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A WORD FOR TODAY, July 27, 2021
“Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, WEB
I don’t know why, but one particular video keeps showing up on my “suggested” lists. I don’t mind too much because it is one of my favorite music videos. It is for the song “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. It is one of the simplest videos, just two men in a pink room with two patio chairs and some instruments lip-syncing the words to the song. The two men, of course, are Paul Simon and Chevy Chase. It is striking how different they are. Chevy is tall, Paul is short. Chevy is outgoing and confident, Paul is shy and insecure. When the song begins, it is Chevy who mouths the words rather than Paul who actually sang the song. Paul mimes playing several instruments and joins in the chorus, but otherwise seems almost bored with what is happening in the room. At one point he even twiddles his thumbs.
Chevy is an incredible body comedian. This means that he is able to convey so much humor with even the simplest eye and hand motions. For example, he picks up a glass of water from the floor, takes a drink, then places it on the table next to his chair. The table isn’t really a table, though, but is a drum stand, so the water falls on the floor. He later tries to put a piccolo there, too. He dances with his hands whenever Paul is playing an instrument. He emphasizes the bizarre lyrics with his facial expressions.
The lyrics. I’ve never quite understood the meaning of this song because it just seems like Paul was doing stream-of-consciousness when he wrote the song. As it turns out, that is how he wrote many of his songs. In an interview Paul said, “It’s very pleasurable to write in a stream-of-consciousness style and very often you find that what’s in your mind is relevant although at the moment it doesn’t seem so. And so as I was writing [Mrs. Robinson] I had no idea that I would say that but I said ‘Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you’ …then I asked myself later what it meant and I said well it means something. It will mean something.” In “You Can Call Me Al,” that stream-of-consciousness was developed into a series of purposely written thoughts with intricate wordplay. He made those thoughts fit into the music of South Africa on which he based the tune.
Though the words seem random, there is meaning to the words of his song “You Can Call Me Al.” It is a song about a self-obsessed man becoming aware of his surroundings. It begins as a self-deprecating joke about his outward appearance but ends in a change of heart as he comes to the realization that his life is not really as hard as he thinks it is, especially when he sees how hard life is for the people around him. In another interview, Paul talked about the experience that led him to the lyrics of this song. He went to South Africa despite a cultural boycott because of apartheid. He took a lot of heat for doing so even though his intentions were good. Many black leaders in South Africa felt that his visit would hinder the work they were doing. A positive thing happened, though. He recorded the song while he was there, and was able to share the talents of South African artists and the sound of South Africa with the world.
Paul may have seen himself as the man in the song as he experienced the events happening in South Africa. It can be humbling to realize that you are self-obsessed in a world where so many are struggling. This comes to a head in the chorus which makes the least sense of all. Paul sings, “I can call you Betty and Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al.” This comes from another experience. Paul and his first wife Peggy had a party. As one of the guests was leaving, a friend of a friend, he thanked his hosts “Betty and Al.” The man was from France and he misunderstood their names when he was introduced earlier that evening. That had to be a bit humbling; after all, Paul had already been nominated and won multiple Grammies for his music. This incident stayed in Paul’s memory for more than a decade before he used it in the song.
It is just fun to watch Paul and Chevy interact during the video. They always make me smile. The more I listen to the song, though, I see in it the story of a changing heart whether it was based on Paul’s life or not. Even the design of the video showed a man different than we might expect. Other artists in that time were doing performance videos, showing off their glitzy lives on stage and Paul gave center stage to someone else. We are reminded to look around us at the world in which we live, to let ourselves be transformed from self-obsessed to humble people, joking about our outward appearance while we experience the heart changing realities of the world in which we live.
For those of us who are Christian, this happens by the grace of our God. Jesus makes us a new creation because through Him we are reconciled to our God. We can be confident in God’s grace and can go forward in faith to do whatever God is calling us to do.
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