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Jefferson Bethke's poem, Part II

[See Part I of this two-part series, here.]

A few days ago, Jefferson Bethke was on the national TV show "CBS This Morning" where he discussed what he meant in his rap/poem "Why I hate religion, but love Jesus."

Bethke was wholly impressive, composed and eloquence on the show.

A Catholic priest, Father Edward Beck, was on the show and seemed derisive toward Bethke, even as he did not misunderstanding the rap or disagree with the message.  Beck remonstrated Bethke for powerful, perhaps-loaded words he thought Bethke used.

A prime issue of Beck's was Bethke's use of the words "religion" and "church," giving them different  meanings in a point he made.  Bethke explained that his usages are in sync with that of preachers he admires. For Bethke, religion has to do with 'false religion,' the often-hypocritical culture of the people in the leadership and congregation of a church group AND the extraordinarily destructive ways Christianity has been used historically to foment war and NOT aid the poor; whereas one of the meanings of church, in Bethke's usage, is as the institution when it is in perfect accord with Jesus's teaching, attempting to bring the lost to salvation. [In the context of his rap, Bethke's meanings seem self-evident -- so I am unclear why there might be any controversy here.]

A lot of what Bethke says in his poem/rap is wonderfully well stated. [The text of the piece is posted at the rapgenius website, with links there to sources or explanations for most of the lines in the poem. The video of the rap is posted there, and below in THIS blogpost.]

A middle section of the rap eloquently states the central message that Bethke is delivering:

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean
It's not a museum for good people, it's a hospital for the broken
Which means I don't have to hide my failure, I don't have to hide my sin
Because it doesn't depend on me; it depends on Him
See because when I was God's enemy and certainly not a fan
He looked down and said "I want ... that ... man"
Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools
Don't you see so much better than just following some rules
Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the Bible, and yes I believe in sin
But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in?
The metaphor of "not a museum but a hospital" is brilliant and provocative, as is the call for people to see beyond any list of "rules" -- to adapt, instead, to the spirit of the teachings.

A criticism of Bethke's words is that they are not taut and crisp with perfect meter and rhyme.  Also, he sometimes seems not to have found "the best word," from time to time to convey his meaning.  Too, his rap is not planned, somehow, leading, say, from something familiar to something with more depth or complexity in the course of what's said.  It doesn't have a path, but is instead didactic and somewhat repetitious in its message.

A gentler touch, with more showing and less finger wagging would probably serve Bethke well.  [But what do I know?  The guy's a sensation.]

Also, he is writing his rap at age 22.  He is sure to be fully amazing in what he composes in just a few short years.  We should keep an eye out and an ear pricked up for whatever comes next.  Bethke is certainly to be congratulated for his moxie, sensitivities and raw talent.


Steve said…
David Brooks wrote a NYT column yesterday (2/2/12) mentioning Bethke's original rap (for which there's been a follow-up) and criticizing his ready capitulation to criticism as exemplifying young people expressing opinions so poorly grounded in a cohesive perspective or worldview that they can cogently defend those opinions against attack, and he counseled young people to "rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see. Give yourself a label. If your college hasn’t provided you with a good knowledge of countercultural viewpoints — ranging from Thoreau to Maritain — then your college has failed you and you should try to remedy that ignorance."

There's probably something to be said for Brooks' advice.

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