Doug Bender

Katy Perry’s new album “Witness”

Say what you will about Katy Perry, but I love her honesty. The title track for her latest album, Witness, is a soliloquy of doubt and loneliness. I won’t name names, but these dark themes fail to surface on the “positive and encouraging” genre of radio stations that are out there. And it’s why you’ll find me listening to some of the less “encouraging” musical artists on occasion.

See, great music, great lyrics puts sound and words to feelings. Sometimes, I doubt. I have fear and anxiety. I wonder if I’m alone in the world, if anybody cares. And I crave music that can put words to those parts of my soul. Words like Katy Perry’s:


If I lost it all today, would you stay?
Could my love be enough to stimulate?
If s*^t hit the fan, grenades got thrown
Would you still show, oh?
Could you go down with me to the mat?
Could we get back up and eventually laugh?
Roll eyes at highs, cheers in the lows, and stay in the flow.


There is a song in the Bible by the Sons of Korah called Psalm 88 that’s a pure cry into the darkness. It says things like:


You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.


And other lines like:


From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.


 

And if that wasn’t dim enough, the song ends with this:


You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.


You read this song and you keep waiting for God to show up, for the ending to turn happy, but it never does. The song ends with a God that didn’t show up. It ends in darkness and loneliness. But that’s why I love it so much.

I’m a believer. I know that in the end God is going to be there for me. I know that. But when I can’t pay my bills, a friend betrays me, or I lose a child, I don’t feel like he’s going to show up. I feel alone. I feel that “darkness is my closest friend.” And for some reason, knowing that someone, anyone, has also felt this despair makes it all a little less despairing. In some strange way, I find the dark and lonely songs by Katy Perry and the Sons of Korah oddly encouraging, precisely because they offer no encouragement.

Now, some of you are already crafting an angry comment about why I shouldn’t write about Katy Perry. So, I’ll just end with this: she’s looking for a connection, someone to get her through whatever she is going through, maybe you can be a witness instead. Besides, who doesn’t need a witness?

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

(Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/JustinBieber/)

I am a Belieber.

I’ll just say that upfront.

I don’t have the T-shirt. I’ve never seen him in concert. But I’m a fan of Justin Bieber. I remember watching the YouTube videos that launched his crazy rise to fame. It wasn’t some marketing firm or record company rep that got his music out there. It was him on a crummy camera blasting us away with his vocals. Thankfully, the production quality of his music has improved with time.

Now, I say all this, not to endorse everything he’s ever done, said, or sang about. Let’s be honest. I wouldn’t endorse everything I’ve ever done, said, or, well, attempted to sing. I say this because love him or hate him, he’s got some truth we all need to hear. And some of these truths we don’t hear nearly as often or as loudly as we should. Here are a few of those truths:

 

1. “God is in the midst of the evil”.

On May 22 of this year, a suicide bomber killed 23 adults and children and injured another 119 following an Ariana Grande concert. So, Justin Bieber and others joined up for “One Love Manchester,” a benefit concert for those injured or killed. Justin got on stage and said this:


“God is good in the midst of the darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst. No matter what’s happening in the world, God is in the midst. And he loves you and he’s here for you.”


I recently shared about the suicide of my absolute best friend from childhood. I remember just searching and struggling for answers. And the only answer I ever really found came from a line in a song written by a man named David in the Bible. He wrote, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.”

I haven’t really told this story much in public, but, more recently, my wife and I had a still born child. And there is absolutely nothing you can say to comfort that or to wipe away that pain. You just have to be in the sadness and know that God is sitting next you. That’s it.

 

2. “What a better way to fight evil…with good.”

At that same concert, Justin challenged us to fight evil with good. He said,


“Love always wins in the end. What a better way to fight evil…with good.”


That doesn’t seem like anything big or shocking on the surface, but think about it for a second. Some group of people just set off a bomb, killing and maiming innocent men, women, and children. Children! And Justin Bieber challenges us to fight this gruesome and terrible violence with goodness and love. That’s bold.

Jesus taught that when someone hits us in the face, we should turn our head and let them hit the other side. That’s insane, that’s bold. But that’s Jesus. And according to Jesus, love is our weapon. I don’t hear this near enough in my circles.

 

3. “We have the greatest healer of all and his name is Jesus Christ.”

I’m not even going to give you commentary here. Just read what he said in an interview with Complex magazine:

“If you believe it, he died for our sins… What Jesus did when he came to the cross was basically say, ‘You don’t have to feel any of that stuff.’ We could take out all of our insecurities, we could take away all of the hurt, all the pain, all the fear, all the trauma. That doesn’t need to be there. So all this healing that your’re trying to do, it’s unnecessary. We have the greatest healer of all and his name is Jesus Christ. And he really heals. This is it. It’s time that we all share our voice… I’m at a point where I’m not going to hold this in.”

 

4. “None of us can handle this world, dude! It’s eating us alive.”

Pick up the Bible and read any story out of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and you’ll find a theme. There was one group of people that just really got to Jesus. Seriously, you can tie Jesus down and whip him to within an inch of his life and then string him up on a cross to die and he’ll say, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” But this group of people ticked him off so bad that he got out a whip, flipped tables, yelling “Get them out of here!”

