Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie: A Review of The Next Day - From May 13, 2013

David Bowie is not an artist without controversy. Since the release of his first album in 1967, the sometimes androgynous performer has always possessed the ability to stir the pot, especially when rock and roll needed it the most. One of the first patrons of Glam Rock, if not the first, Bowie has taken music to another level that has satisfied the ears as well as the other senses. Unlike many of the transparent musician-songwriters of today, Bowie cannot be contained to a particular box of genre. In fact, just when you think you have him figured out, you find that he is just as much a mystery as he ever has been.

When you ponder his lengthy career, the only time that you might find Bowie without controversy is when he is absent from the music scene. Since the  release of his 2003 album Reality, a few live endeavors and the appearance in the 2006 British film, The Prestige, not much has been heard from Bowie save a few occasional mentions guaranteed an artist of his status. But with the release of his new album, The Next Day, and the accompanying video for the title track, the 66 year old Bowie proves that he is still capable of attracting controversy; this time from the Anglican and Catholic Church.

In the occasional instance that Christianity and pop culture cross paths, my interest and attention is always heightened. Although Evangelical Christianity has done is best to meld itself within the realms of post-modern culture, the success has been short-lived and in some cases destructive. The Christian concept of being "in the world, but not of the world", attributed from such verses as John 15:19 and Romans 12:2, has become somewhat of an anomaly; not particularly appearing in either camp with much clarity. Post-Modern Evangelicalism has become somewhat of a caricature of itself, developing it's own image of culture, but not really obtaining a sustainable manner of functioning within it. Ironically, it is usually from the secular that arise challenging messages of faith and thought provoking images of Christianity and the Church. So it is with The Next Day.

Whether considered controversial or not, the video for The Next Day is not without shocking and suggestive imagery. Upon it's release, The Catholic League attacked Bowie as being a "switch-hitting, bisexual senior citizen from London" that "is strewn with characteristic excess."  The League's President, Bill Donohoe, stated that "the video is strewn with characteristic excess: one priest bashes a homeless man, while others are busy hitting on women…The lyrics refer to  the “priest stiff in hate” and “women dressed as men for the pleasure of that priest.” The song concludes with, “They can work with Satan while they dress with the saints.” In short, the video reflects the artist—it is a mess." Donohoe goes on to accuse Bowie of not understanding true Christianity and being "confused about religion."

I must admit that as a minister, I was a bit apprehensive in viewing the video based on what I had previously heard. The pointless and ignorant ridiculing of any faith system, especially within the obscene and offensive, is one of the only arenas in which I don't have much tolerance. I have always been a fan of David Bowie and his music, but after reading other commentary and discovering that even Youtube had given the video an adult only "Content Warning" for being "Explicit", I began to wonder if Bowie had possibly pushed the limits and that no redeeming aspects would be found in this endeavor. Again, I cannot stress the fact that the video is shocking and what many would consider offensive, but what I discovered in The Next Day was just the opposite of what I had expected, and what many views might expect as well.

The video not only features Bowie, but also actors Gary Oldman and Marion Cotillard. It opens to Gothic imagery with the sound of church bells outside of what appears to be a church converted into a nightclub. The plot begins with a priest, played by Oldman, punching and knocking out a homeless man begging for money. One would be tempted to immediately draw a connection to the Pharisees of Jesus time, but there is no concealing the lack of compassion. He is accompanied by what appears to be a nun as they enter into the club and a scene of complete Christian hypocrisy and debauchery. The priest's nun companion apparently has had her eyes gouged out, perhaps from the excessive sin that she has been forced to witness, or perhaps to protect her form the truth of her surroundings.  "...if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away." (Matthew 18:9). Was this her own doing or the priest; done to protect her salvation, knowing that the removal of one eye would not suffice? The head of the Baptist? Righteousness on a platter?

David Bowie portrays a Christ-like lead singer of the house band, appearing to vocally chastise the clubs patrons, particularly Oldman's character, who chooses a scantily clad woman (Cotillard) to join him on the dance floor. The room begins to spin out of control as Bowie continues his accusing, reminiscent of Christ's charge to the Pharisees as being "whitewashed tombs" (Matthew 23:27). Cotillard's character's eyes begin darting around the room, apparently becoming disturbed, and possibly spiritually convicted, by the blatant sin that fills the room. Her emotional state eventually becomes physical as she develops stigmata. Blood gushes from her wrists and onto the clubs patrons as Oldman directs his anger toward Bowie, "This is your doing! You call yourself a prophet?!"

