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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Pastors and People #2 OR The Pastor as Rock Star

Rock stars are allowed to screw up. They are expected to. They kick expensive amps; smash guitars, scream, rant, rave, and they just seem to get more popular. 

A few years ago, The Dixie Chicks (who are arguably more Rock than Country) got into some hot water because they voiced some things about not supporting a certain president who hailed from the same state as them.

The immediate backlash was really only a minor blip on the radar. Sure, they received letters. Some banned their music. Some radio stations boycotted the Chicks. And, there were death threats. But, not for long. Record sales soon soared once again and their follow-up album had a hit with the tune, “Not Ready to Make Nice.” They’re back.

It’s hard for a rock star to screw up too bad. We forgive them soon enough.

I love going to concerts. I am in awe of it all—the visual spectacle, the people, the volume, the community. When I go to a concert, I feel like we are all in it together. We’ve memorized the lyrics and we chant them in unison. 

We want to be like our rock idols to some degree—being loved for who we are—being loved no matter what we say or do.

People want rock stars to tell it like it is. They are larger than life at times, but they are real people. Even with all the glitz and glamour they sometimes seem more authentic than the average Joe who needs to keep up appearances. We trust our rock stars more than we trust our politicians.

One of my favorite rock stars is Bono. I know, I know, he’s everyone’s favorite rock star. However, before you accuse me of jumping on the U2 bandwagon or becoming a fan after Bono decided to save the world, let me assure you I was a U2 fan before it was cool.

My U2 fascination began when I was in middle school over 25 years ago. The single greatest thing I have ever loved about U2 and Bono, in particular, is the honesty.

I became a fan in the “October” era of the early 80’s and became more of a disciple in 1983 with the release of “War.” The lyrics were so much more vulnerable and honest than any music most Christians were producing at the time. U2 never went around parading themselves as CCM, but Bono certainly didn’t hide from his faith. 

As a young man, I remember listening to U2’s live album, “Under a Blood Red Sky” and feeling a freedom and excitement in knowing that Christians could actually legitimately express their fears, uncertainty, frustration, anger and dismay, and their praise through their art. A careful student of the Psalms in scripture would realize this was David’s modus operandi.

For some reason a lot of CCM, at that time, was what I sadly refer to as “mamby-pamby-milquetoast-bubblegum-Jesus is my boyfriend-music. It was too happy, did not allow room for doubt, and blindly gave pat answers to problems.

As a budding songwriter, I wanted to follow the example of King David and U2.

My pastor didn’t like U2. Neither did my parents. Neither did the other parents at my church. The band had too many strikes against them.

They didn’t look like Christians. They didn’t “always” sing songs about God. They smoked. They sang a song about a “Party Girl” who went by the name of “Trampoline (you know what I mean).” And, to top it all off, Bono had a penchant for dropping the “F” bomb.

I am thankful that, in the past few years especially, many Christians have found it within themselves to forgive (ignore?) Bono for his language that I have recognized in my travels as distinctly run-of-the-mill Irish slang more readily accepted on the island.

Whether sitting with politicians and discussing poverty and debt cancellation, organizing concerts to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis in Africa, or speaking out against the IRA, Bono has always been a risk taker and has managed to silence the nay-sayers by looking a lot like

Bono is set apart as a rock star—though there are many others like him. Most rockers aren’t preaching for some kind of reform or speaking out against injustice. We can probably safely say that most of them are in it for the women and the beer. 

Rockers are always under the microscope. BUT we don’t expect them to be perfect (unless they say they are Christ followers). We expect them to be screw-ups and constantly remind us of the human condition. And, somehow, it seems rock stars find some degree of freedom in our expectations. I wonder if they are more authentic because we allow them to be. 

Pastors are like rock stars in many ways. We take the stage. If we are “good” we draw a crowd. We are adored by a few—some more than others. Some people buy our messages and music to listen to over and over again or send off to a friend who “needs to hear” a particular message.

Some of us have a following. People want to hear what we have to say. Everyone wants to be our friend. We are under the microscope. 

But, while there are many similarities between pastors and rock stars, there are plenty of differences.

My next two or three posts will discuss these similarities and differences.

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