Posted by: Dan | July 5, 2009

we have all been betrayed; we have all been abandoned

In the penultimate verse of ‘Georgia Lee‘, Tom Waits channels the voice of Georgia and sings the following:

Close your eyes and count to ten
I will go and hide but then
Be sure to find me, I want you to find me
And we’ll play all over
We will play all over again

To me this is the most devastating verse in the song.  To me it speaks of the betrayal of innocence and of godforsakenness.  Why is this?  Because Tom Waits is singing of a little girl who becomes lost and then dies.

But this isn’t just some sort of tragic accident, or some sort of misfortune caused by blind fate.  No, Waits directs his charge to God and the refrain of the song is this:

Why wasn’t God watching?  Why wasn’t God listening?  Why wasn’t God there for Georgia Lee?

This is why, when we come to the penultimate verse, one does not simply think that Georgia is speaking to her parents or her playmates.  Rather, one imagines a small child trusting in God, in the goodness of the world, wanting to run and play, hide and be found.  But God is not trustworthy, the world is not safe, and the child is found much too late.  Here, innocence is not simply lost — it is killed.

I have been thinking a lot about this song over the last few weeks.  Playing with my infant son, I have been reminded of when I used to be innocent — when I used to believe in the fundamental goodness and beauty of the world, when I used to believe that God would come and save us all, and when I used to believe that love conquered all.  Hell, I was even eager to seek out the darkest places I could find because I was so convinced of the truth and efficacy of these things.

Now I don’t know if I believe any of them anymore.  Now, while I am still often overwhelmed by the beauty and goodness of our world, I am also, or perhaps even more often, overwhelmed by the brokenness of our world.  Now, while I am still waiting for God to come and save us, I have grown accustomed to the experience that, for many (perhaps even most of us), God never shows up.  Now, I have seen things that are stronger than love — so while love can conquer all, it only rarely actually does so.  More often, death prevails.

Mostly, then, I think we awaken to the brokenness in our world and in ourselves and discover that we are alone.  We awaken to a world without God or, even if we continue to believe in God (as I do), we awaken to the realization that, when it comes to God, we have all been betrayed; we have all been abandoned.  We are, all of us, Georgia Lee lost and dying in a lonely place, waiting for the God who never comes.  Or who comes too late.

So one can believe in God or not.  In the end, it doesn’t seem to make any meaningful difference.

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Responses

  1. Dan, regardless of our past interchanges, this is an honest question. I hope you’ll trust my intentions.

    Why then do you still believe?

  2. Hey Brooks,

    The short answer is that I believe in God because to do otherwise, for me, would be dishonest. The long answer is forthcoming in a post I have been thinking about (partly in response to some of Andrew’s questions on another thread).

    Why do you believe? I’m also asking sincerely.

  3. I must honestly say there are days when to believe seems so counter to what I see, what I feel and how I understand the world around me. This is why, at times, I can empathize with those who develop escapist theologies of some sort of imminent return and a whisking away of all the “righteous.” To them, this may seem the only solution which makes sense of the world around them.

    Personally, my belief stems from my own encounter with God through some very close people around me. I could not, for the life of me, conceive of the love which flowed through them coming from any other source than the divine.

  4. Dan,

    I really enjoyed this post (though, to be honest, I was disheartened and a little dismayed by the conclusion). I’d like to know if it’s O.K. if I reproduce it on my blog.

    I’m also wondering why you believe. You say that to do otherwise would be dishonest, but why? I think there might be a lot of insight (for me, at least) in your answer.

  5. Dustin,

    Thanks for sharing those thoughts. I appreciated them.

    Charismatic Anglican,

    I have no problem with you reproducing this post on your blog. I too found the conclusion to be somewhat disheartening and dismaying.

    I intend to write another post on why I believe and why doing otherwise would be dishonest (for me). I’ll try to get to that soon.