As Christ's message of repentance was rejected, so is Bowie's as he is attacked by the crowd of priests, Cardinals, nuns and patrons; pummeled and beaten to the ground. The video's climax and most glaring images of Christology lie in the obvious redemption of Colliard's character as she rises to her feet, the stigmatic blood flow ceased. With hands still scared and stained with blood, her eyes become fixed on a distant light, as if receiving some sort of divine revelation. Bowie takes notice of this and joins her with the other religious leaders, all realizing that something miraculous has occurred. Bowie addresses the room, thanking them as if his mission has been accomplished, and then vanishes to the stunned surprise of all.

The question remains: Is The Next Day UN-Christian, anti-religion, sacrilegious or antagonistic of the Church in general? Can we learn anything about ourselves, faith or theology? Ultimately, that determination needs to be made by each person that views the video on their own. However, is it possible that the negativity directed toward Bowie and this video has developed not because of the underlying message, but the shocking imagery itself. Let us not forget: Stigma is a bloody spiritual condition, one that not even St. Francis would have had an issue with in terms of the offensive nature. Could there be a positive message found beneath the shocking storyline; a story that just might emulate reality more than fiction?

We live in a culture of hypocrisy that permeates all compartments of life, including the Church. This is made clear by Bowie's video which represents the negative and destructive worldview held by believers and non-believers alike. Bowie's Christ-like character calls out the hypocrisy of Christian leadership, resulting in the apparent repentance and redemption of Colliard's character and possibly the collective group as well. None the less, shocking, vulgar and violent though it may be, so lies the reality of our world. Are we not all hopeless sinners in need of redemption? And let's face it; when was the last time you witnessed repentance and stigmata provoked by the convicting words of a worship leader? I prefer Bowie's attire as well.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent Reflections - December 12


“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their
treasures and presented him with gifts 
                                                                     of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

                                                                     Matthew 2:9-11


The astrological event that led the wise men to Jesus was brighter and more spectacular than any other. Through God’s divine providence, it appeared to announce the birth of Christ for those that were watching and waiting. From all practical perspectives, everyone should have noticed the splendor of this unusual event. But the Bible and other historical sources tell us that this was unfortunately not the case. Only a few educated philosophers and astronomers were able to interpret this glorious birth announcement, three of which are revealed in our passage for today. They knew that they were witnessing an extraordinary event. Something was taking place that was beyond the traditional and often narrow view of the natural world, and they wanted to be a part of it.

Sometimes we allow tradition to cloud our perspective of what God is doing in our world. We get so consumed with our narrow view of things that we forget that God's view encompasses so much more. Especially during the Christmas holidays, it’s easy for us to get sidetracked. It’s easy to slip into a complacent mindset that misses the big picture. When this happens, peace tends to elude us and joy becomes a rare. Just as many missed the coming of the Messiah, we miss the unusually bright star in our lives as well because we fail to look up.

As we come to the end of the second week of Advent, let us commit ourselves to look up and see things from God’s perspective. Let us not miss the “bright morning star”. Let us keep our eyes upon the “light of the world”. As He guides us toward Christmas, let our perspective be clear, and our view broad.       


God, we confess that sometimes we allow ourselves to be consumed by the cultural views around us. With our eyes focused on the world, we miss the miraculous things that you do in our lives. Help us, Lord to keep our eyes focused upon you and not miss the guiding stars that you place before us. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Advent Reflections - December 11


“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
1 John 4:10

There is no greater emotion than love. Love can envelop an eclectic collection of emotions that often contradict each other and leave us either elated or completely confused. Love can conjure up a range of feelings from happiness, laughter and contentment, to thoughts of anger, hatred and jealousy. Love can lift us up, and love can bring us crashing to the ground. Love unites cultures and love can also divide communities. Love can conquer all obstacles of life and love can leave us utterly defeated. Love can find us included among close friends and family or leave us feeling abandoned and lonely. Love can be all, or it can be nothing.

Love also generates peace, a peace and joyful contentment that transforms the very essence of who we are. It can catapult us from the often mundane pace of life to an exciting journey that leaves us confident of accomplishing anything that we face. Love can consume us with peace, and most often that peace comes from being loved, rather than loving. Being loved by others is a confirming indication that we matter. That we are worthy of love. That the make-up of who we are, has caused another human being to be moved to this radical and all encompassing emotion: Love.

