Some of you may be asking, ‘Who the heck is Liszt?’ Well dear friends, if you lived a few hundred years back and you asked that question, you might have been smacked or ignored.
The year was 1847; the instrument, the piano. The god who conquered the world with the piano was a man named Franz Liszt. Until Liszt stormed the world the piano had only been played solo along with other solo instruments on any given concert. Until Liszt everyone used and read their music in concerts. Even Mozart and Beethoven had used sketches to remind themselves of what and where to play. Until Liszt the violin ruled the world as the mighty thunderbolt of virtuosity. Liszt played the piano like a gladiator would ride a chariot. When Liszt came to town an entourage of adoring followers accompanied him. He was probably the world’s first fabulously rich musician. He traveled into town with several carriages dedicated to carrying his wardrobes, piano, roadies, stylists, and … well, ladies. Liszt was the first Rock Star.
When Liszt played the piano, ladies flung their jewels on the stage instead of bouquets. They shrieked in ecstasy and sometimes fainted. Those who remained mobile made a mad rush to the stage to gaze upon the features of the divine man. They fought over the green gloves he had purposely left on the piano. One lady fished out the stub of a cigar that Liszt had smoked. She carried it in her bosom to the day she died. Gross.
Liszt changed music forever. Every time you see a rock star, know that they are great, great, great grandchildren of the mighty Franz Liszt. One could compare his popularity to that of Bono. A more accurate comparison would be to compare Liszt to both Bono and the Pope. He was that famous and revered. The imagination of the average person in the 19th century was a more fertile soil for legend and myth to grow. So by the time Liszt made it to your town, the legend and fervor that preceded him was colossal.
There were other similarities that Bono and Liszt shared. Along with a huge sex appeal, they shared a devotion to Christ. Bono, like Liszt before him, shares a devotion to Catholicism. Liszt wore a Priest’s cassock the later half of his life and was never seen in public without it. After his run-in with fame, he spent a good ten years in a monastery. Liszt was instrumental in sharing the gospel with Wagner. It is even rumored and speculated that Wagner converted near the end. Of course this could be because Wagner wanted more of Liszt’s money, not just his daughter. Even if Wagner did not convert, who else could have shared the truth to him?
Sometimes I think we assume that because Artists are not working in the Church, singing ‘Christian Music’ or they are not using their artistic gifts in direct relation to the Church then they are not Christians. I am tired of these assumptions. I made one recently about Ben Folds. Shaun Groves pointed out that he was brought up in Church so all we really know is that we don’t know either way. He could be either. Of course Ben knows, but he doesn’t go around telling everyone that he is like he is the perfume lady at Dillard’s spraying perfume in everyone’s face whether they really want to smell it or not.
The fact that well known artists do not wear their Evangelism on their sleeve, makes some Christians mad. Most Christians didn’t know that Bono was a believer until this last year when an atheist journalist delved into Bono’s spirituality and asked him point blank. To which Bono replied, and I paraphrase and condense, “Not just yes, but hell yes.” He described why he is a Christian with more meaning and power, over the phone to this journalist, than I have ever heard in any venue or setting. Probably the only person that could have made sense of the Gospel to that man at that moment in that man's life and he didn't see it coming.
I think that sometimes people shouldn’t see us coming.
Last Christmas I stood huddled with my Baptist compadres in a homeless shelter to help the workers at Loaves and Fishes feed the poor. What I didn’t know was there was a priest, in plain clothes, sitting with the homeless guys at their table talking to them and eating. I didn’t see him there and I bet they didn’t know who he was at first either. They just thought he was one of them.
Sometimes God turns up in the most unlikely people- Liszt, Bono, and maybe even Ben Folds.
Sometimes Evangelism is an inside-out job
Just ask Niebuhr.