Posts Tagged ‘Pete Townshend’

Devotional Podcast #17: “Healing Our Past”

February 27, 2018

Another jumbo-sized podcast episode!

This one is all about the necessity of healing our past, without which our future won’t be as good as we want it to be. Why? Because the past has a way of continuing to exert a harmful influence over our present and future. To help us find healing from our past, I reflect on some helpful resources related to forgiveness and providence from God’s Word.

Devotional Text: Philippians 3:8b-14

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Tuesday, February 27, and this is Devotional Podcast number 17.

You’re listening to Pete Townshend’s song “Somebody Saved Me,” from his 1982 album All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. In the song, the singer is looking back on his life. And he sees that there were times in his life when he was rescued from decisions that he made—decisions that, ultimately, would have brought him great harm—if not killed him outright. Not that he saw it that way at the time—when he didn’t get what he wanted, when his plans fell through. No, he was often dragged kicking and screaming away from paths that would have led to his destruction. “But somebody saved me,” he sings. “It happened again/ Somebody saved me/ I thank you, my friend.”

He doesn’t know who this mysterious “friend” is. A guardian angel, perhaps? But notice it’s somebody, not some thing; it’s not an impersonal force; it’s not fate; it’s not luck; it’s a person. And of course we know that person’s name, even if Townshend doesn’t: his name is Jesus.

Townshend sings, “All I know is that I’ve been making it/ And there’ve been times that I didn’t deserve to.”

Who hasn’t been there? Who can’t relate to that?

For the last several weeks, I’ve been preaching a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve benefited greatly from reading Frederick Dale Bruner’s commentary on Matthew. In fact, every time I teach or preach anything from Matthew’s gospel, I benefit greatly from reading Bruner. Here’s what he had to say about the final three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer—what he calls the “Second Table” of the prayer. He writes:

In the Second Table of the Lord’s Prayer, we may say in summary so far, the petition for bread was a prayer for the present (“give us this day”), the petition for forgiveness was a prayer for the removal of a bad past, and now the prayer for leading is a prayer for the future. This petition follows naturally from the preceding prayer for forgiveness. For when we ask for forgiveness we almost instinctively ask also to be kept from the temptations and evil that made our prayer for forgiveness necessary at all. So the Sixth Petition follows the Fifth like wanting to be good follows sorrow for failing to be.[1]

I like that! I’ve never thought of these petitions in terms of past, present, and future.

In today’s podcast, I want to focus on the fifth petition: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I’m reluctant to say that any of these three petitions is more or less important or necessary. But I will say this: the “prayer for the removal of a bad past,” as Bruner puts it, must be granted by God before the “prayer for the future” has any hope of coming to pass.

Why do I say that? Because the past has a way of haunting the present—and influencing the future. And if we haven’t made peace with the past, its influence can be harmful.

Stop and consider how many times even today you’ve ruminated over something in your past. Maybe it’s from your recent past: like some offhanded comment that someone made about you yesterday—“What did he mean by that? Was he criticizing me?” Or that witty riposte you wish you had said to your boss last week when she challenged the quality of your work. Read the rest of this entry »

New “Serial” podcast: What does an innocent man have to feel guilty about? Plenty!

November 24, 2014
Reporter Sarah Koenig, producing a new episode of the "Serial" podcast.

Reporter Sarah Koenig, producing a new episode of the “Serial” podcast.

Like 1.5 million other listeners, I’m hooked on a podcast called Serial, produced by the same people who bring us This American Life, the best thing on radio as far as I know. I can’t say what Serial will become during Season 2, but its first season is an engrossing true-crime drama about the murder of a high school student named Hae Min Lee near Baltimore in 1999, and her 17-year-old former boyfriend, Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the crime back then and is now serving a life sentence. Adnan, a Pakistani-American and Muslim, is now 32. Adnan appears on the show through taped phone conversations from prison.

Each week reporter Sarah Koenig, a veteran This American Life producer, unfolds the mystery of Adnan’s guilt or innocence by interviewing Adnan and as many key people associated with the case as possible.

Maybe I’m naive or gullible, but I think he’s innocent. And I’m in good company: an “Innocence Project”-type law professor and her team of law students at the University of Virginia reviewed all documentary evidence from the trial and believe, to a person, that Adnan is innocent. And as of the end of Episode 9, Koenig herself said, “I confess to having reasonable doubt about whether Adnan killed Hae. I’m not talking about the courtroom kind; I’m talking about the normal kind.”

