Friday, September 14, 2012

Jesus and Jimi Hendrix

Christ-people are rock n' roll. It isn’t the clothes or hairstyles or any cultural categories that make us rock n’ roll. If it were then we would just be poseurs, and poseurs are not rock n’ roll. It’s really not even the music—there are hymns and country songs and jazz and classical pieces that are more rock n’ roll than some "rock" songs. 

It’s the attitude behind these things that makes them, and us, rock n’ roll. More than anything it’s the Rock God in whose image we’re made that makes us rock n’ roll. There’s an in-your-face rebellion, a raucous hands-in-the air approach to life that just can’t abide blindly marching toward a cliff of worldly status quo. There’s a yell. It may be loud or quiet, confrontational or reserved, angry or joyful, but it crackles with the same electricity that had Jesus turning over tables and Jimi Hendrix burning and smashing his guitar.

Stay with me. I know Jesus and Jimi did not exactly have the same agenda. But we might be surprised. It is Jimi’s story (and can be seen on the original lyric sheet) that “Purple Haze” was originally titled “Purple Haze-Jesus Saves,” and was inspired by a nightmare out of which Jimi claims he was saved by his faith in Jesus. And Jesus and Jimi were about love, though their ideas of that concept had some marked differences. But where Jesus and Jimi really line up is in upsetting the establishment.

In the act of setting his guitar on fire and smashing it to bits at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival--his first major American appearance--Jimi Hendrix was taking the primary instrument of rock n’ roll and utterly dismantling it, thereby challenging all it stood for. “You think rock n’ roll is this guitar, this music?” he was saying. “No! This is rock n’ roll!” Smash! (Fitting that he did this while playing “Wild Thing.”) He even introduced the performance by saying, "I'm gonna sacrifice something I love."

So Jesus strolls into the Jewish Temple, the faintly-beating, adulterous heart of Jewish life and identity, and he fulfills ancient prophecy—God returning to his Temple, albeit unrecognized. He sees the corruption and fruitlessness of his people and he turns the place on its head by turning over the tables of the thieves who were selling sacrificial animals at criminally inflated prices. “You think being God’s people is this empty ritual, this hypocrisy?” he was saying. “No! This is what it means to be God’s people!” Smash! He utterly dismantles the primary “instrument” of sacrificial worship. Then he becomes the sacrifice. That’s rock n’ roll.

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