is experiencing. As the book of Psalms makes clear, even the faithful can experience the darkness Karl is facing.
But the book of Psalms doesn’t point us to rock climbing or salmon fishing or beer brewing as the way to bring light into our darkness. It points us over and over again back to our Creator, the author of our salvation, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
“For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God lightens my darkness.” (Psalm 18:28)
It’s been a busy baby week for us. Congrats to Josiah and Emily Davidson on the arrival of Boaz Roscoe Davidson early Sunday morning.
And then earlier tonight at 6:16 pm, Casey and Callie Cox welcomed Clay Timothy Cox.
Lots more babies are headed our way. I’m sure glad we are building lots of nursery space in our new church home!
Our all church potluck and annual town hall meeting are a week and a half away.
Two nights later, the ladies are invited to a get together at Liz Shultz’s home.
And guys. Don’t forget to circle March 29-30 on your calendar. Then click hereto reserve your spot for the upcoming Men’s Retreat is just five weeks away.
Here are all the details.
Guys, are you interested in spending eight weeks digging deep into the first 11 chapters of the Bible?
Richard Fulenwider and Keith Thomas want to invite you to an informational meeting on Tuesday night, March 5 at 7:00 pm at the Fulenwider home to talk about being part of this compelling study. The meeting will give you a chance to review the material they’ll be using and to help determine what day is the best day for the group to meet each week.
Questions about the informational meeting or the study? Send Richard an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember watching how the New England Patriots fans reacted to the news
that their team had won the Super Bowl? This Sunday, we’ll look at two
of Jesus’ parables that tell us why kind of celebrating is going on in
heaven every day.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!