Uncle Ed let us know he was heading to town with plenty of notice. Our oldest did not want to miss time with him and asked us to commit to seeing him right away. A day or two before he arrived, our son let me know that Uncle Ed would actually arrive a little early, and wondered if we could meet up with him. Why not, I said. And when we met up with him, Uncle Ed was his usual self: full of gratitude, sharing his heart with others, and even bought us ice cream. How generous!
My students’ Auntie Taylor was in town recently, too. They were over the moon to spend time with her. She scheduled three full nights with them to play dress-up, share stories, and a dance party lasting for HOURS. The whole visit was such a gift of self and attention and evident preparation to be together.
As it turns out, Uncle Ed Sheeran and Auntie Taylor Swift only feel like family, but they have a powerful influence over our growing children, much more so than the family we only get to see and visit at holidays. Social media allows all of us the ability to connect with artists beyond what MTV, Seventeen magazine, and liner notes of CDs and cassette tapes allowed earlier generations. And as a result, some celebrities start to feel like family, and we learn more about them than we do our own flesh and blood, neighbors, colleagues, or classmates.
In this regard, I want to focus more on what artists and celebrities show us about themselves and their experiences and what they model for our children by being vulnerable in the lyrics they write and the creativity they share, not the content of gossip and criticism.
The ubiquity of certain celebrities eclipses some of the Bible tales we hope our children hold in their hearts, and perhaps stories from both sources share similar values, the fruits of the spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. And beyond that, these artists of our own time let us peek behind the curtain of processing grief, conflict, resilience, cooperation, and reconciliation.
Ed Sheeran and His Mathematics Tour
“+,” “x,” ➗,” and “-” are albums, that perhaps on accident, remind us that life is just this way. While physics govern our outside world, perhaps math is a helpful frame through which to view our relationships and the social and emotional roller coaster of being human. At the heart of the love we know from God comes times of addition and even multiplication and also subtraction and division. We can see this throughout the narratives and parables in the Bible and how Jesus called the disciples to live.
And I realized just exactly this while at Ed Sheeran’s concert with my 15-year-old son. He was beside himself in awe of the musical gifts Ed Sheeran was sharing, the mesmerizing visuals designed by talented graphic and set artists, and soaking in the community sharing appreciation for the beauty on display.
Music, by its very nature of blending instruments and voices, notes and rests, models collaboration, and “collabs” are becoming more common among music artists today. From a more cynical standpoint, sure, collaboration generates more exposure for an artist, but it also models a humility of “better together” and cooperation. Sheeran performed a collaboration with opener Khalid called “Beautiful People,” and also sang “I Don’t Care,” which he wrote but Justin Bieber recorded.
Prior to the concert, Sheeran posted on his Instagram account that he would be “popping up” in downtown a few hours before the concert. My son and I drove down and hung out with a couple thousand of our closest friends in anticipation of a smaller and more intimate jam session. Sure enough, Sheeran arrived in an ice cream truck, handed out ice cream to everyone present, and performed a couple of his new songs from the roof of the truck. Just Ed and his guitar.
These new songs reflect of a period of grief after the death of his best friend and other relational strife. Grief that I know I am not good at sharing with my own children, tending instead to lock it up. I’m so grateful “Uncle Ed” is more open with his feelings.
Taylor Swift and Her Eras Tour
Thank goodness our children have and often look to extended family because the parent-child relationship is complicated. Part of what makes music and artists so intriguing is they put into words what so many of us cannot: love, heartbreak, joy, disappointment, anticipation… insert any of our human emotions here, and they are willing to share those joys and those pains publicly. This vulnerability generates income but also comes at a price. Taylor Swift has experienced both extremes of that celebrity.
Swift models how we change through our own eras, that “to everything there is a time.” She tends toward taking the high road consistently, and shows us we don’t always come out on top. Her grace under pressure (and under a celebrity microscope) demonstrates that even when you can afford to have everything, integrity still matters.
The Eras tour includes Swift performing 44 songs, almost non-stop, complete with dance numbers, wardrobe changes, and a loving and humble energy that goes unmatched. For comparison, an average concert includes 20 songs from the headliner. This gift of energy, performance, and heart models hard work and dedication for our kiddos. That’s a. lot. of. music.
We can’t be everything for our children. At least, I haven’t found how to be the firm, authoritative parent, an understanding listener, a model of patience and generosity (especially whilst they wrestle on the couch next to me), disciplinarian, fixer of broken skin and broken hearts, AND vulnerable enough to share my harder life lessons learned in my own experience.
We get to be spectators as Sheeran and Swift experiment with various forms of musical expression: pop, ballads, rap, sing along catchy songs, thoughtful, aggressive, hopeful… and we can be encouraged to play with our own expressions too, in our God-given creative ways.
I am grateful for the family we have as part of our proverbial village to raise our kids: flesh and blood, better friends than we deserve, selfless teachers, a loving church community, and our extended extended family: Uncle Ed, Auntie Taylor and other artists who help us all learn how to be human.