As we read these words today’s passage, we discover a very simple and yet complex and perplexing truth: God loves us. And all that God has done through Christ, had nothing to do with how much, or how little we love God, but how much he loves us. His love for each one of us is an overwhelming and transforming mystery; the same mystery that revolves around the incarnation. A love so massive and without limit, and yet it was contained and confined in the limited vessel of a small child. A love that compelled the God of all that is, all that has been and all that will be, to descend into the darkness of this chaotic world and live among us. This is love: Emmanuel, God with us!


Lord, Your love for us is without limit, without understanding and without end. In our feeble attempts to love you, Lord, let us receive your love through the blessings of this Advent Season. Let us rest, feel your peace and be loved by you.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Advent Reflections - December 10


“All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said
through the prophet: “The
virgin will conceive and give
birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Matthew 1:22-24


Peace is somewhat of a priceless commodity these days.  Let’s face it. We live in chaotic times with most of the circumstances that surround us inducing anything but peace. From continuing threats of terrorism and war to blatant injustice, singing “peace on earth” can seem to be empty words. Especially during the Christmas Season, peace is something that can easily elude us. Images of joyful family Christmas dinners, warm fireplaces and happy children around a Christmas tree can seem to more resemble a Norman Rockwell painting rather than our reality.

One of the greatest misconceptions in today’s culture is the misinterpretation peace. Most often, we confuse “peace” with the haphazard emotion of “happiness”. Happiness is an emotion that stems from the circumstances around us; peace is an emotion that rises above them. Peace transcends the circumstances of life and determines how we react. In fact, one could say that peace is more of a state of mind rather than a feeling or sentiment. Peace comes when we relinquish control of that which cannot be controlled. 

In the words of Matthew 1:22-24, we read of a situation that may have seemed overwhelming, confusing and filled with fear and uncertainty. Joseph could have awoken form his dream in sheer panic, argued with God and run from the circumstances that were thrust upon him. He could have legally divorced Mary and would have been completely justified by culture and faith. After all, from all earthly perspectives, she had cheated on him and was pregnant with another man’s child. Who would blame him for bailing out? 

This reveals much about how Joseph reacted to his circumstances. From our point of view, Joseph didn’t argue, question or choose to panic over the news God gave him. He didn’t run, get angry or blame anyone for what was going on. Instead he chose not to react to his circumstances, but submitted to that which could not be controlled. He accepted how his life was about to radically change, and as far as we can tell, he had peace.

 Let it be our prayer today that we react in the same manner to the sometimes uncontrollable circumstances of life.


Most Gracious Lord, we confess that sometimes we react to our circumstances with fear, anger or panic. It is in these times that we lose hold of the peace that you want for each and every one of us. May we take hold of your peace and let it overwhelm us, rather than the troubles of life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Advent Reflections - December 9


“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”

 Hebrews 1:1-2


Why is it that we so often feel compelled to live our lives in the past? Why do we so frequently attempt to build our current days based on the "perfection" of yesterday? You’ve heard the expressions: “Those were the good ‘ol days!”  “Remember when…?”  “Things are just not like they used to be.” "I wish I could go back..." I am especially reminded of this during the Christmas season because we tend to focus so much on tradition. As soon as the decorations come out, the music starts playing and our favorite TV shows come on, we are transported to another place and time. Many of us think back to Christmases that we experienced when were younger, and long for those nostalgic feelings that captured us then. In an effort to recreate memories of yesterday, we strive to re-create a Christmas that mimics those of our past. But we usually end up disappointed and a little frustrated. Why can’t things just be like they used to be?  

The problem with nostalgia is that it manipulates our focus to rest on something that no longer exists. The past remains only in our memories, leaving us unable to relive the days that have passed. The only thing in which we have control of is our present, and when you think about it, we really have no control over that either. In reality, all we have is the moment. This moment that we share today, celebrating Advent together. The past is no longer. Tomorrow will be. Today is what it is.  

As we make our way through Advent, as the anticipation builds, and as we celebrate the coming of Christ, let us remember to rest in the present. God once spoke to the people of Israel through the prophets of old, and revealed his soon coming. For a time God was silent, and God's people longed with nostalgia the days when the Lord spoke. But as time passed, God spoke again. Christ came into the world. No more longing. No more looking back. Emmanuel, God with us!        


Lord, in the quiet of this moment, help us to keep ourselves in the all encompassing peace of your presence. Help us to live our lives day to day in great anticipation of the blessings that you provide moment to moment. Let us look on the past with joyful memories, look to the future with hope and live today in your love, grace and peace. Amen