  6. […] Mostly, then, I think we awaken to the brokenness in our world and in ourselves and discover that we are alone.  We awaken to a world without God or, even if we continue to believe in God (as I do), we awaken to the realization that, when it comes to God, we have all been betrayed; we have all been abandoned.  We are, all of us, Georgia Lee lost and dying in a lonely place, waiting for the God who never comes.  Or who comes too late. we have all been betrayed, we have all been abandoned | On Journeying with Those in Exile […]

  7. […] Mostly, then, I think we awaken to the brokenness in our world and in ourselves and discover that we are alone.  We awaken to a world without God or, even if we continue to believe in God (as I do), we awaken to the realization that, when it comes to God, we have all been betrayed; we have all been abandoned.  We are, all of us, Georgia Lee lost and dying in a lonely place, waiting for the God who never comes.  Or who comes too late. we have all been betrayed, we have all been abandoned | On Journeying with Those in Exile […]

  8. One of the idols that we construct is that of God as the guarantor of happy endings. The unspoken, implicit, officially disavowed idea that when we believe in God we are making a deal with God to ensure our earthly prosperity and good fortune probably sounds like bad theology, but it is there in the shadows. There’s a little prosperity gospel in all believers perhaps.

  9. dan.

    i don’t know how to muddle through it.

    but, i know that, for me, to not believe, is something that i have to try harder at, than to reluctantly believe.

  10. I don’t think that Jesus on Earth did all that much better than we are doing. I think the miracles are largely fairy stories, and that on the whole, he didn’t see much more transformation than we see. The gospels hint at this when they refer to healing only one person at Bethsaida, or stints at which he could accomplish no miracles at all.

    I think that I’ve been equating God meeting a person with total (and healing) transformation. Therefore, if there is no healing, then God hasn’t been meeting us, echoing Tom Waits’ “Why wasn’t God there for Georgia Lee?” Maybe God Emmanuel is with us without healing us. Maybe we need to dissociate the two.

  11. Dan, the somg by Waits reminded me of a letter by Vincent. I have been busy painting a copy of Van Gogh’s “Wheatfields with Crows,” for a ‘Forgery Art Exhibition’ I was invited to (aug 1 for any who are interested). It is a different experience than painting the Coptic and Orthodox Icons I have been focusing on for awhile. Some years ago I read through the 3 vol. set of Vincent’s letters, he was an extraordinary theologian and writer. I have been re-reading them a bit and came upon one of his last letters to Bernard. Bernard had sent him a poem:

    “…for hope has pored its neurosis into my bosom—Winter having neither a sou or flowers—Come from the blue plains—Paled by the length of leagues—Twisted on his spiraled cross.”

    Vincent writes to Bernard: “But is seems to me you do not say clearly enough what you want to make felt–the certainty that one seems to have, and which one can in any case prove of the nothingness, the betrayal of the desirable good and beautiful things; and that, despite the knowledge, one lets oneself be eternally fooled by the charm which external life, the things outside ourselves, exercises on our 6 senses, as if one did not know anything, and especially not the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. Fortunately for us we remain stupid and hopeful in this way. ‘Twisted on his spiral cross,’ conveys very well the exaggerated leanness of the mystic Christ. But why not add that the anguished look of the martyr is, like the eye of a cab horse, infinitely sad; that would make it more Parisian where one sees such looks in the eyes of the superannuated nags of the little carriages as well as in those of poets and artists.” Looking at Vincent’s self-portraits I think I see that look in his eyes; my wife says she sees it my eyes sometimes and it worries her. “Wheatfields” was Vincent’s last painting, he put down the brush, got his gun, walked out into the field and shot himself. After the show I am going to paint him into the picture, fallen, clutching his wound, praying, and surrounded by angels. obliged, Daniel (on Whidbey Island)

  12. […] with those in Exile, wrote a post that I want to reproduce here. You can see the original here. While I don’t agree with his conclusions, this is exactly the sort of struggle it seems we […]

  13. We believe because to do otherwise we must acknowledge our end. We so desperately want to continue in an afterlife — a part two of our existence. How nice that would be. A belief in God enables that illusion to form substance. But, for some, in the silence of our minds — when all the chatter is checked, we know it is all illusion and fancy; the hopes and dreams of those unwilling to face impermanence.


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