Cee Lo Green got himself in some pop-culture hot water on New Years Eve when he changed the lyrics to John Lennon's "Imagine." You would think he was changing the Bible or something, but no, it was much worse. He changed the lyrics to a John Lennon song. "No religions" became "all religions" and all hell broke loose.
The Wall Street Journal carried the story as well. Their website ran this story in "Speakeasy." You can read the comments there for the debate.
Suffice it to say that people were put out. They defended Lennon's unchangeable artistic canon. Green's supporters suggested that all art can be reinterpreted...even John Lennon's. Personally, I didn't find it offensive at all. Instead, I thought it was a thoughtful (if momentary) update to the iconic pop song. Given the religious strife in the world, expressing a love for humanity through all the world's religion was generous and very appropriate for a New Year celebration.
Alas, no. We're beset by fundamentalisms of all kinds (Lennonists?) and on all sides in this nation of ours. We're sufficiently afraid of religiosity that we've turned anti-religiosity into a religion and musicians become gods and their three minute songs become scripture...unchangeable holy writ.
We're afraid and that fear strips us of our compassion.
I have seen something similar in the Tim Tebow phenomena. His "Tebowing" (genuflecting on the football field) is offensive or laughable to many people. I laughed at the SNL skit where Jesus appears in the Broncos locker room. The situation could indeed use a heavy dose of humor, too. People have become more critical and cruel than is helpful.
Tebow does, however, have supporters. ESPN journalist, Roy S. Johnson writes,
"Christianity teaches us to believe and have faith in God, and to trust that He will not only provide for our needs but also bless us in ways our minds cannot fathom.
And He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Tebow has essentially embodied these tenets, steadfastly, even in the midst of public scorn and mockery.
Personally, I don't know enough about Tebow's Christianity to fairly critique it here. I know that some put him in the prosperity Gospel camp. And some sports journalists connect Tebow's faith with his success. Alan Rudnick has written about this:
"...the media has injected so much speculation and unnecessarily inflation of God’s involvement in Tebow’s success. Tebow’s passing statistics for the Steeler’s game was 316 yards. Quickly, the media associated 316 passing yards with John 3:16, one of Tebow’s favorite Bible verses.
It is our culture that has placed God’s favor upon Tebow. Tebow never said, 'I win because I believe in God.' However, those words have been put into the quarterback’s mouth.
Tebow is more than ideology and somehow we have forgotten this. He has established a foundation. Under their "Core Values" is this:
Throughout his collegiate career, Tim was known for the Bible verses he wore on his eye blacks during football games. One of his favorite verses is found in the New Testament in Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. In Philippians 4:8-9, the Apostle Paul writes, "whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things... and the God of peace will be with you."
He's young and famous and it might be easy for him to get caught up in himself. Fortunately he has a community that will help him stay grounded. Would that we were all so fortunate.
How we speak and write about religion in our country needs a serious once over. Tebow is by no means the first famous football player to express his faith on the field. It happens all the time, I wonder if we've forgotten how to speak publicly about religion with any kindness.
If you look to Troy Palomalu and how his faith (he's a fairly recent convert to Orthodox Christianity) is reported, you might find a helpful start. The Pittsburg Post-Gazette has this great article on Troy's faith. They published:
"[Troy] and Theodora converted to Orthodoxy about five years ago. His background was Catholic and Protestant, hers Muslim and Protestant. They were Christians in search of a deeper, more consistent experience of God.
"Orthodoxy is like an abyss of beauty that's just endless," he said. "I have read the Bible many times. But after fasting, and being baptized Orthodox, it's like reading a whole new Bible. You see the depth behind the words so much more clearly."
"An abyss of beauty..." this phrase will stay with me for a long while. Maybe that's what we should be looking for in all of this debate about public religiosity.
Our fear or disdain is making fundamentalists of us all. The public debate about religion in its various expressions is uncovering competing fundamentalisms in this country.
Lennon, during the Cold War, asked us to see the world as something beautiful, to imagine it so. Green, in his interpretation of Lennon's classic, asks us who are embroiled in global conflict shrouded in religiosity, to see religions as something potentially beautiful.
What if we were to see our variety of faith traditions and expressions as potentially beautiful? Imagine that for a moment.
Then we might know what it is we're really afraid of and speak to that with compassion and fairness.
Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.org.