Several years ago I had a dream in which I was in a large, empty room, and on the floor sat a radio. As I stood there listening, a song started to play that I had not heard in a long time, nor had I heard it very often.
Songs from the 80s are still my favorite genre, but I did not closely follow the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. When I awoke from my dream and began to track down the song, I was very surprised to discover it was Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
This morning when I got on the highway the song came on my car’s radio. I smiled, and listened to it intently, paying close attention once again to the lyrics. You see, when I reflected on the lyrics after my dream, they had a profound affect on me. For most of my life intellectual pursuits were not only sought after, but prized, or more accurately, exalted.
Following decades of academic pursuits, ending in the successful completion of a PhD in Theological Ethics, I was spent, and didn’t really realize it. It is exhausting to chase something that you continue to push out of reach each time you come near it. For me this was academic achievements. I would set a goal, reach it, then decide if I could reach it, then it must not be high enough. I would set a new, higher goal, and start the next pursuit.
Thinking of my prior post on peace, this restless pursuit evidenced someone living with the lack of it. So, when I pondered the lyrics of the song the day after my dream, I cried. You can find the lyrics for the entire song online, so I will not post them all here, but I will refer to some that hold a special meaning for me ever since that day.
The first stanza of the song depicts a loving mother earnestly seeking to instill her life’s wisdom in her young, only son. For me, I envisioned a loving God drawing me close so as to impart His wisdom and love to me. No more striving after knowledge, or understanding, but a heart-to-heart with One who knows all.
The tendency to live life at a frantic pace, and to get despondent when we encounter troubles is featured in the second stanza. The mother’s encouragement is to slow down, and to realize few things are permanent in this life, including troubles. Enjoyment is found in the mutual love with another. And, in the midst of life’s ups and downs, remember there is someone up above (I would add, someone who is above it all, and so not affected as we are by them and therefore able to be a guiding star to us as we navigate this life).
In my life, academic achievement was treasured, it was my “gold.” In the next stanza of the song the son’s mother discourages the lust for another’s wealth/gold. She wants him to be satisfied, and recommends that he find all that he needs within his own soul. Referring to my peace post, I would point out that I questioned our ability to find peace in the world if we are unable to find it in our own soul first. I am not equating peace with satisfaction, but claiming with both, it is our inner life and well-being that is prior, and progress there will be the measure of our outward gains.
The most repeated stanza (46% of the lyrics) also happens to be the one with the most significance to me, and I would suggest, given the repetition, that of the writer too. I think it warrants posting it here for your reference and mine as I follow it with my comments.
“Baby, be a simple, be a simple man.
Oh, be somethin’ you love and understand.
Baby, be a simple kind of man.”
First, I would suggest by “simple” she does not intend to convey the idea of one who lacks intelligence. What comes to my mind is the idea often used to exhort someone who appears overwhelmed in life by so much activity. Why don’t you live more simply? You need to declutter your home, your life etc.
One oft heard remark in the midst of the pandemic has been along the lines of learning to live a simpler life. People, myself included, are being restricted in their activities. The home has become the locus of life’s activity. Frequent trips to stores, restaurants, social gatherings etc., have been curtailed, and when one does go, it is a more deliberate, calculated outing.
This is not to suggest that all the consequences of the COVID confinements have been positive. For some the frequent external activity has served as a buffer to festering relational issues (or numbing of inner issues), and now with forced proximity and little “escape”, more serious domestic maladies have arisen. We all do need other outlets, but not as many as we thought were necessary. Simplify. Be a simple kind of man. Be a simple kind of woman.
As I pondered being a simple man, I thought of my own Dad. He lived a life of devotion to his wife, then his children, and to his employer. He faithfully worked every day, rarely missing a day even for illness. He did his job very well, and as foreman of a mill-work shop instilled the same work ethic in his coworkers. He was faithful to his wife for the 62 years of their marriage. He provided for his family, and while a modest standard of living, we had all we needed. He maintained the homes and properties that they owned through the years, doing most, if not all, of the upkeep along with my mother. From gardening to home improvements. My parents were faithful to the God they loved and worshiped, and participated in their community of faith. Life in their home was enjoyable, satisfying, peaceful . . . simple.
The other line in this song that has been meaningful to me is the mother’s exhortation to her son to be someone the son will love and understand. A profound thought worthy of enduring contemplation, accompanied by persistent, patient, acceptance and practice.
When it comes to love, we default to an external focus in our understanding of it. Love after all is held and expressed toward another, right? Is it possible for there to be love when there is only one? Doesn’t love by definition necessitate the lover and the beloved? So, two at a minimum? This concept is central to the triune God of Christianity. The Father, Son, and the Spirit of love in which they communally, and relationally inhere.
Is it possible, might we also say, permissible for us to love ourselves? Are we bordering on being narcissistic? In our current milieu is this really an assertion we want to advocate? Most people seem to be overly in love with themselves. Selfies! Hello! Now we tell them to love themselves? Been there, done that! I say, not so fast. Put the selfie stick down, look in the mirror and stay there a long while in silent reflection on who you really are. You up for posting on social media what you see there? I truly hope you would be, but I suspect many would not. They would rather hide that self, bury it, not let it see the light of day, fearing abhorrent rejection by others.
Back to the song, and the mother’s exhortation to be someone you love. Were she to want support for this idea from an ancient source, she would find it in the very words of Jesus. He even put it forward as the second of only two “necessary” commandments (Mt. 22:39). He said, “love your neighbor (all others) as yourself.” Do you look at yourself, I mean really look deep into your self, and hold a deep abiding love for you?
I’m tempted to end this post here. I anticipate retorts to my prior suggestion raising concerns for encouraging all manner of wickedness or malevolence. As encouraging apathy, if not outright acceptance, of deficiencies in character and behavior that produce the kinds of societal ills we should all be striving to throw off. The short answer is, no I am not!!!
What I am suggesting, and where I will end this post, is as we grow closer (I was going to say, arrive, but I don’t think we reach it in this life) to a deepening understanding of how loved we are apart from what/who we currently are and/or do, it is that comprehension which will move us toward becoming like the One who loves us unconditionally.