This week, I saw two concerts in three days: the first was Andrew Peterson and the Captains Courageous and the other was Cyndi Lauper and the B 52s. But first, let me backtrack a bit.
A while back for our 10th anniversary my wife and I decided to spend a weekend in Chicago – the city where we met – and enjoy some of the local culture before attending a retreat put on by Image: A Journal of The Arts & Religion. We scraped together $150 of activity money and our first adventure was to spend an evening at Second City – the comedy club that produced comedians like Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi and others. As we walked in we were greeted by a group of well-dressed men who shook our hands, graciously thanking us for attending the evening and ushering us down the line to the place where we would buy our tickets. We were asked if we had reserved seats and when we said no, the woman assured us there was still room and that we needn’t worry. “Good, in that case, we’ll take two tickets.” Our guide to Chicago nightlife listed Second City tickets at $8 a piece, so imagine our surprise when the woman presented us with our two tickets and said, “That’ll be $100, please.”
It was then we discovered that this was a special event fundraiser hosted by Second City to benefit an AIDs hospice program. We looked at each other and counted the cost of how awkward it would be to walk back down the gauntlet of well dressed men who had just a moment ago so graciously expressed their gratitude to us. Hoping to avoid this embarrassment and realizing it was too late in the evening to do anything else, we blew 2/3 of our week’s worth of fun money, took our tickets, and walked in. And there we were, unwitting attendees of a predominantly homosexual gathering, perhaps the only heterosexual married couple in the room. We were pleased, however, to discover that it was a banquet with a good spread of appetizers and hor d’oeuvres. Whichever side of the line you fall on in regards to the issue of homosexuality, one cannot argue that they do have exquisite taste in food. And shoes. All told, it was a great night and one of our favorite memories.
Fast forward 6 years and Taya and I found ourselves in a similar situation as we walked into the Target Center to attend the True Colors Tour with Cyndi Lauper and the B-52s. I saw the tickets go on sale in March and, knowing my wife’s love for all things 80’s, decided to be a good husband and order two. We made it a date night with dinner beforehand and a stay over at a lovely old fashioned Inn in the river city of Afton. After a good meal of fish and chips at Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis, we made our way to the Target Center for our own little 80’s revival.
As we walked in, we noticed there were a lot of gay couples in attendance that night. We looked at each other and joked, “Well it is an 80’s concert. And it is the B-52s…” As we made our way to our seats we ran into all manner of people decked out in flamboyant costumes, but we still had little idea what we had gotten ourselves into.
The Cliks were the first opener, and I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore when during a lull between songs someone close to us yelled out “Take your pants off!” Thankfully the lead singer didn’t oblige. When the emcee came out after their set, all the pieces started to fall into place: it was Carson Kressley from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. A flamboyantly gay man, Kressley joked about the protesters outside who may or may not have been holding signs that read “God Hates Homosexuality” with the Levitical reference below it. “I like to tell them, ‘God hates shellfish, too, but you don’t see me protesting at Red Lobster!’” Ouch, that was a good zinger, I thought, and even laughed. (This joke reminded me of the book I’m reading right now about what it would look like if we followed every law outlined in the Bible. The author suspects that religious people are guilty of picking and choosing which biblical laws they embrace. But that’s another topic for a later post…)
Kressley then asked, “How many homosexuals do we have in the audience tonight?!” and when the room erupted in hoots and applause, Taya and I realized that we were the sexual minority. I all of a sudden had a curious moment where I feared being outed as a heterosexual Christian man. Would I be considered the enemy? Would they gang up on me if it was discovered that I had once attended a George Bush rally? Thankfully, the emcee, who was genuinely very funny (not to mention very well-dressed), told all the gays to make any straights in the room feel welcome.
I still couldn’t shake my uneasiness, though my unease was less homophobic than it was ideological. I’m sure I had no reason to be nervous, but something about being a Christian heterosexual man at a gathering of homosexuals – some of whom were pretty militant – was an experience I wasn’t prepared for. I was the religious, sexual, and ideological minority. I felt like I didn’t belong and I was afraid of getting busted. I wondered if this was how a homosexual would feel at a rally of religious conservatives. Or a Republican convention. I also wondered if this is how homosexuals feel much of the time in our culture – an outsider excluded from much of the American experience that heterosexuals take for granted.
I also worried that we weren’t dressed stylish enough.
As the evening went on, we slowly discovered that we were attending what was in essence a gay rally to raise awareness of homosexual related issues and encourage people to vote accordingly in the upcoming election year. I guess we would have been more prepared if we had gone to the website beforehand, where it says: “The goal of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) equality is at the heart of [the] True Colors [tour].” I wonder how many other unsuspecting heterosexuals were there that night.
The next act was the Indigo Girls-like duo of Tegan & Sara, who had a good set of catchy 3 minute folk/pop songs, peppered with gay proclamations and crude banter between songs. Following the break, the emcee – after more homosexually charged humor – introduced Rosie O’Donell who gave us a 20 minute set of her observational comedy. She shared genuinely from her heart, but though she tried to humorize painful experiences like the death of her mother when she was young, challenges in her career, and her struggles with depression, most of the jokes came off as vulgar, angry, and sad. She also made some jokes, we felt, at the expense of her little boy. It was the most offensive and heartbreaking part of the evening for both Taya and me.
Following O’Donell, the B-52s were introduced as the greatest party band in the world, and man, they still have it! Even though they are more or less an aging gimmick band, they do what they do well, and I will admit that it was fun to hear “Rock Lobster”, “Roam”, and the ultimate party song – “Love Shack” – live.
