There's a certain politician who claims that with his leadership we'll 'make America great again'. I can only assume that this certain politician might not agree with the lyrics of the beautiful song recorded by Louis Armstrong more than four decades ago!
What a Wonderful World was first recorded by Louis Armstrong and released as a single in 1968. It's interesting to note that the single was intended as an antidote for the increasingly racially and politically charged climate in the United States. Make no mistake about it, the song's message was political. You see, What a Wonderful World was released at a time in our country when there were fears of a second civil war with race riots rampant and, as a result, curfews common. But Louis Armstrong had an appeal that seemed to surpass race, although Armstrong himself had dealt with accusations of being an "Uncle Tom" for a number of years prior. You might imagine that Armstrong disagreed strongly with that sentiment. I just love what he said one time when he introduced a live performance of the song:
"Some of you young folks been saying to me: 'Hey, Pops - what do you mean, what a wonderful world? How about all them wars all over the place, you call them wonderful?
But how about listening to old Pops for a minute? Seems to me it ain't the world that's so bad but what we're doing to it, and all I'm saying is: see what a wonderful world it would be if only we'd give it a chance. Love, baby - love. That's the secret."
Love is the secret. My only point of difference with Armstrong is that before we get to love we need hope. His song has been used on more than one occasion as a call of hope. In fact, it became a tribute to the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I have come to refer to it as the theology of Louis Armstrong! And just to be clear, the theology of Louis Armstrong isn't about religion, per se. It's about people uniting around values like the beauty and wonder of life, like the act of working together, side-by-side to respond to the abuses of empire, economic inequity, ecological exploitation, militarism, and the ongoing evils of racism, sexism, and heterosexism that fragment lives. It means to hold on to hope as we look for ways to amplify our happiness, solidify our commitments, ease our difficulties, and fulfill our dreams.
I will admit to you that I've been struggling lately with the theology of Louis Armstrong. I have found it difficult to say to myself, “what a wonderful world”. After all, I just watched a video of David Duke endorsing Donald Trump, heard about a school shooting in Ohio, and read about three young Muslim men killed execution-style in Indiana. The war on women continues and too many children in this country go hungry every day. Seeing the beauty and wonder of life isn’t an easy task. It's especially difficult in today’s world of derisive politics, threats of violence, gross inequities in human rights, and so on, and so on. Even in the small corner of my personal world I find it difficult as the trees are barren, the air is chilly, and the wet & muddy season that I dread each year is fast approaching. Gray skies dominate and my body longs for sunshine. In my own struggle, I have had to take the time to be aware of my internal perspective. I found inspiration in words written by my colleague, William Murry:
“Hope is that virtue on which every worthwhile accomplishment and every other virtue depend. It is a forward-looking orientation grounded in the conviction that the future is important and our lives do matter. It generates the energy to keep going, the determination to do better, and the faith that our efforts will not be in vain.
We have one precious life and hope is central to making the most of that life. It's important for us all to strive for a world where hope becomes possible for everyone. Let Armstrong's song be a mantra in your heart. Hear it in the deepest recesses of your body and essence as well as your ears. Let's live the theology of Louis Armstrong. And think to yourself "what a wonderful world"!
I had hoped to post once a week, and did for a short time. Unfortunately, my doctorate research and other obligations have taken priority over the blog. BUT, I will return soon! Some postings may be articles I've written for publication, messages I've delivered in congregational settings, or excerpts from papers written in my doctoral classes.