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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Another Look at Elijah

I was listening to a Rich Mullins song this morning.

The Jordan is waiting for me to cross through.
My heart is aging I can tell.
So Lord, I'm begging for one last favor from You:
Here's my heart--take it where You will.

This life has shown me how we're mended and how we're torn;
How it's okay to be lonely as long as you're free.
Sometimes my ground was stoney,
And sometimes covered up with thorns.
And only You could make it what it had to be.
And now that it's done,
Well, if they dressed me like a pauper,
Or if they dined me like a prince,
If they lay me with my fathers,
Or if my ashes scatter on the wind,
I don't care.

But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.
And when I look back on the stars
It'll be like a candlelight in Central Park.
And it won't break my heart to say goodbye.

There's people been friendly, but they'd never be your friends.
Sometimes this has bent me to the ground.
Now that this is all ending,
I want to hear some music once again
'Cause it's the finest thing that I have ever found.

But the Jordan is waiting,
Though I ain't never seen the other side.
Still they say you can't take in the things you have here.
So on the road to salvation,
I stick out my thumb, and He gives me a ride.
And His music is already falling on my ears...

It is an insightful reflection on the uncommon life of the prophet.  It suggests the roller coaster of emotional and mental states the itinerant messenger of judgment must have faced.  Of course, Mullins intermingles his own life with Elijah's, bringing them together in the refrain by saying he wouldn't mind going out like Elijah.

At the heart of the lyrics (the quote above is only partial--for more click here) is the weariness Elijah must have felt after so many difficult years spent in isolation, under threat, and bearing the heavy weight of a message it seemed no one wanted to hear.  He felt like a pariah, and he wondered whether he had a friend anywhere.

But Mullins also captures what must have been a deep assurance in Elijah's being.  "Only You could make it what it had to be."  That abiding hope in God would allow Elijah or Mullins to ask one last favor:  take my heart, and take me where you will take me.  It is the basis on which he can say that his hope for salvation means risking it all on God:  "I stick out my thumb, and He gives me a ride."

Having turned the screws on Elijah recently by employing the hermeneutics of suspicion, let me come back to him with a sympathetic reading by means of Mullins's theological imagination.  Elijah bore the burden of unwanted leadership in one of the most difficult episodes of the history of Israel.  It is understandable that he resented how he was treated and that he wondered why he got stuck with this gig.  

Whatever else one might say about him, he stuck with it and pushed back the darkness to let in the light.  He set a standard of boldness (even though he sometimes ran away) that nourished the subsequent prophetic tradition to stand against the crowd.  So with Little Brother Rich, I think I can feel the old prophet.  Going out on a chariot of fire, looking back on a world that treated him bad--that's a pretty fine poetic ending.

1 comment:

Roosevelt Ethridge said...

I believe that this song and epilogue of its reiteration on Elijahs occurence is revelatory. True, there is a place of isolation that is not understood when unvieling oneself to unadulterated ministry. Mullins recapture of Elijah's experience shows the realness of current experiences in the earth. However, the proof of Elijah's ministry is provides a truth for ministry today. No one should give up because of hardship or persecution. It is only a matter of time for ones persecution to become the way of escape.

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