Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Gospel According to The Beatles ("All You Need is...What?")

(First in a four-part series.)

If you’ve ever gotten truly filthy, you know how good it can feel to get cleaned up.  Maybe it’s a long day landscaping, or a really good mud football game, or a long-distance run in the rain.  Once you get inside there’s nothing like the feeling of a long, hot shower and the chance to slip into some clean, dry clothes.  You start to feel human again.

I can imagine how that feeling must have swept across Britain after the horrors of World War 2.  After the endless years of air raid sirens, gutted buildings and children sent away to hide in the country it must have felt wonderful to simply settle down again.  To get cleaned up once again.  It’s not surprising, then, that the years following the war on both sides of the Atlantic were marked by an exaggerated sense of tidiness:  the “Leave It To Beaver” era. 

But it was during these years of tidiness that a new wave of children were entering their parents’ world—the Baby Boom.   They arrived untouched by the grime of their parents’ nightmares; they just wanted to have fun.   What had felt snug and secure to their parents began to feel sterile and confining to them.  Soon voices of protest began to emerge.

One of the first of these voices came from a group of young boys from the working-class town of Liverpool, in England.  They were crude, but clever, and they gained a following by gently poking fun of their parents’ generation.  Eventually they were discovered by a record shop owner who offered to serve as their manager, and they were whisked off to Hamburg Germany where they served as a non-stop opening act for various all-night strip clubs there.  After several months of (amphetamine-boosted) marathon performances they returned to England, exhausted.  Eventually this trial by fire forged The Beatles.

Despite their humble start, The Beatles’ creativity rattled English society, like a shot of tequila at tea-time.  They only stayed together 9 years, yet in less than a decade they changed everything musically. 
How?   They expressed an ache that many Baby Boomers had been feeling but couldn’t quite express.   Whether in the cute romance of I Saw Her Standing There, the melancholy grieving of She’s Leaving Home or the wistful longing for community in Yellow Submarine, The Beatles’ music somehow made it easier to believe that there was more to life than dear old dad and mum might ever imagine.   All you need is love, right?


The problem, of course, was to figure out just what they were actually longing for.   Albums like the landmark Sgt. Pepper sharpened and deepened that desire, without pointing towards a clear remedy.  The group wandered in and out of a variety of world-view alternatives, including Eastern religions, without finding something credible to hang their spiritual hats on.   And ironically, it was during the years of this search that the Beatles themselves began to unravel in some very unloving ways.  By the time their two final albums were released the band members were facing each other in court, squabbling over everything from money to creative differences.  All you need is love…and a bigger share of the groups’ royalties.

The Beatles had a point—there is more to life than material possessions.  At the same time, The Beatles were ultimately pointless—they had no idea what might present a better alternative.  And they apparently didn’t know that they didn’t know that.

In the Beatitudes Jesus encouraged us to grieve our inability to straighten out our worlds.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” he said in the Sermon on the Mount, urging us to recognize the futility of creating our own “Octupus’ Gardens, in the shade.”  

Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that there is only one place to turn to get things straightened out in life.  In Col. 1:15-23 we’re told that Christ is the only one who can reconcile that which is ruined.  To discover the gospel involves grieving our complete inability to fix things in order to cling tightly to the One who can.

We can’t do this on our own.  Left to our own devices we will pendulum-swing from one disaster to another.  The 60’s “free love” led to the STD’s of the 80’s and the broken families of the 90’s and the hopelessness marked by the children of those generations. 

The Beatles helped us ache for that “long and winding road” that might lead us to healing.  What they didn’t realize was that that path was actually straight and narrow.

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