The one with two scarred hands

It’s time for another episode of “Christian Rock with NFQ.” This song is by the Newsboys, and it’s called “Born Again.”

 

I caught this song while flipping around on the car radio blindly (I was driving and focused on the road!) and I thought I was on one of the mix or alt-rock stations I usually listen to. Since then, I’ve stumbled upon it many times, thinking the song sounded familiar but forgetting why. The repeated “waa-aa-aa-aah” sound and phrases with internal rhyme are reminiscent of hip-hop, and the harsh electric guitar and drums make them sound like any other rock group. I mean, good on them for realizing that Christian music doesn’t have to be cheesy and horrible, but until the overall trend changes it still feels a little unsettling, almost like being tricked.

What really gets me is the way that the verses could have been swapped into many alt-rock sounds without seeming out of place. Their basic message is: my life has been going badly, it’s time for a change. The imagery of looking in the mirror and not liking what you see there is way overused. It sounds like any cookie-cutter industry-pawn rock group marketing to the teen angst crowd or the twenty-something never-quite-grew-out-of-teen-angst crowd. But then — bam! — the chorus.

This is what it is, this is who I am
This is where I’m gonna take my stand
I didn’t want to fall, but now I gotta crawl
I met the one with two scarred hands
Givin’ him the best of everything that’s left of
The life inside this man
I’ve been born again

That’s the big reveal. Gasp! This song has secretly been about Jesus all along! I don’t know how I feel about the phrase “the one with two scarred hands.” I guess it lends itself to rhyme better than “Jesus Christ,” but part of me thinks it’s there for this macho, gross-out factor, selling Christianity as something that can be seen as masculine. Jesus was so tough — dig his scars! Yeah brah, being a born-again Christian is super hardcore. (Reminds me of mixed martial arts churches.)

When I saw the music video for the first time, I was really surprised that the Newsboys turned it into some sort of PSA for their “Homes 4 Baja” mission. It really has nothing to do with the lyrics at all, and having heard it just on the radio before I would have never guessed. I wonder if the Mexican people in the video knew that they would be used as props, token images of helplessness and need which we should be swooping in and saving. They don’t really do anything in the video except for stand around looking impoverished in the first half and parade happily around their benefactors in the second half. I’m not saying charity is bad … but something about this presentation just feels grimy, almost exploitative. Like it’s not about Mexicans in poverty, it’s really about how great and special these Christians are for being such good Christians. This message from the band on the Homes 4 Baja website doesn’t exactly change my mind:

Mission trips are such an incredible experience that it is hard to imagine, until you experience it for yourself. We are passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission, and we are convinced that you will not only bless others in Jesus Name, but you will receive a blessing that will change your life.

(Confused about the Great Commission? I wrote about it here. Bottom line: it’s about converting people, not about building houses for them.) I guess it’s no real surprise that many Christians do good because Jesus said so and you better listen to Jesus in order to get his promised rewards, and/or as effective PR to convince other people that Christianity is awesome. It’s not really because they see some inherent value in those good things.

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8 Comments

  1. Haven’t watched the video yet, but in regard to this:
    … part of me thinks it’s there for this macho, gross-out factor, selling Christianity as something that can be seen as masculine.

    Just a gut reaction, but that is not how it strikes me. I would say that it is there for the shock value, a Christian is supposed to be dramatically impressed with Jesus’ sacrifice, and the more one realizes the sacrifice has a harsh, physical element, the more one might be awed by it. My impression anyway, from sitting under a lot of teaching like that.

  2. I would say that it is there for the shock value, a Christian is supposed to be dramatically impressed with Jesus’ sacrifice, and the more one realizes the sacrifice has a harsh, physical element, the more one might be awed by it.

    I think you’re both right. I think your description makes sense—but in gendered terms, that kind of “harsh, physical” sacrifice is coded as heavily masculine.

    I’m actually a little sad about the lyrics. If it weren’t for the eyeroll-worthy shilling for Jesus, I might even like this song.

    And I agree with NFQ about the distasteful tenor of the video (mainly its later parts), and definitely about the Great Commission—but again, the consciousness-raising earlier on about poverty in Mexico would be a rather good thing, if it weren’t tarnished by all the convert-the-heathens Commission baloney. If Americans, regardless of our (ir)religious outlook, took more seriously the pain that our economic system imposes on so many other parts of the planet, there might be a lot less injustice in the world. (Not that I think I work nearly as hard as I should to support global economic justice.)

  3. I don’t think their objective in the video is to exploit the situation of poverty but to offer up a video postcard of “look what Christ can do with our help”. Too bad they cannot recognize the simple truth that they were alone on that mission and any good they performed was on their own shoulders rather than some imaginary friend.

    I do hate getting sucked in by good melodies and beats only to find out that I’ll never get to hum that tune again. Maybe that’s why I don’t channel surf often.

  4. Since none of you apparently are Christians, you don’t understand the song at all. The point is that now that the songwriter met Jesus, everything is different. Although, the Great Commission is about telling “all the world” about Jesus and making disciples, it’s only the beginning. Service to others is a natural response to the forgiveness and the relationship we have with Him. It’s not at all about earning points.
    By the way, this type of Christian music is not new; most of us don’t like cheesy either. Michael Tate, the lead singer of the Newsboys, is one of the 3 guys from DC Talk, whose music style back in the early 90′s was very similar to this song. Another member of that group, Toby Mac, is putting out some great stuff too. You can also check out Third Day.

  5. Since none of you apparently are Christians, you don’t understand the song at all.

    Oh, really?

    Most of us here—possibly all of us—are ex-Christians, Ma’am. We are very well acquainted with your-plural theological silliness.

    Although, the Great Commission is about telling “all the world” about Jesus and making disciples….

    It’s also severely arrogant and has been the source of untold suffering in world history.

    The point is that now that the songwriter met Jesus, everything is different.

    Yes. That’s obvious, not to mention banal and jejune.

    Service to others is a natural response to the forgiveness and the relationship we have with Him. It’s not at all about earning points.

    Seeing as how no one here has represented the matter as “earning points,” you seem to be prattling on meaninglessly. And tone-deafly, given the real substance of NFQ’s concerns about exploitation of the unfortunate.

  6. @Rieux

    Just by the mere fact that you can’t try to see Carole’s point proves your child like desire for only your perspective to be correct. As an athiest I can tell you that many people who do things in the name of Christianity don’t understand Jesus’s teachings, which were to Love God and others,show people kindness and compassion. To say that Christianity has been the cause of untold suffering would be to also exclude Arabs for thier attacks or other people who do terrible deeds in the name of God. I believe many of these groups are trying to convey Jesus’s teachings,now weather or not those really are thier intentions is up to them. Oh and feel free not to respond to this.

  7. Heh, Dom, the “Oh and feel free not to respond to this” is a nice touch. The last comment on this post before yours was on November 30. Obviously it’s your prerogative to be priggish about this, but I would be surprised if anyone was still checking in on this comment thread three months later.

    To state the obvious on a couple points: Christianity can be the cause of untold suffering while Islam and other religions can be the cause of yet other suffering still. Also, I call B.S. on your assertion of being “an athiest.” For one thing, it’s spelled “atheist.” For another thing, we don’t usually go around asserting that many different non-Christian religions are, at heart, “trying to convey Jesus’s teachings.” Do you think Rieux will agree with you if only you preface your nonsense by asserting to be an atheist too? Sigh…

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