Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Epimenides, Bill Withers, and I

For years after becoming a Christian I struggled with justifying my appreciation for art, music, literature and film that was, and still is, considered by some in the church as secular or worldly. Rarely would I ever go so far as to admit that by ‘appreciation’ I really meant, ‘spiritually stimulating’!

For some time now I have come to understand this appreciation as a correspondence to truth. This is what happens when something that a person does, without necessary intentionality, has a particular similarity to biblical truth.
Consider the lyrics to Bill Wither’s Number One Hit, Lean on Me:

Sometimes in our lives 
We all have pain 
We all have sorrow 
But if we are wise 
We know that there's always tomorrow 

Lean on me, when you're not strong 
And I'll be your friend 
I'll help you carry on 
For it won't be long 
'Til I'm gonna need 
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride 
If I have things you need to borrow 
For no one can fill those of your needs 
That you won't let show

You just call on me brother, when you need a hand (Chorus)
We all need somebody to lean on 
I just might have a problem that you'd understand 
We all need somebody to lean on

Now I already have a category for friendship from the Bible which tells me to love my neighbor as myself and that we all are to be our brother’s keeper. That is the sacred, gospel truth. So when I have occasion to hear ‘secular’ music that corresponds with this truth—like Lean On Me—my heart and mind are not pulled into the profane but toward my calling.

Now certainly there are some (perhaps many) disciples who are too immature to appreciate the harmonics between the sacred and secular, and we have to be careful here, but there are also disciples who sincerely believe that certain foods are forbidden—and the Bible says that they are wrong, not right, about that. Some go so far as to say that most anything secular is forbidden to the Christian and yet the apostle Paul outed himself as being conversant with the secular when, speaking to the Greeks at Athens, he quoted two pagan philosophers to make a biblical point. That point, driven home by quoting the pagan philosopher Epimenides to witness of God’s nature and attributes, was far more substantial than Withers singing about human camaraderie. 

Of course the intention of the unbeliever in painting, writing or composing is never to bolster the faith of Christians by corresponding to sacred subjects. But being made in the image of God they sometimes cannot help themselves. And here is where being the spiritual comes into play. We as new creations in Christ should naturally go beyond critique of the secular to harmonic appreciation and application. This is another way in which the Egyptians are plundered…and their gold does have value.

Shouldn’t I convey to my Christian brother that he can ‘lean on me’ and that ‘I’ll help you carry on’? Doesn’t that type of language really only belong to us? Just like the truth that, “in Him we live and move and have our being” was an idea stolen from our treasury and then reclaimed for all time by Paul?

And yes, there is a danger here. We do not want to become worldly.
On the other hand, how worldly was Paul the apostle? His sermons and lectures included quotes and references from secular cultural and yet he was in the world but not of the world.
He wasn’t being careful; he was being spiritual. He was bringing every musical, artistic, philosophic, and literary thought captive so that he could revel and rejoice in it

And that is the difference between spirituality and just wanting to keep your old vinyl.   

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