An examination of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” in light of the Christian Worldview.
An examination of “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” in light of the Christian Worldview.
“Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus Someone to hear your prayers Someone who cares Your own personal Jesus Someone to hear your prayers Someone who’s there…”
Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” is one of those songs that have relevance for multiple reasons. Rhythmically the song is as contemporary now as it ever was, you might even say it was ahead of its time.
Lyrically the song was really pertinent at the time because it seemed in some ways to be a sort of backlash against the rise of the Tele-Evangelist in the late 1980s; at least there is a subtle reference to that in the language of the song, for example:
And you’re all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I’ll make you a believer”
Images of Jim & Tammy Fay Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart might especially come to mind as they were at the height of their ministry just before their subsequent falls at the time. However, the writers of the song weren’t simply addressing the TV preachers of their time, rather, they were addressing the individual needs of people to have a savior.
Think about it. The invoking of the name of Jesus calls to mind the divine and sacred—and it forces people to think of the significance of a savior LIKE Jesus, without having to really come to grips with THE SAVIOR Jesus. How did this come about? Well, according to a Rolling Stone article from years ago the biography, Elvis and Me, about Pricilla Presley’s life with her late husband Elvis had inspired the notion of Elvis as a kind of savior to Pricilla.
Searching out saviors isn’t foreign to our own personal story, some turn to drink, or drug, or sex, or to self-glorification. But then again some people turn to saviors who are either close family members or friends. Jesus even encountered this notion of making idols out of the people we love, for example in Luke 14, Jesus said:
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Now harsher words may have never been spoken, but Jesus is using a method of argumentation to make a point. Jesus doesn’t mean we should hate one of the greatest gifts we have been given (that would mean breaking God’s Law), like friends and family. No, Jesus means that our love for the Person of Jesus should be so great in comparison to all other loves that it would almost seem like hatred to others by way of contrast.
Personal Jesus expresses a longing for a personal savior in fleshly form, for Pricilla Presley that may have been Elvis, for others it could be sports figures and other entertainment icons, or people in our family, or even our very children. People that we have not only looked to for inspiration but have actually placed our hopes, dreams, and aspirations upon; perhaps even putting them on a pedestal where you might even say they are worshipped.
But the Gospel tells us that the longing for a personal savior in fleshly form is found in no one else than Jesus Christ; God in the flesh, who became a person to be personally known. Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus challenges believers to think about the idols that take human form but are mere shadows of what we find in Christ. And to unbelievers the song talks about the longing to be saved and rescued by a someone and to that we turn to another song from a different time and a different day, it goes like this:
“We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Spread the tidings all around: Jesus saves! Jesus saves! Bear the news to every land,Climb the steeps and cross the waves; Onward!—’tis our Lord’s command; Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”
And not the Jesus that we create, but the Jesus who created creation and then became a person to be personally known. A.K.A. the word that became flesh (John 1:1-14).
Next time onR3Din the culture segment we will be taking on the Terminator franchise in something I am calling “John Connor and Jesus Christ: Terminator in Light of the Gospel”
“Get em a body bag, yeah” Jimmy, from the Karate Kid Part I (1984)
The Karate Kid was the first movie I ever saw on Beta-vision, yes, its official—I am getting old. However, the key thing about KK, at least in the original 1984 version (what in the world was the Jaden Smith movie about anyway???) is that it really took root in the children of the early 1980’s.
The KK can be accused of being sappy on some level by modern standards, but it forever remains one of my favorite movies. Why? The reasons are varied, perhaps it is because that it was a very formative time in a childhood and I was just attached to things I really enjoyed.
Or maybe it’s because I always envisioned that one day I would simply paint the house, sweep the floor, and wax on and wax off and mysteriously be transformed from 7 year old kid with a slight speech impediment to a deadly ninja over night.
Then again there may be another reason. Maybe its just that the KK dealt with the universal themes of good and evil, but only in 1980’s terminology. The Cobra Kai’s (the wealthy elitists from good side of town) have made it their priority in life to bully, intimidate, and make life miserable for the poor outsider—Daniel Larruso. Larruso is out matched at every turn and angle.
What is his way out? Daniel has to learn to meet violence with violence, but “…Not from the Y Ma, but from a good school.” So, Daniel Larruso comes under the tutelage of the Okinawan Karate Master—Mr. Miyagi. Through repetitious and monotonous and unorthodox labor, Miyagi turns Daniel into a humble and unlikely hero who eventually faces all of his foes in the local Karate tournament.
