This coming week marks the birthday of a man who Bing Crosby called, “the beginning and the end of music in America.” Born in the sweltering heat of a New Orleans’ August, the grandson of former slaves, and suffering abject poverty, that man was Louis Armstrong.
Most people, even those who could not recognize Armstrong’s face or his contribution to Americana, can still sing along to his most iconic song: “What a wonderful world.”
Louis recorded and released “What a Wonderful World” in 1967. The southern states were fighting desegregation, and the U.S. Army was fighting in Southeast Asia. The Apollo 1 spacecraft was burning on the launch pad, and the Cold War was burning in Eastern Europe.
The Israelis were at war with their Arab neighbors, and police departments were at war with African Americans in Detroit, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and DC. JFK was already dead, and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. would both be assassinated the following year. How could Louis Armstrong sing this song about rainbows and unicorns when the world looked like it was going to hell in a hand basket; when the world looked so un-wonderful (as it still does today)?
Armstrong answers that question. He said, “It seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we’re doing to it. All I’m saying is: See what a wonderful world it would be, if only we’d give it a chance.”
That conclusion hints of Scripture. God created this wonderful world and called it “good.” So what went wrong? We did. As crowning achievements of his creative project, humanity was to serve as the steward and curator of God’s world. It was, it is, and it will always remain humanity’s role to be creation’s protector; to maintain the goodness of God’s world. We have largely shirked that responsibility.
Yet, this blue ball hanging in the vast expanse of space that miraculously incubates all that is, must mean something to God, because God wants it to be wonderfully “good.” Thus, We throw ourselves into the fray of this fractured world—healing the sick, making peace among enemies, feeding the hungry, working for justice, protecting and sustaining resources, creating harmony—because we believe “it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we’re doing to it.” God’s intent and Armstrong’s words are tuned to the same melody: Let’s give the Wonderful World a chance.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.