Wednesday, June 29, 2011

He's Got the Whole World

A few months ago, I was surprised to learn that the people Japan have a huge love of Gospel music. Even more surprising, once you think about it, is that most people don't know enough English to understand the words of Gospel songs. Take this half a step further and you'll realize that the Japanese, regardless of religious orientation, love Gospel music.

How weird is that?

I was shocked, quite honestly. Not life-changing shock, but puzzled and slightly amused. You might as well have told me that they liked wearing poodle skirts or some other nod to U.S. history.

A Japanese pastor, now a great friend to Christ Church Nashville and her choir, explained that the music simply makes them feel happy. Feelings transcend language, and joy can be expressed outside the limitations of cultural difference. His church choir is full of non-believers who love to sing. Surprised? It goes against what most American church members believe, but I think it is pretty darn cool.

Our church, therefore, is partnering with our Japanese friends to bring Gospel music to Japan. We have it, they want it, and now just the logistics of money and schedules remain.

I am now in Marseille, in the Provence region of France. If your geography fails you, it is close to Monaco, the Italian border, Spain, North Africa, and of course a smattering of other European countries that are just a train ride away.

I am here with the Luis Palau Ministry group, as they are doing a festival on the beach in Marseille. I'm familiar enough with their organization to know that they are culturally aware, community minded, and full of love for the peoples of the world. As many Christian organizations are cheesey, irrelevant, caustic and downright embarrassing, I am happy to know that this group is the real deal. The leaders are exemplary, normal, kind people who genuinely care about others. Refreshing, n'est-pas?

I was shocked once again to find that the people of France, and Provence in particular, love Gospel music. Not life-changingly shocked, but again surprised and somewhat amused.

Why, you might ask, do I find this amusing?

You could say that I cut my teeth on Gospel music. The good, the bad, and the big-haired. I have a strong appreciation for the genre, as it is part of my culture. It is in my blood, no matter my feelings, and to eschew it would be like saying I hate fried chicken. I don't have to eat fried chicken every day or even every year. But I must hold it in high esteem, because it is a symbol of who I am and where I come from.

When you visit other countries, you are delighted and confused to see what parts of your own culture have hopped the pond. I am indifferent to Starbucks' presence in Marseille, it is neither bad nor exciting. McDonalds, however, makes me cringe. I cannot imagine why anyone would willingly import such a blister of humanity. I drove past Kentucky Fried Chicken last night and similarly winced. Oh, if only they could taste the real thing! Jackie Stanfield should be imported, not KFC!

I've been viewing Gospel music in much the same light. Why would someone import such a cultural niche? They can't possibly understand some of the references. Americans outside of the Bible Belt don't even understand some of the idiomatic expressions that pepper the pot of Gospel music.

The answer is as plain as Japanese.

They don't understand the words. They DO, however, understand the emotion.

Music is a language unto itself. I don't demonize music, though I know it can be a seductive art. I listen to all kinds of music, not with equal appreciation but with equality nonetheless. Just as we all have favorite colors and scents, we have music that speaks to us individually, and culturally.

Gospel music, I am realizing, appeals culturally to more than my hometown. The world, it seems, has developed a taste for a genre that has been quickly losing steam in The United States.

Many people find the idea of 'reaching the world for Christ' an abstract idea that includes mud huts and toothless old women. If you mention going on a missions trip to France, you will recieve raised eyebrows and an elbow nudge. "Ah! Going to preach at the vineyards, are you? Going to suffer for Jesus in an air-conditioned hotel room?"

Well, yes. And yet, not exactly.

When we want to effectively communicate the love of Christ to a third-world country, we take the things that will speak to their heart. They are steeped in poverty and often have been forced into begging, stealing, prostitution, or plain old despair. We give them love through food, clean water, medicine, and shoes for their beautiful children. They don't have to understand why the medicine helps. They don't need to comprehend why a new shirt makes them feel loved in a profound way that is deeper than just an article of clothing.

What, then, could we have to give to those in Marseille? What do we hand out on the streets of Kyoto, Japan?

Gospel music speaks to their hearts. We have it, in abundance! Why shouldn't we send that which we have, and aren't using to great effectiveness in our own country? Just because it isn't speaking largely to the hearts of our own people does not negate the effectiveness in other places! The people who receive the music we bring don't have to understand anything. It moves them, and is therefore profoundly effective.

Christ opens the hearts through many keys, and sometimes we get to help turn the lock. What a privelege! Some locks require relationship and philosophy, others medicine and new sandals. The locks in Marseille and Japan are shaped like Gospel music. Who knows where else has the same lock?

The people of the world are hurting. Some know Jesus, many do not. All of them need the love of Christ and the care of his flock.

Give what you have, be it a clean shirt or an old song.

1 comment:

Pastor Austin said...

Bea- This is a profound statement about the nature of missions in our world today. Taking the Gospel of love in whatever form the people can receive it is what we are called to do. I say sing away!