Monday, September 10, 2012

The Gospel of True Colors

While driving the car the other day I heard a song on the radio that brought back fond memories: True Colors by Cyndi Lauper. I'm sure to date myself by saying that I listened to this song back in my high school days. I'm not a big fan of Cyndi Lauper in general, but this song and her hit Time After Time resonated with me then and continue to do so to this day whenever I hear them. I wonder if the song True Colors doesn't contain important echoes of the gospel.

You with the sad eyes
Don't be discouraged
Oh I realize
It's hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small.

But I see your true colors shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
Are beautiful like a rainbow.

I can hear Jesus singing this to me, or to anyone else who finds themselves lost in a sea of voices that tells them how worthless and insignificant they are. I can see Jesus speaking into a person's darkness and showing them their true worth. This is a message of redemption and hope. When Jesus draws out our true colors, we shine like rainbows.

True Colors reminds me of another song, this one a contemporary hit: Firework by Katy Perry. Caris Adel drew an intriguing parallel between this song and the beautitudes which drew my attention to it. Listening to it carefully with Adel's analogy in mind, I recognized that Firework speaks a similar message. Perry invites her listeners to let the light within them shine out and illuminate the darkness. We need not live our lives in shame, regret, humiliation and fear. The world tells us every day how worthless we are, but the message of the gospel speaks a different story.

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag,
drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?
 Do you ever feel, feel so paper thin,
Like a house of cards, one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep,
Six feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing?
Do you know that there's still a chance for you,
'Cause there's a spark in you?

You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July.

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth

Even as I draw connections between these two songs and the gospel message and I can hear objections being raised. I can hear them because they come from within myself. I grew up primarily in a Presbyterian environment and therefore have a strong Calvinist background to my theology. That Calvinist background emphasizes the total depravity of humans. In the interest of affirming the majesty and sovereignty of God, Calvinism denigrates the worth of human beings. The extent to which it does so varies on the shade of Calvinism, but the underlying message that comes out often in many churches speaks of the inherent worthlessness of humans. God doesn't need us. We can do nothing apart from him. We should be thankful that God doesn't squash us like an annoying pest that one finds crawling across the living room carpet. 

I acknowledge that Calvinism contains an element of truth. But too often because of its emphasis people who are already broken, crushed and reminded regularly by the world of their worthlessness hear a similar message from within the community of Christian faith. In the interest of helping people recognize their sinfulness we actually end up breaking them down even further. Some of us (perhaps all of us) need to be broken down, but that is the work of God, not the message that needs to come first from the lips of God's followers. To a person already feeling worthless, a message that proclaims his or her absolute depravity may not offer a lot of hope.

Thankfully Calvinism is not the whole picture. The Church, especially some branches of it (I think in particular of the Orthodox churches), have historically affirmed the divine element within each of us. We are, after all, created in the image of God (and by all I mean all, not just white men or even men as a whole, or any other particular subset of humanity). Yes, we suffer the effects of turning away from God in rebellion. Yes, we cannot regain that state through our own effort. But that does not, as I now understand it theologically, mean that the divine spark within us has been fully extinguished. We are still God's children and still retain the stamp of our creator in our innermost beings. 

With that perspective, the message I draw out of True Colors and Firework does speak truth. It calls us, if I dare say it, with the voice of Jesus to embrace who we were created to be, to turn in faith and allow Jesus to ignite that divine spark within us so that we radiate with the brilliant rainbow of colors that he stirs within us. For we are valuable and precious in his sight, worth more than any of us can ever begin to imagine. What if we focused first on this message and allowed God then to work in each person's life to illuminate and cleanse those elements that need to be transformed? 

Like any analogy, this one can be overstated. I don't claim that True Colors nor Firework proclaims the fullness of the gospel message. But I do think that they both resonate with an important element of that message. Now when I hear these songs that's the message they speak to me. I do not deny that humans are sinful. That fact is painfully apparent every day. I don't claim that some humans have not reached such a point in their brokenness and fallenness that the divine element within them seems impossible to see, much less to ignite. Simply because we have the divine spark still within us doesn't mean we live or act in accordance with it. Many people, aware of their divine nature or not, choose to live in open and clear rebellion against it, doing things that harm themselves and others. This does not mean that they are without hope. If they were, Jesus would have nothing to offer them, which would mean that some people are beyond the salvation of Jesus. I don't believe that. We are all created in the image of God and retain that stamp of our creator, but we also need the healing, restoring hand of that creator to be renewed in the fullness of that image.

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