Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A million souls struggling for the light

Been busy and unwell - hence the absence.
However, I thought I'd post my latest contribution to the church magazine - for those of my congregation who don't read the print version and anyone who's interested.

Recently I had an epiphany. It occurred during an ad for Davidoff men's fragrance. It wasn’t that I suddenly wanted to smell like ocean waves crashing on rocks or silk shimmering against a sunset sky (whatever that might smell like!). It was that I was surprisingly aware of God’s voice leaking into my ears through the TV speakers in the ad’s soundtrack: the fragile voice of Joseph Arthur, borne aloft on gentle acoustic guitar, sang:

I pictured you in the sun wondering what went wrong
And falling down on your knees asking for sympathy
And being caught in between all you wish for and all you seen
And trying to find anything you can feel that you can believe in
May God's love be with you
May God's love be with you

Quite what this has to do with selling perfume is lost on me. But I’ve loved the song since I first heard it and sensed a sensitive soul groping for the light. I am inclined to take such songs at face value and frequently find myself pondering what experience has led the writer to involve God in his search for peace or love or a sense that life might amount to something.

I don't know anymore what it's for
I'm not even sure if there is anyone who is in the sun;
Will you help me to understand
'Cause i been caught in between all I wish for and all I need
Maybe you're not even sure what it's for any more than me
May God's love be with you

Nothing is certain – except perhaps God’s love.

I listen to a lot of pop and rock music and frequently find myself hearing God in my iPod headphones in truly unexpected ways. On our Big Welcome Sunday at the end of September, I shared my love of David Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station and got a hugely unexpected response from people who don’t listen to or like David Bowie but who similarly heard God speaking to them that morning through the thin white duke’s anguish:

Lord, I kneel and offer you my word on a wing
And I'm trying hard to fit among your scheme of things
It's safer than a strange land, but I still care for myself
And I don't stand in my own light
Lord, lord, my prayer flies like a word on a wing
My prayer flies like a word on a wing
Does my prayer fit in with your scheme of things?

Bowie knows we live in an ‘age of grand illusion’ where nothing is certain and where glamour and fame does nothing to nourish the soul. His voice is part of a chorus line from contemporary music all giving melody to the emptiness behind the glitz. The tragedy, of course, is that so many people look in from the outside and think that the celebrity life is one of unalloyed joy and fulfilment and crave it like mad.

I think God speaks to me through this music because he wants me to hear what people who don’t come to church are saying about life and more importantly about him. Bowie’s Word on a Wing longs for a place of belonging: ‘I'm trying hard to fit among your scheme of things… Does my prayer fit in with your scheme of things?’

When Nathanael was brought to Jesus by his friend Philip in John 1:43-51, he received a welcome that he probably wasn’t expecting. Jesus affirms the good things in his life and accepts him as part of his team. All the important stuff about what he believes about God can be sorted out as they eat and travel together.

What a world of popular music tells me is that we need welcome people like Jesus welcomed Nathanael. In so many of the tunes I listen to I hear God saying ‘are you getting this? Are you feeling the pain in this music? Are you ready to welcome the people who feel and speak this way, affirm the good in them and travel with them as they find out more about me?’

We’re often quick to write off such people – and their legions of fans – as merely hostile to the things of God and not really people like us. Well, they aren’t people like us, but they are people loved by God, people he is urging us to welcome into our community and so we can help them with the deep questions they are asking about life and God.

Joseph Arthur wonders ‘if there is anyone who is in the sun/will you help me to understand…?’ Are we a community where people with similar struggles can come and find support as they wrestle with their questions? It’s the kind of community that Jesus was building at the beginning of John’s gospel with the likes of Andrew, Philip and Nathanael. So it might be the kind of community he’d like us to build here in Bromley. How about it?

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