Steadfast In Society: The Gospel According to Tom Waits
Tom Waits has been known as one of the most brilliant musical and lyrical minds of the last half of the 20th century. Many of his insights reflects Christian truth, the suffering of humanity, and of course late nights in the bar with nothing but a piano, a pack of cigarettes, and a plate of eggs and sausage. In one such tale of human suffering he inquires why, “…are the wicked so strong? How do the Angels get to sleep when the Devil leaves the porch light on?” This captures well King David’s Psalm, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
Now while this post isn’t an endorsement that everything that Tom Waits says is scripturally sound he certainly has his finger on the pulse of human sinfulness and Divine redemption. With that said there is one song in particular that strikes a chord with the attitude of our infrequent flyers. The Divine Service is where we find the true and real gifts from God given to us with no strings attached. Come and receive that’s it. However, there is a sincere issue with those who boast of faith in Christ when there is a lack of receiving what God has ordained for us as meet, right, and salutary.
Our friend Tom put the disregard of service and the thought process of “I can worship God from home,” in a very Lutheran Satire-esque way in his song, “Chocolate Jesus”. He writes, “Don’t go to church on Sunday, don’t get on my knees to pray, don’t memorize the books of the Bible, I got my own special way, but I know Jesus loves me, maybe just a little bit more, I fall on my knees every Sunday, at Zerelda Lee’s candy store, well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus, make me feel good inside, got to be a chocolate Jesus, keep me satisfied.”
How many of us have woken up in the morning on Sunday and thought, “I can just pray and catch the morning news and that’s good enough?” Or worse, “I don’t need to go to church because God is everywhere and He knows my heart… after all I feel more connected with Him elsewhere.” This is an idolatrous desire to experience Jesus in accordance with our own tastes. Jesus never said, “Go, therefore into all nations and do whatever you want.” No, He established His church within the boundaries of what is to be received, namely Word and Sacrament.
Never should we reduce the quality of our suffering and Tom Waits does to a fantastic job of reminding us of this. Our suffering is from sin and the unnatural human nature that we have brought on ourselves as sinful men. So why then would we desire to belittle or ignore the very gifts that God has given us as the balm that cures all wounds? Why would we want to turn our Savior into what our fancies happen upon? This causes nothing more than a “Chocolate Jesus” that tastes sweet to us, but is never what we need for this body and life.
Every Christian should be able to agree that what we need is Jesus. Not an “immaculate confection.” Not a sweet memory of when we used to be “saints” and attend the Divine Service. We need the real Jesus, which is not the same as a memory of a time when Jesus tasted sweet to us. So let us all come to hear, eat, and drink of the true body and blood of our Lord and leave the Chocolate Jesus to those who insist on being pagans. These truths are all summed up in Tom Waits’ lyric, “Their memory’s like a train: you can see it getting smaller as it pulls away and the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget that History puts a saint in every dream.”