Most controlling parents seem unaware of how much their expectations and punishments suck the life out of their children long after they leave home. I still occasionally feel guilty whenever I cut my hair, eat certain foods or befriend people I know my parents would disapprove of while I was growing up, but I don’t think anything is more oppressive than trying to control your children’s music.
Most parents in my youth tried to stop their kids from listening to music because of hate–hate toward feminists, hate toward Catholics, hate toward gays, hate toward atheists and humanists and basically anyone who didn’t fit their world views.
For my entire childhood, music was a constant battle with my father. When I was nine, I asked to go to the Heritage Singers (Christian) concert, but my dad said they were too worldly so he wouldn’t let me go even though his sister who lived next door, offered me a ride.
I cried because being the new kid at school was hard enough without knowing the songs the other kids would be singing on the bus after the concert. My dad thought that was the end of the discussion, but my grandma (his mother) had an idea. She bought a Heritage Singers record and played it over and over while we made doll clothes until I had memorized all the songs. On the morning after the concert, no one remembered I wasn’t at the concert because I sang all the songs just like everyone else who was allowed to go. Decades later, I moved back into the area and met one of the now grown up boys from the bus. The first thing he said was, “I remember, you’re the girl who always sang those Heritage Singer songs on the bus.”
My desire to enjoy music continued to be oppressed by my father until I left home. After a while the Heritage Singers were allowed in our home, but John Denver was the next banned. When I was twelve, I babysat for a woman who loaned me her John Denver records. I felt like I was in heaven listening to Country Roads, but my dad told me John Denver was “too rocky,” and to give the records back. The next time I babysat, the temptation was too much and I borrowed the records again. This time, my dad told me to return them and then he belted me when I got home.
By the time I was fifteen, the Heritage Singers and John Denver were playing at our house all the time, but there was always new music to fight over. Next it was Donny and Marie Osmond who were outlawed. In time, my mom convinced my dad that it was okay for me to listen to the album, “Paper Roses” by Marie.
When my friend Teresa introduced me to Black Sabbath and I mentioned this to my dad, I was informed that listening to Black Sabbath might mean the loss of my soul. For Sabbath keepers, the words black and Sabbath sounded quite sinister in the same sentence. I soon left Black Sabbath behind in exchange for the wicked enchantment of Barry Manilow’s, “I write the Songs” which I was told was an impersonation of Satan Himself.
After I was convinced to stop listening to Manilow because he was possessed, I spent the night at my friend Diana’s house and discovered something even more evil. She taught me to dance and sing with a fake microphone (hairbrush) to the tune, “I am Woman,” By Helen Reddy. I had now discovered the greatest warp and evil of all–feminism. Not only just my Dad, but my mother convinced me that feminism was the embodiment of a woman disconnected from God and I was given Bible verses to memorize.
I wasn’t the only kid in my family punished for music, but I was the first born so I had to pave the way. My younger siblings took listening to John Denver for granted because they never got belted for his music. They also went underground. Most of them listened to the radio with earphones and they did not talk about it to avoid the fights that music caused in our family.
I remember watching my father chase my fifteen-year-old sister up and down the single wide trailer we lived in with the belt, yelling that she had Satan in her, while the song in question played loudly. It was Don Williams singing, “I believe in love and I believe in babies.”
My struggles took on a spiritual quest when our youth leader loaned me an Amy Grant cassette and my love for music merged with my desire to know and hear from God. Amy sang in my alto range and her song, “All I have to be is what You made me,” brought bucket loads of tears to my eyes.
I figured my Dad would be glad I was listening to Jesus songs, but I soon discovered it wasn’t the words, but the rhythm that he considered so evil. My parents informed me that all syncopated beat was satanic. I considered running away from home when my dad pulled over on the way home from church to unravel the Amy cassette and throw it out the window in front of a dozen cows. My heart wept, not only for the loss of music, but I knew I had no money to buy another to replace the borrowed tape. I felt too embarrassed to tell the youth leader what happened.
By the time I left home, Amy Grant was at the top of my list of luxuries I planned make room for just as soon as I could get my own place and I intended to rock out to, “That’s the Day That I’ve Been Waiting For.”
My father still doesn’t agree with me on music. As much as three years ago, he asked me to listen to a video by a preacher who teaches that syncopation is the seat of all satanic power. I disagree. I said, “No I think selfishness is the seat of all Satanic power” and that ended our conversation.
