On Wednesday morning, music fans were saddened to hear about the suicide of legendary Soul Train founder Don Cornelius. If you’re not aware of Cornelius’ impact on American pop culture, to put it in perspective, many experts will suggest that he and Soul Train are as much (or more) responsible for the way modern music looks than Dick Clark and American Bandstand.
If nothing else, think about the impact Cornelius had on MTV – widely recognized as the single most influential media outlet of my youth for shaping the way young adults talk, look, and act, all in addition to directing the music they listen to. Cornelius got Soul Train on the air at a time when there was no show on TV devoted to black American culture and a full ten years prior to the launch of MTV, which initially only aired videos by white acts. Soul Train was so enormously popular not only with black kids, but white kids, too, that it is considered perhaps the first “crossover” hit even before the TV industry invented the term “crossover.”
Personally, I LOVED Soul Train. I’m fairly certain that every kid growing up between Chicago and Detroit was well aware of the urban influence of Soul Train and was familiar with the style of Don Cornelius. To this day, as modestly as possible, I will tell anyone who’s willing to listen that the one talent the good Lord has given me that seems to be a little different (and unexpected) from the rest of the world is my gift of urban dance. Sound strange? Yeah, I’ve learned to live with that. It is what it is. And if you ask, no, I won’t dance for you today like some sort of monkey. I’ve learned it becomes very difficult to respect almost anything that comes out of someone’s mouth once you’ve seen them dance. So, for the sake of a higher calling, for the most part, I’ve retired the dance shoes. Nonetheless, for illustrative purposes, I will share the anecdote that once, at a wedding reception, I came off the dance floor hearing an elderly man up in arms, telling his table he’d just seen the ghost of Fred Astaire. Enough said 🙂
All of this has been my way of telling you that Don Cornelius’ death caught my attention, as urban dance has played some weird role in my life and I recall vague memories of mimicking dance moves of the Soul Train line to Earth, Wind, and Fire in the 80s. As someone who has spent much of his life in careful and systematic rumination, dancing was an opportunity to allow myself not to think, even for just a couple of songs.
But, like Cornelius’ life, all songs come to an end, sometimes very unfortunately. I have no idea what Don Cornelius’ personal beliefs were, so I have no true assurance of his soul’s eternal whereabouts. However, all reports to this point have been that his death was the result of suicide. While suicide is not the unforgivable sin and should not be painted as such, at the very least, if someone has any faith at the time of such a death, we can say that such a faith was likely very, very weak.
Don Cornelius’ life was constantly surrounded by dancing. Dancing is usually considered a product of joy and merriment. But it still wasn’t enough to bring him out of whatever sadness plagued him, at least not forever. If that dancing is done in a sinful world, any joy experienced is only a hint of what real joy is, and therefore not enough to satisfy us in the long run.
Consider all of this in the light of the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. It’s been about 25 years since Joni published her first book (which has sold over 3 million copies), chronicling her life story – how a tragic diving accident led to a life of permanent paralysis, through which she’s touched many lives, starting her own Christian ministry. She still inspires millions through this ministry from her wheelchair.
In her biography, Joni recounts how she was so bitter and embarrassed about her accident. Joni was Episcopalian, and a big part of regular Episcopalian public worship is kneeling for prayer. Every week when the priest would call for the congregation to kneel, she’d burst into tears. However, Joni writes that one Easter morning, again about to cry:
“I suddenly realized that when I get to the wedding feast of the Lamb, the first thing I’ll be able to do on my resurrected legs is to drop down on grateful, glorified knees and kneel quietly before the feet of Jesus. And then I’m going to get on my feet and I’m going to dance……Can you imagine the hope the Resurrection gives someone with a spinal cord injury like me?”
There is no other religion that even begins to offer a hope like that. The gospel of Jesus is the only place where you will hear about a resurrected and glorified body. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:20-21
When Jesus comes, all that is wrong will be made right. Not just our bodies. Everything. If you feel empty, you will be satisfied. If you feel lonely, you will be welcomed and loved. If you are broken (and we all are), you will be fixed.
Through faith in Jesus our Savior, the wedding reception is coming. Grab your dancing shoes. Such hope trumps any sadness the world can throw at you.
“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
5 He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Revelation 22:2-5)