Saturday, May 07, 2005

Imagine- A New Heaven and a New Earth

It is hard to believe that 30 years have already passed since the Beatles disbanded and went their separate ways, and John Lennon and his wife Yoko went off and staged their famous "Bed-In" for peace. I was only a young child in the decade of the 60's, but the social landscape today seems so far removed from that era's idealism. The 1960's had been a time of great unrest and turmoil-- the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Dylan, The Beatles, hippies, drugs, "free love", and the Vietnam War were just a few of the personalities and phenomena making up the volatile social scene. But with all the unrest and violence that existed, there was yet a feeling, reflected in the arts and especially the music of the time, and perhaps bolstered by the elections of youthful and different kinds of leaders, like President John F. Kennedy and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, that the love and peace movement would somehow triumph over the evils of the "establishment". If people could somehow find the love and peace existing within themselves, and want them badly enough, they could foment a social revolution that would stop the evils promulgated by the "establishment"--the wars manufactured out of greed, the repressiveness of traditional societal roles, racism towards the Negro, intolerance of alternate sexual expression, and conformity to the status quo. The ideal of seeking harmony through "free love"-- the "Make Love, Not War" attitude--appealed to a young generation that, behind the facade of happiness of the previous generation, saw what it thought was hypocrisy, prejudice, hate and materialism.

I recently watched a documentary entitled "John & Yoko's Year of Peace" (2000), which follows John and Yoko's activities in the year 1969. The Beatles were soon to break up when John Lennon met Yoko Ono, an avant-garde Japanese artist, at one of her exhibitions, fell in love and married her. Like star couples of today, John and Yoko were major celebrities whose every move was being reported by the media. So Lennon and his new wife, spurred on by the thrill of honeymoon love and by their idealism, ingeniously decided to turn the media circus to their advantage and promote the cause of peace.

Watching footage of the Lennons in various interviews, including the famous "Bed-In" (the honeymoon rendezvous in which John and Yoko invited reporters to interview them while in bed to talk about peace), I was struck by the seriousness of their demeanor, yet also their light-heartedness and humor. Lennon is articulate and intelligent, gentle but also forthright when expressing his views. Yoko is serene and less vocal, but also shares her views with dignity and conviction. They talk about the cause of peace in the world with the optimism and sincerity of true believers. They seem convinced that their voice, being just one of many, will help spur on many like-minded people to speak out for peace, to become an effective worldwide movement. As their famous slogan plastered all over the world at the time declared: "War is over, if you want it".

Alas, we know today that Lennon's peace crusade, admired by some and vilified by others, did not mushroom into the powerful force for peace that they had hoped for. Conservatives shunned them, viewing the Lennons as foolish and naive at best, arrogant and dangerous at worst. Liberals sympathetic to their cause may have been too busy pursuing other agendas to join in mass, although the documentary shows that the Lennon's campaign did generate a certain momentum, which included a concert. Like Woodstock, the Lennon's year of peace seemed to be of the moment, generating a buzz that dissipated quickly. Yet the social and sexual revolution of the 60's did result in a certain measure of envisioned changes, including improved treatment of black people in America, better opportunities for women in the marketplace and new trends in politics, media and the arts that began then and continue to unfold today. Depending on your worldview, these changes have been either good or bad (or somehwere in-between) for America.

As a person of artistic temperament and an admirer of the songwriting genius of Lennon, I was, in my pre-Christian days, quite drawn to his message of love and peace. I would say that I'm still of course, sympathetic to his dream of a world where love and peace triumph over hate and war. Yet I also believe that Lennon was short-sighted in that, rejecting the Christian explanation of reality, he necessarily moved into a position that required him to believe that the innate "goodness" of humanity was a real thing, and if tapped into would become a potent force for radical change. In his song Imagine, Lennon dreamed a utopian world where, through the power of vision, humanity would reject all the illusions that separate us from one another-- "Imagine there's no... "Heaven", "hell", "religion", "countries", "possessions". Detached from all these divisive influences, these constructs of man, mankind's beauty would shine forth, enabling people to live "life in peace" and "be as one".

But world events since 1969 reveal, just as the world events did before 1969, that mankind is plagued by evils that have been part of human interaction since the dawn of history. The idea that simply getting enough people to wish for (or strongly desire) a world full of peace will bring it into reality has a certain easy charm. But can we continue to stare into the face of evil that we see all around us worldwide--the genocide, the rape, the murder, the starvation, the injustice-- all resulting from our inhumane treatment of one another--and believe that innate goodness will win the day?

Or is the answer to be found in rational thinking and education? If we train our children to be "tolerant", to view history according to our conceptions, and to think properly, will it prevent them from becoming criminals, of either the blue or white-collar variety, and instead becoming great and caring citizens?

Today across America we find among our young people rampant cheating, kids that start experimenting with sex at ever earlier ages, even kids killing other kids at school, sometimes for their iPods or sometimes just because a kid snaps and goes on a killing spree. We have heard of very young children beating each other brutally. Of course, there are many wonderful children in this country who don't steal, don't cheat and do become productive members of society. Yet it seems the negative patterns we see here in America are also present in Europe and in other "developed" nations.

The evils perpetrated by the adult world is their model. And this is not even taking into account all the horrific crimes perpetuated globally by terrorists, suicide bombers, and regimes that can only be properly described as evil in how they treat their people. With all of this wickedness surrounding us, are we naive enough to think that simply wishing for peace will make it come?

I applaud the fact John Lennon used his celebrity to advance a worthy cause (when he could just have easily, with his wealth, avoided controversy), and the fact that he was willing to confront hypocrisy and evil even as he sought to be a peacemaker; nevertheless it can be seen that his dream of peace was ultimately ineffective, because it did not properly diagnose the problem: the evil at the heart of mankind.

This is not a pleasant or politically correct message, though it is an accurate one. The Bible says in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" There is no time to be politically correct. Jesus may come back at any moment. The message of Jesus Christ is that we are in desperate need, and if we recognize our need, Jesus will fill it. What is our need? Our need is to know Jesus in order to be saved from our sins, which otherwise will destroy us forever.

Jesus spoke often of the reality of His kindgom and of the beautiful nature of it. It is a spiritual kingdom, one that is not of this present world, yet one that will someday physically reign over a new Heaven and a new Earth. All who are part of it will also be new people, with hearts (our spiritual center) and bodies completely made whole. And yes, peace will reign there. Yet His message to all who seek to enter this kingdom is "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand."

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