The Beach Boys and Bonhoeffer At 40,000 Feet

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.
— Psalm 150:6 CSB

Is it possible to worship God listening to the Beach Boys?

I have been working my way through I Am Brian Wilson, the fascinating account of the talented and troubled singer-songwriter. Wilson is one of the original members of the Beach Boys. His references to musicians, producers, and a lifetime of songs has transformed me into a digital archeologist.

Morning walks or late-night flights, it doesn't matter. I'm constantly searching Amazon and Apple Music to dig up songs. I want to hear the tunes that shaped his life.

Now, 40,000 feet up and on my way to Memphis, I'm listening to Kokomo, a fan favorite though a song Wilson did not write and only later performed.

Kokomo is steel drums, soft vocals in beautifully layered harmonies, and the exquisite dance of saxophone, percussion and accordion, mingling with slide, acoustic, and bass guitars.

I'm loving it. The music is easing my day . . . and I'm giving God thanks!

Wait a minute! I'm not in church. The lyrics are suspect. But the instrumentation and harmonies are moving my soul to a hallelujah of thanksgiving for this gift called music.

How am I supposed to think about this? Then I remember Jubal.

Jubal, mentioned in Genesis 4:21, "was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes." His name, according to Hebrew experts, carries the idea of inventor or producer.

Phil Spector, George Martin, Dr. Dre . . . they all trace their roots to Jubal. For that matter so do:

Adele and All Sons and Daughters
Barry White and Big Daddy Weave
Charlie Puth and Chris Tomlin
Celine Dion and Fanny Crosby
Johnny Cash and John Newton
Hunter Hayes and Hillsong

How can such disparate artists drive me to the same place? How can they bring a good mood of the soul, an easing of my burdens, an appreciation and wonder before God; especially when many of the artists and their songs are far from him?

As I read Wilson's account, I am beginning to get my answer.

In 2003, Wilson received an honorary doctorate from Northeastern University in Boston. He is uncomfortable speaking in public, so when his turn came to address the audience he called four members of his band to the stage. They performed a five-part harmony of "Graduation Day."

The graduates loved it, giving the five a huge ovation. Wilson trekked back to his car after the festivities where he exclaimed:

"Did you hear those harmonics? I hope the kids at Northeastern got something from them. There's so much to get. If you hit them right, you have everything you need in the world, just for a moment."

Brian is right. For a moment the harmonies give you "everything you need" because they are the echoes of a world in all its spendor, majestically ordered by our perfect God.

Music at its best is Genesis 1:31 in rhyme and rhythm.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed.

Music is also a beautiful reminder that all the world belongs to God: instruments and musicians, harmonies and melodies, performers and producers, audience and applause. 

The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord;
— Psalm 24:1 CSB

Bonhoeffer saw that and understood the implication for our lives. He writes:

We build Him a temple, but we live in our own houses. Religion has been exiled to Sunday morning, to a place into which one gladly withdraws for a couple of hours, but only to get back to one's place of work immediately afterward. The religion of Christ is not a tidbit after one's bread, on the contrary, it is the bread or it is nothing.  People should at least understand and concede this if they call themselves Christian."  Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy". p 82

We miss the goodness of God when we only meet Him in church. Paul tells us, "in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). He is present everywhere. That means glimpses of his glory can be found on every record, in every musician, and in the face of every person in the crowd.

The religion of Christ is experiencing Christ in every facet of life. This is "our bread."

So tonight, 40,000 feet in the air it's Kokomo and worship.

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Hallelujah!


  • "Did you hear those harmonics?" from I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir, by Brian Wilson with Ben Greenman. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press. 2016. Page 131.
  • "Jubal” has been related to yĕbûl, meaning “produce,” and the rhyming “Tubal” is a continuing sound play. Thus the associative sounds imply that they are inventors (“producers”). Matthews, K. A. (1996). Vol. 1A: Genesis 1-11:26. The New American Commentary (287–288). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.