Monday, April 27, 2009

Neil Young and Biblical Sex


So...um...about the title: I would encourage you to remember the admonishment of great rappers of yore: "check yourself, don't wreck yourself." This post really IS about those two things, and the title is not there to be scintillating or titillating. The Bible does talk about sex (disclaimer: it does NOT talk about Neil Young), so don't blast me for talking about something the Bible talks about. In fact, don't blast me at all. In fact (again), while I'm asking for favors, could you get me a mocha? Thanks.

Good Ol' Mr. Young has had a storied carreer. He was called out in "Sweet Home Alabama" for crying out loud! It's the kind of musical journey that few artists decide take, and with the recent addition of his own autobiography, there has been a small garbage heap of material written on his music and artistic decisions. I'll keep mine brief, so as to keep the blog a little green. No more garbage is needed.

In the early 80's, Neil was in a precarious place. Punk and New Wave had given way to some kind of hybrid of the two with synthesisers added. Sure, Neil could be somewhat Punk, and maybe he had something in common with New Wave (not sure what, exactly), but keyboards that make those fake treble-y string sounds? Hardly. He'd also been arguing with his new record label, who no doubt wanted Neil to return to his glory days of sales. He did what so many of us do when we're at an impasse: he recorded a rockabilly album. Understand that The Stray Cats were already exhuming this genre that had been dead for almost thirty years at that point. So, Neil was at least in step with what was going on. He released "Everybody's Rockin'", a decent if benign (and short) ode to those early rockers.

The year before "Everbody's Rockin'", he released "Trans", which sounds like it was recorded (and rejected) for the soundtrack to the movie "Tron". It was Neil doing electronic music, most of the vocals processed with a vocoder to give them a robot-like effect. The story behind the disc is far better than the material itself: Neil loved the reaction that his little boy would give him when he sung through the vocoder. His young son, suffering from Cerebral Palsy, would give Neil more of a response when he heard his daddy's voice through a glop of effects. Being a daddy myself, I'd probably record that album, too.

But this kind of behavior doesn't always make for great art. Neil indulged himself on these projects largely in protest to his label, Geffen, who he eventually sued. When he finally did get off of the label, Neil had a return to form: He released "Freedom", which contained then now-classic "Rockin' in the Free World."

Neil's confusing period in the early 1980's was a distraction from his carreer, and a detour from his successful recordings. Fans were confused and rock journalists perplexed, and when he returned to doing what he was known for (and most would say what he was gifted to do), then he saw success once again. There's nothing inherently wrong with those album side steps, but they weren't what Neil did, they really weren't what he was about.

There was a recent news story about a church possibly losing its permission to meet in a high school. The issue is over their recent sermon series about sex, and promotion thereof. In the last couple of years, there's been a glut of churches (and news stories about them) doing and extensively promoting their sermons on sex, the married kind, anyway. They talk about how great it is, how to do it and what the Bible says about it. Many communities are hearing about these churches for the first time via these news stories. A lot of people are hearing about these faith communities through controversy.

Let me say it: I'm not a prude. I have no problem talking about sex, and issues related to it. But I do have a concern about all the sex talk: it's not what we're all about. And from the inside of these churches, it may not seem like that. But, these churches may be in danger of preaching what I'd call a Bread and Circus Gospel, dispensing portions of Biblical truth in a disproportionate way, which has the accidental effect of displacing focus off of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Sure, the Bible talks about sex (see Song of Solomon, of course), but there are far more pressing issues at hand in Scripture.

I've heard a lot of sermons where ministers mention how much the Bible talks about different topics. I've heard from different preachers that Jesus talked about children, justice, money and the kingdom of God more than anything else. How could that possibly be? Did he talk about all those things the exact same amount? Yes, Jesus focused on some aspects of living for God more than others, but do we really need to bolster our case by engaging in word counting? If Jesus talked about something even once, I suppose that makes it something I should know.

So, a Bread and Circus Gospel is telling people the whole story, but skewing how much you focus on parts of the story. Some sex talk is alright. But talking about that more than people coming to a saving relationship with Christ is dangerous. And talking about it more than taking care of the widow and orphan is just sad. I'm not saying that these churches are doing that, but they are promoting it more than their other programs, and they are certainly becoming more known for it than other aspects of Christian living. The phrase "Bread and Circuses" dates back to the time of the Roman Empire, where politicians would gain popularity through meaningless handouts and parties instead of getting support because of sound policy. Likewise, filling our churches with people because we have seemingly endless sermon series about how to deal with finances or how to have good sex seems like a distraction from being told that were sinners saved by grace, called to serve everyone. Which sermon would you rather hear? Which sermon should we preach more of?

Please understand this: I have no problem discussing the struggles that we face. I have no problem with talking about how we can improve our lives by following Biblical teaching. But if that's all we do, if that's all we become known for, we're apt to be seen as self help centers, instead of worship and service centers. We become like Neil Young, in that we're still doing something involving our giftedness, but it's only a part of the whole picture. In our case, we sometimes can focus on parts of the Biblical message too much, at the expense of the other portions.

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