What’s Going On?

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One of my favorite albums of all time is Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic What’s Going On?  44 years after it was released, it still sounds fresh, relevant, and poignant when I listen to it. This album marked a change in direction for Gaye in that he wrote and self-produced the entire album. Another departure from the norm was that this was a concept album – each song segued into the next in order tell one larger story – like chapters in a book.

Critics thought this album would be a disaster because people were expecting more Motown hits from Marvin Gaye, not a concept album that was addressing the social issues of the day (the songs are written from the perspective of a Vietnam veteran returning home from war). But What’s Going On was a smashing success, and is regarded as one of the landmark recordings in pop music history, and one of the greatest albums of the 20th century. It was ranked number six on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Rather than crashing his career, it catapulted Gaye’s career in terms of critical and commercial success. But most importantly for Gaye, he was able to tell the truth as he saw it (through the lyrics of the songs); he was able to be authentic to himself artistically; and regardless of the success element, he could go to sleep at night knowing that he had been true to himself and who God created him to be.

If someone reading this didn’t know that it was a lead article for a church newsletter, they might have been thrown off by the “God” curveball at the end of that last sentence. But actually, God was weaving God’s way in and through Marvin Gaye’s life at the time of the What’s Going On sessions. In spite of his great commercial success prior to What’s Going On, Gaye had fallen into a deep depression, in part due to his concern for the direction of his country (his brother was sending letters to him from Vietnam), but also in part because he felt that professionally, he had become a “puppet” of the famed music producer (also his father-in-law!) Berry Gordy and Motown Records. Gaye was beginning to believe that his own creativity and identity were being suppressed by the Motown “machine.” In the midst of this personal/professional crisis, Gaye “found God” so to speak, but my guess is that Gaye and God found each other. It was Gaye’s budding relationship with God that empowered him to be who God created him to be, not who Motown created him to be.

Throughout our Holy Scriptures, God is constantly reaching out to God’s creation and inviting folks to live into their very own created selves in relationship with God. But time and time again, folks caved in to the pressures around them and ignored God and forgot how to be their own, true authentic selves. That is why I love going over to the Tree House Episcopal Montessori School during the week. Children that age are excellent at being their own authentic selves, and it is so refreshing to experience! They have yet to develop the facades that emerge as we get older and are influenced by outside forces and pressures.

The incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth is the penultimate display of genuine authenticity. Jesus came to show us what it looks like to truly and authentically live into our very own created selves. Jesus embodied self-differentiation, and never let himself succumb to the pressures of the Pharisees, scribes, and Roman powers-and-principalities. Jesus remained true to his Father in heaven, true to himself, and true to his calling as the ONE who was called to draw us to his Father in heaven. This self-differentiation and authenticity terrified the powers-that-be because they had never seen anything like this before. There was nothing that they could do to intimidate or influence Jesus. He was who he was. And Jesus invites us to do and be the same.

Marvin Gaye responded to God’s call for him to be who he truly was called to be – a poet, writer, producer, singer, performer, and truth-teller. The earthly powers-that-be swore that What’s Going On would be a commercial disaster. Little did they know that authenticity sells, especially when it comes from somebody as gifted as Marvin Gaye!

As we draw near to the Holy season of Advent, which marks our preparation for the coming of God in Jesus, let us consider how we can resist the temptation to be anything but what and who God created us to be. God rejoices when we blossom into our very own selves. Such blossoming empowers us to thrive physically, spiritually, and vocationally, while also honoring our God who created us in God’s very on image!

See you Sunday!
Richard+

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