Thursday, March 15, 2007

It's Urgent, I Tell Ya!

In 1991, I had the distinct opportunity to be one of the few people who saw the band Foreigner with their (at the time) new lead singer, Johnny Edwards. Lou Gramm, the voice behind such classics as "Urgent", "Double Vision" and "I Want To Know What Love Is" had left the band for a solo career, having a couple of hits and then fading into obscurity for a time. Tickets had been adverstised to be discounted, which is always the last refuge of a band on the downturn with an arena to fill.

The failure of both the new Foreigner and Gramm led to a new willingness to work together (surprise, surprise), and a couple of years later, I was privleged to see them again, for free, in downtown Toledo. Off they went into the 90's and beyond, playing county fairs, biker rallies and bar-mitzvas and remembering, I'm sure, their glory days of the late 70's and 80's.

Seeing a band with a new lead singer is like a Brady Bunch reunion show without the original Marsha; it's like Speed 2 with Jason Patrick instead of Keanu Reeves; it's like Van Halen with Sammy: something's not white in the milk. It might be adequate or even good or great, but it's not right. It's not a fit.

Speaking of Van Halen, one time I interviewed at a church, and the youth minister asked me, jokingly, "Sammy or Dave"? As everyone knows, the correct answer is "Dave", so that's what I said. I'm going to shock everyone by saying, though, that they are two different bands, and you can't compare the two. I didn't say that in this interview, though. I knew better. Answering "Dave" was my ticket to Coolsville. But isn't there a point when you stop giving the "right" answers, and start giving your answers? God made me to be this way, to think this way, to live as an individual under the His Son's lordship.

I knew that this small betrayal of my heavy metal heart would end badly: during the course of interview, I realized that they wanted me to incorporate their newly purchased organ with contemporary worship. That's fine if that's what they wanted. It's far better if they felt like that's what God wanted. I have no problem with it. But it wasn't right for me. And not only was it not right for me, but I was not equipped to do such a thing, and would have no passion for it.
I should have known that their dogmatic, Dave-only stance was a precursor of the inflexibility and set-in-their-ways mentality. The next time you interview for a church, see where they stand on the Van Halen lead singer issue. It will tell you a lot.

When you see successful bands break up, actors not sign on for multi-million dollar sequels, or people resign from lucrative jobs, us middle class schlubs tend to balk. Why would you do that? Why would you quit when you are doing so well? It's very simple, really. The heart wants what it wants. Or, to phrase it in a Godly way, the heart wants what God made it to want. After you dig through all the human, fleshly desires (which is quite a difficult and never-ending process), you find that God designed you to live a certain way, to like certain things, to be passionate about what He wants you to be passionate about.

So often with matters of faith, we embrace a stance either pro or con. We feel much of the time that God and His holiness is served by strong reactions to behavior (usually sinful behavior), and that being able to give a correct answer is what will fix the world. Our "fixing" usually ends up costing us and others dearly, putting burdens on people that they (and we) cannot carry. Only rarely do our strong reactions come out of obedience to God's word. So many times, our strong stance comes from personal opinion on issues where God has been silent. I'm beginning to think His silence was on purpose. After all, it was for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1) God's kingdom is a buffet, not a hot dog vendor. You just need to find out if you're the peas, salisbury steak or fruit salad. Or a mix of all of these things on some little kid's plate.

We long for definition. We want people to fit in our box. But, you're not going to cram me into a box unless your doing it with your leatherbound NIV. After all, "who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (Romans 14:4) Go see what the Big Guy has to say (and what He wrote in His book), and then we can talk.

Sometimes being who God made you to be might mean bucking conventional wisdom. And it can be tough. A lot of the time, being who God made you to be means standing for what His word really says (and doesn't say), as opposed to buckling under the pressure of what someone else thinks God's word meant to say. Being yourself in Christ isn't relativistic; on the contrary, it will make you have more respect and be more adherent to His word than ever. But a lot of that adherence equals freedom. And, while there are a lot of ways that God made us different, our commonality is found not so much in our millenial views of Revelation or (insert hot docrtinal debate here) but in our integrity, honesty and love.

I always read the liner notes on CD's. I guess I'm nosy that way, and I'm always looking for connections to other bands, or even, at times, people that I know personally. Reading the liner notes of Christian pop-metal band Petra's "Praise 2", I found a gem: Lou Gramm credited with singing "When will the world see that we need Jesus?" The notes went on to encourage Gramm to stand boldly for his faith, something you rarely see in a tri-fold, four-color pastiche of song lyrics, self-aggrandizing band photographs and thanks for every yahoo who ever lifted a single piece of the band's equipment. But Petra's lead singer used it to encourage. I realize now that, for Lou Gramm, leaving and rejoining a band was probably a part of his Journey, so that he could stay away from the river Styx at all costs, and so that his life would not be some Cheap Trick, but an (REO) Speedwagon to heaven.

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