Finally – 3 hours into the night – Cyndi Lauper was introduced, and as soon as she took the stage it was clear why she is… well… Cyndi Lauper. While my reasons for being there were to be a good husband, I genuinely enjoyed her set. She’s a consummate professional who has a real authority when she takes the stage. Because of her outrageous 80’s persona it’s easy to forget that she took some genuinely great songs to the top of the charts during her reign including “Time After Time” and “True Colors”. Listen to these songs again – seriously, they’re great!
And she’s very likable. Like the singer/songwriter/storytellers we admire so much here in the Rabbit Room, she would pause in her set and casually tell stories to the arena audience. She connected and made us feel like old friends. She is obviously gifted and it was enjoyable to watch her in her element and be reminded of the theology of “common grace” that refers to those who operate in their God-given giftedness though they may not necessarily believe in God (whether she does or does not, I don’t know). Her set was also thankfully devoid of sexual jokes and references (other than what you might expect to hear from 80’s pop music).
But to be honest, other than the few virtues I mentioned above, the night for the most part was often boring to me. There was little for me to connect with emotionally or musically. It’s not like most of the artists who were represented are writing songs that mine the ultimate questions of meaning and existence. And musically, there were very few moments that strayed too far from predictable pop conventions. At an event like this, you have to keep the hits rolling and there is little time for moments that let the music breathe and become something more than merely the canvas for catchy melodic hooks. Now, I know that girls just want to have fun, but I guess I was still hoping for something a little more.
Maybe a part of what left me feeling cold, too, is that more than music the event felt like it was about sexuality.
I don’t want to be guilty of bigotry, nor do I mean to be dismissive of homosexuals – we have enough friends who are homosexual to know that the issue is much more complicated than most religious conservatives take into account. But the whole evening was so laced with sex-soaked humor and bawdy talk that I kept thinking of Christian author Phillip Yancey who expressed to a gay friend that one of his main issues with homosexuals is the way many of them define themselves almost strictly by their sexuality.
Almost every word from the stage, to my ears, conveyed an often militant homosexual agenda. And it pains me to say it, but many of the attendees we saw around us affirmed unfortunate gay stereotypes. Most of the people in our immediate vicinity seemed clearly troubled, confused, and broken. I suppose the relevant question is: was it their brokenness that led them to homosexuality? Or was their brokenness the result of being a homosexual in a world that often marginalizes – or worse, demonizes – people of varying sexual orientation? Hard to say.
(In all fairness, I know intelligent and decent homosexuals who would have been as bothered as Taya and I were by some of the behavior we witnessed there. I suppose it’s akin to certain religious rallies that we hear about and then try to assure people that, “Not all Christians are like that.” Every group has its unruly adherents that must be apologized for.)
All told, it was interesting to have the experience of being a minority. I’m not assigning a value of “good” or “bad” to our being there, except to say that I think it was useful to gain perspective of what it’s like to be a sexual minority as well as eavesdrop on what homosexuals think of the rest of us – especially religious conservatives. Say what you want about the issue, but I think it’s safe to say that evangelical Christianity as a whole has often failed to address homosexuality in either a loving or compelling manner. The church is more famous for drawing lines in the sand and shouting than engaging in a thoughtful and compassionate conversation.
Speaking of compassion, the word literally means “to suffer with.” Christian author Frederick Buechner defines compassion as the “sometimes fatal capacity to know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.” Our attendance of the True Colors tour gave us a chance to be a sexual minority and to experience what those shoes feel like. I choose to believe that we were there for a reason, and I hope that our experience will help us understand better how to show the love of Christ to a community of people who often feel exiled beyond the reach of Christian grace.
At the very least, we came away with another great memory.
The evening ended with Cyndi Lauper bringing everyone on stage as they all sang “True Colors.” In spite of ourselves, Taya and I were both profoundly moved as they all sang together in true 80’s fashion (think “We Are The World”) this beautiful anthem of love and acceptance. And it occurred to us both that this is all that every human being longs for – to be seen for who we truly are and to be loved and accepted anyway. “I see your true colors, and that’s why I love you…” I actually cried and found a moment that I could resonate with. At its heart, this thought is what the gospel is all about – being seen for who we truly are and being loved anyway. The gospel ultimately takes us one step further, though, going beyond mere acceptance to transformation.
The homosexuality issue is such an explosive topic in the culture wars now that it dominates our political and religious conversations, obscuring nearly everything else. I don’t want that to be the case here, so I would like to put aside the sexuality issue and close with an altogether different observation.
As you may have read in my earlier post, I attended Andrew Peterson’s concert just two nights before this one, and in the last analysis I guess one of the more disheartening issues with the True Colors tour is this: it cost us over a $100 for the cheap seats and there were thousands of people there. The music was mildly entertaining at best and never really touched or stirred the deeper places in me. It left me unchanged except for the weird hangover of culture shock that still lingers.
Two nights previous, however, we attended a modest concert where a crowd of little more than a hundred people attended and the ticket price was $24 for the two of us. That night, I heard songs and stories of real life struggles with no easy answers, but a deep abiding hope that we all must answer to and which has miraculously survived centuries of doubt, fear, cultural shifts, mishandling and misrepresentation. The night was at once musical, stirring, and thought provoking. In the end, I left different than when I came – wanting to love better, to live more fully, and to be more engaged with my own life and the mystery of the God who I believe called it into existence. I left feeling more alive.
My wife made the observation on our way home the day after the True Colors show that we live in a culture where people are more likely to pay $100 to be mildly entertained than we are to pay $24 to be changed.
Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".