Lessons From Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car"


Perhaps the most beautiful and poignant moment from the Grammy Awards this past week was a duet sung by country music star Luke Combs and singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman. 

In 1988, Chapman released her debut album, which had the massive hit song "Fast Car," which would sell millions of copies in the days before streaming services.  

Combs recently re-recorded the song, and it reached the charts once again thirty-five years later.  A new generation of music lovers re-discovered this song and, ultimately, Chapman's work. 

There's a lot I could say about the performance and the reaction of the gathering of musical glitterati to it, but I want to focus on the song's chorus today. 

The chorus goes like this: 
So I remember when we were drivin', drivin' in your car
Speed so fast, I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feelin' I could be someone
Be someone, be someone

This chorus has always reminded me of a John Updike short story I read once where the protagonist is leaving behind the town he grew up in, with the road stretching before him as a symbol of endless opportunity. 

The narrator in Chapman's song looks back fondly to a time when she felt like her whole life was before her and she was finding her way to something more and better than the life she had been living. 

Things did not turn out how she had hoped, so she looked back to a moment when her future seemed bright, and the world hadn't seemingly turned against her.  

I think that a lot of us struggle when we experience changes in our lives, especially when those changes are unexpected and maybe even unwanted.  

I know that I had more than my fair share of struggles after a crisis of faith left me wondering if my career as a pastor was over and the life I had planned would come crashing to the ground. 

And more than once, I looked back to simpler times when I was more confident and sure.  Some of me wanted to go back to that time, even though I knew deep down in my heart that the only way to go was forward. 

It was a very disconcerting time, and I nearly gave up because of the anxiety and desperation I was feeling at the time to find someplace solid upon which to stand.  

Looking back, I realize this was a critical moment in my journey that needed to take place, but there was a danger in it as well. 

Author Melody Beattie sums this feeling up this way: 

Some of us may be desperately trying to recreate the life we once had. But fear, pain and desperation won't attract the answer we're seeking. Desperation attracts desperation. Pain attracts pain. And so the downward spiral goes. 

There is a hard truth in Beattie's words, but her point is not without hope.  

If you find yourself in a space in your life right now where you are wondering, "How did I get here?" Beattie's words are so instructive and helpful, hard though they may be. 

Chances are you might also be trying to figure out how to return to simpler times, to recreate the life you had, rather than stepping forward into the life that is before you.  

But letting "fear, pain, and desperation" drive your actions isn't going to lead you anywhere because the one thing you can be sure of in your uncertainty is that you can't go back to the past.  

The only way is forward.  Things may be different there.  You may be different there.  This is as it should be because we are meant to grow and thrive today, even as we are being shaped for tomorrow.  

May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.  

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