The Prince of This World

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A week ago the world lost one of the greatest musicians of the modern era.

We live in a bit of a fame junkie culture, so a lot of hyperbole tends to get thrown around when celebrities pass away. But there were so many legendary rumors regarding the man born Prince Rogers Nelson, that, if true, “greatest” musician, or at least greatest musical entertainer of the era doesn’t seem too big.

For instance, rumor has it that when Eric Clapton (a guitar legend in his own right) was once asked what it’s like to be the best guitarist alive, he responded, “I don’t know. Ask Prince.” Rumor has it that Prince played the parts of ALL 27 INSTRUMENTS on his first released album and legitimately knew how to play over 50 quite well. Rumor has it that when he performed at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2007, the production designer for the show, Bruce Rodgers, asked Prince if it would still work to do the show in the downpouring Miami rain. Prince looked him in the eye and replied, “Can you make it rain harder?” This, by the way, in my opinion, was simply the best Super Bowl performance in history.

Total enigma.

Prince was like the seahorse of the music industry – an odd, funny, colorful little creature, unique and beautifully uncategorizable, but nonetheless an essential part to any definition of the environment he lived in. He left a huge imprint and will be missed.

Yes, Prince was an incredible artist, an unthinkably brilliant musician, and an enigmatic performer. You know you’re insanely good when other music legends all seemingly are beside themselves marveling at your talent. For example:

But in case you forgot, Prince was also SUPER dirty. Like…the guy responsible for forcing the music industry’s hand on adding PARENTAL ADVISORY warnings on record covers…that level of dirty.

So, there’s a segment of the world, including the Christian world, who has been blasting Prince nonstop through their speakers for the past week (except on streaming services, cause Prince declared the internet “dead” in 2010). This segment of the population is still in over mourning the loss of a genius…somewhat understandably.

There’s another segment, primarily in the conservative world, who cannot believe that we’d spend so much time and energy celebrating a man who unabashedly objectified human sexuality and shaped a generation to think of it as merely an animalistic appetite. And yet we’ll cause the world to stand still for him all while hard-working men and women in the military, law enforcement, as well as husbands and wives and fathers and mothers (i.e. truer heroes in the opinion of many) die everyday with no fanfare. This segment still seems a little perturbed…somewhat understandably.

So here’s where I’m at.

Prince appears to have made a significant societal impact. This shouldn’t really be much of a surprise, considering his rare skill set. Music has the capacity to touch emotion more than perhaps any other medium. That so many can hear “When Doves Cry” and be instantaneously transported to re-experiencing the sensation of the year 1984 is powerful and mystifying. In a world where we get desensitized by a bombardment of manipulative marketing, the ability to cause someone to feel anything is rather valuable. Prince’s music unquestionably caused hundreds of millions of people to feel something.

But the thought that’s consumed me in the wake of his death is the idea that impacting millions momentarily here on earth is still less consequential than impacting one person for millions of moments in heaven.

Put differently, I work with over a hundred teachers who are doing gospel ministry on a day-in, day-out basis. I know hundreds of parents who are praying with their children to Jesus every night. I know hundreds of Christians who eagerly bring the grace of Jesus into their workplace every morning. These faithful will never, ever get the fanfare that Prince is getting right now. And I don’t think they’re seeking that. Nonetheless, they’re objectively making a far greater impact, because touching someone’s life with Christ yields eternal dividends, not fleeting sentimental nostalgia. I’m not knocking Prince’s incredible career – I’m just saying whatever glory our world gives him, it doesn’t compare.

Don’t take my word for it though. Deep down inside, Prince himself understood the futility of this world. It’s no secret that the music icon joined the Jehovah’s Witness faith in 2001. He was apparently an active member of the Kingdom Hall near Chanhassen, MN. Members say he wanted to maintain a low profile, be treated like everyone else, and would go door-to-door to have faith conversations.

What could cause someone who’s moved millions with his secular music to do door-to-door evangelism? ANSWER: The conclusion that this life is clearly not the one we were built for.

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The point is simply this: you can sell 100 million albums on earth, but all that virtuoso musical genius is not worth one note of an angel singing Christ’s praises in an eternal paradise. So while the best of the best among human talents captures our attention right now, the humility of a Christian showing and sharing the grace of Jesus is what will make a difference in the end. Your relationships as a Christian are important. Your parenting as a Christian is important. Your sometimes seemingly mundane work, done as a Christian, is important. Getting the world to praise your act means squat in the end. Showing and sharing Christ means everything.

I bet Prince would have said something similar at the end of his life. And if he could, I guarantee he would say it now.

When (the Spirit) comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)

(NOTE: I hope no one draws the conclusion that I’m insinuating the Jehovah’s Witness faith is the same as the Christian faith. The reference to Prince’s late life religious activity merely demonstrates that a man who possessed everything “desirable” in the eyes of this world clearly still longed for something more.)

