Sunday, November 26, 2006

BEN FOLDS - JESUSLAND

So what do you think? Fair? Unfair?

(See comments for lyrics. Courtesy of Euphrony.)

13 comments:

euphrony said...

To facilitate discussion, here are the lyrics:

Take a walk
out the gate you go and never stop
past all the stores and wig shops
quarter in a cup for every block
and watch the buildings grow
smaller as you go

Down the tracks
beautiful McMansions on a hill
that overlook a highway
with riverboat casinos and you still
have yet to see a soul

Jesusland
Jesusland

Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face
Billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray

for Jesusland
Jesusland

Miles and miles
and the sun goin' down
Pulses glow
from their homes
You're not alone
Lights come on
as you lay your weary head on their lawn

Parking lots
cracked and growing grass you see it all
from offices to farms
crosses flying high above the malls
A longer walk

through Jesusland
Jesusland

Seth Ward said...

Good Idea. Laziness.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Interesting.

I'm not sure I really get what his point is exactly. If I'm correctly understanding the basic criticism he seems to be leveling, it seems to be a bit old and stale by now.

I think (anecdotally) that more and more sincere, honestly God-seeking Christians are "getting it" as far as realizing that there have been a lot of messed up things done falsely in Christ's name.

There's been (and continues to be) a lot of merchandizing of the Gospel, and for certain segments of our population, there is a lot of equating rich, white, American Christianity with the end-all and be-all of what we should strive for.

But within the church (at least, the parts I have observed and hung out in, which may or may not be representative of the greater whole), it seems to me there's been an increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo, and an increasing willingness by many to question many of these stereotypical notions about things.

Contrasting poor, mostly black, inner-city neighborhoods with rich white suburbia, and trying to tie Christianity into the equation in some way, seems like pretty old news to me. Yes, the church has insulated itself and built massive expensive buildings in the suburbs, while the needs of those we are supposed to be ministering to go largely unmet. But the church (and the U.S. for that matter) doesn't hold a monopoly on having abundant resources which have been squandered wastefully and foolishly on idle pleasure.

It's just done differently in other places -- consider for example the vast wealth in the Middle East as a result of their oil reserves, and how a few people there hold all the power and wealth while the overwhelming majority of the people are kept poor and angry, (largely by design, most likely).

So, I guess I don't really have a point, just a few thoughts about this. And maybe I completely missed his point anyway. (As in, there are so many critical voices already, what's one more thrown on top of the heap?)

Seth Ward said...

I don't think you missed the point at all. I actually feel pretty close to that sentiment. However I do think that those who have this mentatlity are still a part of the minority. We talk about this alot on blogs and in our small groups (like the GREAT one to which you belong) but I could name 20 people right off the bat in my church who think tithing gets them off the hook when it comes to real Charity.

"Billboards quoting things you'd never say
you hang your head and pray"

This one still hits home for me. It also goes into this idea of a duel life that most Christians live and the mask they wear when they hit the church doors.

I almost get the sense sometimes that the world knows how we should act better than we do sometimes.

The Christian subculture can give you, when saturated by it, a distorted sense of what people really need.

Shaun Groves said...

The Christian subculture can give you, when saturated by it, a distorted sense of what people really need.

The subculture is market-driven, propelled by capitalistic interests primarily. We in the subculture, those of us making things for consumption within it, pursue profits primarily...and hope to do some good and definitely no evil along the way.

A different way, idealistically, would be to somehow pursue faithfulness primarily (definition needed) and promote it within the subculture...and hope to make money enough (definition needed) on the way.

Hypothetically, let's say a pastor has a crappy music minister working for his church. This guy, the music minister, looks bored while he sings, and fumbles lyrics every time I come to visit his church on vacation..hypothetically. Why wouldn't the pastor fire the music minister for incompetence, bad attitude, spiritual immaturity and on and on? Why? Music guy has friends. Firing a guy with friends hurts the popularity and, therefore, profitability (not just paper money but influence as well) of said pastor and church.

