Yes, you read the title correctly – no, I did not forget a word. Yes, I may be wrong about this – no, you don’t have to agree with me, but I think that listening to music with swear words and adult themes is an okay thing to do.
Update: I have published another post that I think may give a little bit of a clarification after reading this one. Find it here: Okay… Maybe Not That Many Swear Words.
Before my conversion, I wasn’t listening to a lot of KLUV Christian radio (I still don’t, but that’s not the point); I was listening to songs about sex, drugs, money, crime, and lots of other things. In these songs, I heard about other people’s experiences, I heard them expressing emotions that I didn’t fully understand. I was just a white kid from the suburbs who didn’t feel the struggle of poverty; I’d had everything provided for me and I never went to bed hungry. I started listening to songs with the Parental Advisory logo because other kids my age were listening to them; I thought it was just the cool thing to do. But I felt something listening to those artists who said the f-word a lot and who talked about their struggles in the cycle of poverty and their attempts to navigate life in a rigged system. Without realizing it, these songs were showing me the experience of life from a different perspective. These songs made me feel things I had never felt before. I was experiencing a facet of humanity that I didn’t even know existed.
The messages of the songs with the Parental Advisory warning may not exactly be Christian, but a lot of them do point toward a spiritual side of the human experience with commentaries describing that life is difficult and that there is something more substantial than what the world has to offer. The pursuit of God is something that’s in every person whether they know it or not. For me, to hear their expression of this feeling points toward the truth of God.
The message of the songs on KLUV is by and large, “Jesus loves you”. While this is exactly true, I think that it doesn’t mean much to the person hearing it without the experience of suffering. We need a reason to cling to Christ and that reason comes through the experience of the suffering in humanity. When we experience suffering and hardship in our lives, we need to feel. But feeling is hard. Making sense of emotions is challenging and oftentimes people deal with their internal conflicts through an expression of some kind. Without this release, we are left with trying to contain a tornado of mixed emotion and uncertainty. Conversely, if we never identify with these emotions by pretending everything is great all the time, we never truly enter into the human experience and therefore, never truly rest in Christ’s love.
To shelter one’s spiritual interior from the experience of human emotions like pain and suffering – that is, to listen only to KLUV and to pretend that everything is perfect all the time – is to come dangerously close to the Gnostic heresy which espouses that the body and the spirit are not homogeneous. But we are not simply spirits trapped inside sinful, earthly bodies, we are humans, a composite of body and soul and made to experience life. We know that human life is sacred – it was created by God in his own image. Since human life is sacred, so also must humanity be sacred. The Incarnation speaks to this truth. Musical expression, especially that which captures the experiences of difficult, complicated, and perhaps unholy situations in life, plunges us back into our own humanity which can give us a greater capacity to understand the purpose of life.
The most important thing that we can do in our lives is to seek truth. There is truth in the world and it’s our responsibility to pursue it always. As a Catholic, I believe that we have been given the fullness of truth in Christ, but there also is truth in humanity and in the world. Jesus, who became man, showed us that with him and through our experiences of suffering, joy, and relationships, we are brought to sanctification. It is through our life and our humanity that we will come to share in the divinity of Christ.
As a Christian, it’s easy to draw a hard line between the sacred and the profane. It seems like it would make sense to only engage in Christian music, books, podcasts, friends, etc., but this is, in my opinion, kind of a cheap way out. Sure, one can listen to KLUV 24/7 and live a good Christian life, but I think there would something missing, a substantial part of a life lived on Earth would be lost. The experience of humanity is what would be missing. Humanity is messy and so are the forms of expression made by the people who are experiencing this roller-coaster ride of life. I think it’s worth sharing and identifying with these expressions, these groanings of the spirit of humanity, even if they come out as swear words.
Please read the follow-up post: Okay… Maybe Not That Many Swear Words.