Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Westlife and Jesus on love

So here's the post you'd never have expected: Peter Dray on Westlife.

OK, so I'm not exactly a fan, but Irish boyband Westlife have just made it into the Guinness World Book of Records for the most singles to debut straight in at #1. Their latest song, The Rose, is their fourteenth, and their latest album, The Love Album, is set to hit #1 next week. Now the cynic in me tells me that Westlife's songs probably won't stretch very far in our memories [so memorable are their songs that when I recently challenged an advocate of Westlife to name more than five songs, she'd couldn't!] - so why on earth is their music so popular?

I guess it's for a combination of reasons. Partly it's because they are well-groomed and good looking young men. Partly it's because their music is slushy and inoffensive. Partly it's the key change and change to a slightly slower tempo that we always know is going to come for the final repeat of the chorus. And partly it's because we long for what they sing about.

Take their most recent offering, The Rose:

Some say love it is a river / That drowns the tender reed /Some say love it is a razor / That leaves your soul to bleed

Some say love it is a hunger /An endless, aching need / I say love it is a flower / And you, its only seed

It's the heart afraid of breaking / That never learns to dance / It's the dream afraid of waking / That never takes the chance

It's the one who won't be taken / Who cannot seem to give / And the soul afraid of dying / That never learns to live

When the night has been too lonely / And the road has been too long / And you think that love is only / For the lucky and the strong

Just remember in the winter / Far beneath the bitter snow / Lies the seed that with the sun's love / In the spring, becomes the rose

Interesting stuff and, in fact, very typical of Westlife lyrics. Love is presented as something dangerous - it can drown the tender reed and make your soul to bleed. And yet, at the same time, it's something that is perceived as something that we need to be truly human. And so, say Westlife, take the chance and realise that love isn't just for the lucky and the strong. Even when you have been hurt by love, even when made bitter, don't be frightened as deep down 'lies the seed that with the sun's love in spring becomes the rose.'

It's true. We love and we are hurt as we do so. We crave relationships and yet they damage us. Being in a relationship is someone is at the very heart of what makes us human, and whilst they bring us more joy than anything else, they can also bring us more pain. They can leave our souls bleeding. Westlife's answer is to pluck up your courage again and take the plunge, hoping that next time it might be better [perhaps this is something ex-Westlife member Bryan McFadden also needs to hear following his public spat with former wife Kerry Catona].

Yet, on reading John 4, we see that Jesus' answer is much more radical. As he speaks to a woman who has at least five previous partners, he shows the woman that her relationships keep failing because she has ruled God out. Her problem is not with men, but with God. She had tried to do love her way, and in so doing had ruled God out. And because her relationship with God was wrong - she wanted to have the universe revolve around her - her relationships with others kept falling apart. If we get the Creator wrong, then we get our creatureliness wrong too. And, because all of us have ruled God out, it means that all of our relationships are imperfect.

What's Jesus' answer to the woman? It's this: worshipping the one true God, something that will bring her the satisfaction we're looking for, because he is the good giver and the one that won't fail us. As 1 John 4:7-10 shows, and as I wrote in a previous post on James' Morrison's lyrics, this is the love that drives out all fear. This is what we were created for - relationship with God, through Jesus' death on the cross for us. As John 17:3 puts it, 'Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.'

Human relationships will always fail us somehow, even those relationships where we are trying to live out God's blueprint for sex and relationships. And the answer is not to plunge yourself into another relationship hoping that the next man will be Mr Right. He won't be, because none of us are Mr Righteous. Yet, 'Christ died for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God' [1 Peter 3:18].


At 10:41 PM, Blogger Dave K said...

Hi Pete,

Enjoying your posts, and I appreciate how outward looking they are.

On John 4 though, I think you may have been a bit harsh on the Samaritan woman. Although she is a little defensive with Jesus it is a big assumption to assume she had 'ruled out God'.

I also think that you assume that the woman exercised far more agency than is likely. It as likely that she was abused and rejected by a string of men, than someone who couldn't maintain a relationship through selfishness. Men held all the power over divorce, and it is hard to criticise her for seeking new husbands (or live-in partner in the end) when as a woman she relied on men for her material security.

By no means is she an innocent (no human is); she is defensive as already noted, and no doubt had some role in the broken relationships. However, the focus of the passage is more 'good news to the poor' and 'good news to the world' than condemnation for wrong choices. Within John she is surely to be noted for her faith, rather than her lack of it.

I'm no social historian, but that's my take anyway. The rest is spot on.

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Dave K said...

PS congratulations on being initiated into the coveted Dave Bish 2 stars list.

Although shouldn't it be Pete Dray and Gareth Leaney?

At 10:09 AM, Blogger peterdray said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for that. I'd recently read a commentary that also said that the traditional understanding of this passage might be harsh on the woman. I guess it certainly gives us a new perspective on why she went to the well alone.

I also think that had she been around today, then, Westlife's lyrics would have resounded with her. 'Some say love it is a razor / That leaves your soul to bleed.' It's with Jesus that her soul finds its rest and its satisfaction.

Thanks for your comments, will drop you an email soon my friend.


At 2:33 PM, Blogger peterdray said...

And yes it should be changed. I'll be on to Bish in due course!

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Dave K said...

i didn't get my thoughts from anything so high falutin as a commentary I'm afraid. I got it years ago from a book called 'the spiritual adventures of Cypercindy', I weird book for sure. Anti-Postmodernist, with a small dash of feminism, it's a book following the spiritual quest of a teenage girl through cyberspace written by a real-life student of biblical studies. I read it a few years ago.



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