Notes from the Vicar of Grace

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Bill Harper

Dear Friends--     

Maybe you heard that the band Arcade Fire won the Grammy for Album of the Year.  Or maybe you didn't hear about it.  After all, Arcade Fire is a kind of lesser known, popular band.  Right.  They are popular in the way they dodge being popular.  They are "Indie"-small and sort of independent.  And Canadian!


Now I promise: this is not some vain attempt to be hip.  I'm 52, and it's just too late to be hip (and that's some sort of relief!).  This is not to say that I've given up on vanity (I have not!), it's just that I can't keep up with the moving target of hip culture.  I like it.  I think I recognize it when I see it-but it moves too fast, and is too varied.  I probably just need to concede the chase, and age gracefully!


But I do like popular music.  I like "indie" music.  And I try to stay up to date, even if I feel like Ed Sullivan introducing the Beattles.  Popular music today is so amazingly fluid, mixed-up ("mashed up").  It is creative, often deeply thoughtful.  It's "open"-and often about art and cultural commentary.  Sort of like music used to be . . . and often still is.

Anyway, I guess some people were surprised by the award.  After all, the Grammys (sometimes known as "the Grannys") don't always reward creativity.  Arcade Fire, though, is pretty creative.  And insightful.  And the band isn't afraid to tell some truth about our slice of western culture, all packaged in award winning songs.  That's what I like about them.  I like their truth.  I also really, really like the way they incorporate honest religious stuff into what they sing-with great pop melodies and big church organs.  It's quite a sound, with words to think about.  Consider just these lines from "City With No Children," a song on the awarded album The Suburbs:


You never trust a millionaire

Quoting the sermon on the mount
I used to think I was not like them
But I'm beginning to have my doubts
My doubts about it


When you're hiding underground
The rain can't get you wet
Do you think your righteousness
Can pay the interest on your debt?
I have my doubts about it



Ah, there it is: the Sermon on the Mount.  Smack in the middle of a pop song.  And right in the middle of our Sunday mornings, too.  This Sunday, again, we will hear from that very Sermon.  Supposedly we know the words well-and millionaires or not, we can quote them.  But I can say quite honestly that right now I am feeling quite "convicted" by these words from Jesus.  And from Arcade Fire.  Sure, last Sunday I pushed back against the words Jesus used-against the harsh, hell-fire language.  But you know, sometimes when you feel that so much is at stake, you end up using words that carry force and consequence.  Or maybe you write a song.  Something is really at stake here-for all of us.  We should hear, and quote, Jesus' words with care and with some serious intention.


Here is a link to those words.  I think there is good reason the check them again-how well do we really know them?  Can they still challenge us?  Do they? Or are they just sounds in a snappy song?


Here are the things I hear, ringing and singing in my ears:


People are blessed. 

All the broken, grieving, hurting, people are blessed. 

If I want to be blessed, go stand with them.

The old is over.  The new has come.  Better deal with it.  Fast. 

And quit hoping for old days to return.  They won't.

Love your enemy.  Turn your cheek. 

Stop having enemies. 

Do good to those who hate you.

Cultivate your life within.

Let go of public approval.

Be light.

Be true.

Be generous.

Love what is real, not what fades.


That's enough, though it's not all. Read on.  Sing on.  This could be, should be, the soundtrack of our lives.  And if you need a movie to go with that soundtrack, try this one.  There are so many ways to get us to pay attention.  I hope we can.


Bill's Signature 

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