Tonight I was down to Murfreesboro to listen to Cedric Dent lecture about the history of black gospel music. Before I get started telling you about that, let me just say that I was sitting in front of these two people who talked through the whole thing, comparing notes on whether their opinions jibed with Dent’s or whether they’d ever heard of those songs; if they believed him when he was talking about how old a song was, etc. etc.

And I kept looking back at them, shooting them the dirtiest looks I could, but on and on they went and I’m just sitting there hating them up at storm and giving them the silent “shhh” signal.

Yeah, well, it turns out that they were blind.

My dirty looks were all for naught. And what the fuck? Who comes to a lecture to gab the whole way through it?

Anyway, the lecture was fun. Dent was charming and personable and had an incredible instant rapport with the audience. And the audience gave him a standing ovation until he came back and took a bow.

You know, his style was very much in the tradition of a good preacher, which got me to thinking of all the boring lectures I sat through in college and grad school.

I’m just saying, some schools still have divinity schools attached. It might be nice if graduate students were required to take a semester of preaching before we let them loose into the professional world.

When I was in college, I had already mostly stopped going to church, but occasionally, when I got homesick, I would go over and listen to Brad Watkins, Jr. preach. Reverend Watkins Senior was an old friend of my dad’s and Jr., when faced with that choice all minister’s kids face–whether or not to go into the family business–decided he ought to.

I liked to go and listen to him, because his style of preaching, the cadence of his voice, is very similar to my dad’s.

I was thinking about my dad tonight because he would have really enjoyed Dent’s talk, especially with all the piano playing and the singing.

I know it probably seems like I must have been a born rabble rouser who loves nothing better than to think about gender and race and class all the time, but I wasn’t always like this.

I just get intrigued by things and I’m like a dog to a bone (or maybe like a dog to its own vomit, come to think of it). I have to chew it over. I want to know why and I never feel like that question of why is adequately explained.

Why. It brings you down strange paths and into rabbit holes.

Why. It sends you through the pages of history and off on weird road trips.

Why. It gets you in trouble and back out again.

And I’ve been watching white people, which is not something I’ve ever done before, not with any real scrutiny, not to see if I thought there were quintessential white things and if so, what they were.

So, I was watching the white folks in the audience tonight. And I noticed that there seemed to be three reactions whenever we were called on to sing or turn to our neighbors or whatever. Some would sit there uncomfortably; some would participate uncomfortably; and some would just do whatever they were comfortable with (either sitting there or participating) and those three groups were pretty evenly split.

I’m going to have to think on that some, but it seemed telling. Of what, I don’t know, but something.

Okay, I’m still sore at Bob Krumm.

I’ll get over it soon enough, but I’m just appalled and offended by this idea that there are some things worth thinking about (like a play) and other things that just are what they are (like a football game).

Even when I think about it now, it makes me cringe.

The world is full of things to wonder about. And isn’t wonder rewarded?

I mean, along with feeling hurt and defensive, I’m baffled.

How can a person not enjoy wondering?

Maybe not about everything. I don’t wonder about how bridges work or how to put a circuit together (though, if I turned my mind to them for very long, I might begin to). But I appreciate that there are folks out there who do.

So, fine, you don’t wonder about race stuff or gender stuff or whether the world would be improved if all grad students had to learn how to speak in public like they were accountable to God.

But how can you belittle that? Dismiss it like wonder is a sign of weakness?

No, that’s just unacceptable.

Wonder and wanting to know are not bad things.

And, really, isn’t wonder rewarded?

Are there actually people out there who’ve never had their wonder rewarded?

You know what I mean? That moment when you turn towards seeking an answer and, as you start to make connections, it’s like something in your head kind of gives way and suddenly you feel like you’re onto something bigger than you, like you can see a hint of a pattern that resembles Truth or at least a truth, that excitement when you realize, if not how to put the pieces into place, that there are pieces and that they might fit together, and you have a firm grasp on one of them.

Doesn’t that feel good?

If you’ve felt that, how can you begrudge anyone else their wondering?

I just don’t get it.

Who wants to live in a world that small?

5 thoughts on “Wonder

  1. Dang,I wish I could have been there. THAT’s a lecture I’d pay to go see.I’ve been working on a sermon for quite a while now about how God turns every Evil into a Good in His own time, and one of the main themes is black gospel music. About how the slaves would moan and wail in their agony, and once they were free they carried those musical devices forward. When you hear a gospel song today about the Joy of the present and the Hope of the future, you are hearing it filled with echoes of the agony of the past. How it all fits together to me is mind-boggling; it’s hard not to weep despite oneself.About wondering: in general, I’m with you. We encourage people in college to do this, but afterward most of us are just too busy to hyper-analyze everything in our lives. Sometimes a twinkie is just a twinkie. But, I think we carry it too far, and we just coast through life, never wondering about ANYTHING.I’m going to straddle a line here, though. I don’t want to speak for Bob, so I’ll speak for myself. Around these parts, football is religion. And Super Bowl Week is our High Holy Days. To the football fan, it is "sacreligious" to inject politics or sociology into the proceedings, it interferes with the "Spirit of Worship". Other times and places are fine for these things, but the Super Bowl is sacred.I seriously doubt Bob would use those exact words. But I’ve lived a good while, and I can tell you, that’s EXACTLY the mindset of most football fans aound here.

  2. Ain’t no such thing as pure sport, untouched by the worldly considerations of race, gender, class, or sexuality. Never has been. Southerners of a certain age should be among the first to recognize that. Oh, it would be pretty to think that somehow sports is magically set apart from the rest of society, but only a dumbass would insist that it ever was or is now or even should be. There’s quite a few sociologists, political scientists, and historians who study the new secular religion of football and how national identity (both here and abroad) is shaped by our sports practices. The observation that football is a type of religion for some and therefore sacrosanct is a sociological and political observation about its significance as a social institution. So I guess I’m at a loss about the patronizing "don’t think too much about this thing that a hundred million people drop everything and watch for hours every year." Why not? It appears to me that it’s a lot more influential than Ibsen.

  3. B., that is the very thing that I love about small children…their sense of wonder gives them the gift of appreciating the smallest things in life…things we as busy and jaded adults look over without even a glance.I have always asked "why", too, and much of the time that quality is mistaken for being rebellious or rude. However, I’ll take the knowledge and wisdom I have gained through finding the answer to those whys before whatever perceived decorum there is any day.

  4. I’m still fond of seeing Christians Fight Lions. And we wouldn’t want sociopolitical considerations to dampen our appreciation of pure sport, right?

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