No Brown M&Ms

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Photo courtesy of Lallier Love Photography

The world of rock and roll confuses me. Let’s just go ahead and get that out of the way right now. The more I read about it, the less I feel like I understand it—and the less I feel like the bands who made it a reality understand it. Most bands’ stories read with all the coherency and plot twists of a primetime soap opera—crumbling relationships, promiscuity, drug dependency, public feuds, mudslinging, and then, against every semblance of probability, the previously disowned band members get back together for a highly successful reunion tour.

With an industry that seems to operate exclusively on drug-fueled drama, it’s unusual for any rock-related stories to really outdo other rock-related stories. “So-and-so trashed a hotel room.” Yeah, no surprise there. “This one guy has a serious substance abuse problem.” Kind of figured that a while ago, actually. “You won’t believe how much this one band makes.” I bet I will. “These guys have a ‘No Brown M&M’ clause in their contract.” Yeah, of course they d—

Wait, what?

The price of brown M&Ms

In a contract rider that lead singer David Lee Roth compared in terms of thickness to “the Chinese Yellow Pages,” the band Van Halen had snuck in a perplexing demand. In addition to highly specialized technical requirements, the band required a bowl of M&Ms to be placed in the backstage area—but not just any M&Ms. The rider stated specifically, “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation” (Roth, Crazy From the Heat)

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Brown M&Ms: Not even once.

In other words, if the band showed up at a venue and found a bowl containing brown M&Ms or no M&Ms at all, they were legally within their rights to collect their checks and drive off without ever putting on a show. Typical rock star arrogance, right? Well…

Method to the madness

The now infamous “M&M clause” from Van Halen’s contract rider does look, at first glance, to be the typical wild demands of a rock band that knew it could ask for the moon without fear of rejection. But decades later, Roth would explain in his autobiography,

So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl…well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening (ibid).

The M&Ms were a test. If the venue had overlooked the clause about the M&Ms—or worse, ignored it because it didn’t seem important—then it was entirely likely it had overlooked another, truly important article in the rider. Roth related the story of one venue which didn’t understand that Van Halen’s equipment “weighed like the business end of a 747,” so when everything was set up, “the staging sank through their floor. They didn’t bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the arena floor” (ibid).

A test of faithfulness

Never in a million years did I think I would transition directly from talking about a rock band into a spiritual principle, but here we go. Christ explained to His disciples that “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11). That principle is reflected the Van Halen’s M&M clause—if the venue could not be faithful in following that simple instruction, how could they be trusted to follow some of the vital technical instructions? The fact that one venue had an entire stage fall through their brand new flooring illustrates potential for damage in failing to adhere to the rest of the contract.

As thick as Van Halen’s contract rider might have been, it’s safe to assume that the word of God is a bit thicker—and filled with instructions of much greater significance than the acceptable spacing of fifteen- ampere receptacles. In the space of 66 books, the Creator of the universe lays out the “vital technical instructions” for not only a fulfilling existence in this passing, temporary life, but also the pathway to eternal life in the Kingdom of God as His child.

That’s kind of a big deal.

Spiritual M&M clauses

As ingenious as Van Halen’s M&M clause was, God beat them to the punch by several thousand years. With a set of instructions as important as the ones contained in the Bible, God provided a handful of “test commandments”—instructions that would make it obvious as to whether or not we’re paying attention. Instructions that make it clear whether or not we’re taking His word seriously.

Take God’s Sabbaths. Vital in their own right, how we treat these Holy Days, whether they be weekly or annual, is an indicator of how we treat God’s word as a whole. Skeptical? Then consider the reason God gives for Israel’s captivity: “because they had not executed My judgments, but had despised My statutes, profaned My Sabbaths, and their eyes were fixed on their fathers’ idols” (Ezekiel 20:24). Again and again, Israel’s lack of regard for God’s Sabbath is linked to their lack of regard for His entire way of life. The prophet Isaiah reminds us,

If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 58:13-14)

The Sabbath is a day of rest; not a vacation day. If we’re using a day intended for worshipping and honoring God as a day to serve our own interests and hobbies, then what other parts of God’s law are we failing to properly honor?

Not that the Sabbath is the only thing God looks for in His people. He calls it a sign, not the sign between Himself and His people (Ezekiel 20:12). Other “no brown M&M clauses” include Paul’s admonition to “let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (Ephesians 4:29), to “in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3), and of course Christ’s command, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). These are just a few of the benchmark indicators that help reveal whether or not we’re serious about living “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

“Faithful in much” starts with “faithful in least”

When it came to Van Halen’s contract rider, there were two main reasons technicians might have failed to honor the “no brown M&Ms” clause: either they completely overlooked it when reading through the rider, or else they saw it and didn’t think it mattered. Neither of these scenarios is particularly comforting when some of the other requirements were literally a matter of life and death. If they overlooked that one clause, what other clauses did they miss? Would a steel support beam break mid-performance? Would an electrical outlet fry an unsuspecting band member? And if they read that clause and felt like it wasn’t important enough to follow, then what other clauses did they take this “pick and choose” approach with? Both scenarios suggest a high probability that something very important was overlooked.

This life is peanuts compared to the responsibilities we’ll face serving as kings and priests in the Kingdom of God. If we’re skimming or ignoring the instructions for this passing, temporary life, why on earth would God trust us with something as monumental as membership in His eternal family? Now is our time; now is our proving ground. God’s way of living ought to be something we continually strive to internalize, seeking daily to allow His Holy Spirit to bring our feelings and thoughts ever more in line with His own.

There is no inconsequential or unimportant aspect of the word of God. It’s all vital, and it’s all worth our complete attention.

Even the bits about brown M&Ms.

Until next time,

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