For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the Muse compelled me to record a acoustic cover of The Who’s great song, “Eminence Front.” Somehow, I got it in my head that it’d be fun to try and mimic the guitar, synth and bass parts on acoustic guitar.
So, scroll click the link, and enjoy. (Find some big speaker…where you can really crank it…)
I’ve always loved this song. To me, it’s a deep and biting commentary on the vacuous nature of modern life.
And even 40-years after it was written, it still lands. Our current moment, of carefully curated social media personas, is the same world that Pete Townshend eviscerated back then.
“Drinks flow…and people forget…
Forget they’re hiding…
Behind an Eminence Front…
It’s a put on…”
In every age, we human beings “forget” who we really are…sometimes on purpose…sometimes by accident.
In every age, we seek out the “distractions, the “bread and circuses” that help us “hide” us from focusing and living a deeper life.
And, I will note again, how ironic that at every Dallas Maverick’s home game, they use THIS SONG to introduce the players.
While Pete’s synthesizers loop plays and guitar work sizzles, strobe lights pop, and the crowd screams, the Mavs Dancers writhe and gyrate on the floor.
I get that it’s a great groove for a bunch of basketball cheerleaders. But did anybody stop to read the lyrics that LITERALLY say:
“Girls smile…and people forget…
Forget they’re hiding…
Behind an Eminence Front…it’s a put on…”
The the whole song is about eviscerating a world of smiling, skin-deep beauty. And every home game, the Mavs Dancers smile and dance away…for decades now.
Pete Townshend has to wryly smile at the irony, yes?
(I’m not the only one who sees this, right?)
We’ve been “forgetting” and “hiding” as a species since we first told stories of an allegedly perfect first garden.
The story goes, that once upon a time there was a talking snake in a garden that somehow convinced those first two humans to do things that later made them feel shame.
Too many interpreters of that story sexualize take that *general* shame and reduce it down to sexual shame. (Probably because the story says that “they were naked.”)
But that’s too reductive. It’s much deeper than that. That’s not to minimize sexual shame, which is very real for some. But that’s a way too literal reading of a clearly metaphorical story…and I fear that too often this narrow reading *creates* sexual shame! Which the of course keeps us all from considering the deeper meaning we were supposed to get from the story in the first place.
All of us carry shame within us. Some of us tend to walk about the world feeling shameful and unworthy all the time. Some of us are self aware of this dynamic. Others are not.
Either way, almost all of us end up “hiding” at one time or another. Some of us hide behind elaborate “fronts” and “personas” that we curate and create over years.
Our jobs can be a “mask.” Being a clergy can be a mask. Being a tough and rugged man can be a mask. Being overly sexualized (man or woman) can be a mask. Being prudish and overly moralizing can be a mask. Being a doctor, lawyer, truck driver, Mom, Dad….can be a mask.
We all, in one way or another, hide from our true selves, and for many complex reasons. Much of this hiding behind masks and “fronts” are so we can project a feeling of power…often from moments when we feel powerLESS.
I’ve got a theory that much of the “hiding” in the world —the kind that we eventually see as vacuous and empty, the kind Townshend was writing about— comes from some sort of deep and primal shame that we all carry. That’s probably why shame is a part of that very first Bible story.
If we live behind our “fronts” too long, we can even “forget we’re hiding,” and can falsely believe that the surface life is all there really is, or that our “masks” are really who we are.
“Don’t worry your little head about the deeper meaning of life” —the world calls, mimicing the snake in the garden— just “come and join the party, dressed to kill.”
Lent wasn’t inspired by a Pete Townshend lyric. But the point of the season of Lent is much the same self-reflection the song calls us to. The point of Lent is also to tear away the false and fake facades that we walk around with most days.
We remember that “we are dust” and that our time is short. Lent is a time to remember that there’s no time for hiding. And, there’s also no time for shame either.
Far too many people associate shame WITH God and religion. But what if —like a too sexual reading of the garden of Eden story— that’s actually a misreading that’s been given to us?
What if God is the one who wants to take AWAY our shame, instead?
I think that’s the real truth, and I think its the truth of this week’s Gospel story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well.
Jesus asks the Samaritan Woman to go get her husband. Whereupon she responds that she doesn’t have one.
But, somehow, Jesus already knows this. In fact, Jesus says, she’s had FIVE husbands, and the one she’s living with now is not one of them.
At this point, there is a lot that this woman could have felt a sudden shame about.
She’s been married five times.
She’s a Samaritan…somebody the story carefully notes, Jews don’t associate with.
And, she’s a woman…and men and women in that day didn’t relate to one another as equals. (Some things never change in the minds of some…)
All three of these thing could have inspired shame in the Samaritan Woman, or those around her. For example, when the Disciples show up and see him talking with her, you get the sense that maybe *they* are ashamed for him…ashamed that he’s talking and associating with her.
But note that she has NO shame.
Further, note that Jesus does not shame her either.
When she later says that she’s met a man who “told me everything I ever did…” It doesn’t seem like she’s saying this in deep remorse and shame.
Quite the opposite.
It sounds like she’s finally found somebody who accepts her for who she is, and is NOT shunning or shaming toward her. She seems to sense a joy and lightness for being seen and accepted for exactly who she is, and as she is.
My faith tells me that this is the real Jesus. The is the true God.
Jesus is the one who sees whatever our secret shames and secrets are. Whatever the things we try to hide are. And far from rejecting us, God loves, accepts, and liberates us from our shame.
Lent is about stripping away the “Eminence Front” we hide behind.
We then stand naked and afraid.
But instead of judgment and damnation, God sees our secret shames and accepts us anyway.
I know that that last line sounds like a platitude. It sounds like a throwaway preacher’s line.
But what if it really is a deep truth about the true nature of God?
What if God loves and accepts Samaritans and Jews?
Gay and Straight?
Women and Men?
People of all orientations, genders, and races?
What if God knows not only the five marriages of *that* woman, but also secret shame YOU carry…whether it was given to you by someone else, or simply something you’ve always existentially felt?
What if God loves you, even when you fail at being perfect, and living up to your “fronts” of projected power?
And what if God loves and embraces us you, anyway?
God knows “everything we’ve ever done.” But God loves us anyway. (Yes, even that thing that just flashed into your mind when you read that sentence…even that shame YOU carry…)
There’s no more need to hide behind endless distraction.
So, let Lent be your Eminence Front. Let it be a time that strips away the distractions and reveals the real and true: YOU.
If your religion has always been about feeling shame for simply being yourself, the way God created you, then I’m sorry. That’s not the ever message God intended you to hear.
That is a message other *people* distorted about God. That’s religion’s fault, not God’s.
There is a place of spiritual peace, available to you still, where you realize that God sees ALL of you….knows “everything you’ve ever done,” and loves you anyway.
This Lent, consider letting that truth to dwell deep within you. You are God’s good child, and God sees and loves you for who you are.
You can still go the party.
You can still dress to kill.
(And enjoy that Mavs game)
But you don’t have to hide, or forget, your true self, just to try and please God or anyone else.