This one comes to us from Bo White.

A few months ago, The New York Times covered an art exhibition put together by Annie Lennox. I was immediately intrigued because the piece dealt with death but was still being touted as life-giving. In the installation, Lennox buried some personal artifacts beneath a mound of dirt, to demonstrate the temporary nature of the stuff we collect or buy. An accomplished singer and songwriter, Lennox captures visually what I also am struck with—the relentlessness of time and the gift of living this brief life. In an interview with Vogue, Lennox speaks of the guarantee of death and the beauty of expressing life. I believe this is an undercurrent of my own life in ways I am recently realizing.

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Would I lie to you, honey?
Now would I say something that wasn’t true?

Annie Lennox belted out those lyrics in Eurythmics’ 1985 song simply titled “Would I Lie to You?” These words echo in my own mind when I tell a friend that I am doing fine to avoid any exploration of why I am sometimes not doing fine. If you stop me on the street, there’s a good chance I am doing just fine. Until I am not. I may tell you about the emergency surgery a friend needed or I may tell you how I am afraid for my children to attend their large public school in a world of mass shootings. More likely, I’ll tell you that I’m doing just fine. I won’t bring up my fear of failure either. And I will probably struggle to tell you that I rely on the weekly confession in church to reorient me from trying to succeed all the time to admitting I fall short in some way, every day. I need that weekly space to not be okay. In fact, if I don’t have the space in my life that lets me confess that I am not okay and the world is not okay, I will start to break down. But, if you ask me, I’ll tell you that I am doing fine.

Would I lie to you?

Exhausted, I may even blurt out the following question if you keep asking how I am doing: “Why?”

That question happens to be another song that Lennox sings, this time a solo effort from 1992. Instead of the daring question, “Would I say something untrue?” Lennox says these words:

How many times do I have to try to tell you
That I’m sorry for the things I’ve done?

When this song came out, I was living in London, attending a church in the heart of the city, finding my own voice as an English and Theatre major, and interning part-time at a law firm. Reading a novel a week, seeing two different plays a week, and working to defend the accused daily, I was constantly wrestling with new questions. At the same time, I was part of a group studying the Gospel of Mark. As I listened to the Bible speak to me in fresh ways, Lennox belted out a confession. How many times do I say that I’m sorry for the things I’ve done? How many times do I confess that I’ve fallen short of doing the things I should have done? 

These are hard questions to take to heart. The feeling of an apology is different from the actions of a contrite spirit. Sometimes I apologize because I’ve accidentally cut someone off in traffic—sheepishly raising my hand to show anyone watching that I didn’t mean to narrowly miss hitting another car doing 70 miles per hour. Sometimes I apologize because I have too many items in the express lane at the grocery store—“My mistake, I thought three bags of chips was still one item.”

Truthfully, a real apology exposes me as a flawed person, who may not be doing fine, and who may ruin your day, too. I may be the one who comes home to my wife and kids and interrupts their laughter with my whining or my anger. I will apologize to you and to them and then I may wonder again, how many times do I have to apologize for the things I’ve done? The guarantee of death and the beauty of life is ever present. I experience death through my own stubborn retention of destructive habits and I experience the beauty of life in grace, forgiveness, the image of God that speaks a gentle word back to me on bad days.

Toward the end of the song, Lennox hauntingly cries out, “Do you know how I feel?” And as that sentence lingers in the air, I can identify with it in strange ways. Does anyone care how I feel? Would you still love me if you knew how I felt?

I belt out that question with her, and afterward, I may simply whisper, “oh God.”

And yes, that happens to be the title of another Lennox tune, this time from 2003. Lennox sings:

Oh God
Now where do I come in?
Gone and broken everything
So I hope you’ll understand
If someone needed a helping hand
It must be now
It must be now

Reading the morning paper, I need a helping hand and it must be now. Half the staff I manage are from El Paso, Texas, and after the shooting there earlier this month, the world feels newly fractured. I embrace the maxim that no one is perfect, but in recent weeks, the frenzy in the news cycle seems to scream out that the flaws and fractures in this world are really frustrating to a lot of people. I want to smile a bit when I hear the news anchor, in exasperation, say who will stand up and help this country? I whisper, “oh God,” which is both the prayer and the answer at the same time.

Annie Lennox gives me these questions to pray. I can voice them on most days. But can I get the help I need right now? By the grace of God, the answer is an emphatic yes. I have access to help right now.

We do not have to wait until the 2020 election or until the weather clears up or until that one person in our lives (you know who) changes. We do not have to wait until Congress agrees or until laws are changed. Today, we have permission to have a bad day, ask why, cry out to God, and sing. Today, we have permission to sing out without a care in the world how it sounds. God knows I don’t have the best singing voice in the world, but when it comes out as prayer, I know that it sounds just fine.

Photo credit: Elmar J. Lordemann (modified), Manfred Werner