Friday, August 20, 2010

#186-Jonny Lang

Let me preface this post by saying the only reason I am writing this is because I was a Jonny Lang fan years ago, and the moment a musician I like gets popular I disavow my loyalty and quickly scour obscure websites trying to find other obscure bands/artists that no one has ever heard of just so I can continue thinking in my head that "I am above the masses." It's elitism in it's purest and most unadulterated form.

So when one of my favorite blues' artists suddenly is being swallowed up whole as the chosen son of my denomination, I am left to do nothing else but to have a midlife crisis and claim like a sheepish brat to anyone who brings up Jonny Lang in conversation how, "I liked his early stuff such as Lie to Me and Wander this World" and how I find "his newer stuff too poppy and too far removed from his true bluesy roots."

But for those of you who are keeping track at home, Jonny Lang is a wonderful, world renowned  blues artist who in the past couple years converted to being an Apostolic in one of our churches in California.

And too not put it too lightly, or too heavily, let me give you a sense of his celebrity: In the secular world he isn't close to a household name. But that hasn't deterred his fame nor the aura that surrounds his reputation. Because Jonny Lang is like your Stevie Ray Vaughn's (pre-death), Steve Vai's, and Leonard Cohen's of this world who by no means are going platinum the first week their albums go out, but are held in the highest esteem by those who value talented musicianship and creativity. In other words, don't judge Lang by the amount of albums he sells (although he sells many), but by his grammy and the fact that Eric Clapton can't get enough of him.

That said, there have been many urban legends in our movement about celebrities getting saved such as Elvis Presley walking into a UPC camp meeting and speaking in tongues and John Lennon calling up a local pentecostal minister to pray for him months before his assassination and then proceeding to speak in tongues. But all of these stories come third hand, and while they may have been true (the Elvis one seems to have several more witnesses to the occurrence than the Lennon one and thus seems more plausible in my mind), but Jonny Lang is an urban legend walking in the flesh. Anyone, should they endeavor to do so can walk up him at a concert and say "I'm an apostolic pentecostal" and from what I can tell this is a code word that anyone who has used such a code-word, Jonny has been very accommodating to.

But Jonny Lang is the latest example of the apostolic infatuation with celebrity that has any connection with our movement. Kings of Leon and Katy Perry are claimed as ours even though they left a long time ago. Kings of Leon, in spite of their nihilism, and raunchy lyrics is listened to freely by youth pastors across the country without complaint simply because we met someone who either was related to or knew them personally.  And Jonny even more so, even though up until the past year, all of Lang's recordings were done without reference to God in his songs. (Note that Lang's lyrics don't come close to approaching the profane as Kings of Leon does). In other words, there is this weird relationship we have with celebrity wherein anything that is produced by those who have ever walked into our churches and are also famous is immediately declared "kosher" for our entertainment pleasure by the Unseen Judges of Pentecostal Cultures.

 Note: Borat is in judgmental purgatory for the time being where no one wants to acknowledge him, but they would like to point out to anyone who would listen that they know "so and so" who appeared in the Camp Meeting scene in the movie. The prediction is that the Borat Apostolic camp meeting scene will be approved thirty years from now wherein every young person is too detached from the emotional impact of the event to actually care what the movie is/is not saying about Apostolics (think how Christians love Mark Twain these days without thinking twice about how much he hated Christianity, wherein if we were living in Twain's day we would probably want to set his books on fire).

From all accounts, Jonny Lang is on fire for God and will talk to anyone about Him. Lang, is a jewel and a gift to the world from God, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible.

But what makes me a tad ornery is our reaction to his conversion. To fill in the unknowing, Lang's music was immediately embraced by all apostolics who are in touch with any sort of cultural relevancy. Youth presidents,  youth pastors, and anyone else of the Apostolic Elite were soon found to be claiming him as a personal friend that they had met either backstage at one of his concerts or through a friend of a friend. Lang was the ultimate prized testimony for Apostolics, and those who could claim they had touched his tassels would freely brag about the experience. (Please note that I am not saying Lang is anyway responsible for this reaction.).

So what does this matter? Well we preach against the pop-music on the radio. And we warn kids about dancing too closely with the world that they unknowingly adopt their habits. We tell them Hollywood is not something that should be desired, and that rich celebrities are really unsatisfied in their glamorous lifestyle and if we could somehow x-ray the soul of the common celebrity we would find it completely empty.

Right right. Holiness explained through separation of the world and not embracing their idols.

But our quick habit of "ApoPentecostalizing" anything that has either touched or is touching the ApoPento culture and also has touched/is touching the world of secular fame, I propose we show our true colors. And those true colors are our intense hunger to idolize anything within our movement that has or is being idolized in the world. 

It's kind of like the extremely popular and good-looking boy or girl in high school. Assuming you were a loser  in school like me or average at best, we would tell ourselves and our friends that the popular boy or girl were really stuck up and disgusting inside even though we had never exchanged more than a few sentences with them.

But the moment we find that stuck up student engaging us in conversation and wanting us to come hang out with them, all of a sudden we find ourselves developing a crush and wanting to marry them (if they are the opposite gender), or at least wanting to get matching friendship necklaces with them as to cement the fact that we both will be BFF's forever.


  1. This kind of stuff always cracks me up. Sort of like when my dad used to point out famous arabs to me in an attempt to stave off a perceived over-americanization.

    I've often heard people pray for the kings of leon to stop on stage and suddenly begin to speak in tongues, then repent in front of their audience. The belief being that immediately afterward all of their audience and fans around the world will follow suit. Right....

    Call me a skeptic, though i'd like to think pragmatist/realist is more appropriate, but that kind of thing is ridiculous. Remember that when madonna converted to kabbalah the world let out a collective "who cares." Yeah, millions went out and converted just like her--wait, no, they didn't. They were marginally interested, then the next news cycle started and they moved on. The same will apply to famous/former apostolics. However much we'd like to believe otherwise, they're in the entertainment industry and the public that consumes their products has become desensitized to these sorts of actions, particularly religious.

    Perhaps we ought to quit asking things of them/praying fantastic miracles out of them and just start praying for them as we would anyone else. Let's just let God do what He wants in their life (gasp! ridiculous, He doesn't know what's best, we need to tell him what to do!) and see what happens.

    Note: I realize not everyone has this sort of reaction, but it's a fairly decent illustration of many who do.

  2. Excellent insight/observation/discernment, Joel. I have found myself guilty of this very thing. When it comes down to it, they are not God. We need to rejoice when they are saved, encouraging them, loving them, and treating them as Jesus would want us to treat anybody, but when we idolize them - putting them between us & God - we have sinned. The Bible says that He is a jealous God - there is none beside Him. The Bible says to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart , soul, & mind and Him only shalt thou serve (big time paraphrase).
    Your post will undoubtedly offend some Christians, but not because you were nasty or rude, but because you wrote the Truth. Keep it up. Being challenged in our spirit should draw us closer to Jesus, not farther away. God Bless You mate.

  3. Joel Riley admitted to being a Hipster:

    "Let me preface this post by saying the only reason I am writing this is because I was a Jonny Lang fan years ago, and the moment a musician I like gets popular I disavow my loyalty and quickly scour obscure websites trying to find other obscure bands/artists that no one has ever heard of just so I can continue thinking in my head that "I am above the masses."