In the End, No One’s Getting Away With Anything

First – yes, I’m still alive.

Second – yes, I’m still blogging. Why? At this point, I’m convinced that online writing might still be the best modern medium for social commentary. Live stream commentary meinsweater(e.g. Twitter) is gratifyingly instant but lacks actual depth and eloquence. Printed media is substantial but lacks the ability to capture teachable moments. And video content is getting there, but…I totally have a face for blogging.

Third – I think I need to write. Rumination is one of the hallmark characteristics of OCD, which I’ve battled the vast majority of my life. Writing offers me a way to unload social analysis that is stockpiling in my brain like dirty laundry in a bachelor’s hamper. It’s cathartic.

Last – I’ve relocated. I’m now in the heart of Milwaukee at St. Marcus Lutheran. The past two months have been a life-rearranging, massively humbling occasion as I’m learning the ins and outs of a new (to me), large urban ministry. Fortunately, God’s people in Rochester were very gracious in saying goodbye and God’s people in MKE have been very gracious in receiving me and Adrian into their family.

Moving on…

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The momentum of the story has apparently shifted.

Whole Foods has now filed a countersuit against Jordan Brown, an Austin, TX man who claims a local store wrote a homophobic slur in icing on a custom cake he’d ordered. (BTW, I honestly have no idea why bakeries continue to be the frontline battlegrounds of America’s sexual identity debate, but I intend to get to the bottom of it.)

Adding another religious wrinkle to the controversy, Brown also happens to be an openly gay pastor at Austin’s Church of Open Doors.

Whole Foods today released security video footage of Brown purchasing the cake, the UPC label located on the top of the box, and not on the side of the box, contradicting the video Brown had personally posted of the box. This would seem to indicate some tampering.

Whatever the outcome, my initial takeaway from this is yet another reaffirmation that everything we’re doing nowadays is recorded. Fewer and fewer people are getting away with anything because everything is monitored online, listened to over the phone, tracked through our credit card records, caught on surveillance footage, or literally being livestreamed.

As a Christian, I would think this is a positive, for multiple reasons:

  1. Christians already admit they’re not perfect. We’re certainly not proud of our mistakes, but still publicly own them by way of confession & absolution. Consequently, reminders of mistakes shouldn’t crush us.
  2. Christians are not shy about accountability. With a clear understanding of the fallenness of the human condition, we recognize the behavioral curbing benefit of heightened awareness.
  3. Christians realize God sees everything anyways. Even more than someone else seeing our warts, what’s most embarrassing is the fact that a holy God knows our imperfection. He’s the only one with a right to judge us and the capacity for lasting judgment. And we can’t hide anything from him.

So, if we Christians find our righteousness not in our moral performance, but in the perfection won in Jesus, transparency would logically be less of an issue for us than for the rest of the world.

Even beyond our personal opinion of this transparency, however, with the rise of surveillance, a socially relative world is gaining a collective paranoia for a Big Brother watching. Or maybe, rather, proper perception of a Heavenly Father.

We inherently have a sense that we will eventually be held accountable for everything we do in life. Built into the human psyche is a semblance of justice, and an anticipation for a final judgment. Deep down we know that “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13)

The Christian doctrine of a Judgment Day, thus, is incredibly practical. Why? Because it means that in the end no one is ever going to get away with anything. Either, someone recognizes the error of their ways and repents (i.e. turns away from their transgressions and embraces the payment of sin offered by Christ Jesus) OR that person, in the end, will have to answer to God for their wickedness. Both of those are incredibly humbling, but one is voluntary and the other is forced. One is temporary and healthy. The other is permanent and deathly.

This is a tremendous resource for a Christian here on earth. I don’t have to get the last word in every argument. I don’t have to make sure my ex pays for his/her indiscretions. I don’t have to make sure the company that cheated me out of some hard-earned money gets their just deserts. I don’t have to make sure the individual responsible for taking the life of my loved one gets their comeuppance.

I’m not saying that justice here on earth isn’t nice, nor that it shouldn’t be pursued. But everyone who has ever been in a verbal conflict knows the pain and embarassment of letting your words go too far. In pursuit of putting someone in their place, we spout off something unconscionable and unjustifiable. In an attempt to right the wrong, we ourselves wronged. Humans struggle to enforce justice without becoming unjust themselves. It’s hard to stop evil without becoming evil. This is the reason why the Apostle Paul says, Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:17-19)

So, everything is getting recorded. Every single person who ever lives will either have to confess their sins, humble themselves, and fall before Jesus as their Savior in this lifetime OR they will be humbled as they fall before Jesus as their Judge on the Last Day. Judgment Day means no one gets away with anything. And it also means you and I are free from the responsibility of playing divine judge, jury, and executioner – roles we aren’t built for.

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