Sunday, August 15, 2004

Keeping It Real In This Sad World

How do we apply our belief in a loving God to a sad world without being trite and irrelevant?

In the Heidelberg Catechism it says, “He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world”. The catechism is confessing the role of Grace in the context of a world filled with many evils. As authentic people, we must have real comfort to give in a sad world and in often extremely complex situations where simple solutions do not provide comforting answers.

How do we apply our belief in a loving God to a sad world without being trite and irrelevant?

The Spirit of the Age
I love art. Art reveals to us the voice of a generation and the spirit of the age. Art reveals what is connecting with the heart and mind of a generation? To understand ourselves and the world we live in and what is happening as our culture weaves its way through history, we need to listen to our artists. I have picked three statements of three musicians to try and capture the voice of our American Experience. The three voices are:
Kurt Cobain saying “Here we are now entertain us”
Billy Corgan’s “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage”
And System of a Down’s: “The toxicity of our city”

You may not be as big a fan of Modern Rock as I am but nonetheless, I think it is valuable to at least understand these messages that resonate so deeply with so many of us 21st century Americans. Before I go into details of the message of these songs and how they relate to our values as a generation, let me just give a few one line explanations of what I believe the core messages of these artists are:

Nirvana and Kurt Cobain: "Here we are now entertain us" basically is saying: “I am bored” or even “I am bored I might as well kill myself”.
Billy Corgan: “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage” is saying life is random evil and there is no way out. Face it violence happens.
System’s message is clear as well: “The toxicity of our city” is speaking of the how economic and political greed is so toxic it is spreading its violence and evil onto the earth itself. Greed leads to a toxic environment and this evil has invaded everything.

A little detailed analysis:
“Here we are now entertain us”
With this anthem, Kurt Cobain is saying if you try to entertain me, I am in control. All the commercial world is doing is trying to entertain us to vie for our dollar. “OK America here I am, I dare you to try and entertain me”. Another line that is parallel to this one is “I wish I was like you easily amused”. Those who try to entertain us, the whole corporate and often even the religious system, are filled with whores all selling out to almighty dollar. Look at the cover of “Nevermind”. It is a picture of a baby willing to drown as he reaches for a dollar bill. People who try to entertain us are clowns. Clowns entertain us.
This song is a wholesale condemnation of the American entertainment culture. It is a very insightful critique of the superficial nature of American consumerism. Cobain is saying entertainment is completely irrelevant and boring. In the video, the central figure is the cheerleader. This symbol is the ultimate source of Cobains disdain. Superficial medicine to a deep psychological sickness. We are sick and broken and all you have for us is entertainment. I am a victim of incest. Please. You don’t touch me. “Oh well whatever Nevermind”. Cobain is mocking those who put only their best foot forward and ignore their brokenness and pain. The cheerleader is the ultimate symbol of such superficiality and the ultimate icon of the American dollar driven entertainment addiction.

“Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage”
Another nuclear song to say the least. Billy Corgan is all about Pulp Fiction. This song is about the inability to escape the random injustice of life. The theme of The Smashing Pumpkins as a band is always the reality of random violence and meaningless evil. Despite all I do and all my rage and efforts to fight back against reality as it comes to me, I am still trapped in a world of surreal evil. I have ZERO power and influence, so really the least I can do is be really pissed off about this unjust and absurd world we live in. Everything is gray. Isn’t this a more realistic view of life then to live in denial and pretend all is well. People ask why today’s music is so evil and dark. Is it not because today’s world presents us every day with totally unexplainable evil? Too many terrible things happen to too many innocent people to give simple 1950’s black and white answers to this totally random life we live.

“The toxicity of our city”
System of down has a much more political perspective than the philosophical or social view of Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana. System is all about the reality of political and economic violence. To system the only response is political rebellion against evil authority. Political awareness of political and environmental evil is key. The rulers of the city have toxic greed that is destroying even the earth. Again, notice the emphasis on the reality and problem of evil. How do we live in an evil world? “Disorder Disorder How do you own disorder?”

Art is the voice of the spirit of a generation. The message is clear “things are not good”. What answer do you give the victim of incest or orphan or street kid. A simple “God loves you” just will not do. It is a sad world. These are the facts that our hearts cry out all day long. The reality of random injustice and evil is the reality from which we must start for this is the experience of most of us and the thoughtful will accept no solution that does not address the reality of evil around us and the brokenness in us head on and up front.

Our Faith states that God is Almighty and that He is love. We confess that “he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends to me in this sad world”. In this sad world. In this sad world. In this sad world.

Our number one value to address the relationship between a loving God and an unspeakably evil world is the value of authenticity. It is superficiality that the voices of our generation are raging against. It is simple answers to horribly difficult questions that require love and care and patience. We must not be like Job’s counselors and give logical and superficial answers to the pain and suffering of the neglected and broken. We too must face our brokenness and sit in the dust with the Jobs around us. Ultimately, God did reveal that He is in control and all will one day be redeemed. We do know that “our redeemer lives”. But silence is often the only answer we should give our hurting friends. We too are confused and broken. We do not understand. We face the pain of life with humility and AUTHENTICITY. In fact, it is foreign to “the greatest generation” but what my generation longs to see is not a happy church but a sad church, a broken church, a compassionate church. The syrupy smile and our best foot forward is the worst way to adorn the gospel of Jesus when the thirsty of the world around us are sitting in sackcloth and ashes and cursing the day they were born. The sovereign providence of God is holy doctrine that requires deep intimate contemplation and must be adorned with tears if it is to give comfort to the children of this sad world.

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