Screwing for Virginity

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Songs about Jesus you'll probably never sing in church

Ryan's recent Mind over Media project got me thinking about media criticism from a Christian perspective. Check out the discussions over there.

In the meantime, I'd like us to discuss these two songs about Jesus. My COR 100 class discussed these freshman year, and I'd like to see how our ideas differ. Listen to both songs if you can. I've linked to a free download of the first, but I could only find a 30-second sample of the second.

"American Jesus"
by Bad Religion
Download MP3

I don't need to be a global citizen,
'Cuz I'm blessed by nationality.
I'm a member of a growing populace,
We enforce our popularity.
There are things that seem to pull us under and,
There are things that drag us down.
But there's a power and a vital presence,
It's lurking all around.

We've got the American Jesus,
See him on the interstate.
We've got the American Jesus,
He helped build the President's estate.

I feel sorry for the Earth's population,
'Cuz so few live in the U.S.A.
At least the foreigners can copy our morality,
They can visit but they cannot stay.
Only precious few can garner our prosperity,
It makes us walk with renewed confidence.
We got a place to go when we die,
And the architect resides right here.

We've got the American Jesus,
Bolstering national faith.
We've got the American Jesus,
Overwhelming millions every day.

He's the farmer's barren fields, (In God)
The force the army wields, (We trust)
Expressions on the faces of the starving millions, (Because He's one of us)
The power of the man, (Break down)
He's the fuel that drives the Klan, (Cave in)
He's the motive and the conscience of the murderer, (We can redeem your sins)
He's the preacher on T.V., (Strong heart)
The false sincerity, (Clear mind)
The form letter that's written by the big computers, (And infinitely kind)
The nuclear bombs, (You lose)
The kids with no moms, (We win)
And I'm fearful that he's inside me... (He is our champion)

We've got the American Jesus
See him on the interstate
We've got the American Jesus
Exercising his authority
We've got the American Jesus
Bolstering national faith
We've got the American Jesus
Overwhelming millions every day

One nation, under God...

"Under Bridges"
by Brave Saint Saturn
30-second sample

Yesterday while walking,
Beneath an overpass,
I saw the figure of Jesus,
Standing barefoot on broken glass.
His beard was graying,
The smell of urine filled the air,
Asking if I had some change,
Anything that I could spare.

His shaking fists balled up,
Influenza and pneumonia,
Begging God to take his cup.
So different from his pictures,
Breathing air through yellowed tubes,
Jesus Christ, dying of AIDS,
Can look right through you.

And all have hated,
Crucified and walked away,
The Savior of the prostitutes,
Drunkards, rapists, and the gays.

Under bridges,
With hands raised,
From the ghettos they praise his name.
Broke and crippled in the dark of night,
Raise your voices to Jesus Christ,

I'll ask some conversation starter questions if I need to. For now feel free to take the conversation in whatever direction you wish.


  • At 8:46 PM, February 11, 2006, Anonymous Angela Hoogeveen said…

    the rapists, too, huh? and molestors i suppose. that's a deep thought.

  • At 7:13 PM, February 13, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    I love the song "Jesus He Knows Me" by Genesis. This is not a conversation starter in the slightest. I just figured it would be beneficial to all if they had this information.

    But I suppose this conversation would be ok if it made its way over to reasoning behind a song being called "Christian." I'm not one for labeling things, but of course we need to have a nice pretty box for all our thoughts. So what makes a piece of art a Christian work of art? anybody?

  • At 8:46 PM, February 13, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…

    Christians should be making the best art, so it shouldn't need the designation.

    Of the two songs, which one (if either) describes the Jesus you worship? Which Jesus does your pastor follow? Which Jesus guides george W. Bush's actions?

  • At 9:40 AM, February 14, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…

    I was watching King of the Hill the other day, and Hank said to a Christian band, "Don't you see you're not making Christianity better? You're making rock and roll worse!" Sadly, this seems to be an accurate description of Christian music as a genre.

  • At 10:04 AM, February 14, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    "Rapture" - Pedro the Lion

    This is how we multiply
    Pity that it's not my wife
    The friction and skin
    The trembling sigh
    This is how bodies move
    With everything we could lose
    Pushing us deeper still
    The sheets and the sweat
    The seed and the spill
    The bitter pill yet undiscovered

    Gideon is in the drawer
    Clothes scattered on the floor
    She's arching her back
    She screams for more

    Oh, my sweet rapture
    I hear Jesus
    Calling me home

    Finally a chance to breathe
    Reaching for the the fallen sheets
    Collapsing in a glowing heap
    We've gone too far
    We've done too much
    We have to quit it
    Just one more kiss
    Just one more touch
    Please ten more minutes

    This feels so good
    Just barely moving
    The tension building
    Our bodies working
    To reach the goal

    Oh, my sweet rapture
    I hear Jesus and the angels singing
    Calling me to enter the promised land

  • At 11:54 AM, February 14, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Chris, nice Pedro reference, I love his (David's) music. Buddy, I agree with the assertion that Christian's should be making the best art, so why aren't they? any thoughts?

    neither song really hit home with me, certainly not the first one. although, to answer your question, that does seem to be the Jesus that W reflects.