But if he’s innocent, that raises a question that has nothing to do with what happened back in 1999. It’s a question that Koenig raised in last week’s episode: “Once, early on, I asked Adnan, ‘If you’re saying you’re innocent, why aren’t you bitter and angry? Why do you sound so calm?'”

Yes! This is a question I’ve had, too, as have—probably—most other listeners. Adnan’s equanimity has been startling, especially when Koenig talks to him about Jay, a former associate who was the state’s star witness against Adnan. To be clear: If Adnan is innocent, Jay lied, and those lies put Adnan in prison.

Again: Why isn’t Adnan angrier about all this?

One possibility, of course, is that Adnan really did kill Hae, so on what basis would he feel indignant? While this seemed distinctly possible early on in the series, it now seems less likely with each passing episode. As I say above, I don’t think he did it. So what else would account for Adnan’s state of mind? Koenig continues:

“I refuse to be miserable,” he said to me. “Being religious helps,” which you hear all the time about people in prison, but I never thought about it too much before I got to know Adnan. When he ended up in prison, he said he made a choice: to be a better Muslim. Now he can say that for nearly half his life, he’s lived like he’s supposed to. He knows it’s a rationalization of his situation, but it’s been the most helpful one.

Finally, he says he’s got a clear conscience because he didn’t kill Hae, though once he did say to me, “I’m here because of my own stupid actions.”

Koenig asked him what he meant by this. Adnan said that if he had been living the way he was supposed to back in 1999—like a “good Muslim,” he said—by which he meant making more responsible lifestyle choices, choosing better friends, and being truthful with his parents—he wouldn’t have put himself in the position of being suspected of the murder.

And while life behind bars isn’t Club Med by a long shot, Adnan is making the best of it. He’s also well-served by his gift for making friends easily.

Adnan told Koenig, “I have a life. It’s not the life I planned or imagined, but I have a life.”

Adnan’s testimony of faith here resonates with me. By all means, I hope that some day he’ll discover the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ and convert to Christianity. But I identify with him when he says he’s found redemption in prison, that it’s afforded him the opportunity to get his life right with God, at least as he understands God, and that makes prison worthwhile.

Don’t we Christians believe that finding God is worth any cost—including spending our lives in prison, or worse? Aren’t there plenty of Christians in the world right now who have decided that living with God in chains—and even facing martyrdom—is far preferable to living without God, even while remaining ostensibly free?

If life in prison meant eternal life for us, wouldn’t that be a bargain? I’m not saying that I’d relish the thought of paying that price, but you know what I mean.

I’m reminded of that Who song, “Bargain”:

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I had
To find you I’d suffer anything and be glad

I’d pay any price just to get you
I’d work all my life and I will
To win you I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had
The best I ever had

I’m also not surprised that Adnan looks back at his early life with shame for his sins—even while he maintains his innocence about the murder.

To put it another way, even if we haven’t murdered someone, we all stand guilty before God. We all deserve death and hell for our sins. None of us who has come face to face with our sins wants to nitpick about whether our sins are as bad as someone else’s. We know that our sins are bad enough. Left to our own devices, we are lost and hopeless.

The good news is that God doesn’t leave us to our own devices. Instead, he came to us in the flesh, in his Son Jesus, and took upon himself the guilt of our sins and suffered in our place the death and hell that we deserved.

Here’s the Serial website, with all nine available podcasts. A new episode is released every Thursday. (They’re taking a week off for Thanksgiving.) If you decide to check the series out, start with the first episode, which you can download here. It’s also available through whatever app you get podcasts.

Sermon 03-17-13: “Journey to Jerusalem, Part 3: Repentance”

March 21, 2013

Fading Footprints in the Sand

In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, a notorious sinner receives God’s mercy while a scrupulously religious person remains unforgiven. The parable illustrates in a powerful way that God’s gift of salvation is completely free. Will we trust God enough to receive it?

Sermon Text: Luke 18:9-14

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

When I was in Kenya last September, there were a few occasions on which I didn’t have access to bottled water. So someone would offer me a glass of water and say, “It’s been filtered, don’t worry.” And I’m thinking, “How do I know it’s been filtered. I didn’t see anyone filter it.” So I would drink and worry about getting sick. Of course I didn’t get sick, but I’ve told you before I tend to worry about these things.