Politics.

Politics is what we do when we're afraid to fail, to lose face, to be unpopular. It's what we stoop to, I think, when we choose profit/success/happiness over faithfulness.

SG

euphrony said...

I've been ruminating on this for the last day. While the lyrics, aside from the chorus of "Jesusland", are somewhat ambiguous, the video is directly pointing the finger at Christians. The accusation he levels, as I read it, is primarily hypocrisy with a healthy dose of apathy and selfishness thrown for good measure.

The problem is that his accusation of hypocrisy only sticks because of the ideals we as Christians profess. That finger can well point at any group within society with equal validity, saying that you seek only your own pleasures and your own ends while leaving large parts of society in disparity. As to whether it is a fair judgment, I don't know that it is (at least not entirely). He lampoons the televangelist, and by association seems to harangue all Christians; but the televangelist is largely lampooned with the Christian community, as well, so the association doesn't hold so well.

Every group, whether you talk about Christ-centered churches or football fans or movie watchers, has its "core" of ardent supporters and "periphery" of associates. Take Catholicism or Judaism: both are religiously centered and defined groups, but they have existed for so long that they have a hereditary component as well (of course, this is more firm when speaking of Jews). There are many people who claim to be "Catholic" or "Jewish" as much more of a descriptive of their heredity than their religiosity. I'm white, I have blue eyes, I am 6'1", and I'm Catholic. My parents were white, tall, fair-eyed, and Catholic. Does that make sense? And this can be applied to just about any group, especially religious groups. How else do you come to statistics that say some 80-90% of Americans profess Christianity, but only some 40% are church-goers.

And, frankly, I have always found it to be a particular brand of Western arrogance that we seem to believe that for people to be "well off" they must become equal on our level - complete with McMansions and iPods and designer jeans. I don't read about Jesus preaching or God commanding monetary equality, but rather responsibility to care for the poor. Harvest your field, but leave the edges and corners so that the hungry can help themselves. Care for the sick, the needy, and you have cared for Him. It is arrogance that we deem it necessary to force them to be like us, where we work more to pay for more gadgets and spend less time with our family in doing so. We try to raise up the "unfortunate" to our level of complexity and business when we should be seeking the joy in simplicity that so many of these "unfortunates" have found. Their simplicity may not have been out of choice, but they can still find joy that we miss in pursuit of gain.

Seth Ward said...

Euphrony, I think it is ironic that the average bum that you pass on the road has more money than the average American. They have no: mortgage, credit card debt, car payment, apartment lease, student loans, etc. If we were comparing dollars and cents I bet the average homeless-guy would be about 100,000 dollars better off than me.

The homeless in America are usually homeless for different reasons than financial.

Now, the poor are a different story. It is so hard for me to talk about the poor because I've been the poor before. It sucks.

I don't understand sometimes how we can justify buying our BMW Roadsters and homes on the lake when there are people in our church who can't make rent. I really struggle with this. I wish to God sometimes that I had money.

I understand what you are saying here about allotting a certain amount for the poor, but Jesus is also pretty stern about making us realize that when we feed and clothe the poor we are feeding and clothing Him Himself. I think this would be less of an issue if more Christians just grasped and believed this. But then that is not meant to belittle the people who are helping.

Shaun,

"The subculture is market-driven, propelled by capitalistic interests primarily. We in the subculture, those of us making things for consumption within it, pursue profits primarily...and hope to do some good and definitely no evil along the way"

Was it always this way? It just feels so weird when God is included with the purchased and sold goods. I can't imagine it starting that way.

Man, I must admit, I thought it was different. Naive. It didn't take long. And we have BARELY scratched the surface. I'm not sure I am cut out for that world. We started giving away our CD's at concerts because of it and started taking donations. It has always been more important to me that people have hope than buy it.

