I like Metallica. I used to like them a lot. I mean A LOT. When their self titled album came out (often called “The Black Album” due to the cover being almost all black…a neon black?…but it did have a snake on the cover so it wasn’t all black…where was I?) it never left my Walkman (for those who don’t know what a Walkman is, think of it as a huge precursor to the iPod where you’d “sync” your music by putting in a new cassette tape. Not going to explain a cassette tape) for days on end. I had a three mile trek uphill both ways to my high school. I listened to that album continually (that and Nirvana’s Never Mind but that’s for another post).
Once, in my junior year American English class, my teacher quoted Henry Thoreau “Seek the woods if not the man.” I so wasn’t paying attention and misheard it as a lyric from Metallica’s song Shapeshift with “seek the wolf inside thyself.” I shouted out “Hey! He stole that from Metallica!” Yeah. And I became an English major. Even visited Walden Pond and stood where Thoreau’s shack once stood.
Walkmans and cassette tapes soon went the way of the dinosaur as CDs came into play. But those Discmans kept skipping (no matter how much “anti-skip technology” they claimed to have, they still skipped). I soon stopped listening to Metallica. Someone said that if I wanted to be a good Christian, I had to stop listening to that filth and start listening to edifying Christian music, and anyway, they have Christian versions of Metallica. No. They. Don’t.
Years later (after Metallica got sober, got therapy, and released St. Anger which wasn’t very angry at all) I picked up the CD of the self titled album (remember it isn’t “The Black Album”). The first song brought back so many memories. Just the opening riff made me think of walking to school, headbanging, no one else hearing the awesome that was coming out of my headphones into my eardrums (maybe hurting my hearing a little?). But I didn’t listen to it as much or as often. I wasn’t the angry teenager anymore. I was mature. Right?
In 2007, I received an iPod. I synced up a bunch of music, including Metallica. I even bought some songs by them and downloaded them onto my iPod. I rocked out. It was awesome. But I was missing something. I was missing the whole album. Even today, reading through the lyrics of Shapeshift, I could hear the music clear in my head.
While in seminary, I worked at a Christian bookstore. The loved my knowledge of the different translations of the Bible. What they soon learned was that I was quick and adept to learn about the different types of music they sold. So they bounced me back and forth between the two sections. Soon I found myself discussing different types of music with different types of people. All sorts bought albums that I did and didn’t expect them to buy.
One day, a highly tattooed man came into the store looking for some hard rock. We began discussing different bands that were Christian and also different bands that weren’t. He then stopped me and said something that I’ll never forget: “I just can’t listen to that music anymore. That was my lifestyle. That was my life. And that’s not who I am anymore. When I hear that music, it takes me back to a person I’m not nor want to be.” That struck me.
I listen to a whole bunch of different types of music, from classical to classic rock, from Ozzy and Offspring to Pillar and Skillet and even some Sidewalk Prophets. Not country. Don’t care what you say, country music is of the devil. I listen and I hear what I can and see what I can apply to life. In my sermons I’ve quoted Three Dog Night, Grass Roots, Tom Petty and the like.
Yet, there are some who can’t hear that music. It’s a lifestyle they don’t want to live anymore.
In the Corinthian church there are those who are struggling about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Should they or shouldn’t they? It’s a reminder of an old life long gone. Paul writes to them:
“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God–even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 11:32-33
So, I try not to talk about or listen to Metallica or other groups like them around those who’s lives were once in that lifestyle. I know that I am free in Jesus. I know that the whole world belongs to God. I know that I can glean and hear God’s voice in so many different things. Yet some struggle with that old lifestyle.
Paul also writes:
“Be careful…that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” 1 Corinthians 8:9
Okay…wait. What? Weak?
This verse can be so misused. Some could even say that people refuse to hear God’s voice in pop culture and the world around them because they are weak in the faith. If they were just strong enough in the faith, then hey, they could handle it.
All belongs to God. Even Metallica. And the grace of God, the message of salvation, the idea of sin being pervasive in this world, and the story of redemption, can be seen and found in the world around us even through art, through music, through movies and TV shows.
At the same time, we need to be careful what we see, what we listen to, what we look at. This is discernment. This is being able to listen and discern what is good and what isn’t. It means that we can truly listen to and understand God’s world when we are willing to truly listen to it and see it and know it.
There are some who will struggle with the old life. And that is understandable. And for them, I try to do my best to walk with them, not bringing up those things which will bring back those memories of a life now no more. I will also listen to Metallica and others in order to speak of how God works in this world, translating the Gospel message into a language that they can understand.
They day Metallica came to my iPod, a flood of memories came in as well–both good and bad. Yet, God speaks through them and uses them for His glory so that we might be able to see him and know his message for us. So listen. Discern. Use the language of Metallica and others to speak love of Jesus into the lives of others, at the same time, do what you can not to be a stumbling block to those who lived a life that they don’t want to go back to.