Monday, October 8, 2012

Odd Theology: P.O.D. & the "I Am"

For those sensitive, the following post contains bad words. 

Read if you wish.

For those that don't know, P.O.D. released their newest album recently, and with it has come a firestorm of controversy within some Christian circles. You can see my review of the album here, but I'm more interested in exploring why and how this song "I Am" received such a frosty response. 

For thoughts that interact with mine, check out James Arnold's post.  

CRITICAL CHRISTIANITY

I reviewed the album before the official release and honestly missed the controversial word. I only noticed it when my friend James pointed it out to me via text message, and he heard it from my friend Calvin. I went back and finally listened to the song several times, and was shocked. Not at how aggressive and profane it came across, but by how blatantly Christian the song was. 

Here are some excerpts from critical reviews that I found to be gravely missing the point.

JesusFreakHideout:
Though P.O.D. claims to be a mission-based band focused on reaching the lost, their main fan base is undeniably in the Christian market. Many were shocked, and will be shocked, to hear that the boys decided to go with a word that is held as the ultimate "dirty word" in our society. Sonny sings, "Are You the one that's comes to set me free? 'Cause if You knew who I am would You really want to die for me? They say You are that cursed man, the one who hangs from this tree. Well I know You are the one and Son of God, so tell me who the f*** is he?" It's been a point of contention for quite some time now (since an unedited form of the song made the rounds to media). Thankfully, the guys decided to edit the word after some prayer and deliberation, but the fact remains that it is plainly there and recognizable, smeared out or not. In my opinion on the matter, I find it unacceptable. The usage of such a word directly after the name of Christ is completely disheartening and dirties the most beautiful name on earth. I understand reaching out to a person that doesn't know Christ, but that doesn't mean we have to act or talk like them to accomplish the mission, role-playing or not.
The author goes onto complement most of the tracks, suggesting that without the addition of "I Am" the album would've earned four stars. But this one song sadly "skews" the entire album.

Pluggedin:
So what's with the crass slang and rogue f-word? Regardless of the intended social or spiritual commentary, they just don't belong here. Ultimately, Sonny Sandoval, Marcos Curiel, Traa Daniels and Wuv Bernardo do a better job stumping for their San Diego heritage and the 'hood than respecting their legion of Christian fans. Moreover, there's enough righteous anger and grim imagery on hand that some young Warriors could get fired up and pointed in the wrong direction. Parents inclined to let their children download Murdered Love's safer tracks a la carte should still plan to walk through those lyrics together.
So, here are two examples that I will explore in the next section.

KEEPIN' IT REAL & OR CULTURE GAP DEFINITIONS?

The review by JFHO has simply missed the boat for the ocean. A minor point first. The "dirty word" in our society can easily shift tomorrow to something silly like "floops" or some such absurdity. Ask someone what the worst thing you can call someone, and you will get several different (colorful?) responses. This is a subjective claim.

Second, I don't think P.O.D. has ever been concerned about what evangelical Christians have thought. Especially when these same Christians (not JFHO that I know of) made a point of getting on P.O.D.'s case about tattoos, touring with Linkin Park and other such things. Sonny has made it clear that he isn't interested in the homogenized atmosphere that evangelicalism can produce. 

Third, I find it completely acceptable to include the word. Why? Because Sonny isn't writing for the reviewer of JFHO or PI or even me. The issue is solidarity, and Sonny has chosen to side with the victims. The poor, the abused, the forgotten, the deemed worthless. Seriously, I doubt that these souls mince their words about their experiences and since Sonny is channeling their voices into this song, why would he? In talking to non-Christians, I encourage honesty and that includes listening and saying what is on my heart, and listening to what is on theirs. This is identification with victims. Plain and simple. This is relationship.

It simply isn't fair to the context of what Sonny is singing about. The reviewers may not like it, but this reveals a large gap between Christendom, namely this:

Idealization and reality.

P.O.D. has shown they aren't interested in playing up the idealized notion of everything is okay. Everything is not okay. Read the headlines. Look at the slums in San Diego and Los Angeles. Look at these mega-churches and the wealth they have. Everything is not okay. To expect them to acquiesce to the reviewers' personal preferences of how one "ought" to talk is simply not how experiences and reality work.

