“Can we all get along? Can we, can we . . . all get along?”
These words are verbatim from the mouth of Rodney King, the man who was attacked brutally by policemen in Los Angeles in 1991. To some, his words are the epitome of naïveté. Well, of course we can’t get along, Rodney. A bunch of white guys, who thought no one was looking, just beat you up. Police officers, who are supposed to uphold the law! What are you thinking? What kind of world do you think we live in?
However, I read his words in a different way. I read them as a plaintive appeal for peace. Let’s leave aside the ambiguity of these words coming from a person who is morally suspect – he was a petty criminal, after all. Just read the words as an expression of the human heart.
Why oh why can’t we all get along?
Since we can’t even get on with our families half the time, let alone our enemies, what hope is there for the world? In the Christian tradition, we know the answer to this question, and we believe that one day, there will come a time when we will get along. One day, peace will reign.
In addition, I think that in our human experience, while so many things divide us – not just race, Rodney – but many, many other things, there are also signs of peace, signs of hope which bring us together.
Enter The Great British Bake-off, a British show on the BBC, whose fifth series finished a few weeks ago. It is a celebration of baking, a show which gathers 12 contestants together in a tent near a stately home to bake . . . competitively! One baker is eliminated per round – sometimes, but rarely, two. Why do I love GBBO? Not just because I enjoy salivating at close-ups of chocolate ganache and succulent soufflés, but because while the programme involves competition, it is mostly about community and the unadulterated love of food; food which brings people together. When contestants are voted off the show, there are often tears. Why? Because the shared experience of baking has created a mini-community, and they mourn the loss of one of their own. Oh I know I’m sounding melodramatic, but I happen to believe this to be true.
The Great British Bake-off is a reminder that some things in this world really do bind us together. They help us ‘get along.’
One of them is food.
Food is a daily delight to us all on this planet, which is just one reason why hunger is such a tragedy. It is designed to be shared together. Mealtimes are precious times. They should be protected and enjoyed as gifts from God. Food and drink often enable people to find compromise; the enjoyment they bring smoothes the path to peace. Has the choice of menu during East-West negotiations ever furthered or hindered successful peace negotiations? I wonder; I suspect yes.
In addition, food, at some level, points to eternity. How so? Because there is an infinite number of flavours in this world. In the movie, Ratatouille, Remy, the rat, explains to his brother, Emile, that different ingredients combine to produce an infinite number of different taste sensations.
When people gather around a table, surrounded by succulent treats, it is a picture of the ways things are supposed to be. It is an image which satisfies Rodney King’s longing – for us all to get along.
Food is not alone in drawing us towards peace.
Music plays its part also. Where would we be without music? I’m not sure we could survive without music. Hyperbole, perhaps? Well, maybe. Personally, I don’t know of any human society that has not produced music. From earliest times, human beings have created music out of the most rudimentary of instruments, not to mention their voices.
Music is a gift. It is discovered, not simply created. I say it is discovered because music is governed by laws which must be followed. Music is extremely mathematical, obeying laws which are not created by man but by God. Its laws are parameters which de-limit the possibilities. They constrain how beauty is realized. Randomly bashing away at a keyboard will never produce music. It will produce noise. Whatever the critics may write, I affirm that Bach writes beautiful music while Bartok . . . doesn’t. (More on the objectivity of beauty another time.)
Furthermore, music is unique in its ability to tap into our deepest emotions. The major and minor keys seem to reflect our human experience of joy and sorrow. Music echoes our humanity. And it also brings people together in a uniquely beautiful way. To see a rock concert or a symphony hall filled with people whose love of music brings them all together, is this not a reflection of our heart’s desire . . . that we can all get along?
Food and music. Two gifts from heaven. Two gifts which exhibit our human longings and reflect our heart’s desires. For peace. For an end to conflict. For a time when all tears will cease and pain will be a mere memory.
Little wonder, then, that the Saviour of the World gathered his followers round a table on his final night on earth. He called them to remember a mealtime saturated with symbolism.
Whenever you eat . . .
Whenever you drink . . .
Allow this meal to remind you of the most important of truths, that in the life and death of your Saviour, peace will one day come and be shared by all who truly believe. Food will remind you of peace and you will commemorate his sacrifice with hearts of thanksgiving. Why don’t we call that prayer . . . Grace?
Little wonder, then, that pictures of heaven so often include angelic worship. Music fills heaven like water fills the ocean. Revelation 14 . . . 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders.
So, the next time you sit down at the table, give thanks not just for your meal, but for the gift of Food. Though one contestant must leave each week on the Great British Bake-off, those breads and pastries are reminders of what we share: our longing for peace. Our need for community. Well-filled stomachs!
And when you listen to your favourite music, give thanks for a gift so precious, we cannot live without it. It is a mirror of our humanity, reflecting our longing for a time when all things are put right. A time when one day, peace will reign.
When yes, we can all get along.
© Richard Collins 2014