Adrian Reynolds has a musical confession to make. He has learnt from it, and – with a little help from one of his favourite bands – he wants you to learn from it too.
Well, I’ll get straight to it. I like ABBA*.
I always have, ever since I first heard them. That’s me. Blame it on my nouveau middle class upbringing if you like, but my very first album was a copy of ABBA: The Album (1977) bought on cassette from Southend Market.
But here’s the thing: it’s a truth I’ve always been ashamed of. Until now.
Indeed, I once connected my computer to a wireless network at a conference and due to not setting up the privacy controls correctly, all 100 delegates had a message saying they had access to my music, starting with ABBA – first in the alphabet so it showed up on everyone’s notifications.
Should I have laughed or cried? I made sure to buy an Aaron Keyes album soon after that just in case I ever felt control of my laptop slipping through my fingers.
I have felt emboldened to confess to you publicly after watching a recent documentary about ABBA and the crazy world they inhabited. What I had not appreciated was how counter-cultural they were in their home country of Sweden. Each of the four members had their own careers – they were a supergroup rock ‘n’ roll band before the term was ever invented. Swedish music at the time was almost entirely experimental. Called progg, it was highly politicised, psychedelic music. It was so popular that bands such as Mecki Mark Men sold out huge arenas. Their largely unplanned songs went on and on and on.
In this context, ABBA was not mainstream at all. One of the popular singers at the time called it the devil’s music because it rejected the norms of popular culture. Yes, it seems ABBA was the music of rebels! It was Sweden’s version of The Sex Pistols and Tom Robinson all rolled into one.
So now I’m not so embarrassed. One of us likes ABBA and that’s okay. I no longer need to feel like I’m under attack.
A lesson for churches
My silence on this matter stems largely from the fact that I couldn’t deal with the reaction that such a confession brings. Whilst Christian fellowship should recognise that people need love, instead I received mockery, laughter and scorn. I’m not telling you this to win your pity: When all is said and done I’m now comfortable in my ABBA skin.
Here’s the serious point: it made me realise that how we react to other people’s preferences has a profound effect on how welcoming and inclusive our churches are.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are boundaries (that we must talk about and challenge) which we do not cross. But within those limits – once we have decided what they are – we need to be more welcoming of those who don’t share our preferences. That, as Scripture teaches, is the name of the game.
Instead, we have adopted the world’s view of differences and embraced toleration. But this is not the Bible way. “Accept” (Rom 14:1) and “Please his neighbour” (Rom 15:2) are the commands, not ‘put up with’ and ‘tolerate’.
More than tolerance
Take music, seeing as we’re on that subject. Toleration says: “I will put up with your musical preferences, even though they are not my own.” Frankly, this is such a rare attitude towards someone of whom you might say “he is your brother” that we rejoice when we make it this far.
But this ‘putting up with’ is no biblical approach at all. Accepting and pleasing the other is going further: actually embracing his musical tastes as my own, and that’s a much harder thing. Supernatural even. But surely, it’s what we must be praying for and working towards?
So, if you must mock me for my ABBA purchases, then go ahead. I can just about take it. (And if you want two for the price of one, you may like to know I also like Billy Joel.)
But to be entirely serious in conclusion, if your approach to those who differ on secondary issues is bare toleration – or worse still – mockery and approbation, then we’re hardly being the biblical believers we claim to be.
Postscript: Can you find the 13 ABBA song titles hidden in the article? (no prizes!) And I tried so hard, but couldn’t make it, so just for the record: Put on your white sombrero.
*though not Mama Mia! the musical.
ABBA photo by Anders Hanser (CC BY 3.0)