P.O.D., Christians and the F-Word

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them shit, that I may gain Christ. – Philippians 3:8

Translators are clearly uncomfortable with the fact that the Apostle Paul uses a word in Philippians 3:8 whose most accurate translation in modern English is a four-letter word. The closest I’ve seen any translation get is “dung” (KJV) or “sewer trash” (CEB). But, in fact, Paul is using a first-century cuss word, and if we were going to accurately bring his context forward to our own language, we’d say “shit.”

Alex Heath has a good explanation for why Paul would do this:

I believe Paul uses the word “shit” in this passage because he is trying to create an incredibly stark and extreme contrast between the the “things” of the world, and the pursuit of Christ. It’s serious business.

This is the same Paul (well, potentially) who in Ephesians says, “Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth.” But Ephesians is a boilerplate epistle, written as general encouragement and instruction to any churches who might need it (the oldest versions of the letter have a blank where the addressees should be), and so Paul is speaking generally there, whereas in a specific letter to a specific church, he uses extremely strong language because he’s making an extremely strong point.

So the lesson seems to be: Generally we should avoid trafficking in the crude language of the culture around us, but occasionally the situation might call for a well-placed profanity to get people’s attention.

I’ve been thinking about this because the rock group P.O.D. has stirred up a kerfuffle on their latest album, Murdered Love. The guys from P.O.D. are Christians, and their albums have been generally centered around their faith, some to a greater degree than others. Thus they’ve been welcomed as a “Christian band” and part of the Christian Contemporary Music scene. But the CCM community has always been a little uneasy with the band, thanks perhaps to their copious tattoos, hard edge and occasional profanity-laced interviews. I’m not sure what else you should expect from a group of guys from urban San Diego, but the Christian music industry has always had some trouble with too much real life.

Back in the early days, bands like Petra and DeGarmo and Key had a great sound, but their lyrics were written by Christians for Christians with barely a mention of the troubles or concerns of the world at large. By contrast, less popular artists such as the Resurrection Band (later known as REZ) and Randy Stonehill often sang about social-justice issues. For example, as early as 1980, the Resurrection Band included the song “N.Y.C.” on its album Colours (listen to it here):

Out on the curbside sat a little boy whose crying caused a story to unfold:
“I’ve no father, I’ve no family, it’s getting dark and getting cold.
I’ve been left here by myself, and I’m alone.”

Oh, in a New York City project, another victim sits,
Her life is lost from being tossed down streets of trash and brick.
It ain’t nice in the city when it’s time to turn the trick,
When the fence is late, the pimp will wait, and you know you’re getting sick.

If that wasn’t the first-ever Christian song to use the word “pimp,” it was darn close.

All that to say, Christian music has been at its best when it speaks to real life and less so when it presents a candy-coated world of praises and scripture set to song, but unfortunately, the former has been much more popular than the latter. Even now, although social justice is a theme heard more often on syndicated stations like Air-1 and K-Love, we don’t hear much about doubt, struggles with faith or theodicy. We certainly don’t hear anyone going the Apostle Paul route and dropping a four-letter word, even though the state of the world for many people would be aptly described by one.

Which is why P.O.D.’s song “I Am” is so incredible.

Yes, it drops the f-bomb in its chorus, which means the word appears a handful of times in just the one song – although it’s scratched over like a radio edit, so it’s not totally in your face. That’s caused quite the stir (Christian bookstores are selling the album without that song). But the context in which the word appears is what makes it effective. Here are the lyrics in full:

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 leacher.
I 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 want to die for me?
They say you are the cursed man, the one who hangs from this tree.
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 am 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 want to die for me?
They say you are the cursed man, the one who hangs from this tree.
I know you are the one and only son of God, but tell me who the fuck is he?

So tell me!

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

I am … I am what you reaped; I am what you sowed.
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, Daddy called me a faggot.
I am insecure, immature, even I disgust me –
In denial, pill-popping prescription junkie.

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

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 may be one of the realest songs ever written by a Christian artist. The world is full of horror, and every one of us likely identifies with at least one line of this song. We’ve all experienced or participated in the brutality of this life. Who hasn’t asked, in some way at some time, “If you knew who I am, would you really want to die for me?” Who hasn’t seen the abuses and hypocrisy in our churches and said, “I know who you are, Jesus, but who is this guy?” And, yes, sometimes the state of this world and the abuses it perpetrates on the poor, the marginalized, the children, sometimes abetted or actively encouraged by the church – sometimes all of that just makes us want to look to the sky and say, “What the fuck?”

Kudos to P.O.D for saying it out loud.

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3 comments on “P.O.D., Christians and the F-Word

  1. […] been some discussion ever since my post about the Christian rock group P.O.D.’s use of the f-word in a song about appropriate means of addressing God. I’ve argued that God does not want nor […]

  2. […] via P.O.D., Christians and the F-Word « Disoriented. Reoriented.. […]

  3. […] Here’s a link to an article that includes the lyrics. Keep your heart open and see what speaks to you: P.O.D., Christians, and the F-Word […]

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