And what is this group, you may ask? Religious people. Hmm. If you are a church going person, beware.

Too often, what I hear is there is this magic list of bad things that you need to avoid, usually all the sexual stuff, drugs and alcohol, and maybe a few others. Do these things and you are out. And of course Christians like to shout out how good they are at avoiding this list. But this list is the same list religious people had in the time of Jesus. And it didn’t work for them. And in walks Justin Bieber:


“If we can understand that we’re all imperfect, let’s come to God and come for his help. You’re not weak by doing that. I think that’s a common misconception of Christians, that you’re being weak because you can’t handle it. None of us can handle this world, dude! It’s eating us alive.”


 

So there it is. I’m a Belieber. I’m not asking you to convert. I just want you to hear him out. He’s speaking some truth here. We need a little less pride in ourselves, a little more pride in Jesus, and we need to stop running from sadness and grief and just know that God is in the midst of the evil.

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

 

 

More on Justin Bieber

You need to read what Justin Bieber just said about Christianity–because he’s right- I never thought I’d say this: Justin Bieber understands Christianity better than a lot of people I know. And there’s a lot about Justin Bieber’s Christianity that I want.

Justin Bieber nails it regarding God and faith…again- I mess up; I disappoint people; I’ll always disappoint people; but God still loves me and that love is unconditional.

 

More from Doug Bender

13 Reasons Why NOT: an Open Letter to My Friend Who Committed Suicide- I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you.

Friend or Foe: My Brain Can’t Tell the Difference- That moment sent me on a dizzying journey that eventually led to the discovery that I have a defect. My brain isn’t normal. I lack the mental ability to identify people by their face. It’s an actual thing, face blindness, they call it.

(Photo source: pexels.com)

I can still see the sales rack in my mind. I can hear the hangers clanking as I fingered through the T-shirts. I can even tell you exactly where in the store I stood staring at the bright yellow and blue “3 for $18.99” sales sign.

All my clothes came via my older brother, thrift shops, or family friends. Well, except the clothes my mom made herself. So, maybe I wasn’t the most stylish kid on the block. Obviously, this sales rack meant some desperately needed style in my life. No more handmade clothes and no more hand-me-downs. This was a shot at the real thing. My homeschool co-op was going to think me the hottest kid at the science fair. Yes, I was homeschooled and my mom made my clothes. I know. I know.


This was a shot at the real thing. My homeschool co-op was going to think me the hottest kid at the science fair.


Never mind, that it was a discount retail store where I stood staring at the rack. Mom told me I could pick from that rack any three T-shirts. Three! Can you imagine that. I’d never had three new shirts ever. I could only pick from that one rack, but who cares. They were new and not made by mom. I love you, mom!

Twenty years later, I can still feel the emotional rise and joy of the moment. I touched and examined every one of those shirts. I was there for at least an hour engulfed in decision making. Looney Tunes were cool then. Well, at least I thought they were, but we’ve already discussed my level of style at the time. I got one Tasmanian Devil shirt with some sassy saying, a Daffy Duck shirt, and a Looney Tunes compilation shirt. And I wore those things for years, and I do mean years. Of all my early childhood, those shirts rank top four possessions along with a Styrofoam plane, Mario Brothers, and a Mickey Mouse that read books to me.

I’m now married, have kids, a good job. And I don’t shop at that store anymore. A class thing, I guess. Somehow, it feels below me. I’m embarrassed to even say that. I erased this paragraph like five times trying to decide if I’d even tell you this. But there it is. I think I’m too good to shop at that discount retailer.

What happened? Those shirts brought me years of joy and pride but now I’ve got a brand name shirt on. And the thing is, I’m no happier than I was twenty years ago wearing those Looney Tunes T-shirts.


The problem isn’t that I don’t have a nicer shirt, because I got that. The problem is I think that nicer shirt will make me happy.


There is a name for this. It’s called materialism. Sometimes it’s called the love of money, greed, or discontentment. Whatever we call it, I’ve got it. I find myself leaning on money and stuff for happiness. I haven’t learned to beat it yet. I’d like to be perfectly content with any financial situation. That’d be just plain contentment. I’m not. I find myself at a place I call happy discontentment. I don’t spend crazy or have a house full of stuff I don’t use, but I do carry with me this itch for more. I don’t need more, but something in me wants more. I’m happy with my life, but carry with me this discontented itch. So, I find myself at happy discontentment.

No matter how many shirts I buy or how much money I spend on those shirts, I’ve never been happier than when I got three terribly 90’s Looney Tunes T-shirts. The problem isn’t that I don’t have a nicer shirt, because I got that. The problem is I think that nicer shirt will make me happy.

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

 

 

More from Doug Bender

13 Reasons Why NOT: an Open Letter to My Friend Who Committed Suicide- I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you.

Friend or Foe: My Brain Can’t Tell the Difference- That moment sent me on a dizzying journey that eventually led to the discovery that I have a defect. My brain isn’t normal. I lack the mental ability to identify people by their face. It’s an actual thing, face blindness, they call it.

How Ashton Kutcher Saved Me from Growing a Beard- I didn’t have a topic, experience, training, or any actual plan to make this happen. I just thought one day inspiration would strike while I sipped a macchiato at some sidewalk café and out would pop a book and my hairy face would be on the back cover.