(Christian Week – Friday, May 23, 2014)
PARIS ✦ Dead rock stars aren’t the only idols to worship out there. Houses and cars, retirement portfolios, relationships and sex—or, well, religion—can be equally distracting in a fallen world looking for things as nebulous as truth and meaning.
But come to the Père Lachaise Cemetery and see for yourself the cult of rock-star celebrity. In this gothic and tumbledown resting place of some of the world’s best-known artists—Chopin, Bizet, Proust, Oscar Wilde to name a few—Jim Morrison’s grave is by far the most visited.
Even on this day, a miserable and rainy day, a gaggle of visitors hover with cameras and giddy expressions to see the gravesite of Morrison, frontman of The Doors and dead of a drug overdose in Paris in 1971.
Père Lachaise sprawls more than 100 acres with arching chestnut trees, winding cobblestone roads and tightly-packed tombs, more than 70,000 of them, many of monstrous size and antiquated elegance, leaning and cracked and overgrown. It’s a wonder anyone can find anything here.
You’ll eventually find Morrison’s gravesite railed-off because of various nuisances from fans.
It interests me only because of the song “Jim Morrison’s Grave,” a wildly satirical piece on the finality of death. Written and performed by Steve Taylor, a bad-boy Christian poet-musician who enraged especially the self-righteous for his spirited and sharp-tongued wit, the song is one that I used to play so often, the tape eventually snapped.
Now we’re here at Père Lachaise travelling on our annual return to Canada from our African home, my wife and children and me, wandering through this sobering mood. There’s Chopin’s grave. The children know of Chopin. They smile awkwardly. Do you smile for graveside photos?
It’s a deliberate walk to remind anyone of the futility of worshipping anything, really, besides the Lord God. Because nothing else will last. Young and old, beautiful and plain, celebrity and unknown, we’ll all return to the cold, muddy earth.
We’re just a breath. A mist. Our time is that short.
So why do we, believers, so foolishly major on the minors?
About music, well, that beat is sinfully fast. No, it’s too slow. Whatever it is, don’t dance to it.
Once, years ago, I asked a group of college-aged Sunday School youth, “Is it okay to listen to, say, Amy Grant? What about while playing pool? What if you’re in a bar? Discuss.” One young lady stood in protest. No, God help us, not Amy Grant and her new secular style. She’s outside the camp now.
On the other side, the side of unexpected openness, in Sana’a, Yemen, Yemeni newsroom colleagues of mine—that is Muslims without easy access to a Bible—once asked if I could help explain to them the meaning of a rock song they had found on the internet: “Coloured People,” by DC Talk. I did.
More questions followed. “So what do Christians believe about women’s rights? What about divorce? Suicide?” Their list went on. As if Christians should somehow sing from the same book on any of this.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our stance on abortion. No, by our views on euthanasia. No, they’ll know we are Christians by our take on homosexuality. For sure, homosexuality. Now this is the one.
Or maybe they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
And maybe on that day, or night, when you pass-on like a leaf in the wind, so alone, and face your Maker, the only question of relevance will be, ‘Child. Do you know Me?’