Axl, Slash, & Knowing that Stuff Ain't Neutral
I don't remember where, exactly, but once upon a time in Greenville, SC there was an overpass upon which someone took the time to spray-paint "Guns N' Roses." A friend of mine made plans to tag "God N' Moses" beside it. At the time, I thought that was the funniest thing I'd ever heard. I could envision Tees, Mugs, and Posters emblazoned with the "God N' Moses" logo.
I love to play guitar, and I love to play Slash's licks. He's one of my favorites. I've amassed my own piecemeal collection of G N' R tunes since most of their albums have tracks I find disagreeable. "Don't Cry" was how I learned Am; their version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was when I realized that G-C-D was the foundation of ninety percent of Rock. Trying my hand at the opening of "Sweet Child O' Mine" plagues me to this day, even though it is/was a simple warmup exercise for Slash.
To me, my own collection of Guns N' Roses is benign-- it's fun guitar, questionable vocal technique, and the overlooked stability of Izzy Straddlin. I discovered them while attending Christian school, and secretly traded mix tapes since I wasn't allowed to buy their albums. That was about as rebellious as it got for me!
But as I was talking with someone the other day, I was reminded that nothing in this world is neutral. For him, Guns N' Roses reminds him of a past he'd rather forget-- smoky bars, hungover Sundays, and in his own words, a "shameful" relationship with someone he hurt deeply.
Paul addresses this concept in Romans 14:13-18. Without meaning to, we can put stumbling blocks in the paths of our fellow believers-- or those who are on their way to believing.
Within the context of Sunday morning worship, little of what we do will be neutral.
- When I use Powerpoint, I'm locked in to preaching in a certain order.
- When I have a soul patch, very few find it soulful.
- When I refer to a movie for a sermon illustration, folks who hated the film will react differently from those who loved it (or never saw it).
- When our choir uses a track from a song on the radio, our ears begin comparing one arrangement to the other.
- When we sing Bill Gaither, Fanny Crosby, Chris Tomlin, or Matt Redman-- they all mean different things.
What can we do? Nothing! Pardon my English, but stuff ain't neutral. I'm simply saying that we need to acknowledge this and work with it. The next time someone complains about something in your church, find out the deeper meaning. I've found that often, it's not the "thing" it's the association of the "thing." Like the time I used the opening riff of Steve Miller's "The Joker" to lead into "Lord I Lift Your Name on High."
But that's another story.