I don't know, I don't have the answer. I just know that that felt good to do it that way. We sang at a church where a very poor woman was getting baptized. She came back to give a donation with a wadded up one dollar bill a few quarters.

I couldn't take charging for it anymore. The only thing that I wonder is how long God will ask us to do it this way.

I hate politics.

euphrony said...

I, too, am constantly frustrated by the extensive personal use of resources when so much more could be given. I'll not say that I never buy personal trifles - I indulge myself, but I do try to give selflessly to the needy. Tithing is not my rule, but what I can give, so no excuses for me. In the last decade the wife and I have raised a stink at two different churches over the excessive, almost gaudy, building expansion plans they had. I'm more of a mind to have four walls of brick and tin rather than sculpted stone, costly designed architectural masterpiece.

One of the most treasured gifts I have received was a wedding gift from a lady at what was my wife's home church. While all the ladies were giving out costly gifts to us, she gave us a simple Rubbermade storage bowl. She had very little money, but went out of her way to make sure to bless everyone having a shower as best she could. I just put some mac and cheese in that bowl tonight, ten and a half years after it was given. Just about the best gift I've ever received.

Anonymous said...

The discussion here is going great, and I don't think it really needs much input from me. I'll just say this: I bet if a "Christian" artist had performed this song, it would be hailed as "bold, provocative, and challenging." But like y'all have said here, it really is a bit old news. It's not that bold anymore. But the people here are all fairly young and forward-thinking. I think it would be sad if most of "Christian" America found it bold, provocative, challenging, or even offensive.

Allison said...

I randomly got this in my Google alert on Ben Folds. And I'm going to give you his description about this song. One the song was written early 2004.
And he's from the Bible belt, North Carolina.
Anyway. This song is more about Televangalists. I'm a pre-seminary student, and a Ben Folds fan, a HUGE Ben Folds fan, if truth be told. Anyway.
Ben's "beef" I guess with Christianity, is as you said, the commercialisim of it.
And I don't know about you, I hate the commercialisim of it as well. And Ben talks about how if Jesus were to come here the people who make the most money off of His name probably wouldn't stop and help Him. Ben said; "Jesus would be that homeless guy walking down the street." And really, how many of us stop EVERY time we see one and help? Yeah, slim to nil. I know I don't. I should. But I don't. This song is really for us to think about what we're doing. And how many proclaim Jesus with their lips and not with their hearts. That's exactly the point.

Anyway, just adding some Folds angled insight. There's video/interview of this song out there somewhere.

Seth Ward said...

Good stuff Allison. Thanks for the insight and extra info. I don't care for the commercialization of God either. It irritates me. In fact, wouldn't you say that if you sell one thing that has 'God' as the draw then aren't you essentially 'selling God?'

The commercialization of Church is modern day Constantinianism. Just like Constantine offered the Church a nice room and a bunch of land for a few favors, Capitalism offers the Church a place to set up shop and get rich for a cut of the pie.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Great discussion. The merchandising of the Gospel is a shame for the Church. I have to admit, though. I love beautiful churches: especially very old beautiful churches whose very architecture and decoration cry out for worship, prayer and reverence. How do we make such buildings edifaces to glorify God instead of the pastor/congregation/architect? How do we balance such projects with outreach to the less fortunate: those dying from hunger and preventable disease? I wonder what Solomon and David thought as they prepared for/built the temple. Did they ever conduct themselves with pride, or did they build humbly, simply to glorify God? Did they ever think about the good that could be done with the money going into one of the seven wonders of the ancient world or did that even cross their mind? The world was much more localized back then and if one's own community was fine, I don't think one thought much about the outside world like we do today. When is our earthly Kingdom building storing up treasures here on earth and when is it giving our best to God, like the women with the alabaster jar of spikenard?

Please, let me know when you come up with the answers. Seriously, I'd be interested in hearing what others think.

Doug

Seth Ward said...

Thinking...