Earlier today I posted my Moses sermon from yesterday on Facebook with a line from my favorite Patty Griffin song, “Moses”, saying that if I had half an hour to preach I would have begun by belting out that line from the pulpit. Since I had some time on my hands today and have been recently inspired to write more about my theological love of pop music, I figured why not preach that extra 22 minutes here on the internet.
It won’t take that long, actually. Thing is, the beloved be-horned figure from the Torah is really only a peripheral figure in Patty’s song. The main figure is a woman who cries out from the corner of a bar that seems to be filled with nothing but happily coupled prospects, “Diamonds! Roses! I need Moses to cross this sea of loneliness, part this red river of pain!” In other words, it would take a miracle from God for another human being to reach me in the mire of isolation in which I find myself. This line, its melody, and the way Patty wails it out are enough to make the song a peculiar blend of power ballad and lamentation. Here is a place for God: unable to imagine anything but the unimaginable to broach the very natural if sometimes excruciating condition of human loneliness.
But it’s one of the other peripheral figures in the song that always gets me. The speaker only ever goes home to “an empty apartment and a best friend who is a queer.” Every time the speaker sees her queer friend, “he smiles and tells me how well he’s walking these miles but he never ever asks a single thing about me if I die he’ll hear about it eventually.” Ouch. Maybe I feel convicted by this verse because I’m pretty sure I’ve been that gay best friend. At the very least I know him: that guy who is probably so deeply crushed by personal failure himself that he can’t help but try and pump himself up in every significant interaction he has with others. Here’s the speaker lonely with one good friend who can only talk about himself.
AS A TOTAL SIDEBAR: I love the fact that Patty is willing to challenge and talk about the cold hard truth of the whole “gay best friend” archetype, we’re not all we’re cracked up to be sometimes, people.
And so here’s the tragedy of the song: it wouldn’t take Moses. It wouldn’t take a miracle. Or at least, the miracle wouldn’t be that hard for a human soul to perform. All it would take for the friend to reach the speaker of the song, to cross the sea of loneliness and part the red river of pain, would be to pay attention to her. Stop talking about yourself for one second and ask this woman how her day was! You don’t even have to believe in God to be Moses in this song, you just have to be available for a little compassionate tenderness. And when we loose sight of THAT, we get the kind of wailing complaint that makes this song so very good to sing at the top of your lungs on road-trips.
Do that. And remember to be kind. That’s it.