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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bono on Elvis

If you enjoy the popular music of the last fifty years, you will love this feature from an issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The editors selected fifty legendary musical artists of the rock era and asked current stars to write brief reflections about them. It is a fun and fascinating read.

My favorite is the one on Elvis Presley written by Bono of U2. First of all, Bono is a genius with words. He has a very refreshing way of putting things. Read any of the scores of interviews he's done in the last twenty years and most of them will be full of rich expression, even when about the most mundane things.

Particularly, I was struck by Bono's observation that for Elvis, grace was not amazing enough. He says that in the context of describing the tortured interior life this megastar endured. Friends say that when Elvis was especially upset, nothing soothed him as much as going to be alone and singing old spirituals and hymns with his piano. And yet this was the drug addicted superstar who read the bible, loved his mother and shot the television in his living room.

Amazing grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. It is a profound Christian reality but only if grace is understood for what it is. Grace is not a power that God gives us to become better people. If that were the case, then clearly his grace is insufficient. The evidence for most of us is that we do not become measurably better as time goes on. In some ways, yes. But remember C.S. Lewis who said that whenever I remove the big stones from my field, I just see the thousands of smaller ones that were there all along. And these pebbles are much harder to clear away, thus more pernicious.

God's grace is fundamentally His own mindset toward us. It is the favor He shows sinners on account of Christ. And this epiphany does indeed powerfully change us, but not ultimately until our own resurrection on the Last Day.

I feel bad for Elvis sometimes. I remember exactly where I was in 1977 when I heard about his death. He was certainly a talented man who loved his family, was a patriot, was moved by music and exhibited an abiding Christian faith. God's grace is amazing enough. How painful it is when even believers are taxed with despair.

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Anonymous said...

I remember where I was too: driving home from work. I cried.

Peter said...

I didn't come to appreciate Elvis until years later. When he died, he had become somewhat of a joke. He was fat, and his outfits were horrendous. Ah, but when you look at the tapes, he was still magnificent. Interestingly, he came to the Ft. Wayne Coliseum a number of times, and Indy was among his last concerts (I think).
Anyway, Elvis does represent a kind of American spirituality, shared by others of his generation, including Little Richard, Johnny Cash, and, even Jerry Lee Lewis (I think). To be sure, Elvis had his demons (as did Luther), but there was something sweet and honest about him. Fame and money of that magnitude is, in the end, much more of a burden than a gift. At least the Beatles had each other. Elvis was alone, surrounded only by sycophants. Perhaps we'll have an opportunity to hear him sing again.

Anonymous said...

I recall a short discussion with a fundy where he said that Elvis was not a Christian, because, "after all, he was living with his girlfriend, so how could he be a Christian?" I didn't know what to say, since I was not aware of what was going on in Elvis life in his later years. What's your take on such a disparaging remark?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...


Maybe your fundy friend assumes that real Christians don't commit real sins. I'd say that Elvis definitely had some sin issues. I do not, however, know the state of his faith at that point. I know that he professed Christian belief. That's all I have to go on and on that basis, I consider him a believer. However, if a brother or sister had certain knowledge that Elvis had been confronted and refused to repent, thus destroying his faith, then that might be another question. It is possible to fall from grace and living in hardened uprepentant sin could do it, but that is a pastoral judgment call that neither I nor your fundy person are in a position to determine.

Anonymous said...

Pastor, Thank you for the kind words about Elvis. And thank you for pointing out in your last post that salvation has nothing to do with us. So many fear they will die in sin if a sin is committed in the last minutes of life.

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