Back to black?

Anybody could write a blog about Amy Winehouse. Seriously – they could. It isn’t difficult. All the pieces are ready to hand. The voice, the talent, the prodigious early success, the instability, the drink, the drugs, the long-awaited second album that never appeared, the increasingly erratic behaviour, the boos at a disastrous attempted performance that turned out to be her last, the lonely sad premature death. It’s all there. Like others before her, George Best, Hurricane Higgins, and all the rest, she squandered her talent and self-destructed. Another example of how ability, success and adulation cannot give life meaning or purpose. Another object lesson in how attempts to fill the God-shaped hole at the centre of life with anyone or anything else will lead to disaster. Maybe not as public as Amy’s, but disaster just the same.

An easy piece to write. Anybody could do it. And it would all be true. It’s all the easier because it lets us all off the hook. The talents that most of us have are unlikely to qualify us for lives of self-destructive excess. Clearly the lessons to be drawn from the life and early death of Amy Winehouse are for others. We’re OK. We’re in the clear.

Or are we? Let’s look at it from a different angle. Amy needed the gospel. She needed what the church of Jesus Christ has been entrusted with – the Word of Life. How would she have fared if she had walked into one of our congregations? Let’s leave aside the vocal quality of some of what passes for praise. What else would she have encountered? Would the reactions of a typical congregation have drawn her towards or driven her further from Christ?

We trust that what she heard from the pulpit would, over time, have offered a balanced presentation of the gospel, setting out the seriousness of sin against a holy God and the consequences that it inevitably brings, along with a warm, loving statement of the hope for sinners that is to be found only in Christ crucified and risen, accompanied by an urgent, heartfelt call to believe in Christ for salvation, the kind of passionate pleading with sinners that our Covenanter forefathers were not ashamed to make. And all this in the language of the twenty-first century. We trust that is what she would have heard. Perhaps a little honest self-evaluation would do us preachers no harm.

And what about the congregation? There’s a factor that can undo much that is said from the pulpit. Would Amy have found a fellowship of people who love the Lord, who love each other and who will love anyone who walks in the door? People who delight to worship God and who live out their faith (however imperfectly) in the realities of everyday existence, with its sorrows as well as its joys. People for whom God is real, whose lives are touched at every point by his Spirit. People who do not condone sin, but whose arms, literally and metaphorically, are open to accept sinners as people made in God’s image who may become new creatures in Christ. People who know they are forgiven sinners. People who will extend the same welcome to sinners in sharp suits or designer dresses, redolent of the latest scents, and to sinners in second- (or third- or forth- ) hand clothes, who may struggle with English or who don’t smell the freshest.

We trust she would not have found people who drew aside in judgmental self-righteousness, wrapping their Pharisees’ robes tightly round themselves for fear of contamination. Surely that wouldn’t have happened among us, would it? Well – would it? For the truth is that a gospel not lived out by those who claim to believe it rings very hollow when presented from the safe elevation of a pulpit. Amy sang of ‘going back to black’. She didn’t cross the threshold of an RP church. May God grant that, if she had, she would have found joyful believers living in the light and longing to share it with her.