Muddy Waters and Biblical Interpretation

Okay, stick with me here. 

I became a blues fan in the 1980s during the huge blues revival ushered in by Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Robert Cray. My dad became a blues fan during the huge blues revival of the 1960s ushered in by the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals, and others.  During each revival, something wonderful happened. The original blues artists who inspired the young guns also saw tremendous surges in their popularity. Eric Clapton, the Stones, Johnnty Winter, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix sent music fans to the shops and the clubs after the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and Jimmy Reed. Freddie King started having hit records. Bo Diddley was a huge concert draw. Later on in the 1980s, Stevie Ray Vaughan fans rediscovered Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Lonnie Brooks, Johnny Copeland, and KoKo Taylor.

Muddy Waters, in particular, was fond of calling his disciples his sons.  He claimed Eric Clapton and Johnny Winter as his sons.  This was obviously not a biological claim, but rather a recognition that these “sons” of his were the bearers of his tradition and legacy. Clapton and Winter revered Waters and his work, and kept his music alive. Muddy knew that his music was safe in the hands of his “sons.” Muddy knew his music, his tradition, his legacy would live well beyond his body because they had been passed to his sons, who would then pass it to their own sons and daughters. 

I love the Bible. I love the passages that look to our eyes like genealogies. My theological mind can’t help but wonder sometimes if the genealogical lists in the Holy Scriptures are something beyond biological records. We tend to read them as standard genealogies because they look to our modernist minds like genealogies. But what if the claims put forth by these lists are not biological but rather theological? What if the lists in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke are meant to be taken as theological genealogies rather than biological ones? What if Jesus is the “son of David” in a way similar to how Derek Trucks is the son of Duane Allman, who is the son of Elmore James, who is the son of Robert Johnson?  

Sometimes language works in ways that go beyond the literal. Metaphors don’t always let you know they’re metaphors. (If they did, they’d cease to be metaphors; they’d be similes.) To limit the function of language to the literal is to rob it of much of its power. If we interpret all language as literal, we’ve sucked the life out of poetry

I could be completely wrong here, and I’m sure there are many within my denomination and tribe who would deem it necessary to “correct” me.  But I’m not trying to explain away any sort of inconvenient Biblical truths here. In fact, I’m seeking to find deeper meaning in passages that can be approximately as interesting as long division or watching mulch decompose. I’m not trying to say that Jacob (Israel) is not literally the son Issac and the grandson of Abraham; I’m choosing to focus on how the imago dei passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob.  Because I believe that the passing of imago dei through generations is far more important than passing DNA. But that’s just me. 

Johnny Winters is Muddy’s “son.”  Eric Clapton is Muddy’s “son.”  

I graduated from Eden Theological Seminary.  That puts Walter Brueggemann, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Richard Niebuhr in my theological genealogy, as well as Damayanthi Niles, Deb Krause, Steve Patterson, Clint McCann, John Bracke, Peggy Way, Joretta Marshall, and a host of others.  I’m United Methodist, which puts John and Charles Wesley in my theological DNA along with their beautifully diverse children from John Cobb, Schubert Ogden, and Marjorie Suchocki to Thomas Oden, William Abraham, and others.  

I’m also a blues-rock guitarist, which makes me a son of Eric Clapton.  And Muddy Waters.

I’m a man.  

I spell, M!  

A, child.

N. 

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Author: pastorwillie

Husband to a beautiful wife, father to four awesome children, Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, pastor of a great church in rural southern Illinois, guitarist, songwriter, ukulelist, blogger.

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