Bowie’s contribution to my life is more than his music. There is something about his ever present creativity that has haunted me. The first picture I saw of a man in make up was Bowie, before I knew what androgynous meant there was Bowie blurring the hard set lines of the 1970’s between male and female. His music had a challenging edge, his lyrics were at times incomprehensible, his looks were ever changing, he was forever asking questions, exploring what was possible, never settling simply for what worked or sold. He even played a stage version of ‘The Elephant Man’ without make up. Whenever I thought I knew what Bowie was about he’d re-emerge in a different guise, forcing me once again to see what else was possible.
It is not the content of his lyric or the beauty of his music that I remember most – I’m simply not a good enough fan to even start dissecting them. It is simply ‘Bowie’ the ever present creative figure that impresses me. I understand he struggled with spirituality and questioned God’s existence throughout his life. But it was a genuine struggle and they were questions that required answers. He could never manage to hold on to an atheism, always sensing the ‘other’ in his life. Although he’d looked at Buddhism (the Dali Lama told him not to be a Buddhist but to concentrate on his music instead) and even dabbled in the occult, he famously knelt down and recited the Lord’s Prayer in front of millions at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992.
“….In rock music, especially in the performance arena, there is no room for prayer, but I think that so many of the songs people write are prayers. A lot of my songs seem to be prayers for unity within myself. On a personal level, I have an undying belief in God’s existence. For me it is unquestionable.” Bowie, Arena Magazine 1993
Despite this Bowie would never declare himself to be of any particular faith.
“I have no empathy with any organised religions. What I need is to find a balance, spiritually, with the way I live and my demise." Bowie, Q Magazine Feb 1997
When I see such creativity exploding out of one man, when I see what is possible, I want to rejoice in the presence of our creator God. The one who made me, who made Bowie, is the very source of all creation. And then it leads me to wonder how the church as a body is often understood to be dull, uncreative, restrictive and damning. Our history of control and power has, at times, driven creativity out of the church and thereby creative people have found no connection between who we worship and the way they express their lives.
At the heart of creativity is question and challenge. I’m not simply referring to arts and crafts but the creativity required to be truly alive. How do we live the questions? How do we challenge ourselves and each other? So often the answer to life’s questions is ‘I don’t know’ and some people want a faith that tells us the answers. There is something of a creative tension in not having clear, one size fits all answers. Where is the creativity in simply looking up the answers? We learn through exploration. Even life’s most difficult times are a creative rediscovery of who we can be. Trusting that our creator God shares with us in our journey of shift, change, reformation and resurrection.
‘And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ Romans 5:2b-5
Just as David Bowie sought and kept an artistic truth throughout his ever changing exploration of himself, no matter what criticism came his way, so we can journey with God knowing that new beginnings are always ours.
I understand that Bowie’s wife, Iman, tweeted these last words before his death: "The struggle is real, but so is God."
It is the complete confidence in a knowledge of our creator God that Jesus showed us was possible. He did not share with us a set of doctrines and answers but called us to make the world a better place. And that will take true creativity.
‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ John 3:8