Many churches recently had a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and the world is about to begin the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, so one once more longs to fulfill that lion-and-lamb image, that notion that the Gospel of John recounts Jesus as describing, “that all of them may be one,” or the simple idea that people can put aside their differences and work or play together.
The possibilities are inspiring.
The feeling can really resonate, whether in the tale of St. Francis of Assisi during the Fifth Crusades meeting with Islamic leader Al-Kamil, or the Righteous Brothers’ 1974 hit "Rock and Roll Heaven," singing about a celestial band of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce and others.
Laugh, go ahead. But smile, too.
There’s something special about gatherings of disparate souls. Remember the 1968 album “Super Session,” with Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg and Harvey Brooks? How about more recent records with Willie Nelson partnering with Norah Jones or Tony Bennett and the late Amy Winehouse? (A personal favorite is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-LP set with blues legends Muddy Waters and Otis Spann on the one hand and next-generation musicians from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Donald “Duck” Dunn from Booker T & the MGs. Heavenly.)
OK, forget music. Consider the appeal of other pop-culture team-ups or “crossovers,” like the “Avengers” movies and the Justice League TV shows and comics showing heroes squabbling but joining forces – or that legendary 1976 joint venture by Marvel and DC: “Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century.” Fun.
Or take westerns, a guilty pleasure. There was the 1991 mini-series “The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw,” where Kenny Rogers reprised his role as Brady Hawkes, bolstered by a roster of TV-character cameos: Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, the Rifleman and his grown-up son, Cheyenne Bodie and Bart Maverick, even “Kung Fu’s” Caine, the Lone Ranger’s horse and Paladin’s poker room.
Another western “Super Session” was the 1979 TV special “When the West Was Fun,” featuring dozens of Hollywood cowboys including Glenn Ford, Clayton Moore, Ty Hardin, Guy Madison, Jock Mahoney, Milburn Stone and Ken Curtis from “Gunsmoke,” Henry Darrow, Will Hutchins, Michael Ansara, Slim Pickens, John Russell, Iron Eyes Cody and Rex Allen – plus Roy Rogers and Dale Evans!
Rex Allen also had a supporting role along with several peers in Rogers’ 1950 feature film “The Trail of Robin Hood,” in which retired western actor Jack Holt needs help not only from Roy, but Rocky Lane, Tom Tyler, Crash Corrigan, Monty Hale and other familiar faces riding in on horseback to rally.
Acts of momentary unity happen, like in sports, ranging from the NFL Pro Bowl and NBA All-Star Game to the best, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game marking the summer season’s midway point.
Yes, it happens, like in politics, where fleeting ecumenism of a sort can endure. Conservative Barry Goldwater and liberal John F. Kennedy were friends, as were conservative writer William F. Buckley and liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith; progressive George McGovern and conservative Bob Dole worked together on food-stamp and hunger issues; Presidents Ford and Carter became close, as did Presidents Clinton and Bush I. Even Nelson Mandela wrote fondly of dining with Afrikaner apartheid champion P.W. Botha.
We all have a few acquaintances, friends or family we disagree with, substantially, and love. Maybe someday we’ll reside on that common ground; perhaps after something like Purgatory (where, according to the late, great Illinois baseball patron Pete Vonachen, folks undergo an “attitude adjustment”). Or, as country singer and mystery novelist Kinky Friedman 20 years ago wrote, “They say when you die and go to heaven, all the dogs and cats you've ever had in your life come running to meet you.”
(And they get along with each other! I add.)
Infinite paradise would be anticipated more eagerly if we could realize more of the endless possibilities here on Earth.
Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com; his twice-weekly columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.