Sometimes, the good news is found in unexpectd places. In my own life, I first learned of redemption from the final scenes of Return of the Jedi. But when I was dragged to a church, I was told that God was nothing like the force in Star Wars. Too bad, the force is way cool (Or, epic, as my kids now say). I learned about the nature of sin and the propensity of human beings to cross the boundaries that God has set for us from Stephen King’s Pet Semetary. King’s books were forbidden in my home. So, of course, I got them from my sister.
In my youth, Christians told me not to read The Lord of the Rings because it was demonic — it has Sauron, monsters and magic in it and leads to D&D (like the response to Harry Potter and Pokémon). I was even told not to read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe because it has a witch. (What would they do with The Screwtape Letters?) Keep in mind, I was not a Christian at the time when I was warned away from these Christian authors.
This year, I took a trip to Alabama with two of my sons. Since we were in the neighborhood, I planned a trip to Fame Studios. I also stocked iTunes with songs recorded at Fame Studios. This included a few songs by The Rolling Stones. While I have always been a fan of sixties music (The Beatles, The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin[okay 7os], The Doors, Cream, The Mamas & The Papas, etc. etc.). I had never really listened to the Stones beyond the more popular tunes, i.e. Satisfaction, Get Off of My Cloud, You Can’t Alway Get What You Want. Yet, the raw and bluesy nature of the Fame Studios recordings drew me to dig a little deeper.
While looking at other titles and listening to snippets on iTunes, I came across a song called The Prodigal Son on the album Beggar’s Banquet. I have been suggesting to Christian musicians for years that we need a Blues album based on the Psalms. Here, I found an amazing blues rendition of the parable of the prodigal son by The Rolling Stones. (Although, I am pictured with my guitar. I only started learning last year.
Now, I am not suggesting in any way that the Stones are another U2 or that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are any type of role model. (Then again, the Bible has Judah and Tamar, the rape of Dinah, David, Bathsheba & Uriah, etc. and U2 doesn’t get airplay on Christian radio stations?) However, people who would not step foot in a church or pick up a Bible might just encounter the Gospel in a very unexpected places like a U2 concert or in a Stephen King novel.
Interestingly, “The Prodigal Son” is on the same album as Sympathy for the Devil which has often been set forth as evidence of the Stones Satanic bent. That some people think that “Sympathy for the Devil” is somehow a pro-Satan song only demonstrates that they either never listened to the lyrics or that they are poor interpreters of poetry. (Of course, Christians ought to be excellent intepreters of poetry since a large proportion of the Bible is poetry and a key element in Christian worship is singing poetry. Sadly, most Christians are not. Many Christians attending a U2 would like miss the irony of MacPhisto.) Instead of a reactionary approach to the word “Devil” in a song title, the two songs on this album and other songs like Gimme Shelter with its powerful song cries of “Rape! Murder!” could be the beginning of a conversation.
So could Led Zeppelin‘s version of “In My Time of Dying” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” or The Cure‘s “Open” or Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” or . . . the list can go on and probably with more recent (even if, perhaps, less enduring) examples. 😉
While I am only a novice musician, I think Christian musicians can learn a few things from these enduring artists and their gospel roots (listen to Mavis Staple’s We’ll Never Turn Back or her Dad’s, Pops Staples, Father, Father). Or read the Psalms, Job, Lamentations, the poetry of the Prophets, or, in the New Testament, Revelation.
While many Christian musicians and music labels need to dig deeper, the rest of us need to learn how to become better interpreters of poetry and be listening for where the Spirit is already at work.
I would love to read about your own experiences of finding the gospel in unexpected places books, films, or music. Or share good music. We may not have the same tastes and preferences but one of my other readers might. Please post in comments or on the POPChrist Facebook page.