You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Lawrence Kasdan’s “The Big Chill” (1983) was the quintessential baby boom movie about death. A once promising graduate student has committed suicide after years of trying to “find himself.” His best friends from college gather for the funeral and a weekend of grief therapy through sex, drugs, and rock and roll. How else would baby boomers come to grips with their mortality in the early 1980s?

As the movie begins, the corpse (unidentified Kevin Costner) is being dressed. Cut to a southern pastor of non-liturgical protestant flavor asking the question, “Why?” Then he invites an old college friend to play one of “Alex’s” favorite songs. She goes to the organ and begins to play the Rolling Stones’ song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (from the Let It Bleed album  of 1969). Why did the young man kill himself? “You can’t always get what you want” answers the pastor’s rhetorical question.

I thought of that movie later in the 1980s when a brother-in-law’s little brother died of a heroin overdose and in 1992 when my brother died of alcoholism. Both men were handsome, smart, talented, and tortured. Every time I hear paeans to the 60s and the Summer of Love, I think of their funerals and of the years in this life lost. I think of high school classmates who died quickly and those who died slowly and those who died spiritually. Oh, I still tap my foot when I hear some of the old tunes and perhaps smile briefly at a flash of memory associated with a song. But I look at what the baby boomers wrought in this disintegrating American experiment, and I doubt my ten-year-old will ever know the better, if imperfect, world in which I came of age.

I understand why so many parents are choosing home schools and parochial schools. They have seen the logical conclusion of the baby boomers’ mythology, and they hope and pray there can yet be pockets of sanity where children are yet taught a God-centered worldview with an appreciation for classical learning…where history is not purged of its horrors by angry pundits masquerading as scholars. For parents seeking to pass the whole of history along to their children, with all the miserable years of slavery and corruption and hatred on all sides, there is a didactic and deeply purposeful intent.  Without such honesty about sinful humankind, their kids will learn mostly the narcissism and nihilism of those who hate the very idea of the Triune God as the source and end of all the living.

In response to the growing fears of cold war turning to total nuclear war, psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in the late 1950s, “Men destroy like gods, because they cannot create like gods.” But he was wrong. Men and women can create like God when they birth babies and when they do the work, the very hard work, of raising their babies. Those who can think with something other than their genitals actually make sacrifices by putting away childish things and working together for the good of the neighbors with whom they live and the neighbors whom they have brought into the world or into their hearts and homes by marriage or adoption. Being man and woman is fundamentally biological and not a matter of beliefs. Most of the time being man and woman together in the most physically intimate way produces a child for whom one bears responsibility until she or he leaves home to create a family also.

The nature of unregenerate man and woman is to have the wrongful desire to get what you want always.  Christian spouses and parents teach each other and their children, “You can’t always get what you want.” When we practice our Baptism daily, which is the Christian faith, we put to death the old Adam or Eve’s sinful desires (whatever I want) in order to do, with His help, what God wants, which is what is best for oneself, one’s family, and the world. A world in which God is pushed to the fringes is a world in which God steps back and says, “OK, let’s see how that works out for you.” Not well at all!

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt


The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity ( In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.