If you are over the age of 40, you probably remember where you were when you heard the news. Frankly, I don’t. But 38 years ago this Sunday–Aug. 16, 1977–the world was shocked by the news of the death of Elvis Presley, whose life ended in tragic circumstances at his Graceland home in Memphis. I am sure the news will be full of tributes this weekend, and there will be no mistaking who they’re talking about when they make their reference to “The King.”
There is no doubt Elvis had quite an impact on our world and our culture the past half century. His music, and perhaps just as importantly his “style,” influenced at least two generations and probably influences us still, for good or bad I’m not sure. And there are many faithful fans of Elvis who these many years later are still all but obsessed with his legacy. Their homes are filled with Elvis relics, their 8-track decks still blare their favorite Elvis tunes, their schedules include regular pilgrimages to Graceland, and their living room walls are adorned with Elvis photos and the infamous velvet Elvis’s. They even like to watch Elvis impersonators, heaven forbid!
I read an article a few years back about how sociologists have studied the zealous fervor of those who have devoted their lives to Elvis, even comparing it to a real religion. Several books have been written in fact, by Ivy League academicians no less, studying the quasi-religious practices of Elvis fans, young and old. There is even a First Presbyterian Church of Elvis the Divine, a “church” formed by two American satirists who had no idea what they were getting into. Tens of thousands of people who heard about the church took them seriously and sought to join.
What is it about Elvis, other than his quivering lip, that would elicit such devotion? I’m not sure it was actually Elvis the man as it was the cult of personality we live in. Humans–especially pop-culture obsessed American humans–are so prone to make heroes out of just about anyone (see: Kardashians) that they created a pseudo-divinity out of a poor Mississippi musician, even to the point that there have been more than a few resurrected Elvis sightings over the years (or at least that’s what the grocery store tabloids told us).
If it wasn’t so funny, as they say, it would be pretty sad. For as much as anything, it cries out that there are people all around looking for just about anything to believe in and devote their lives to, even if they have to create their own Messiah. We can snicker at those unenlightened bumpkins if we want, but how many of us do the same thing in a slightly different way? If an alien landed in your backyard and observed your lifestyle, would he know to whom your life is devoted? If he toured your home, would he think it was a religious shrine to a football coach (old, or current), or some other sports icon or entertainment hero? Would he be able to tell by your conversation, or by how you spend your time and money, where your allegiance is sworn?
The truth is, the King lives, but it’s not who so many people think it is, or who we often live like it is. Jesus Christ, the real Lord of lords and King of kings, was the Son of God. He was uniquely born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died a cruel death on our behalf at the hands of sinful men, then conquered death and the grave forever on the first Easter morn. And He lives today! Now that is someone worth following!
Enjoy your weekend of Elvis commemorations. But more than that, don’t miss the opportunity this Sunday to come and worship the real King, as we gather in His name at Shelby Crossings. I look forward to seeing you there.