I pulled into the parking lot of my favorite coffee shop this evening and right away I saw two cars with the same bumper sticker. Both said "Imagine Peace" and had little pictures of John Lennon's face. Anyone that knows me knows that I'm quite a big Beatles fan. I'm not sure that "fan" is really even the right word. I'm something of admirer of John Lennon...as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. As a man, he was quite flawed, despite being quite brilliant. I don't think there was ever much he ever modeled in life other than dysfunction. He was a drug addict, a drunk, abusive to his first wife, a lousy father to his first son. He could be immensely cruel. He was violent. He was a tortured soul.
John's credibility as a peacenik is based on a handful of pop songs and a few publicity stunts he pulled in the name of "peace." By the way, "peace" it should be understood, was essentially the absence of armed conflict. Mr. Lennon never really had much to offer in the way of inner transformation, probably because he never found it, no matter how hard he tried, no matter where he searched for it.
Does anyone find it ironic, if not hypocritical, that he could put out a song like "How Do You Sleep?," a vicious, blistering, scathing attack on his former songwriting partner and one-time best friend, Paul McCartney, on the same album on which he asked the rest of us to "imagine all the people living life in peace." John, I think I might have been more easily able to see your vision of a "brotherhood of man" if I thought you had actually believed in it yourself, if you actually could have managed to "live life in peace" with your former bandmates.
There's an old saying, "Change starts with me." To me that means that before I expect others -- especially the rest of humanity -- to change, I must change myself. I don't hear that message come through in too many of John's songs. What I hear is a lot of sloganeering, pep talks for hippies, heads and lefty intellectuals.
Why is it that today's leftists so identify with John Lennon and "Imagine"? One reason, I believe, is that his murder made him a martyr. That painful event -- it still saddens me 29 years later -- had to be dealt with, at least in part, with fond remembrance. There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily; it just is. We do not like to speak ill of the dead. On the contrary, when they mean a lot to us, we tend to deify them, especially if they had been cultural icons. Another reason that he made "peace" cool, catchy and fun. Songs like "Imagine," "All You Need is Love," and "Give Peace a Chance" are all quite catchy. They're great sounding songs. But it is because they are pop songs not backed by actions, I personally find them hollow.
John Lennon did not invent the concept of global peace. He wasn't the first one to "imagine" it, either. 2000 years ago, Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves and told us, "Blessed are the peacemakers." He truly preached and lived peace and love. But it's not cool to put his face on bumperstickers or associate him with the peace movement. If you're not a Christian, you can find other models for peace that would be better than Mr. Lennon. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi immediately come to mind. Those men didn't just talk or sing about peace, they lived it.
Why does this bother me so? I'm not quite sure. I just know that I have a strong distaste for the martyrdom and deification of John Lennon. It smacks of idolatry. It also seems to be misplaced. If it were up to me, people would think more critically about their heroes. Perhaps we'd do more than "imagine" peace. We might actually start practicing it.
*This is a rant. I'm not going to make a lot of effort to organize my thoughts. I'm just gonna put these thoughts out there, kind of stream of consciousness style.