I got the key to the highway,
Billed out and bound to go
I’m gonna leave here running
Because walking’s much too slow
It’s typical of a lot of the early blues songs – the ramblin’ bluesman who can’t stay in one place too long, needs to be on the road again and can’t commit to any relationships.”You ain’t done nothing babe, Except drive a good man from home,” says the singer, putting all the blame on his woman. When in reality, it’s his own itchy feet that are making him want to pack up and hit the road again – “I’m gonna roam this old highway, Until the day I die.”
There were lots of reasons for blues artist moving around – it may have been the threat of lynching in the Jim Crow South; it may have been the need to make a little money – then as now, the professional musician can’t just keep playing his material to the same group of people over and over again; it may have been failed romances; or just a restlessness, a need to get up and go, see a few different places. Whatever the reason, many of these guys didn’t have much of a home, not one they could feel contented in anyway.
Robert Johnson said he had “ramblin’ on my mind,” again, blaming his “baby,” because she treated him so “unkind.” Muddy Waters sang “I’m a rambling kid, I’ve been rambling all my days,” but his baby, “she want me to stop rambling.” Johnny Shines’ version goes, “Woke up this morning, reached down for my shoes, Reason was, baby, I got them old ramblin’ blues.”
But, hey, we love listening to these songs, don’t we, because there’s something just a bit rebellious in them, something that makes us feel alive in our soft, comfortable lifestyles. Problem is, though, home comforts are pretty good, and we don’t really want to change anything, because change can be unsettling, and, quite frankly, “leavin’ here runnin” is way too much effort. We get settled pretty easily these days, don’t we?
Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus might be termed a “ramblin’ man?” Once his ministry got going, he never stayed in one place too long. He moved about the countryside with a bunch of followers, men and women, had little in the way of possessions, and said at one point that animals like foxes and birds had dens and nests, but he had no place to call home. He was, and is, an unsettling character – even though the Christian church tames and domesticates him.
Jesus never really fitted in with his contemporaries. The people to whom he preached got excited and saw in him a new political leader who might take on the occupying Romans (John 6.15); many of the Jewish leaders were deeply troubled about his version of God’s coming kingdom; his disciples seriously misunderstood the nature of his leadership, bickering about who would be top dog beside him. He made people who came to him terribly uncomfortable about his attitude to wealth (he told a “rich, young ruler” to give away his money to the poor) and he was prepared to symbolically attack the very centre of Jewish political, economic and religious life, the Temple in Jerusalem. And, of course, so upsetting and threatening was his vision for all things new, for changing the status quo, he ended up being tortured and executed.
Would be Jesus-followers can’t expect a life of quiet comfort and ease. He promised his followers harassment for pursuing justice and reviling by people who misunderstood them. Problem is, by making this word that Jesus used – justice (Matt 5.10) – into a nice-sounding religious word “righteousness,” we’ve taken the heat from Jesus’s life and message. We’ve probably never heard of people being persecuted for “righteousness” sake; but we’ve certainly heard of people being persecuted for pursuing justice. And there’s where things start to get uncomfortable for us – how far are we prepared to go, as Jesus-followers, to pursue justice? Some of us can’t even be bothered finding out what’s going on the world, or signing that petition against modern day slavery or whatever, never mind taking to the streets to make our voice hear on behalf of the voiceless and the oppressed. Our Christianity has become too domesticated, too calm, too cosy. We need to find ways to get radically connected to the poor, the weak, the oppressed of the word, or else we’re just playing at it.
The followers need to start to look a bit more like the one we’re following. Walkin’s much to slow – we need to shake ourselves down and be prepared to do a bit of running. Only when we’re prepared to change ourselves can we hope to change the world.