For the record: I write this as a fan. The death of Prince Rogers Nelson has hit me – and many of my friends – like the proverbial ton of bricks. I did not start yesterday with an update of Prince’s health and his daily itinerary. Like many people, I had come to see Prince as a semi-permanent essence of American musical culture – much less a man vulnerable to deteriorating health. Prince simply is; or…was.
A lot has happened since I first imbibed The Minneapolis Sound. I was allowed to graduate high school (it was a 50/50 shot). I have been given venues for my efforts as an artist. A woman of equal parts exquisite beauty and practical wisdom was deceived by God to accept my proposal of marriage. I am now a father worrying over children as old as I was when my eyes and ears awed over Purple Rain. I have been ordained in the Christian Reformed Church as a Minister of The Word. It’s been a long, weird story so far. And Prince, like the Purple Haze he emerged from, has always clung to the edges of the stage.
As a Minister of the Word who has walked as an artist and with artists, I value the creative power that was given to Prince by the triune God.
There will be no shortage of articles glorifying Prince’s attributes: artistic vision, creative passion, musical (and marketing) genius, not to mention his absolute technical precision. These are the qualities that artists and music lovers like myself, and real musicians like my brother, all came to appreciate and leverage in our own pursuits. Prince became a unique but continuously reincarnated icon because of his fans – we who value creativity nurtured his as much as he nurtured ours. This cyclical relationship has come to an end, and many are hurt – if not crushed – by the sudden stop at the end of the ride.
As a Minister of the Word who has walked as an artist and with artists, I value the creative power that was given to Prince by the triune God. Some would say that’s blasphemous, considering how Prince (especially in his early career) may be singlehandedly responsible for casting untold youth into the open arms of hedonism. Now, you may take that as a self-righteous, Jesus freak’s hypocritical judgment of a great man. I would take it as a confession-of-sorts, because I was one of the untold youth. Before my conversion to love Christ I loved the carnal freedom that Prince sung – or, preached with both reckless abandon and skilled articulation. Even after being awakened to love Jesus I was still confused about Christ’s holiness, so Christopher Tracy’s paisley-plush universe still called to me, even after losing its its ecstatic promise.
Prince was never my savior. He concocted a magic that nurtured my lust and coddled my frustration, but he could never save me from myself or the world around me.
Today, many gather around purple lights and replay youthful images in their minds. The soundtrack of this reminisce is a neon-funk fusion of Jimi Hendrix and Charlie Chaplin; Little Richard and Bob Dylan; James Brown and Aerosmith; Jimmy Swaggart (Jerry Lee Lewis’ cousin!) and Parliament (P-Funk, not the gents in London). The great talent that can bring all of this together and make it unique is, as they are saying, legendary. Prince’s music will be played for decades to come. The icon will endure, but will the man?
In the wake of such a great talent, we expect a great man to inherit a great place, as if God is just as in awe of Prince as we were; as if Prince’s prolific genius is an acceptable substitute for the righteousness and holiness of a crucified and resurrected Jesus. Certainly, we wish for good things like, “He lives on” and “Rest in Peace.” But…does he? Does he live with Christ today because his heart rested with the only one who is “the resurrection and the life”?
Maybe you read this as nit-picky and possibly insensitive so close to Prince’s death but, Prince was never my savior. He concocted a magic that nurtured my lust and coddled my frustration with an unjust world, but he could never save me from myself or the world around me. He could make me feel better about my sin, but he could never take it away.
It’s not blasphemous to credit God with Prince’s talent – where else would he get it? And certainly, Prince’s sin is often our own: God’s gifts are not always used to reflect his glory. What has been created in Christ, by Christ and for Christ is not always returned back to him righteously. However, Prince’s passing actually gives us an opportunity greater than Prince himself was: today we can recognize the real savior. We can use the gifts we’ve been given – heartbeat, breath, imagination, desire – to love the Great Father who gives a Great Savior in the death of a cross and the power of a resurrection to forgive our sin completely. Today, we can turn to Jesus as the one who overcomes the sin and death that takes away our icons all too quickly.