I watched the Grammy awards with objective interest. I know very little of the popular music anymore which seems strange to me. I have always loved music and have very eclectic taste. I remember my folks disapproved of some of the lyrics from my high school years. I felt the same way about some of my sons’ music when they were in high school. There was one performance during the Grammy awards that really bothered me and there was a performance that I really enjoyed. I saw God at work during that show and it made me think. I realized some of the stars of the new millennium are growing up, having babies and wishing for a better world. It caused me to hope, even amidst the deluge of music and personalities that were decidedly secular.
The performance that made me grimace was a song called “Take Me to Church.” It was one of the darkest, saddest songs I think I have ever heard. Early in the first stanza the lyric says, “The only heaven I’ll be sent to is when I’m alone with you. I was born sick, but I love it.” Later the chorus of that song ends with the words, “Take me to church I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your life.” The rest of the lyrics are just disgusting, degrading and dark. There were moments in this performance that made me cringe and I think if I had known whom to write – I would have.
When I was in high school my church invited a man by the name of Jester Hairston to come speak and sing for a special evening worship service. Jester Joseph Hairston was born in 1901, the grandson of slaves. He became an expert in the African American spiritual and was most famous for composing the theme to the movie Lilies of the Field. That theme song was titled “Amen” and I still remember him singing that song to my church that Sunday evening. Jester Hairston passed away in 2000 and I’m glad he never had to hear the blasphemous way his song was interwoven into the “Take Me to Church” performance at the Grammys. I almost turned my television off, but I’m glad that I didn’t.
President Obama made a recorded speech about the need for the nation to step up and end sexual assault and domestic violence. He said that 1 in 5 women have been attacked or exploited and 1 in 4 women have experienced domestic violence. I wondered if I had heard those numbers correctly. It didn’t seem possible, but everything I read supported Obama’s speech as accurate. Immediately after Obama’s message, Brooke Axtell, a survivor of human trafficking, spoke a powerful word saying, “Authentic love does not devalue another human being. Authentic love does not silence, shame or abuse.” Her message was strong and the arena listened respectfully.
Katy Perry sang her song, “By the Grace of God” after Brooke Axtell’s message. Perry wore a white gown, looking modest and respectful of her topic. When she finished singing the camera panned the crowd and many of the women were wiping tears from their eyes. In a room filled with people from a very secular industry, I saw a glimpse of hope. People want this world to be a better place for themselves and for their children.
Katy Perry is a pastor’s daughter but I don’t know what her relationship with the Lord is like. She has made some choices in the past that were distinctly secular instead of faithful. But I watched her sing that song and she is either a great actress or she knew enough about God to respect his name. Regardless, just mentioning God’s name and his grace provided a powerful moment in a very secular setting. Katy Perry has said she contemplated suicide when her marriage to Russell Brand ended. She has never said there was abuse but the lyric to her song is, “And I looked in the mirror and decided to stay/Wasn’t gonna let love take me out that way.” I sat thinking about that lyric and knew I would write about it.
God’s presence is a tangible, forceful power and is truly light in the darkness. I don’t know if very many people understood the power they sensed, but most of them knew something was different. The power is in the name of God and in the message of God. 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” When God is present, love is present and people sense that.
I wanted to write about the Grammys because I saw that show as a glimpse into our current, popular culture. Obama spoke about the potential power of music and artistry to change the world. I agree with him, but I would add that it will either be change for the good or the bad.
Our world is filled with great contrast these days. The good news is this: light always shines brightest in the darkness. Every room you walk into is an opportunity to shine with the light of Christ. We should never underestimate the power of God’s presence to change a room. I was once again reminded of that fact as I watched the Grammys.