Article for St Catharines Standard newspaper by Peter Youngren.
If you tuned in to the news this week you probably know that yesterday Elvis would have been 75 years old had he lived. I was never a devoted Elvis fan, though like most people I enjoyed his music from time to time. Whether a fan or not, no one can deny the impact Elvis continues to have on the American psyche.
A few years ago, while pastoring at Niagara Celebration Church, we did an illustrated sermon, “Crying in the Chapel”, telling some of Elvis’ story. To prepare myself, I read Elvis’ life story, “Down at the End of Lonely Street”, by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske. Here are some facts about Elvis that may have been missed in this week’s commemorations.
He came from a Pentecostal background with several preachers in the family. Elvis’ mother Gladys, would sometimes take her son “church-hopping” to sample some of the different styles of music, “especially those of the holy-rolling Assembly of God”. One of the relatives recalls, “they had services in the morning as well as the evening, if you got home by midnight you did good.”
The American church environment has produced a lot of great musicians and singers. Many of today’s top stars have a similar story, also being raised in an environment where gospel music was a part of daily life.
Elvis definitely had a spiritual side. Actress Natalie Wood claimed that she never met anybody so serious about God and the Bible. Later, about the time Elvis joined the U.S. Army, when success had crowded out almost every other interest, Elvis reportedly said “I can have anything I want, but I’m not as near God as I used to be.”
Becky Martin, a childhood friend, who stayed in touch with Elvis throughout the 1970s, said he used to reiterate “Becky, just think what I could have done if I’d become a preacher, think of the good I could have done if I’d lived my life spreading the Word of the Lord.”
One of the reasons for Elvis’ fascination with the Bible, Jesus, as well as religions other than Christianity, was fears about his own mortality. He thought he wouldn’t live past forty-two, especially in view of the fact that his mother had died at an early age.
Well, most people know how the story ended. Elvis realized his life was out of control and became so depressed that he kept taking ever larger doses of pills to make himself feel better. By the time he died he had become grossly obese, and one of his close friends reports Elvis saying “I know I look fat now, but I’ll tell you this, I’m gonna look good in my casket.”
At the funeral, noted evangelist Rex Humbard claimed to have prayed with Elvis to receive Jesus and that Elvis was in heaven. A lot of Christians didn’t like Rex Humbard’s proclamation, and thought it awful that someone should think a man who died of a drug overdose would be in the presence of Jesus. I don’t make it my business to decide who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. God is the final judge. However, if Elvis Presley trusted in Jesus’ death and resurrection, I have no trouble believing that I will meet Elvis in heaven. Better a “druggie” trusting in Jesus, than a self-righteous, “holier than thou” church goer trusting in his own good deeds.
Elvis called his home “Graceland”. Grace means unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor of God through Jesus Christ. If the thief on the cross went to paradise with Jesus 2000 years ago, why not Elvis? More importantly, why not you? Jesus is available to all, who feel their own righteousness is insufficient. Maybe Elvis will be right there singing in the celestial choir.