The calling that has nudged and nagged me since I roamed Clinton Elementary during the Nixon administration has led me to appreciate a wide cacophony of sounds as clues to the depth of the human soul.
The broad harmony of “Beethoven’s 9th” and the intensity of Mahler’s 1st – the strains of a symphonic tapestry speak of the breadth of the human experience. Two owls haunt the wooded creek bed behind my citified home in Charlotte, NC, and their calls of pride and play are a strange reminder that amid our unnaturally concrete habitat we’re still part of something deeply primal.
The cry and coo of a newborn sings of the majesty of life and the promise of our ongoing hope. The sound of silence, when we can carve out a patch of it, will always whisper the calm or thunder the chaos reverberating deep in our hearts – which may be why most of us keep the radio on 24/7.
And this time of the year, with birdsongs reminding us of the rebirth of spring, as the buzz of pent-up winter energy begins bursting at the seams, the Baptist minister evolved into my bones begins to hear another sacred sound.
It’s the call of the Harley – a rumbling reverence that is born of the need to ride like the wind, to free our spirits to the call of the open road, to embark on a journey to anywhere or nowhere, a journey which is its own destination. So I polish a little chrome and don black leather and let it roar – well, usually just to church and back, but it still speaks to my soul!
A strange thing happens when I’m riding that rumble.
You see, there’s a certain aura that comes with being a minister, and when people find out you’re part of the clergy, maybe especially a Baptist preacher, they… change. I’ve introduced myself and watched people swallow beer cans whole (where do you hide an entire Budweiser!?) And God forbid if you have to tell an airplane seatmate what you do. It’s the best way I know to end a conversation: “I’m a Baptist minister.” “Oh, yeah… my, ah… Grandmother was a Baptist… now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading I need to do.”
So I can walk the corridors of my own church in a suit and tie and guests on our campus nod and smile, open to conversation. I can come back the same afternoon in a Harley jacket, and it’s hard to get someone even to make eye contact! On the other hand, my wife Amy and I can ride to dinner, take off our helmets, and strike up three conversations before we get inside. The burly guy with six tattoos just treated me like his best friend, though I doubt I’ll see him in worship anytime soon. I can say to him, “You know, I’m a Baptist minister,” and he’ll say, “Cool, what year is your Sportster?”
Not long ago, deep in a labyrinthine cave in South Africa, a pile of the bones of some ancient ancestors of ours were discovered. Homo naledi was a momentous find, but paleoanthropologist can’t agree, exactly, what they just discovered. Apparently there’s a million-year gap in the evolutionary picture, between our oldest australopithecus cousins and our first homo grandparents.
Some think naledi is the beginning of the homo genus, our distinctly human line, but that’s not clear because these creatures that bequeathed us their bones had many “modern” features, but their skulls were way too small. Our large modern brain is “the hallmark of a species that has evolved to live by its wits.”
Or so they say.
Those bones are clearly a clue to who we are, and all the sounds around us these days, the noise of our anger and fear and hatred, is a clue that we’ve hardly grown into our supposedly evolved “wits.”
Wherever they fall, precisely, in our family tree, the naledi were the ancestors of all of us - black and white, Muslim and Christian, Democrat and Republican, gay, straight and transgender, well-dressed attorney – and leather-clad Baptist biker.
And there’s a good chance the reason all those bones were found in that one remote cave is that even with a brain bucket half the size of ours, the naledi had already learned to bury their dead. It was a sign of respect. The small-headed naledi respected each other.
From the sound of it, we still have a lot to learn from them.
Photo by Darren Bockman