Through the best montage of the 1980’s (only rivaled by Rocky IV) , set to “You’re the Best Around,” we discover that Larruso defeats all of his enemies through sheer force, then after defeating them—they are reconciled to him in the final scene where Jonny Lawrence says, “Your all right Larruso,” and hands Daniel the All Valley Karate Trophy (seemingly passing over the fact that the Cobra Kai’s have gone to great lengths to possibly seriously injure if not cripple him for life, but hey Crane Kicks have a way with making you friends).
Now what does the Gospel have to say about this seemingly innocent—Reagan-era-Rocky style-romp? Well, the universal theme of injustice sticks out like a sore thumb. The rich oppressing the poor and taking delight in it is a very real issue in the KK. The Cobra Kais are true to their creed—they are snakes, clad in Michael Jackson zipper jackets, with skeleton paint on their faces, they represent oppression and tyranny. They are strong, handsome, wealthy, athletic, and privileged class of kids that most preppy 80’s children aspired to be (alright, not all preppy-teen were all out to kill people with their Kawasaki’s and leg sweeps).
On the other hand, Daniel Larruso represents an unwanted outsider, who appears weak, small, and different. Daniel is almost like a prophet in some ways, the outsider, who kicks against the established hierarchy by challenging the lead dog, Jonny Lawrence, where one day at the beach when Allie (with an ‘I’) gets her “Boom Box” (aka Ghetto Blaster for children of the Zeros) slammed into beach Cobra Kai style.
From there Daniel will take a series of beatings and mistreatments, ultimately rescued by his mentor, friend, and new father-figure—Mr. Miyagi. So, through Miyagi, Daniel becomes a young Jedi, err, I mean a young Karate master in training. Daniel goes into full-blown mode, seeking revenge, triumph, and finally attaining acceptance from the community that once rejected him. But that’s where the story takes a sharp departure from the Gospel of Christ.
The KK would be closer to the Gospel if in the scene where the Cobra-Kai Halloween Scream-Team would have not only beaten Daniel, but also murder Daniel without his father-figure coming to rescue him. The KK teaches a simple message of when treated wrongly, learn Karate and kick someone in the mouth (i.e. Lex Tallionis), but the Gospel shows us something entirely different.
Jesus doesn’t over power his enemies through sheer might and physical force, but through His dying in their place. The Gospel shows us that Jesus isn’t rescued by His Father in the midst the lawless hands of wicked men and the Snake, no, instead it was the will of the Father to crush His only begotten Son (cf. Is. 53:10), so that the wrath of God against the enemies of God would Passover over them and onto Christ. Romans 5, explains that:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
So, in the KK we see one who is weak, despised, rejected, and the unlikely hero and in the Gospel we see the same thing too. But their roads take two different paths to victory. One seeks justice in triumphing over his foes by overcoming with brute strength, the Other seeks justice by unjustly submitting Himself to weakness, humility, and death, even death on the cross (Phi. 2:8). In the one the Cobra Kai’s are defeated by a Crane Kick, in the other the Serpent is defeated by the Cross of Christ.
Join me back here next week for R3D as we examine Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”
“We won’t be here long. We are just passing through.” That’s something my Dad would tell me as we would take leave and come to a place I now call home—New Castle, Indiana. I was an Army Brat and that may not mean a whole lot to you unless you experienced traveling and moving house & home 7 times in the span of 16 years, but hey “Welcome to the Army way of life.”
Honestly, we felt like patriotic pilgrims in many ways with our duffel bags in tow, Springsteen’s Born in the USA on our tongues, and hands across our chest (My brother and I were hopeful that Red Dawn would become a self-fulfilling prophecy so that we could show our loyalty to Lady Liberty via BB Guns and smoke grenades, okay I’m still holding out hope—Wolverines!).
Of course I wouldn’t take any of it back, but even as our family had very much adjusted to the idea of the open road as a place called home, there was still something lacking, a longing unfulfilled.
In the Beastie Boy’s classic, No Sleep Till Brooklyn, you hear not only the sounds of false bravado, but you hear through the base & bumps, and the triumph of self-glorification, and denigration of women as objects of conquest—a traditional and familiar sound. Almost as if it were the 1980’s Smash-Hip Hop version of “I’ll be Home For Christmas.” That increasing longing that exists to be at a place called home; a vacuum that can only be filled by Mom’s lasagna or Nana’s Beef Manhattan.
