At the pool the other day, I heard a George Michael song.
That sentence alone raises too many questions to answer in the small space available here.
(Why was he listening to a radio station, let alone one that plays George Michael songs? What is a person with his dermal translucence doing anywhere near that much sunlight? Does he even own a pair of flip-flops?)
We shall table the queries for now to focus on the big issue that the indiscreet Englishman raised all those years ago: faith. According to Mr. Michael, he’s got to think twice before he gives his heart away, and he knows all the games you play because he plays them, too; but he’s gotta have faith.
There is more to his worldview. Before this river becomes an ocean, before you throw his heart on the floor, he reconsiders his foolish notion. He needs someone to hold him, but he’ll wait for something more. Yes, he’s gotta have faith.
Okay, he’s not C.S. Lewis. Then again, could C.S. Lewis have written “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”?
For all the religulousness hovering over our national discourse this summer like so many airborne particulates, we haven’t heard much about faith. Of course, among St. Paul’s Corinthian trifecta, we haven’t heard much from hope and charity, either.
There has been a lot of sermonizing of the brimstone variety, especially where the national debt is concerned. Neither side in the negotiations seems to have faith in the other, let alone in the people they represent. After all, a daunting array of polls shows that between reducing the deficit and reducing the unemployment rate, Americans want jobs. The deficit has been treated as a phony issue for so long—the debt ceiling has been raised with scarce concern more than 70 times since the Kennedy administration—it’s ludicrous to be posturing about it now, at a time when the federal government could use its massive spending power to help create jobs. (The next time you hear a politician whining that government never creates jobs, ask yourself where his or hers came from.)
We can see signs of faith manifest in the body politic if we just look a little. Take Jefferson County, for instance, whose officials have suggested that JP Morgan and the gang on Wall Street should happily wipe $1.3 billion they are owed off the sewer bond books, in exchange for…we are not sure. Good karma, perhaps.
If our folks truly believe that all those national and international pension and hedge funds are willing to take less money than the $3 billion currently due, then our folks have the faith not of a mustard seed but of a tanker truck full of Grey Poupon.
We the people are entitled to exercise faith as well. If you have been keeping up with the daily accounts of scurrilous behavior being pumped out of the cesspool that is The Bingo Trial, you want to believe that there must be a lawmaker somewhere in Montgomery not interested in cashing in on public service. (Not counting the ones ready now to cash out.)
Just keep those fingers crossed. The Biblical adage says that faith without works is dead, but nowadays faith without a backup plan is imprudent. Just ask Harold Camping, the guy who said the world would come to an end in May, yet is still paying his cable bill in July.
The paradox of faith was illustrated for me quite well at the pool the other day. It was apparently the last morning of instruction for little kids getting their first swimming lessons. They were a diverse, not to mention photogenic, bunch, but they had not progressed much beyond blowing bubbles in the water and kicking energetically while clutching a Styrofoam board.
As their hour wound down, two tanned young instructors herded them up out of the shallow end and walked them over to the deep end of the pool. There, they said, the kids would get to jump off the diving board. I don’t know about you, but I don’t even want to ride unfamiliar escalators at a mall. I couldn’t imagine that these tykes were going to be frog-marched onto a diving platform and into the chlorinated depths of a public pool.
The kids weren’t marched at all. In fact, they ran quite merrily to what I intuited was certain doom. Then they clambered onto the board, were escorted out to its edge by an instructor and after a suitable interval jumped off into the vicinity of another instructor awaiting them below. Wellwishers at the other end of the pool could be heard shouting huzzahs.
I noticed one little girl with big brown eyes, maybe six years old, hanging back a little. With time in line, she was clearly overthinking what the instructors hoped would be a purely instinctive experience. As twin boys wearing matching green T-shirts accomplished identical bellyflops with identical glee, she was measuring angles and calculating riptides. There was nothing in her demeanor to suggest that she had identified a positive outcome to her pending confrontation with gravity.
Finally, it was her turn. The little girl could have demurred, but she didn’t. She did not have to be persuaded; neither did she rush to plummet. With the instructor right behind, she inched her way out onto the metal board and stood there uncertainly. It looked as though her toes were trying to curl around the edge of the board. After long moments of reflection, the little girl did what reasonable adults are not supposed to do. She jumped in.
Given her comparatively brief acquaintance with aquatics, she could not have intellectually justified her action. Somehow she just knew she should do it. Sure enough, she did not sink. She swam. From her newly joyful expression, it seemed clear that she would again soon.
Ya gotta have faith. Even though it’s hard to believe George Michael could be right about something.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.