Interestingly, if one listens to the entire song in context and avoids zeroing on the naughty words, the song is incredibly powerful. It includes spiritual warfare, a hearty dose of total depravity and Sonny explicitly paraphrases 2 Corinthians 5:17, and this passages deals with restoration and inclusion with Christ. This also echoes Isaiah 43:18, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past." The song is redemptive and triumphant. It is overcoming sin with grace, with atonement, with Christ.

This not only implies that the soul involved is delivered from his or her suffering, but that Jesus is the only way. This song, from a theological standpoint, is as orthodox as one can be. You have atonement, resurrection, and redemption as clear as a bell. If I may be allowed to be cheeky, this should not be about "farewell Sonny Sandoval."

This is a triumphant ending to a sad, horrific story about individuals desperately in need of Jesus. This track is as missional than anything I've heard sung in church. Perhaps even more so.

And we miss such things because the word fuck?

PRAYING WITH ANGER

I'm not necessarily of the opinion that one has to conform to an image in order to convert the image bearer, but there is a time and place to recognize that things aren't as simple as we would like to think.

Sonny and Christianity Today:
The new album seems like the most explicitly Christian one you've ever done:

I don't think it was thought out that way; I think it's just what's on my mind. As I read Scripture and prepare for the return of the King, it's like, this is the reality. This is the truth. Kids in this culture, as extreme as they are and as crazy as they are, need truth. We don't have time to sugarcoat the gospel. It doesn't take a genius to realize that we're all living in a dying world, and without our faith in God and without his redemption we're lost. These kids realize that. So I think they just need someone real and relatable that says, "You're worth much more than you think, and God's not your problem. He's for you; he's not against you. And once you realize God loves you, you have to embrace it and make a decision on how you live your life."
Context is everything. Singing about sin doesn't involve butterflies and prosperity for every person. It instead invites us to look into the darkness for anyone, and to dive into it without abandon. We are called to imitate Christ, and He didn't seem to have a problem getting His hands dirty.

Sonny's purpose in this song is mission. Is seeking out those that are lost. 

If one reads the Psalms, or even Job, you will see prayers that are fraught with anger, with abandonment, with sin. Crying out, yelling. All this to say, the fundamental difference is reality versus idealization. Some Christians are idealists, and others are realists.

I am a realist. I don't expect good things to happen, and I've been not only blessed by "I Am" but I played the song with my very conservative mother in the car, and she got it. It prompted an insightful conversation about our hidden sin, and how condemnation always seems around the corner.

CONCLUSION:

But then there's this guy named Jesus. The guy who makes all things new.

And He moves in mysterious ways.

The people this song is about don't hear the naughty language, they hear the identification. They hear the understanding, the empathy, the sympathy. This makes them open. This let's them know that they are human.

This assures them that they aren't alone. Never alone.

P.O.D. and I Am:
I am the murderer, the pervert, sick to the core
I am the unclean dope fiend, I am the whore
I am the beat down, mistreated, sexually abused
I have violated, fornicated, and sexually used
I am the con artist, cold hearted, smooth preacher
Cash stealer, emotion bleeder, the soul leecher
Feed off the poor, but I'm a slave to the rich
I'm in depression so this reflection is making me sick

Are you the one that's come to set me free?
Cause if you knew who I am, would you really wanna die for me?
They say you are the cursed man, the one who hangs from this tree
But I know this is the one and only son of god, so tell me, who the fuck is he?

I am fake, fraud, phony, I'm a known liar
Anorexic, rejected object of your desire
Suicidal thoughts keep one in the chamber
I'm a turned out streetwalking heroin banger
I am a secret cutter, porn lover, the town drunkard
Next door, neighborhood slut, I'm somebody's mother
Outcasted, arrogant, bastard son
I'm the talk of the town but this story has just begun

Are you the one that's come to set me free?
Cause if you knew who I am, would you really wanna die for me?
They say you are the cursed man, the one who hangs from this tree
But I know you are the one and only son of god, but tell me, who the fuck is he?

So tell me
So tell me!

And now it's spreading like a deadly disease
And now it's spreading like a deadly disease
And now it's spreading like a deadly disease
But I won't let you bury me!
Woo!

