Thursday, February 12, 2009


There's a great scene in the long-since-defunct dramedy TV series "Sports Night". (Actually, there are a lot of great scenes, but that didn't prevent it from getting cancelled. Sigh.) Dan & Casey, the anchors of the show, are waiting for the show to start, when Dan blurts out:

Dan: Eli's Coming.

Casey: Eli?

Dan: From the Three Dog Night song.

Casey: Yes?

Dan: Eli is something bad, a darkness.

Casey: "Eli's coming. Hide your heart, girl." Eli is a inveterate womanizer. I think you're getting the song wrong.

Dan: I know I'm getting the song wrong. But, when I first heard it, that's what I thought it meant. Things stick with you that way.

OK, I'm the first to admit that the only Three Dog Night songs I knew before seeing this episode were "One (is the Loneliest Number)", "Black & White" and "Joy to the World." (We sang the last a bunch of times in elementary school music class, only without the verse about drinking the bullfrog's mighty fine wine.) Still, I understand what Dan's talking about - how you hear something the first time can lock in meaning & emotion for years to come. (We kind of talked about that in my last Grapevine article...)

Sometimes, it's because we get the lyrics wrong. My father-in-law & I spent untold time & energy convincing my bride-to-be (Shari!) that Ariel was NOT singing "pregnant women, sick of swimming" in THE LITTLE MERMAID - I lost count of how many times we rewound the videotape. For the record, the correct lyrics to "Part of Your World" are:

Betcha on land they understand

Bet they don't reprimand their daughters

Bright young women, sick of swimmin'

Ready to stand

Other times, it's because the the song grabs you by the throat because of a particular thematic idea or image. A good friend from college (who shall remain nameless) could hear the first few chords of Chicago's "Hard Habit To Break" and instantly be plunged back into the morass of his break-up with his first long-time girlfriend - so much so that he chose to avoid the album & the song. (He's happily married now... but I have no idea if the Chicago avoidance plan is still in effect.)

And in my case, it's making an assumption about a song based on the lyrical images intertwining with my personal background & theology. Ladies & gentlemen, I give you the title cut from Paul Simon's groundbreaking album, "Graceland":

The Mississippi delta was shining

Like a national guitar

I am following the river

Down the highway

Through the cradle of the Civil War

I'm going to Graceland


In Memphis Tennessee

I'm going to Graceland

Poorboys and pilgrims with families

And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion is nine years old

He is the child of my first marriage

But I've reason to believe

We both will be received

In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she's gone

As if I didn't know that

As if I didn't know my own bed

As if I'd never noticed

The way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said losing love

Is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you're blown apart

Everybody sees the wind blow

And my traveling companions

Are ghosts and empty sockets

I'm looking at ghosts and empties

But I've reason to believe

We all will be received

In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City

Who calls herself the human trampoline

And sometimes when I'm falling, flying

Or tumbling in turmoil I say

Oh, so this is what she means

She means we're bouncing into Graceland

And I see losing love

Is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you're blown apart

Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland

I'm going to Graceland

For reasons I cannot explain

There's some part of me wants to see


And I may be obliged to defend

Every love, every ending

Or maybe there's no obligations now

Maybe I've a reason to believe

We all will be received

In Graceland

I know now that Paul was writing about the demise of his marriage and a road trip he took with his son to see Graceland. And, while I'm not a big fan of Elvis, I realize that he's talking about the palatial mansion with the music note gates on the south side of Memphis. Still, I hear lines like "I've reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland" and I hear echoes of biblical truth:
But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:8-9, NLT)
And when I think about my the reality of my own life - the struggles with pornography & selfishness & bitterness - the line about "the girl who calls herself the human trampoline" feels like Paul Simon has been watching me with hidden cameras. "Losing love is like a window in your heart... everybody sees you're blown apart" - yep, someone get Garfunkel's buddy out of the spy van and tell him to take the bug out of my telephone.

But all of us are "bouncing into Graceland": those of us who've been human trampolines & those who've jumped on us, the poorboys and pilgrims, the old & young, those who are smarter than a whip or dumber than a post, well-behaved and/or ill-mannered, whoever. Regardless if you've put more miles than years on your life (tip o' the proverbial hat to Indiana Jones) or if you rival the Pharisees for your devotion & self-righteousness, you can be received in the gracious arms of Jesus.
Jesus does not divide the world into moral "good guys" and the immoral "bad guys." He shows us that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation, to using God and others in order to get power and control for themselves. We are just going about it in different ways...

...The gospel (good news) of Jesus is not religion or irreligion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism, conservatism or liberalism. Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles -- it is something else altogether.

The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches: In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.
(Tim Keller, The Prodigal God)
I've said it before, I'll say it again: no matter who you are, where you came from or what you have or have not done, Jesus loves you. Graceland is more than just the mansion of a dead pop star.

Bounce His way...

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