Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage (Proverbs 19:1-7) transports me to Merlefest, circa 1990, when it was still fairly small and navigable, and I had a good seat close to the main stage to see Doc Watson surrounded by his friends, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Marc O’Conner, etc. Doc laid the guitar down and picked up the banjo for some clawhammer songs, the first of which was the old Dock Boggs classic, “Country Blues.”
Come all you good time people
while I’ve got money to spend;
tomorrow might be Monday
and I’d neither have a dollar nor a friend.
Well I’ve got plenty of money in my pocket,
my good time friends are around.
But as soon as my pocketbook is empty
not a friend on this earth can be found.
Solomon must have been playing some clawhammer and feeling some country blues when he penned this proverbial passage, saying, “Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them. . .Everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts. The poor are shunned by all their relatives— how much more do their friends avoid them!”
This blues number is prefaced in the Proverb by some counsel that seems contrary to the truism of the abandonment felt by the poor: “Better the poor whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.” Wisdom prefers pious poverty over perverse prosperity. It goes on: “Desire without knowledge is not good.” It feels to me like our country could use a good dose of the wisdom found in these country blues. The billions of dollars spent flooding the airwaves with foolish and truth-distorting political ads sure seems perverse to me. It reveals a country being swept away with desire that lacks knowledge. And the poor continue to be abandoned, deserted.
I don’t romanticize poverty; from all I’ve observed being poor really isn’t a good way to win friends and influence people. But I do romanticize integrity and simple living. Until those values permeate the practice of our public life, I’ll just keep singing Doc’s Country Blues. . .
Give me corn bread
when I’m hungry good people,
corn whiskey when I’m dry,
and a true loving woman to stand by me
sweet heaven when i die.