Fellow Passengers: Given this anniversary day of John Lennon’s untimely death, this week’s Poetry Passage (Job 4) transports me to El Parque de los Chivos (Goat Park) in Matanzas, Cuba, October 9, 2010, for a John Lennon memorial birthday concert. The concert had been a dream of mine for several months, since I first started planning the trip, and I knew there was a good chance the dream would come true when I walked into the apartment of my friends Orestes Roca Santana and Wanda Hernandéz Murga, and saw a big Beatles poster on their living room wall. They drummed up support for the concert among friends, and when the night came, a dozen or so Beatles fanaticos walked down by the Río San Juan to the park, where Wanda had set up candles in a commemorative peace sign. I had a guitar and the lyrics to 40 Beatles and Lennon songs, thinking that we might sing They Say It’s Your Birthday along with everybody’s favorite selection, maybe 15 songs total. Two hours later, we had covered all 40 songs, to the sheer delight of the fanaticos as well as many onlookers and passersby. It was a fascinating experience, singing Revolution and Can’t Buy Me Love and Imagine in the Cuban context. It was equally fascinating talking with them and learning about the Cuban connection to the Fab Four, an infatuation that started back in the early years of the Revolution when El Comandante banned their “borgeois” music and effectively sent it underground.
All this leads me back to the passage for today, where Job’s friend Eliphaz is essentially trying to prohibit Job’s music and his revolutionary lyrical complaints of unfairness and injustice in the face of senseless suffering. Eliphaz is warning his grieving friend not to question authority, assuring him that the world really is fair, that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. If Job is suffering, it’s because he deserves it. Who is he to imagine anything different? Eliphaz punctuates his point by describing a dream he had, a dream that made his bones shake and his hair stand on end. In his dream, a spirit appeared to him and asked the question, Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Eliphaz’ dream and the rhetorical question posed took me back to John Lennon and his hair-raising rhetorical claim back in 1966 that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. The entire quote reads, Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me. Perhaps Job could identify with Lennon, given the way the thick and ordinary Eliphaz was twisting the theology of God for him. At any rate, Christianity hasn’t gone, neither has rock and roll, and neither have the Eliphaz’ of this world who continue to ruin authentic faith by disseminating their hair-raising and bone-shaking dreams of a compassion-less God who fits neatly into a box and brooks no questioning. Fidel Castro, an Eliphaz of sorts who shares a disdain for dissent and an intolerance for the questioning of authority, did make an unusual 180 when he had a John Lennon statue erected in a spacious Havana park ten years ago today. Ironically, some of Lennon’s imagination and dreams would have appealed to Castro in those early years when he was foreshadowing Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution – imagine no religion – Castro, too, dreamed of a day when “backward” ideas such as heaven and hell would be relics of an ancient past, a day when the world would live as one, united under the lofty idealism of scientific materialism.
The plaque at the foot of the John Lennon statue reads, Dirás que soy un soñador pero no soy el único, i.e., You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. To be sure, Lennon is not the only dreamer. The suffering Jobs in Cuba dream, Eliphaz dreams, El Jefe dreams, we dream. The question is, where do our dreams take us and what do they inspire us to do? Do they lead us to defy authority, or do they prohibit the poetry of complaint? Do they send us underground or confine us to our boxes?
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.