Rocketman: reinventing redemption

Elton John’s moment of redemption arrives in Rocketman when he wraps his younger, abandoned and fragile self in a loving embrace. Integration of a fragmented human is underway. Or put another way, the Self, the God within us is on the move.

Months earlier Elton strode into rehab outfitted like a demonic angel after 20 years staggering through a haphazard parade of grog, pills, cocaine, booze, sex and outrageous costumes whilst still creating music that made us devotees. Underneath, he struggled to reconcile his childhood in a hostile environment between two people in a loveless marriage. He felt abandoned. His life spiralled out of control.

Eventually, the realisation dawned for Elton that the external chaos surrounding him was a reflection of his internal dislocation. Being abandoned had consequences; he was unable to love himself and went on to abandon his inner reality and others. His was a classic tale ripe for redemption that Elton says, anyone can get if they try. That takes some thinking about given that redemption is a word still tethered to religious understandings.  

Since 1935 Alcoholics Anonymous has been offering a redemptive process through their 12 Steps, which includes a strong emphasis on the idea that will power is not enough to make significant change, instead what is needed is reliance on a power greater than oneself. This power is referred to as God, not defined but open to interpretation.

However, there has been significant criticism of AA’s philosophy because it appears to be rooted in an evangelical Christian approach that supports belief in a supernatural God, which can create obstacles for many. This approach is, in part, due to the influence of what was called the Oxford Group who fostered the religious experience of Rowland Hazard, one of the early AA members. 

Hazard had been a patient of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung who recognised after three months treatment that nothing short of a conversion experience would help because Hazard’s, ‘craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God’. Unfortunately, that openness around spirituality got overwhelmed by a more literal approach for some AA groups.

A thirst for wholeness is language we can understand today. It might be expressed in different ways as people search for a soul mate, a sense of peace, belonging, connectedness or a desire to ‘get my shit together’. Whatever it sounds like the yearning for union and integration resonate. This often activates the need to go on a heroic journey to face and integrate one’s demons before re-entering life more connected with our inner centre, sometimes called God, or the Self.

For some people, including Elton John, this journey is nothing short of miraculous, but it’s not a miracle that comes from a God ‘out there’. Instead, the miracle comes about as our deeper source of being, often abandoned in earlier life, is reconnected with. Under those circumstances, God is dependent on our interaction for existence. We are interdependent. Now that’s a God I can live with.

4 Replies to “Rocketman: reinventing redemption”

  1. Whatever works for us is one response – whatever brings healing and hope. I cannot escape nor do I want to my conviction of the reality of God whose unconditional love is freely imparted to all people. God loves me – not for what I’ve achieved or done or not done but because love is God’s nature. It’s easy therefore to love myself because that isn’t entirely dependent on others loving me. I am empowered to love my neighbour because love is the natural expression of all who know they are themselves loved – and that makes it easier for others to love us as we are not constantly draining them of their love to support us. From love arises a passion for justice, a willingness to be merciful and an acceptance of God’s gifts of freedom and grace. If we can encourage all the world to accept that they are loved, live in the gift of freedom, love others with the same delight as they do themselves and where wrong is evident accept the grace of forgiveness, be empowered for transformation and we will be at peace. John Marcon Te Kauwhata.

    1. Thanks John. Your response is much appreciated.

      It seems to me that words and language and the way we string these together is so important in talking about God, however that is experienced for people. For some, God appears external to them, somewhat separate. To others there is a sense of an inner divine presence that is hard to separate from one’s own being, almost as though they are indivisible.

      These are the things that I try and tangle with, in part because the language and construction of that language around God that I grew up just doesn’t work for me anymore and doesn’t fit my experience of what I understand to be Godde. But my way of seeing things is not for everyone.

      But these differences interest me and its partly why I’m always trying to see how various people experience and talk about it. I think Elton John has his own way and I’m so appreciative that he and Bernie Taupin have shared their insights of the Divine with us all through their music and this movie.

      Thank you for sharing your way of seeing and understanding God.

      Best wishes …

  2. Thank you Sande. Such a helpful piece. I really appreciated being able to sit here, read through a few times, take in its insights and enjoy the unburdening from views about God that some seek to impose and which so easily clutter up life.
    Have you read Mary Oliver? Her book Devotions is wonderful. I think you’d enjoy her remarks about prayer. In one poem she writes about putting together words for prayer and not seeing this as a contest but a doorway into thanks and silence where another voice may speak.
    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/27/what-mary-olivers-critics-dont-understand

    1. Thanks so much Frank
      Unburdening views about God that descend on us from varied sources is perhaps the work of a lifetime. Mine anyway! Glad my piece could contribute to this for you.

      I have read Mary Oliver. I like her a lot because she seems to talk to and about God in ways that I can comprehend. Doorways are so important. Doorways to more that are unnamed by others but always open.

      Hope all is well with you. Thanks again.

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