Lent follows Swift-piphany

The following paragraphs contain the rather whimsical observations with which I began my sermon this past Sunday for the first season of Lent at Grace Bible Church in Winnipeg. They set the stage for my reading of Mark 1:1-15 as the interpretive key for Mark’s Gospel and for the church’s pilgrimage through the season of Lent.

This Sunday is the first Sunday of the Season of Lent.  This year the season of Lent follows the season of Swift-piphany, a period during which the massive influence of the musical sensation Taylor Swift was revealed to the nations.  It culminated last Sunday with Swift’s dramatic overtime victory in the Taylor Bowl, when her boyfriend’s Kansas City Chiefs came from behind to defeat the San Francisco 49ers. 

My daughter is a devoted Swiftie.  So, a couple of weeks ago, she convinced me to sit down with her to watch the Grammys in the hopes of witnessing Swift’s coronation. The highlight for my daughter occurred when Swift was awarded her first Grammy of the evening and took advantage of the opportunity to announce to the world the upcoming release of her brand-new studio album The Tortured Poets Department.  We continued watching the ceremony, but for my daughter everything that followed would be eclipsed by the shadow of this momentous announcement.  This became clear later in the evening when the Canadian folk hero Joni Mitchell took the stage for her first ever performance at the Grammy’s.  In many ways Joni Mitchell with her deeply personal songwriting paved the way for many of today’s female singer-songwriters like Swift.  Right from the beginning of the performance, I was hooked.  Here was an 80-year-old legend of the industry, only several years removed from a brain-aneurysm that left her unable to walk and make music, enthroned upon the stage surrounded by a court of accomplished musicians and proteges.  Her voice, ravaged by time, the aneurysm, and a history of smoking cigarettes, was much lower and quieter, but there was a certain gravitas to her presence and performance as she sang, “I’ve looked at life from both sides now, From up and down, and still somehow. It’s life’s illusions, I recall, I really don’t know life at all.”  I was spellbound.  But my viewing companion was not.  Throughout the performance I was subjected to a constant stream of commentary: “Don’t you think this will be remembered as the best Grammy’s ever?  I can’t believe that Taylor announced her new album!”  At one point, I found myself saying, “Can’t we just be quiet and listen to Joni Mitchell for a moment?”  My daughter and I watched the Grammy’s together, but we had very different experiences and left with very different perceptions as to what had transpired.  Perhaps those differences are the fruit of a generational divide or maybe something else is at play.  Who is to say which of our experiences is right or closer to the truth?  After all, there is no authoritative interpretative guide to the Grammy’s that tells the viewer how to make sense of what they’ve seen.

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