We hear it prevalent in the lyrics and tagline: No Sleep Till Brooklyn. And the reason that is so interesting is because in No Sleep what do you really hear, mostly? You hear a group of young men at the center of the 1980’s fame and fortune apex; where they achieved new heights of fame, fortune, pleasures of varied kinds, but there is also something in them that longs for them to find their home, regardless of how long it takes and how tired they are—they are going home.
The Boys Beastie in all of their late 80’s glory still have a longing for home and so does everybody really. But the Gospel tell us that our longing for homecoming isn’t found in going home to Brooklyn or even to New Castle, Indiana or anywhere we lay our heads at night. No, the Gospel of Christ points us to an eternal dwelling far beyond our finite vision. The scriptures tell us that “…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. 3:30).
The Bible tells us that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us (cf. John 14:2) and the implications for the Christian are far and wide and compelling. We have a place where we are going, but we also have the present that we now live in, which means waiting. But as the Christian waits—we also work (Mt.28:19-20), and as we work we are not called to move forward with No Sleep, no, we are also called to rest (Mk. 4:26). But between working for the Lord and resting in the Lord we are to be watchful for the Lord (Mt. 25:13), specifically for the day of our true homecoming.
Whatever longing we have for our home and whatever we might identify home with: whether we root it in our family being together at the holiday, or a certain comfort food (Pizza King and Jack’s Donuts for New Castlillians), or even a the physical place like the brick and mortar that made up your family’s four walls, we have to remember that it is God’s grace to us in forecasting a better place to come. Because if we are in Christ then we adopt a Kingdom minded Pilgrimage that says, “We won’t be here long. We are just passing through.”
Next week at R3D I will be examining one of the greatest 1980’s movie classics the original “The Karate Kid.”
Trying to describe my likes in music is like trying to describe what a bag of Jelly Belly’s taste like—the flavors are of a varied kind. That being said, I was raised on my Dad’s penchant for classic country music, like: Hank Williams Jnr, Merle Haggard, and Alabama; but you could throw in the influence of the 1960’s rock too: The Doors, The Animals, or anything by Joe Cocker (CCR for good measure too).
Then growing up in the music of the 80’s and 90’s just bent me towards the emergence of Hip-Hop, Pop, and the blend of “Hair-Metal.” So ask me what music I like and you might hear something like, “I really like some of the stuff that Cypress Hill did back in 1990,” while I do the New Kids on the Block Dance from ‘The Right Stuff’ while humming the Macarena (at a whisper anyway, I have to protect my reputation to some degree).
All that said, I want to approach important themes and mantras of my own generation and interpret them in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, when I examine the lyrics of the Beastie Boys’ No Sleep, I learn that our culture is greatly confused about what makes man, well, manly. Obviously with the vernacular of Hip-Hop idioms slang and denigrating words like “whore” and “hos” is something that is assigned to classifying women as cheap and easy and men as the mighty sexual conqueror.
Within the confines of the loud beats of No Sleep we hear a group of males identify their masculinity within the context of sexual triumph and fame. For example:
Ain’t no faking, your money I’m taking
Going coast to coast, watching all the girlies shaking
While you’re at the job working nine to five
The Beastie Boys are at the Garden, cold kickin’ it live
But the scriptures teach us masculinity isn’t enveloped in fame, fortune, or sexual exploits. Instead, the scriptures teach us that masculinity is grounded in God’s creative design. God created Adam to be a shepherd of the Garden and a watchman, but in the fall the cosmos came under God’s curse where the relationship between man and woman, male and female begin to be subverted because of sin.
Because of the curse we see manifestations of God’s design, something good like subduing the Earth (cf. Gen 1:28), getting twisted in different ways—where people no longer walk as friends and equals, but as masters and slaves. Men begin to look at women as objects to be conquered; women can sometimes look at man as someone to manipulate or to be controlled.
However, in Christ’s resurrection we begin to see the universe being put back in its proper order through the process of re-creation; through the Spirit of Christ, the sin that once kept men enslaved to a mentality of sexual triumph, have now been liberated to commit themselves in covenant love to a wife they intend on shepherding. What we would call a picture of biblical masculinity and the Gospel (cf. Eph 5:21-33), not the false bravado of No Sleep.
Join me later this week as I examine part II of No Sleep…and the longing for home.