The city windows reflect sunlight. They illuminate the pocked and broken edges of sidewalk slabs laid end to end in a trailing grid that binds roads into blocks from which towers of steel and concrete shoot hundreds of feet into the sky. Tires tread the streets and feet tread those sun-illuminated gray pathways. Here is the scent of a leather briefcase, there the sound of a cell phone ringing. My attention drifts between women with pressed dresses and high heels and men in Armani wearing Swiss time pieces on their wrists. Handshakes, laughter, luxury sedans, and giant sky scrapers, the temples of wealth, commune together here on Wall Street. Of course, these scenes do not dwell here alone. Old army boots jut out across those same sidewalk slabs. Here a stream of alcohol trickles sideways. There, urine cuts a sister path from under a slumbering mass of grime, and grit, and skin, and soul. Cardboard signs of old men, young women, mentally ill, and frauds all lie strewn about their creators. “Need bus fare.” One broadcasts. Another says, “Fought for my country, but it didn’t fight for me. Anything will help.” Some need transportation, some need food, and some have no physical need at all, but are there for the handout. All need love. If one looks over the cast of companies and characters that inhabit this world, one might just miss idealists, but there they sit. Beanies and beards, plugs in their lobes and piercing here and there, but in their midst a bearded man with a djembe drum wearing an off-white tee sits talking to them. What is he saying? I drift closer hear the words:
“… just strolled past him to his car. This wealthy man did not once look at the poor beggar he stepped over as he went to buy, sell and trade. The wealthy man had the chance to donate to charity, but did not. He had a chance to volunteer at a local inner city school tutoring kids, but he did not. He had the wealth needed to give this beggar a full meal for every day of his life, but did not once help him get a single morsel of bread. Not one cracker. Most of all, he deprived him any kind of interaction. He simply stepped over him.
“The story goes that this wealthy man opposed social programs for the poor. He paid for political ads to cut health programs. He believed food stamps to be a disincentive to work. He did not support the work of private charities either. In fact, he despised all the poor he navigated around every day to get home. At city hall, he complained about their loitering and backed a resolution to remove them from the public streets.
“Years passed and the poor beggar died of exposure, and it just so happened that the same week, the wealthy man crashed his car and died. The poor man was caught up to be in heaven with his grandparents, his parents, and his siblings. The wealthy man went to hell and lived there in the flames. The wealthy man called out across the void of space and time into heaven saying, ‘Please, give me something to drink, for it is hot in this waste land.’ The beggar’s grandfather shouted back at the wealthy man, ‘You had comfort while you were on earth, and my grandson had none, but now he is comforted and happy, and you are to live in grief.’”
I listen on as this group of idealists and hipsters discuss with the storyteller themes of justice and injustice, rights to property, responsibility to fellow humans. “What does it mean for life to be fair? Does God create disparity? Does man need to fight it? What does it mean to have comfort?”
A new voice draws my attention to my left. It rings in clarity and with alarm. “You are being led astray by this stranger! The Bible clearly states that the dead sleep! They do not go to Heaven or Hell when they die! They go into the ground! See how stealthily the enemy works his little bit of falsehood into his story! See how he wishes to fool you! This is blasphemy, for a God of love would never make such a system! See how he speaks against God!”
As I listen to this man, I wonder. Does he see himself as relevant? It is clear that those within the conversation do not. One man shakes his head and grins at his companion. Another straight up asks the newcomer who invited him in the first place. A girl turns to a young man she holds hands with and derides, “That’s what you sound like when you try to talk to my family about Nascar, babe! Clueless!”
The newcomer does not understand, and he continues on to point to texts, to books, and to anecdotes to try and convince them of his point. His uncle’s friend knew a guy who fell prey to believing in life after death, and it led him to séances and spiritualism. He had seen people drawn away into deception by such false teaching before. The people around the story teller simply shake their heads, pat each other on the backs, they thank the storyteller for the discussion, and then they disperse to go their separate ways to try and fight for a more just world. They leave the ranting man behind, not because they are rebellious toward him, but because he is simply not relevant to the conversation.
Our minds are tricky. A devout fundamentalist Muslim’s conscience may warn against giving up female genital mutilation. Slave owners believed they were preserving the God-ordained order to which God entrusted them. We are easily fooled by confirmation bias, and often we mistake this bias for the work of our consciences.
When Harry Potter came out, we endured a cavalcade of books and videos denouncing the books as evil. Some are afraid of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, George McDonald, and all the rest. It hasn’t stopped either. The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Percy Jackson have brought out similar responses from the Christian community. There are people who build their whole idea of ministry on the practice of carrying on an irrelevant dialogue with popular culture. They see Satan at work in every new film or book. They frame every quote from literature in a literal Biblical context rather than dealing with quotes in the contexts of the narratives in which they dwell. Most of all, they ignore the greater realities of the effects of pop literature on the world around them. When actual research replaces anecdote, the world sees the ways that these stories can positively change attitudes.
At the end of the day, it is no sin to be irrelevant. The man ranting at the story teller and the hipsters on the sidewalk is not evil or bad. However, there is a consequence. When we hear what we want to hear, and when we don’t actually listen to the contexts of the stories and ideas around us, people simply leave. We have proven ourselves irrelevant, so what reason do they have to stay? When a person is irrelevant, people don’t stay around.
So be careful, little ears, what you hear, be careful, little ears, what you hear, for you have biases and perspectives which may render your ideas irrelevant, so be careful, little ears, what you hear.