Elvis has left the building

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

It must have seemed innocent enough; in fact, an act of generosity and love inspired the whole of it.

I was intrigued to learn how Elvis Presley was discovered when news broke of the death of the man responsible for that discovery.

Apparently, Elvis went into one of those "do-your-own-record" recording studios, inquiring about the cost of making a recording of gospel songs for his mom for a birthday present. The price? $5. The rest? History.

Off he went, inspiring hundreds and thousands of young women to swoon in his presence. The mystique of Elvis lives on, though he died young and many years ago.

I have to wonder, if he could have seen the path before him, would he have been as eager to walk it as he was on that first day? Certainly, the innocence that walked into the studio that day was lost. Rumors abound about the degradation of his spirit through the years, and the mystery surrounding the circumstances of his death is cloaked in darkness. All that can reasonably be ascertained is that he didn't die of natural causes, at least not in the strictest sense.

I was a bit young for the first Elvis phenomenon, but I did enjoy a lot of his movies when they played on television. When I was a teenager, he enjoyed a comeback of sorts, albeit short-lived in my generation. As I recall, that phase was very short-lived. For the most part, his faithful fans were his early fans, and the phenomena continues to this day.

Nevertheless his phenomenon reaches even our most contemporary films, as evidenced by my favorite line in "Men In Black."

Tommy Lee Jones has revealed to Will Smith the aliens that (according to the story) live and work among us, undetected. The extraterrestrials are disguised as humans, animals and bugs. Smith is not surprised to learn that his grammar school teacher was in actuality from some far flung planet, and I doubt anyone in the movie-going audience was surprised to see Dennis Rodman's alien origins revealed. The trade-off was found in the enormous advances in technology shared by our star-hopping companions. (The microwave oven among them, or so the story goes.)

Smith has been hired to help police this odd assortment of creatures, who apparently have many of the same tendencies toward less-than-honest endeavors as their human counterparts.

Chasing down a suspect Jones puts an Elvis recording in the car stereo. Smith, unimpressed with Jones' archaic music library asks, "You do know that Elvis is dead, don't you?" To which Jones responds cheerfully, "No he's not, he just went home."

That's it. That's the line. I watch the whole movie just to hear that line. Because maybe, just maybe, it's not far from the truth.

It seems I spent the greater part of my youth trying to fit in -- and never quite making it. I felt like a misfit at home and at school, and to this day, there are few situations where I feel completely at home.

Whereas in my youth I could attribute the feeling of not belonging to the ordinary angst of adolescence, more common than not; as I grow older, I recognize the difference now is one of perspective.

You see, I do not believe that this is all there is. This earth is not my forever home. Nor is it any man's. "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that face judgement." (Hebrews 9:27)

Nor do I believe that mankind is headed for his finest hour -- in fact just the opposite. For all of our high-flown ideals, we continue to descend to new depths of depravity on a daily basis. We are, as a people, no better than the worst among us, after all.

Scripture talks about believers as aliens and foreigners in the world (I Peter 2:11) and Jesus acknowledges before Pilate that "my kingdom is not of this world" recorded in John 19:36.

So, whenever I find myself getting caught up in the pursuits of this world, a bigger house, a nicer car, more status, prestige or money, I try to remind myself that this journey is just that, a journey, and one day, I'll go home.

And maybe, just maybe, when I get there, I'll see Elvis, singing that birthday gospel song for his mama, the song that started it all.

"For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21 (NIV)

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