Hugh Laurie is one amazingly talented man.
World champion rower (before he gained a Blue rowing for Cambridge University), revue artist, writer, actor – comic (Bertie Wooster) and serious (Dr. House), and now blues musician.
All to the highest standards.
So he’s an achiever. He also thinks.
In last Sunday’s TV programme – a tribute to his abiding blues influence, Professor Longhair – he made quite a few observations about life, not least the differences between Americans and British in their attitude to religion. Well, he didn’t actually say much about religion – just about angels. What seemed to get him was that, whereas the vast majority of people over here don’t believe in angels, the opposite is true Stateside.
So – Americans are naive? No, I think that Hugh Laurie was probably saying that two people can have extraordinarily different views about things but that one thing can still unite them. For him, that’s music. And not just any music but blues music. As he said early on in the programme, blues music gathers up some of the most profound elements of human life – life, death, pain, joy, grief, love, hope. It not only blends them but makes them ‘felt’. In this way, when musicians play the blues together they experience a unity and depth of being that isn’t found through any other means.
For him that’s religion enough.
It seems the Lauries were a somewhat mirthless Presbyterian family. The church they attended when Hugh was young believed in hard work but not in enjoyment of life. Most of his adult life seems to have been spent in adopting the first principle but actively altering the emphasis of the second.
Which is pretty much what Jesus aimed to do.
He profoundly disliked the attitudes of the stricter religious people. ‘They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden’, he said at one point. But about himself he said ‘I have come to this world so that people could learn to experience real life and that in the fullest way possible.’
To be honest, it doesn’t seem like that in lots of churches. And I can see why Hugh Laurie finds blues music far more expressive of where most people are at. It’s got a breadth and honesty about ordinary life that is immensely refreshing and affirming of human nature.
But there are limits to what music can do. It can’t heal and it can’t tell you how to relate to those who hate you. Though I agree that it can sooth the heart. It can’t release you from fear and it can’t tell you how to love your children. Though I agree it can help. It’s great and it’s a wonderful breaker-down of barriers between people but it’s never going to enable me to live the unique life that is mine. Nor you yours.
Only God can do that. And he’s given Jesus so that we can see exactly how ‘fullness of life’ works in a human. If that weren’t demonstrably true every day and in every circumstance of life, I’d certainly not believe in him. If that were the case, I’d agree that music were a much better option.
But it isn’t.
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.