It's been over twenty years, but I still remember that night. I had stopped by to see a friend of mine at work. She worked at the front desk of a dorm, so mainly it was a time to sit and talk. It was the mid-80s and the radio was blaring out the incipid hit from Kool & the Gang, "Joanna." Being a star radio DJ (or as much of a star as I could be playing top 40 music on AM radio in the 80s), I noticed the song but tried to ignore it. Suddenly my friend turned to me and said, "I can't understand why they wrote a song about Edna!"
The look on my face must have been something to behold -- one eyebrow raised, eyes darting around the room trying to find another radio playing a different song, mind racing every which way trying to think of ANY song referring to a girl named Edna. My friend must have realized that I was confused. To clarify, she said, "THAT song!" Pointing to the radio speaker, she began to sing, "Oh, Edna, I love you. . . " By that point I was unable to even blink.
"Uh, Tina," I finally began to speak very slowly, "That song is called, 'Joanna' not Edna."
"Oh," came the embarassed reply.
I never let her forget it. But to be honest, things like that happen to everyone. You think you know the words, and you've sung along with the song for months or even years only to find out that you've been singing the wrong words the whole time.
I remember taking a request at the radio station one night. It was a man wanting to dedicate a song for his lady friend. He wanted to ask for the Kool & the Gang song (them again?), "Cherish," featuring the lyrics, "Cherish the love we had. . . " but apparently he had been confused by something because he was convinced the song was called, "Chariots of Love." I did my best not to laugh, but in my mind I could hear the guy singing in his girlfriend's ear, "Chariots of love we had. . ."
There are plenty of other examples. You can feel free to add yours to the comments section. Maybe you were the one singing "Fire and Rain" with James Taylor, only you were warbling, "Obscene Fire and Obscene Rain." Or perhaps it was a good friend of yours who belted out "Ain't no woman like the one-eyed Gott!" Or maybe still you crooned Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" with the fellas at work, except you were the one yelling, "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy," instead of "Kiss the sky."
Let's face it, many times it's the singer's fault. It took my the better part of 20 years to figure out what Elton John was singing during "Crocodile Rock." And John Fogerty from Creedence Clearwater Revival even has fun with the popular misconception of the lyrics for "Bad Moon Rising." I heard him sing it wrong on purpose at a concert, "Hey the bathroom on the right," instead of "the bad moon on the rise." I've got to admire a rock star with self-depreciating humor. Even the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was lampooned by Weird Al Yankovic playing off the fact that no one could understand the lyrics of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
But you know, it's not just song lyrics that we mishear, think we know, then make fools of ourselves by singing them at the tops of our collective lungs. The same thing happens to us when we aren't really paying attention to God. We loudly sing what we thought we heard, or worse yet, what someone told us once but we never checked to see if it was true. Then sometimes we find out that what we had been singing the wrong words.
I've talked to people who were unafraid to sing out that God is an old man with a beard, yet when you check the lyrics in the Bible you find that God has no physical body, and even though He's been around forever, He never gets old. I've heard people belting out the tune that Jesus never claimed to be God, yet when I check the lyrics in the Gospels (especially John) those folks have the same command of facts as the man who called me at the radio station asking me to play Lionel Richie's "Say You'll Save Me" ("Say You, Say Me")
Why do these things happen? Often it's because we respect the person who first taught us the "faulty lyrics." Sometimes it's because we can't bear to think that we were wrong. Occasionally we refuse to consider facts because it could undermine the rest of our belief system. Usually though it's because we're too lazy to behave like Bereans. You remember the Bereans? They are the ones who got a hold of Paul's letters, but didn't take his word for it. They went back to the Scriptures to check out what Paul wrote. Sure they respected Paul, but they didn't want to be caught singing the wrong lyrics.
Laziness is inborn in most of us. I know it is readily available in my life. But Christian and non-Christian alike try to take the easy way out instead of facing a few hard facts. Like the fact that Jesus is who He said He was. And that the Bible is actually true. And that the truths of the Bible can be proven, if you're willing to work to figure it all out. But that four-letter word, work, keeps many away. And another four-letter word, fear, stops another large percentage. I hold in the highest esteem those people who are willing to look at the facts with an open mind, even if it means that something that they had sung over and over again could be wrong. And in Christians, this is a quality which is not only appreciated by God, but also expected.
You must be unafraid to examine what you believe and test it to determine whether you've been singing the right lyrics or if you've spent 28 years singing, "Welcome to the Hotel, can't afford ya'." I'm glad I'm singing the right words, and that I can stand for the truth of what I believe. The only way I can do that is by checking what I sing in the light of truth. I invite you to do the same. And if you find some lyrics that I have wrong, let me know and we'll check the sheet music together.