So before my most recent trip to Kenya, someone told me to set my mind at ease and buy a SteriPEN. Do you know what a SteriPEN is? It’s like a magic wand… literally. It’s an electric wand that lights up when you place it in the glass of water. After a minute or so, it kills all living bacteria with ultraviolet light; and when the water’s all clean this little smiley face shows up on the LCD indicator. So this time, on my most recent trip, I would ask, “Has this has been filtered?” “Oh, yes. It’s perfectly safe.” “O.K., good.” Then, when no one was looking, I’m like… [mimic putting the SteriPEN in the water.]

My point is this: based on appearances, you couldn’t tell whether or not this glass of tap water was safe to drink. Judging by appearances, a glass of water teeming with harmful bacteria is indistinguishable from a clean glass of water.

In today’s scripture, Jesus warns us against judging by appearances. If we were going to judge the two men in today’s parable by appearances, we would be very wrong. No one could guess that of these two men, the tax collector would be the one who leaves the temple in a right relationship with God. Read the rest of this entry »

A brief reflection on Pete Townshend’s “Who I Am”

February 25, 2013

I know photos can lie, but Towshend looks great at 67!

I’m back home in the States, having returned yesterday from Kenya. I still want to share one or two more posts related to the trip. In the meantime, I finished Pete Townshend’s brutally candid autobiography Who I Am on the plane yesterday.

It is, at least in small part, about the author’s deep spiritual yearning. In the late-’60s, Townshend became the most famous follower of a 20th-century Indian mystic called Meher Baba, to whom he dedicated the album Tommy (and his first solo album, Who Came First) and about whom he wrote several songs (including one of the Who’s most famous, “Baba O’Riley”) and articles. He even founded an institute in England dedicated to Meher Baba’s teachings.

Unless I’m mistaken, Meher Baba falls within the realm of Hinduism and is considered by some to be a manifestation (or “avatar”) of God.

Who I Am is already a long book, with a lot of ground to cover. Nevertheless, I wish Townshend had said more about his religious journey. He leaves too many questions unexplored. For example, he said he heard the voice of God in a hotel room at a Holiday Inn in the Midwest. What did God say? How did he experience this “voice”? How does he interpret its meaning? He describes having an out-of-body experience during an LSD trip, which was interrupted by an actual angel telling him that it’s not time to go yet. In fact, he makes at least a few references to literal angels and demons.

If Townshend accepts the reality of a spiritual dimension populated by angels and demons, surely their appearances to him deserve further comment and reflection than simply to mention that they were there. He surely knows that many of his readers will think this discussion is bunk. Also, how does this spiritual realm fit within the worldview espoused by Meher Baba—and might such beliefs fit more tidily in another religion, i.e., Christianity?

The main story that Townshend tells in the book is his struggle with and victory over drug and mostly alcohol addiction. Given his many relapses, this “victory,” as Townshend knows better than anyone, is always frighteningly provisional.

Townshend describes a doctor on the West Coast whom he credits with saving his life on more than one occasion. He’s the same doctor, I think, who also helped his friend Eric Clapton. Regardless, he said the doctor had an “infectious Christian faith,” which he shared with Townshend, although Townshend remained committed to Meher Baba. Given that Townshend grew up within a largely Christian culture in postwar England—even though he wasn’t a churchgoer and never professed Christian faith—I wanted to hear about those conversations. What did he learn about this doctor’s faith and what made it compelling to him? How was this doctor’s faith different from other Christians he’d encountered?

These questions probably don’t matter as much to Townshend because he assumes universalism: many paths lead to God; you’ve got Jesus, I’ve got Meher Baba. I just wish someone as intelligent as Townshend would have identified this assumption and at least called it into question.

Townshend describes his relationship with George Harrison, who became the world’s most famous Hindu convert in the ’60s and never looked back. Townshend loved Harrison, but he offers a small but surprising critique of Harrison’s faith. Regarding one long conversation with Harrison, he writes:

George was happy to talk to me about Indian mysticism and music, even his use of cocaine. I found it hard to follow his reasoning that in a world of illusion nothing mattered, not wealth or fame, drug abuse or heavy drinking, nothing but love for God.[†]

I’m glad he said so! I find it hard to follow as well: Christianity utterly rejects this kind of dualism that imagines that how we live our lives has little or no connection with our love for God. We are bodies and souls, inseparable and intertwined, as even our best science understands.

By the way, here’s one of my favorite Townshend songs from one of my all-time favorite albums, (All The Best Cowboys Have) Chinese Eyes, from 1982. The song is about God’s providence. It challenges us to see that that “somebody” who saves us is the One who loves us and is working for our good.

Pete Townshend, Who I Am (New York: Harper, 2012), 265.