God has made up for all the musical oppression in my childhood by giving me such a gift as the man I call husband–a piano player whose music has shared my passion and joy for thirty years. A man who also allows me the freedom to be myself and treats me with equality. A man who applauds me if I play my anthem, “Fight Song,” by Rachel Platten and who introduced me to, “Quiet” by MILCK.
Music has such a profound effect on our lives. I’ve learned a song doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian” to have a spiritual meaning. Christian is just a word, but it is the Spirit inside of us who determines what we see and how we interpret the words, tunes and rhythm.
I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of the Beatles, but during my growing up years, my parents never allowed such humanistic music near me. Still, when I caught strains of songs like, “Happy Xmas, the War is Over” and “Imagine,” at the mall or in the grocery store, I was mesmerized. My heart soared to Lennon’s genius words and music about people and love. For this people loving girl, it sounded a lot like heaven.
I find it sad how God’s enemy has used Christian parents to beat and shame their children over music. God created music as a gift for us to share with each other and enjoy–not to fight over. So since I’ve spent a lifetime apologizing for whatever music I am listening to at the time, I’ve decided to deconstruct the lyrics of Imagine. It wasn’t until one of my favorite groups Pentatonix recorded it that I took the time to really listen to the words and what they mean. As someone who was raised to think of this as a bad humanistic song, I was surprised to discover it’s all in how we choose to interpret the meaning of the lyrics.
I’ll break it down for you because in this age of hate, lies and abuse put out by religious people who claim to be going to heaven, perhaps it’s a good idea to reframe and make these lyrics our own.
“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”
This is the mouthful of music that has incited a thousand self-righteous Christians and yet when we consider all the damage religion has done in this world, these lyrics are profound because they challenge the mindset of people who are so confident in going to heaven, that they don’t mind destroying the earth–cause well God’s going to make it new anyway. But can such an attitude honor God? It’s still his handwork people are destroying. In the name of heaven should we decimate the earth and everyone in it? It reminds me of the saying, “So heavenly minded, but of no earthly good.” A pretty sad state of affairs.
I don’t believe the Bible teaches an ever burning in hell, so this part of the lyrics just reminds me that the early Christians didn’t believe in hell either. They didn’t scare people into the kingdom like we often witness people doing today. They loved people to God (more on this on another verse).
“Imagine all the people living for today.”
Jesus Himself tells us to live for today. He says don’t worry about tomorrow.
“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace”
Since 911, we have seen the rise of nationalism in the US. People worship the flag and the ten commandments–sometimes more than the hand who wrote the law on stone and sets us free. Maybe they’ve forgotten that if Jesus lifted an earthly flag it would probably be a white flag, because He said his kingdom was not on this earth or his disciples would fight for him. Jesus didn’t send drone or bombs to get revenge, he eventually allowed his enemies to beat him and kill him. I’m not saying we should all bow over and let the terrorists win, I’m just saying we have better ways to deal with evil than to retaliate and kill more innocent people.
If we could realize this fantasy of no countries, it could end dualistic and the “us vs. them” tribalism that comes with it. This would end all wars and there would be nothing to kill or die for. In a sense this verse is quite ironic after what is written in the first because it would actually create a heaven on earth.
“And no religion too.”
For many super protective Christian parents these words are the blasphemy at the heart of the song, but that’s only because they choose to see it that way. Religion has launched thousands of bombs and killed millions throughout history. Religion, void of God’s Spirit is lethal. So if humanists ask me to throw out what some call religion, it won’t affect or change my personal relationship with Jesus.
“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world”
This is the heart of the gospel. We don’t need to use the misused term religion to see this is what Jesus taught. This is how the early church lived. They gave up their possessions to spread the Good News. In such a heaven-like world there would be no greed or hunger. This is the true brotherhood of man Jesus dreamed for all of us when He said, “Love your enemies. They will know you are my friends if you love each other.”
“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
When we listen to the stories and teachings of Jesus, we realize Jesus was the original dreamer and John Lennon’s humanistic lyrics simply echo a heart cry for the true kingdom of God. Imagine there’s no haters. What a wonderful world to live in. No more narcissism or selfishness–only acceptance and love.
I believe Jesus prayed a prayer for all of us–regardless of human labels because it was Jesus who created humanity. Jesus was the ultimate humanitarian and he prayed to the Father that we would all be one–just as he and the Father are one.
You might say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one–and what those Christians who shun this song as mere humanism have missed, is that Jesus dreamed this first.