No I Has Heard

Yes, It Is Special, And No, It Isn't Satan

Yes, It Is Special, And No, It Isn’t Satan

Being preoccupied with the schism foolishness the past few weeks, I have had a chance to return to what I wanted to be a main topic on this site – music.  Today, I’ve set myself a challenge with a rather high bar.  You see, one of my beliefs is that all music – not just hymns, but ALL music – at least has the potential to praise God.  The thing of it is, we have to be willing to hear, not with the ears of judgment, but rather the ears of discernment and faith, the whisper of the Spirit in the midst of the dropped bass, the sampled beats, and the distorted guitars of contemporary popular music.

Usually, for posts like this, I use songs with which I’m fairly familiar, which is cheating, really.  I’ve done the work of hearing the Spirit in the midst of the noise and chaos.  Instead, I chose three songs from this weeks Billboard Top Ten – one Hip-Hop/R&B song, one Contemporary Country Western song, and one heavy metal song.  I will provide the lyrics as well as videos.  The onus, it would seem, is on me.

Let’s start with what may be among the more popular songs across social and cultural barriers: “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo.

Jason
Jason Derulo
Get jazzy on me.

I’m that flight that you get on, international
First class seat on my lap girl, riding comfortable

‘Cause I know what the girl them need,
New York to Haiti
I got lipstick stamps on my passport,
You make it hard to leave

Been around the world, don’t speak the language
But your booty don’t need explaining
All I really need to understand is
When you talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Get jazzy on it

You know the words to my songs
No habla inglés
Our conversations ain’t long
But you know what is

I know what the girl them want,
London to Taiwan
I got lipstick stamps on my passport
I think I need a new one

Been around the world, don’t speak the language
But your booty don’t need explaining
All I really need to understand is
When you talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me

Uno, met your friend in Rio
Dos, she was all on me-o
Tres, we can ménage à three though
Quatro, ooh

2 Chainz!

Dos Cadenas, close to genius
Sold out arenas, you can suck my penis
Gilbert Arenas, guns on deck
Chest to chest, tongue on neck
International oral sex
Every picture I take, I pose a threat
Bought a jet, what do you expect?
Her pussy’s so good I bought her a pet
Anyway, every day I’m trying to get to it
Got her saved in my phone under “Big Booty”
Anyway, every day I’m trying to get to it
Got her saved in my phone under “Big Booty”

Been around the world, don’t speak the language
But your booty don’t need explaining
All I really need to understand is
When you talk dirty to me
Talk dirty to me (you you you)
Talk dirty to me (yeah yeah)
Talk dirty to me (talk to me)
Talk dirty to me (oh yeah)
Get jazzy on me.

What? I don’t understand!

Ah!  A song in praise of the lapdance.  Nothing could seem further from the Gospel, from a song of praise to God.  It even has a vulgar expression for a part of a woman’s anatomy, in the midst of the degradation of women and male braggadocio just to make it extra special.  How in the world am I going to find anything worthy of saying, “This, too, praises God!”

Well, first of all, isn’t the appreciative description of women’s bodies, albeit made crudely and with a heavy dose of belittling women, a praise for God’s creation?  Considering the thousands of years of women’s total degradation by the Church – they were the source of sin; their sexual attraction always a danger to the eternal salvation of men; their sexual parts often described as filthy and horrible – something for which we should be grateful?  We contemporaries, for all our clumsiness and sinfulness, at least have the decency to understand that women are beautiful creations, made by God, and we sing songs telling the world how wonderful their physical attributes are.  As nothing we humans do is ever NOT tainted by sin – except, perhaps, for those lucky few who’ve achieved entire sanctification – there is nothing more sinful in this song than, say, “For The Beauty Of The Earth”.  This song has the added bonus that it makes clear that a particular part of creation, too long denigrated as dung and filth, a creature so steeped in sin that contact should be minimized at all costs, is actually a person of beauty, even worth appreciating for physical attributes otherwise described as sinks of filth.  We are learning, however crudely and hesitantly, to praise the gift of other human beings.  This doesn’t, perhaps, rescue the song in its totality from its crudity, male boastfulness, and misogyny.  What it does, however, is show the world that even something as seemingly antithetical to “praise” as a song entitled “Talk Dirty” can be used by the Spirit to reach us, if we are willing to listen for it.

Our second entry is “Bottoms Up” by Brantley Gilbert:

I see you and me riding like Bonnie and Clyde
Goin’ 95 burning down 129 yeah
Looking for the law, while I push my luck
She’s ridin’ shotgun like it ain’t no thing
Turn the radio up so the girl can sing right
Pull into the party like “y’all wassup”
Tonight is bottoms up up
Throw it on down
Rock this quiet, little country town
Get up, drop a tailgate on ya truck
Find a keg and fill ya cup up
Kick it on back
Pretty little mama lookin’ at ya like that
Make ya wanna slide on in like “Girl, what’s up”
Yeah tonight is bottoms up up up
Get em up
Tonight is bottoms up up up
Get em up
Damn girl I gotta tip my hat
Never thought a country song would make you move like that yeah
And she’s doing it in daisy dukes
Girl she’s got ya tappin’ on a boys shoulder
Hey dog check this out
And that’s how girl do it in the dirty south yeah
She’ll have you on your knee “can I marry you?”