  • At 5:16 PM, February 14, 2006, Blogger Chris said…

    I'm going to see David Bazan on Thursday night at Calvin College. I'm excited. Did you hear that Pedro the Lion officially broke up?
    Buddy (and to whom it may concern),
    After a class on Liberation theology today, I am really thinking alot about the Brave Saint Saturn song. I am sitting here a "rich" white man (boy?) with a full belly, while Jesus would be standing barefoot in broken glass asking for change. This brings us back to our discussion of beliefs and praxis. Just remember, even as I write this comment, the world is continuing and there are people out there that need help. Go out and get your hands dirty.

  • At 8:51 AM, February 15, 2006, Blogger Gabe said…

    I really liked both songs - for different reasons obviously. "American Jesus" because it is the Jesus I see so prominently (and loudly) displayed in American public life, and "Under Bridges" because it is closer to the Jesus I believe in.

    As far as the question(s) regarding Christian art - I first have to ask: Why should Christians be "making the best art?" I happen to agree with you, but I was just wondering why you think that should be the case.

    I find most Christian art (at least within the US, I can't really speak beyond that) to be derivative and shallow. My idea as to why this is the case has to do with the two songs you posted. I think that American Christianity has become largely an apologetic for the priveleged. Most Christian music, for instance, is essentially stealing cultural forms for apologetic purposes (I also saw that "King of the Hill" episode, and I loved that line).

    GOOD art has to do, in my view, with exploring conflict. It originates from experiencing life as it is and exploring the conflict that pervades reality. American Christianity is not largely concerned with exploring conflict or seeing reality - it's concerned with maintaining the status quo and justifying/defending it.

    Let's face it, the conflict that many American Christians choose to take up is largely a defense for marginalizing the weak and justifying the powerful. No matter what your conclusions of the issues are (I am moderately "Pro-Life" myself), choosing to battle single mothers, homosexuals, and those on welfare smacks more than just a little of ganging up on easy, weaker targets.

    GOOD Christian art, I think, takes up the conflict in life and explores it without providing too many answers (justifications). It's more about asking questions than giving answers, especially grossly simplified answers. In my view, the degree to which Christian art is willing to take up the conflict-filled image of Jesus presented in the "Under Bridges" song will be the degree to which it begins to represent true art and not shallow imitation. After all, the Jesus in the "Under Bridges" song sounds a lot like the Jesus of a Dostoevsky novel. Pretty good art there.

  • At 7:27 PM, February 15, 2006, Blogger Ryan said…

    Chris, yes I heard that, do you know why the break up is occuring? Have fun at Calvin, I'll be up there Saturday night for a Sigur Ros concert.

    Gabe, I completely agree with your assessment on the Christian art scene. Christians should make the best art b/c they should be the ones most in tune with reality and understanding it. Therefore, the art they create should reflect that profound wisdom and should cut to the core of issues.

    The reason why they should be most in tune with reality, is that they should be trying to live the way that God desired/designed us to live. When we experience God, we're experiencing how things really are, for God is the ultimate reality, there is no other one.

  • At 10:08 AM, February 18, 2006, Blogger maintenance_man77 said…

    I like the words to "Under Bridges". It motivates me to look around at the pain and ask if I can help. There should be more music like this on the radio and in our churches. 50% of the time that I turn on "christian radio", I switch the station. I like the
    King of the hill comment. It's true!

  • At 4:22 PM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Dave said…

    I don't agree with you comment that Christians should be producing the "best art." By its nature art is subjective. I agree that Christians need to be seeking to produce art that is by its nature art not a just "an apologetic," for the Christian religion. As a person that was in a band, becuase Christ is such a center of your life, it is hard not to get the notaion of defending him out. Even the great Johhny Cash, who is as real as they come dabbled in denfense of his Lord. Christians can still do defense but it should be wrapped in "real" authentic lived reality.

  • At 4:54 PM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Buddy said…

    This discussion has been interesting. I always saw "Under Bridges" as an application of Matthew 25.40&5, so I was pleasantly surprised when it was tied into Dostoevsky.

    Dave, I agree that art is highly subjective, but that doesn't mean that an individual work of art can't be evaluated against another. For example, while I may enjoy it more, "The Sign" by Ace of Base is not as great a piece of art as Beethoven's Fifth. Or if you want to compare apples to apples, Queen's work is better art than Limp Bizkit's.

    I'm not saying that Christians should only be making classical music, paintings, or other high art, but if a Christian is in a rock band, she should be making some of the best rock music of her generation. I think Brave Saint Saturn and Roper's other band Five Iron Frenzy are a good example.

    Back to the songs, I find this line from "American Jesus" to be one of the most terrifying lyrics I've ever read:
    "And I'm fearful that he's inside me..."

    Does my life reflect a belief in the American Jesus, or do I live as though what I do for the least in the world is for the real Jesus?

    Bad Religion is not a Christian band, but this song has challenged me more than most of the lukewarm Christian music I used to listen to exclusively.


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