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Vol. 81 - No. 3
Mar 2010

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

The Vatican Top Ten 

"Top ten" lists are a dime a dozen. But when the Vatican’s official newspaper issues a list of the top ten rock music albums of all time, one has to sit up and take notice. This list appeared in L'Osservatore Romano a week or two ago. The list includes: Revolver, the Beatles; If Only I Could Remember My Name, David Crosby; The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd; Rumors, Fleetwood Mac; The Nightfly, Donald Fagen; Thriller, Michael Jackson; Graceland, Paul Simon; Achtung Baby, U2; What's the Story, Morning Glory?, Oasis; Supernatural, Carlos Santana.

 The Vatican is not, apparently, infallible when it comes to musical taste. Where on the list, for instance, is The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, the Brian Wilson masterpiece that inevitably occupies second place (nosed out of first by Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) on everybody's list of great albums? (Along with its musical excellence, Pet Sounds also lacks the drug content found on several of the albums that did make the Vatican list). Where are Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, or Springsteen's Born to Run? Where is Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life? On the other hand, the Vatican showed great insight in preferring Revolver over the more obvious Sergeant Pepper. They also are to be commended for not letting Thriller's massive sales figures blind them to what a wonderful album it really is. 

Beyond debating individual choices, I do commend the Vatican for taking popular music seriously. When I was a young man, many Christians pretty much sweepingly condemned all rock music as "the Devil's music". (Oddly enough, my beloved country/western music basically got a pass from Christians--even though, at the same time the Beatles were declaiming "All You Need Is Love", the great Porter Wagoner was singing about killing his wife in "The Cold Hard Facts of Life"!) If you liked a particular rock group, you would be discouraged from listening to them, and pointed to a Christian copycat band instead. (Thankfully, Christian bands eventually developed their own styles rather than simply aping those of secular groups). There were even reports of "backward messages" hidden in rock songs--like "my sweet Satan" on Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven". (The whole "backward message" concept was dealt a deathblow when a preacher took it a step too far–he claimed to find Satanic messages in the "Mr. Ed" theme song. Apparently "a horse is a horse of course, of course" plays backwards as "Satan is the source".)

But in dealing with music, it’s best to avoid sweeping condemnations and to be guided instead by St. Paul’s advice: "Test everything; hold fast to that which is good." (I Thessalonians 5:21). If we listen with discernment to popular music, we might even find the occasional inkling of divine truth. A few years back, Joan Osborne had a hit song that posed this question:

What if God were one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus?              For the Christian, that lyric zeroes in on a great truth: God did become one of us in Jesus Christ. He took human flesh upon Himself to save us! (I suspect Miss Osborne’s song found its way into thousand of Christmas Eve sermons the year it was released–although I wouldn’t want to apply the "slob" reference to our Blessed Saviour!).

A song that sounds almost like a lament from the Psalms is sung by The Fray:

I found God on the corner of First and Amistad...He said, "Ask anything.." Where were you when things were falling apart?

A Job-like lament can be heard in the spine-tingling "You Have to Be There" from Benny and Bjorn of ABBA–a Swedish immigrant telling of her woes and desperately hanging on to God:

Everywhere I turn it’s darker still...I stand on the edge of confusion...Do you hear when I call? Are you there after all? You have to be there, without you I am drifting on a dark and stormy sea. Without you I drown in the deep.

The song ends on a note of faith:

As the waters drag me down, I reach for Your hand.

(This song isn’t easy to find, but look for it on YouTube, sung by Helen Sjoholm in both Swedish and English versions. I guarantee it will become a favorite.)

I think, too, of "Stayin’ Alive" by the BeeGees (which goes back a few decades). Most of the song has the protagonist strutting and bragging about his dancing abilities and how attractive he is to the ladies. But then, toward the end of the song, a cry of anguish is unleashed from his heart:

I’m goin’ nowhere, somebody help me, somebody help me, yeah.

Behind the strut, there is an emptiness-an emptiness that cries out for the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. Perhaps that is popular music’s greatest function–it give us insight into the needs of the human heart. It exposes that empty spot at the very core of human life–that empty spot where God would be, if we sinners had not pushed Him out. When U2 sings "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For", when John Lennon sings "I’m So Tired"–songs like these reveal a deep hunger for something real...ultimately, a hunger for the God who comes to us in Christ.

So we Christians shouldn’t ignore popular music. At its worst, it may indeed come close to being the Devil’s music. But at its best, it shows us the inside of the human heart...the very heart that the church is addressing with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God loves you and so do I!

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