Thursday, August 23, 2012

Redemption Song

Bob Marley
I love Netflix. I know they’ve made some missteps, raised prices, etc., but I still love them. They have soooo much to choose from, and paired with my husband’s love for staying abreast of the latest releases via the New York Times, I have a wealth of movie viewing experiences that would not have been mine otherwise.

The other night we watched a film called Marley, which is NOT, as I earlier suspected, about a dog. Nor is it an alternate view of Dickens’ Christmas tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge. No... it’s about the OTHER Marley. BOB Marley. And while his image and many of his songs are ubiquitous, I have to admit that I knew very little about the most famous reggae musician who ever lived before watching the film. And I’m sure, to big fans, I’m going to sound just like the super ignoramus that I am. But here goes...

I found the whole story entirely strange, but also beautiful. A gorgeous, but flawed man and a powerful poet and songwriter, Marley crafted lovely, lazily energetic (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) Jamaican dance music – AKA reggae. He defined the sound, look and identity of Jamaica from the time of his fame and forward. There was even a scene in the documentary where he got the two opposing leaders of Jamaica's violent political upheaval to shake hands. He became so identified with his country that he received a state funeral when he died. 

Many of the songs he wrote are about joy and freedom for everyday Jamaicans, and many are deeply spiritual, reflecting a sincere reverence for God, or “Jah,” as the Rastafarians say. Songs like Redemption Song, and One Love, and Forever Loving Jah express a love for God that is clear and true. Now, I know Bob was a Rastafarian for most of his life, and I don't mind telling you that this is a bit strange to me. When I read the description of this religion, I’m going, “This sounds good...” until I get to the part about how they believe that Ethiopians are the lost tribe of Judah, and that former emperor of Ethiopia Haile Salassie is Christ come again. And I think, ”well, that sure is strange...”

Of course I would think it was strange. I mean – first, it’s a completely Afro-centric religion, and I am not African or of African descent. It is chock full of liberation theology, and I, personally, have never lived in deep poverty in a politically-torn country, never felt even slightly marginalized – unless it was as a woman. (Interestingly, the Rastafarians described in the documentary, were focused on freedom, but had pretty strict ideas about the roles of women.) And I certainly care about eradicating the oppression of others and believe that Christians should work for justice throughout the world... but I also feel that the freedom the Christian religion describes is freedom from the tyranny of sin.

Of course, I know that when one stands back and considers the claims of orthodox Christianity objectively: A guy lived, was a brilliant teacher, died. His friends say he rose from the dead. Another guy says his death paid for our sins. Other people wove it into the tapestry of a complex, yet utterly simple theology. And people build their lives on it. Center their hearts on it. Put their complete trust in it. 

You have to jump into the mosh pit
before you know if you'll be held up.
I’m reminded of my niece – the one to whom I gave her first Moonpie, incidentally... Well, when she was little, she never really bought the whole idea of Santa Claus. At times she pretended to believe in him, but really knew she was pretending. And one time she asked my brother, who was then a Methodist minister, something like this: “Daddy, is Jesus like Santa? Is He not really real, we just pretend He is?” Well, my brother rushed to explain that Jesus is REAL and that he would not have devoted his study and professional life to serving Him if He wasn’t. 

And as to how we know the difference between crazy myths and the Object of our Faith, well... for one thing, in the case of Rastafarianism, the Emperor Haile Selassie TOLD the Jamaicans to worship Jesus Christ and not him. But in general, it would be really hard for me to defend or even describe how I know the difference. Except that I was honestly dead in my transgressions and now I am joyfully, achingly alive in Christ. 

I am reading this really bleak Scottish book called The Cone Gatherers. In it, a main character, Neil, is worried about who would care for his disabled brother if he died, and his employer assures him that the brother would always have a job. This doesn't expel the worry completely, but when it pops up again, Neil reviews the promise his employer made, and “...When he had examined that promise anew, he found it fresh and sound.” Now, I know this has nothing to do with what I am talking about but each and every time I examine the promise of Christ anew – and I find myself doing it pretty often, I find it fresh and sound. 

I know this is not a really great defense, but it's all I've got. If you want a solid argument, there are plenty of Christian apologists who have done good work at arguing for the validity of the faith – from the Apostle Paul to modern day writers like C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft and Lee Strobel. 
The program from
Bob Marley's Ethiopian
Orthodox funeral

But even they might not convince you. You see, another thing I have found about the Christian faith, is that you almost have to give into it before you can see it. Jesus says to the Pharisees: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” And He also said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So... it’s like KNOWING the truth of it FOLLOWS jumping into the mosh pit of grace. No one’s going to hold you up unless you jump in.

Anyway, back to Bob Marley.... You know who he reminded me of? Apollos. I am sure you’re saying, “Right! Apollos!” or maybe you’re not. To explain... Here is what the Bible says about Apollos: “Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”

My meaning is this: Bob Marley had knowledge and faith in God, but required further instruction. I also kept thinking about something a pastor at my sister’s church once said, and that was, roughly: “There will be a lot of people with wrong theology in heaven, myself among them.” As smart as the smartest theologian is, as wise as the most spirit-filled person is, our knowledge here on earth is incomplete. Of the day we meet God, Paul said: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears... For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Cor. 13)
If you want a coherent defense
of the Christian faith, read C.S. Lewis...
because you won't find it here.  

Now, as often happens when I see a movie, I got curious. Yeah, that’s right. I googled Bob Marley. I was particularly interested in some of his more spiritually tinged songs. So, I’m listening to Redemption Song on Spotify and looking up "Bob Marley + religious songs," and ... to my surprise and cautious delight, I found from several sources, the assertion that he had actually converted to Christianity before he died in 1981. 

Of course, I am not absolutely certain of the validity of the sources, although most quote Abuna Yesehaq, Archbishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in the Western Hemisphere in Jamaica.  In an article in The Christian Post, a nondenominational, Evangelical Christian newspaper based in Washington, D.C., Yesehaq says he baptised Marley near the end of his life, despite pressure from those around him. He assures the interviewer that it was more than a “deathbed confession,” but in my view... who cares? Even if it was... I have no problem with that. I mean, isn’t the thief on the cross next to Jesus in paradise with Him right now?

So like I said, I have no idea what to make of Bob Marley's alleged conversion. Some of the sources say outright that his Rasta posse, and the Jamaican government had too much stake in his reputation remaining the same – the voice, the conscience of Jamaica. But...obviously it would make the Ethiopian Orthodox Church look good if it were known more widely that Bob had come around. Of course CHRISTIANS wouldn’t make stuff like this up now, would they? You’d hope not, but maybe they would... but I don’t know if they DID!

The most objective site I studied is called, which gives the story of Bob’s baptism into the orthodox church, which requires converts to profess Jesus Christ as Lord rather than Emperor Haile Selassie. “No one really knows what [Bob Marley’s] baptism meant but it has caused some controversy as both Rastafarian and Christians claim Bob Marley as their ‘own’.” And no one DOES know at this point. But... wouldn’t knowing Jesus be a great ending (and beginning!) to his Redemption Song?

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