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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Friday, September 07, 2007

Don't Worry

I heard that song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" the other day. It brought back confusing memories. I attended a lot of church-related youth group events in my teens, and when that song was popular it seemed like everyone who spoke to youth felt like they had to address the theological implications of Bobby McFerrin's cheerful little song. An awful lot of them were deeply disturbed by it for reasons that I can't remember. Boy, they didn't like that song, and not just because it was unavoidable. OTOH Freddie Langston, a musician who was all over the Southeastern Presbyterian youth scene, loved the song and performed it regularly. I hadn't quite figured out this whole Protestant thing wherein one is really supposed to make up one's own mind, so the mixed messages I was getting from theological authority figures had my head spinning.

Listening to it again I think Freddie got it right; this song isn't meant to be taken with such furrowed-brow seriousness. How could anyone listen to this thing and take it too seriously? Do you think Bobby McFerrin really wants you ringing up at all hours and beg him to cheer you up? Or that he'd really advise anyone facing eviction to simply not worry and be happy? Added to which, once we found out the Bobby didn't really have a Caribbean accent, and collaborated with ironic performance artists like Laurie Anderson, the penny should have dropped.

It may seem like I've spent way too much text explaining that Don't Worry, Be Happy was not a Satanic meme designed to lull Christians into a false sense of security, but when I was a baffled teen it seemed pretty ambiguous. Around the same time I was confused because plenty of church folk were picketing Last Temptation of Christ, while my Dad, a devout Christian and proud Elder of the church, was singing Last Temptation's praises.

Probably the best advice I ever heard on these matters came from a lady I worked with on a temp job. She was fond of going to casinos and gambling. She related how her nephew asked her "Don't you listen to what the preacher says?" Her reply: "Yes I do. I also listen to what I say." That's the power of Protestantism.

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