Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Justin Bieber and King David

by Ben Howard

I have no idea how I missed this. When I think back on things now, it just seems so blindingly obvious. “Of course,” I say to myself, “It was all right there in front of us and we just didn’t see it.” What is this mysterious revelation that I’ve uncovered?

Justin Bieber is King David reincarnated.

I’m not joking. Not even a little bit. Well, maybe a little bit.

Let’s compare narratives: Both were adolescents plucked from obscurity and anointed as future kings of their respective empires. Each went on to slay a giant, Goliath for David and the metaphorical Goliath of the pop charts for Bieber. Also, each followed in the footsteps of a troubled former king who, though strong in his youth, had strayed from his former potential (Saul for David and Michael Jackson for Bieber). Both are musically talented, both dance with wild abandon, and both have love lives that fascinate and titillate the gossip-mongers among us.

We don’t yet know how Bieber’s story turns out, but I feel safe assuming that we’ll keep on going down this clearly pre-ordained Davidic legacy.

Is this a ridiculous comparison? Yeah, a little, but I bet it’s closer than you thought it would be when I started. It points out how much our culture really has moved over the millennia. What would have been the story of a young and ascendant king in the Old Testament is now the story of a pop star. So what does that mean?

First, it highlights how context dependent our stories really are.

It’s impossible for us to ever truly step outside of our context and get a clear picture of who or what we are, in fact, without having a context, it’s impossible to make a clear picture at all. Just like the context of ancient Israel defines David as a king and the context of 21st Century America defines Bieber as an entertainer, the same contextual concerns dictate the way we view ourselves. There is no Platonic version of you that exists outside of context. The only way to understand ourselves, our lives, and our faiths is within the bounds of the context we live in.

Second, it means we need to rethink how we envision biblical characters and narratives.

Too often we pull biblical characters and biblical stories out of their historical context and transpose them onto our modern world without any attempts to re-imagine them. This ends up wildly distorting the meaning of these texts and stories. We need to better understand both the contexts and cultures (note the plural) at work in the biblical narrative as well as our own contexts in order to properly navigate these biblical characters, themes, and narratives.

For instance, we have no translatable place for a king with the power of David in modern society. Political power is never so centralized in our western world. We have to work to understand what it means to have a monarchy before we can begin to truly analyze the stories of David and other Israelite kings.

Third, it makes us question the assumptions we’ve made about our society.

I’m saying that it’s not insane for us to understand the narrative of King David through the lens of Justin Bieber. I also don’t think it’s insane for us to understand the prophets through rappers and musicians. Maybe David Simon is our ages version of Amos, criticizing us all for the way we treat the poor and oppressed, even though he doesn’t make direct allusion to God. We need to look for God everywhere, especially in places that we wouldn’t expect to find God speaking. All truth is God’s truth and we need to claim it everywhere, even if it doesn’t acknowledge God’s existence in the process.

I’m not certain that the comparison holds, but I hope it makes you think. I hope it makes you wonder if the traditional bridges we build between the biblical narrative and our own modern existence are the right bridges.

It’s okay to play and be bizarre when you’re trying to make sense of all this. That’s why we have a community. They can tell us when we’ve gone a little too far off the beaten path. Maybe this comparison is bizarre and ridiculous, but maybe it teaches us something and helps us access something we didn’t understand before. It’s worth a shot.


You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at] gmail.com.

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