Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie and Theology

I was surprised this morning to hear that David Bowie has died.  I had no idea that he was sick--why would I?  He just released an album, which sounds like it's fabulous.  This podcast made me want to go out and buy the CD right now, except that no stores are open.

I can't seem to think about anything else, so let me think about David Bowie and theology.  Can I make any connections?

Let's think about David Bowie as performer.  I've always been intrigued by David Bowie's ability to reinvent himself--and often to become exactly what the culture needed, but didn't know they needed.

The part of my Christian faith that appeals to me most these days is the part that tells me that I, too, can reinvent myself too--it's never too late to explore different possibilities for my life and my art.  I love the fact that David Bowie spent the last years of his life creating a jazz album that's not only a solid effort, but may well come to be considered a brilliant contribution to the field.

I also admire David Bowie for seeming to stay above societal pressure in his art.  The easy thing would be to do what one has always done, what the fans clamor for, what society expects one to be.  David Bowie rarely bowed to those pressures.

But how do his lyrics work as theology?

I am most familiar with the Bowie of the Let's Dance era of the early 80's, so I can't do as much with the 70's Bowie, although it wouldn't take much to see some of his personas as Christ-like, what with their other-worldliness, their androgyny, an almost gnostic idea of a creature from a distant star who comes to us with knowledge that few of us can access.  The Diamond Dogs Bowie could also be seen as Godlike, in that we are there in the ruins, as God is here in the ruins with us.

In terms of lyrics which most fit my theology, I'd choose "Under Pressure," the song co-written with Queen.  The beginning of the song talks about "The terror of knowing what this world is about"  and then goes on to explore what we should do about this terror.  The song ends with these lyrics, which seem like sound theology to me, especially if we come out of religious traditions which see God as the ultimate expression of Love:

"Love dares you to care for the people under pressure." 

"Love dares you to change our way of caring for ourselves."

I always feel a twinge of sadness when I hear of someone's passing--but when it's someone as talented as David Bowie, the world seems washed in tears.

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