From a Distance
Was just listening to Nanci Griffith singing the Grammy Award winning song, “From a Distance”. Julie Gold, the writer of that song, said it flowed forth from her pen in the space of an hour, but took thirty years to write.
It’s a pretty hard song to dislike. I would go so far as to say it’s universal in all the right ways. For people of good conscience, the refrain that “God is watching us” should be of some comfort. It’s a tacit assurance that somewhere out there justice exists and that it will reach us in a real way somehow in our lifetime. “God is watching us” might also give you the hint, that what you do is important. There are a lot of people who act as if God is not watching at all, or if He is, they don’t really care.
Today I was offered a “discount” rate to work at a large and well-heeled studio. It was a “this is what we pay take-it-or-leave-it” bit of information, as if what they would like to pay and what I am worth as a freelancer, is not worthy of discussion despite that it is the kind of work I am very good at, and in which I have a wealth of experience. I know from that experience, that the work is hard and fast-paced, and requires much skill. You are not sitting on your hands. It is also work for which I have usually been paid much more than they are offering me, as if something seismic has shifted and I did not get the memo. I have not replied yet. I wanted some time to think. What saddened me, is the in-your-face admission that the world has changed, or maybe really it hasn’t changed at all and that is the problem.
It actually makes me think of some quotes from the book of Isaiah, one of my favourites, for those who like ancient wisdom dressed up as poetry. The prophet Isaiah lived seven thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and yet his words have never failed to have currency. So if you have a “favourite prophet,” Isaiah is mine.
Isaiah’s theology included the comforting view that God shapes history, and enters the realm of humanity to rescue people from peril. That sounds great if you are acting in good faith. If you are not Isaiah pointed out that God could equally intervene to punish the wicked. In other words, Isaiah’s overall message may have been in short, “God is watching us”.
Isaiah talked about a covenantal relationship with our maker, that implies certain ethical obligations offered up in service of love just like in a family or a marriage. In such relationships you have certain promises to fulfill, but no one need tell you to be ethical because you do so willingly. How this covenantal understanding shows up in daily life is in how you treat your fellow man. Isaiah hated ethical breaches, especially when people with power used it to the worst ends. So, a quote from Isaiah. He railed against kings, enough to get him sawn in half (a hard way to go) by the evil King Manasseh. More often, he railed against regular people, whose actions thoughtlessly devalued their fellow man.
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you;
Even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
I don’t know what you heard from that, but I think Isaiah was talking about the evils of supply-chain and the race to the bottom that is globalism. I think that he was talking about the evils of trying to take advantage, otherwise known as economic bullying. The company knows they are operating in bad faith, but are hoping that if they are lucky, I am desperate enough to say yes and they will get my hard-won skills on the cheap. Or, if I say no, someone else will be desperate enough. It’s like the shameful confession of Jacob Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol, that “Mankind was my business”. It’s those people who traffic in desperation, also known as human blood. In other words, the kind of people Isaiah railed against. So I like Isaiah even more now.
I might even quote him. But it may be a bit heady for the audience. It might fall on deaf ears. I could suggest in mirth that I am going to approach my dentist or my car mechanic and tell them that I am going to pay them two-thirds of the going rate, just because I said so. I know what response I will get, because few people take the effort to study and become good at a profession in order to make less money over time. I am not sure why we ply artists with the suggestion to take less, but not other professionals. Maybe I will just smile and say, something we don’t think about enough. That God is watching us. From a distance perhaps, but it’s good to occasionally feel the weight of that eyeball.
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