I am
I am what you've reaped, I am what you've sewed
I am that guy talking to himself, I am alone
I'm the forgotten child, ravaged and raped through sex traffic
Since I'm a little strange, my daddy called me a faggot
I am insecure, immature, even I disgust me
In denial, pill poppin', prescription junkie

Are you the one that's come to set me free?
Cause if you knew who I am, would you really wanna die for me?
They say you are the cursed man, the one who hangs from this tree
But I know you are the one and only son of god, but tell me, who the fuck is he?

So tell me

I see demons, eyes bleeding, my soul impure
Already know that I'm diseased, but tell me what's the cure?
This is me, we are him, and I am you
Old things pass away and all becomes new
This is me, we are him, and I am you
Old things pass away and all becomes new
This is me, we are him, and I am you
Old things pass away and all becomes new
--Nick 

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for tackling this. Solid stuff.

    I think here's the rub. The first reviewer you quoted said, "The usage of such a word directly after the name of Christ is completely disheartening and dirties the most beautiful name on earth".

    What he's missing here is that Jesus Himself allowed his name to be dirtied for the sake of the sinful and broken. He put himself in a position where he was called a sinner/drunkard by the righteous religious, because it was so important for him to identify with the "lost".

    If Jesus wasn't afraid to dirty his name for the sake of love, should we be?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. Agreed.

      If we're "in Christ" and pursuing Him and are called to imitate Him, what is it we are missing? Maybe the call to dive in is what we've been overlooking.

      --Nick

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  2. Loved this post. It reminded me of my reaction to Tony Campolo saying "shit" in a chapel makeup. He'd drawn contrast between the audience's concern that he cussed and their apathy towards a statistic he'd stated just before ("40,000 children died last night of starvation").

    I disliked it because, at the time, I was convinced he'd done it for shock value and to draw attention to himself... I was all about my cynical view and how far above my peers it elevated me, not about the hurting.

    I've heard Sonny speak numerous times and even met him once (briefly). The guy is for real. It seems like most folks who go minister to the lost come back not caring at all about churchy sensibilities.

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  3. I haven't listened to P.O.D. in over 10 years. Not my taste in music. I did meet Sonny though a number of years ago and do recall how on fire for Jesus he is. I respect that man and what he carries. Regardless, I find it funny that we as generalistic as "we" can mean;

    "WE" as christians get so uptight and all of a sudden righteous when it comes down to christian musicians and artist swearing, when a artist or pro ball player gets caught with a beer in his/her hand, when a preacher gets too comfortable in the hidden sin that it becomes public.

    "WE" feel the need to make comments, jokes and judgements towards heart issues that only God knows.

    "WE" feel the need to then banish and remove these people from our sights and from our stages because obviously God cannot work through imperfect people... history has proven that only the best, most qualified and purist people can be used by God. (please note the sarcasm)(cough* Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Paul, Peter etc. cough*)

    "WE" feel the need to limit, choke and pigeon hole the artists ability to relate, express and release some of the deepest feelings of the soul into some white washed, sandi patti, nicety so that our feathers don't ever get ruffled.

    AGAIN. These are all generalist blanketing statements. I'm not saying you post does this. But I am also not saying I agree and think its in poor taste to say that word. I say that word. I've been a christian for 23 years. I've been a pastor for 6. I've been a worship leader for 13. But I've been battling the frustrations of sin for 28.

    Scripture says "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." in Eph 4:29.

    Does that word open doors? Yes.
    Does that word close doors? Yes.
    Does that word spur conversation amongst christians? Definitely

    Is the word offensive? Only if you want it to be.
    Its only your responsibility if you get offended or not.

    I'm not sure who came up with the dictionary and decided which words were considered "swear words." Frankly, from my understanding of scripture it has nothing to do with the word at all, but all to do with the heart in which any and all words are spoken. At the end of the day we have to understand that the truth of the Gospel is offensive regardless. And in order to find Truth there must be tension. God often offends the mind to reveal the heart. So I welcome the fact that we have artist like Sonny who are Championing Christ to the lost and meeting people where they are at who would otherwise never shadow the doors of a church.

    Thats my 2 cents on it. I could go further into the attitude of the heart, but we've all heard those conversations...

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