Searching for Sugar Man … Finding a Miracle

I may have grown up in the ‘80s, but I’m emotionally a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s. When all my school chums were listening to Tiffany and Rick Astley (well, some of them were, anyway), I was grooving to Carole King and Simon & Garfunkel. I know, I know. Geeky. I never even learned to moon walk. I never claimed to be cool.
But geeky or no, I think I would’ve been a big fan of Rodriguez back in high school … had I ever heard of him.
But I hadn’t. No one had. The guy released two or three albums in the early 1970s that flopped in America—more never-was than has-been. But then, a decade after the guy failed miserably, something amazing happened. He became incredibly popular in South Africa of all places. His music became one of the impetuses to overturn apartheid. He—well, why don’t you just watch the trailer?

Searching for Sugar Man won the Academy Award for Best Documentary just a couple of weeks ago. Well deserving, I think. Great story, great music. Check it out if you have a couple hours to spare. I think you’d enjoy it even if you can’t tell your Kings from your Croces or your Simons from your Garfunkels.
But the thing that makes it worth talking about on this particular blog is this:
At the very end of the trailer, you hear someone say that “these are the days of miracles and wonder,” a phrase most often used when folks would stumble across burning bushes and snack on manna and the like. And indeed, the story of Rodriguez seems almost miraculous—not only the man’s improbable success a continent and culture far, far away, but in the fact that everybody in South Africa thought he was dead.
Spoiler alert: He wasn’t—just living a quiet, below-the-poverty-line-life in Detroit. Here was a man whose music everyone knew. He was a part of their lives, their culture and, most importantly, the welcome change that took place there after ages of racism. And all his fans knew—they knew—the guy was dead and gone. And then, one day, they learn he’s doing just fine—and if they’d like to see for themselves, he’ll be playing a concert or two.
In a way, it’d be like if I’d learned that C.K. Chesterton was alive and well (and around 150 years old), tinkering with a blog somewhere in the suburbs of London. Or that Ghandi didn’t die; he was just resting up to inspire yet another generation.
It’d be like if someone like, oh, someone like Jesus had risen from the grave.
I don’t say that to be flip or heretical. I just think that, sometimes, we folks who have been Christians for a long time can lose sight about what a big deal the whole resurrection was. Oh, we know it’s big, of course. Religions don’t set up holidays for minor happenings. But because many of us have heard about Easter from before we can remember, we take it for granted.
But Searching for Sugar Man helped me see Easter in a ever-so-slightly new light—gave me the merest of inklings of what it must’ve felt like to have seen Jesus crucified … and then three days later, have the same Jesus serve me breakfast.
If Jesus had been just a great moral teacher—a guy who was way ahead of his time and spoke up for the weak and downtrodden, a guy who helped the people around him and for millennia after—his life would’ve still been worth remembering. He would’ve been Jesus Christ Superstar; a man who through his words and deed, would’ve set the world on a new, exciting path. And his tragic, painful death would’ve been reason for the whole world to cry.
And then, one day, we learn that he’s not dead at all. He’s living. Not figuratively, but literally. And suddenly, all the thoughts we followers have of him—our ideas of how profound and how wise and how gentle and brave he was—is joined by another, wholly unexpected emotion: Incredulous, unbridled joy.
May we all feel a bit of that joy in the days and weeks to come.

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