Yeah tonight is bottoms up
Throw it on down
Rock this quiet, little country town
Get up, drop a tailgate on ya truck
Find a keg and fill ya cup up
Kick it on back
Pretty little mama lookin’ at ya like that
Make ya wanna slide on in like “Girl, what’s up”
Yeah tonight is bottoms up up up
Get em up
Tonight is bottoms up up up
Get em up get em up get em up

Get em up

Hey y’all whatever ya sippin’ get it up in the air one time
Bottoms up

Let’s give a toast to the good times
All y’all get your drinks up high
Everybody feelin’ alright
Damn right
‘Cause tonight it’s bottoms up
Throw it on down
Rock this quiet, little country town
Get up, drop a tailgate on ya truck
Find a keg and fill ya cup up
Kick it on back
Pretty little mama lookin’ at ya like that
Make ya wanna slide on in like “Girl, what’s up”

Tonight is bottoms up up
Throw it on down
Rock this quiet, little country town
Get up, drop a tailgate on ya truck
Find a keg and fill ya cup up
Kick it on back
Pretty little mama lookin’ at ya like that
Make ya wanna slide on in like “Girl, what’s up”
Yeah tonight is bottoms up up up
Get em up
Tonight is bottoms up up up
Get em up

This little celebration of celebration can be criticized for praising drunkenness, the pursuit of fornication, and a kind of general debauchery that is everything we in the churches should be preaching against.  Alas, I would agree but only to an extent.  It is also a song of praise for communal celebration, for simply being together, friends gathering to have a good time on terms they understand.  We in the churches tend toward a stiffness and awkwardness in our get-togethers.  Because we Protestants in the United States share an aversion to alcohol rooted both in anti-Catholicism as well as an understanding of the damage alcohol abuse can do to families, even whole communities,  we tend to get especially “church ladyish” when we see and hear of parties where there’s a whole lot of drinking.  A song that encourages drinking, to encourage fornication – that’s an devilish stew indeed.

On one level.

On another, this song is little more than a recognition that when people get together to have a good time, they want to have a good time.  They want to relax, set their troubles from home and work and family aside, and just enjoy the pleasure of one another’s company.  From time immemorial, part of the grease that lubricates such events has been alcohol.  By loosening inhibitions, even the most stiff and awkward can relax, enjoy a laugh with friends, and appreciate the smile of that man or woman who we might have admired from a distance.  This is a song celebrating celebration, men and women gathered together to be grateful for a few hours to have some fun with few to no worries.  Even Jesus blessed a wedding at Cana with his presence, ensuring the best wine was served last.  If Jesus wasn’t above celebrating human celebration, why should we?

Finally, there the song “Dead But Rising” by Volbeat

Dear wind of Mississippi can you call him by name
I have followed his wings on a sunny day

I like to believe he’s the chosen one
I like to believe he’s the fallen one
Dead but rising

I raise the fist with power and fate
And wishing that his claws will grab on to my hand

I like to believe he’s the chosen one
I like to believe he’s the fallen one
Dead but rising

I have been to the end of waters
I have been to the end of earth
I’ve been over mountains and riding the storms
Dear son your words have reached me
And for that I can carry on
I’ll guide you in spirit
Today I’ll be home

I like to believe he’s the fallen one
I like to believe he’s the chosen one
The rebirth of man heals a bleeding heart
The eagle of kings wears my father’s soul

Dead but rising

What can I say about this odd entry?  I like that the lead singer from a heavy metal band is wearing a vest?  I like that he is actually singing?

We can go all sorts of ways with this one.  We can say, “Ooo!  It’s a song about Satan rising!”  Except . . . really?  That’s just silly.  We can say, “Ooo!  It’s like a little short story about a man mourning the loss of his son, with ‘Dead But Rising’ a metaphor for how he’s keeping his son’s memory alive.”  Perhaps.  The whole “short story” thing I might buy, although the specifics I might question a tad.  There’s actually such a confusion of images in this song – “I like to believe he’s the fallen one/I like to believe he’s the chosen one”;”Dear wind of Mississippi can you call him by name/I have followed his wings on a sunny day” – I’m not sure what to say what this song is about.

I do like “The rebirth of man heals a bleeding heart/The eagle of kings wears my father’s soul; Dead but rising.”  I suppose it’s a bit much to say I hear at least a whisper of praise for the resurrection.  Maybe not?  Well, except that there is little that holds this song together, thematically.  As such, I suppose I’m clutching at tiny straws, hearing something – anything – in this jumble of odd images that might be worthy of calling “praise”.  Yet, isn’t that true, even of the most beautiful hymn, the most glorious oratorio, a Mass by Bach?  Don’t we overrate a bit our ability to create coherent praise, whether by Chris Tomlin or Thomas Tallis?

Part of the goal of my life is teaching people to hear, even in the oddest places, the whisper of the Spirit.  The degradation of popular culture is a pastime, a thing people calling themselves Christian seem to revel in, giving themselves permission to be better than the world around them.  Except, we aren’t called to cast aspersions on culture.  We are called to liberate it in the name of the risen Christ.  We can’t do that if we aren’t willing to engage it on its own terms.  Kind of like God, you know, engaging sinful humanity on our terms, by becoming fully human in order to take within the Divine Life both sin and death, and redeem us from them.  If we would rather not go as far as God has gone, despite that is our call, part of what being a Christian is all about, then we forfeit what it is to be Christian.  I’m not asking anyone to approve of any of these songs, or hundreds of others that we might find distasteful.  I am asking to hear with new ears, to be willing to let the Spirit guide our attention to popular culture, whether it is novels or television or film or art or music.  These can be entry points for engaging with a culture and society increasingly disaffected with the message of the Church.  We should be willing to start somewhere, and not with simple, and simplistic, condemnation.  We don’t have to sing “Bottoms Up” in worship; we can, however, talk to people about alternative understandings, points of contact between contemporary popular culture and the peace that passes understanding.  The task is ours to move toward the world, in a Spirit of love and understanding and, most of all, discernment.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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