Music

Photo source: eskimo_jo

For Kesha — the pop star famous for chart topping dance songs such as “Timber” (and infamous for her party lifestyle) — the past few years have been no walk in the park. Involved in a lengthy court battle with her former producer, Dr. Luke, Kesha alleged that she suffered sexual and emotional abuse that led to her struggles with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder.

So the fact that Kesha just released, “Rainbow,” her first album in four years, is kind of a big deal. After her experience with her former producer, Kesha should be disenchanted with the music industry altogether. But the artist is back, and believe it or not, many of her new songs have positive messages that we should pay attention to.

With its themes of hope, recovery, and forgiveness, “Rainbow” appears to reveal a complete 180 from Kesha’s former days of swilling booze and “getting her drunk text on” (as she declared in her hits, “Tik Tok” and “Take it off”).

Considering her tumultuous past one wonders: Has Kesha found Jesus?

The short answer is: not yet. In a recent piece the star wrote for Lenny Letter, Kesha shares more about her album and spirituality, stating that to her “God is nature and space and energy and the universe.”

I don’t think Kesha’s spirituality means followers of Jesus should just write Kesha off completely, however. Here are three truths that her album helps us remember:


In “Learn to let go” Kesha touches on the truth that we are broken and need redemption.


“Been a prisoner of the past
Had a bitterness when I looked back
Was telling everyone it’s not that bad
’Til all my [expletive] hit the fan
I know I’m always like
Telling everybody you don’t gotta be a victim
Life ain’t always fair, but hell is living in resentment
Choose redemption
Your happy ending’s up to you”


We all need forgiveness.


Kesha’s emotional anthem, “Praying,” goes deeper with the theme of letting go of resentment. She hopes well for somebody who has hurt her, and it’s a reminder that forgiving those who have hurt us sets us free from hate that can hold us back.

“I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’
I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come”


In Kesha’s title track, “Rainbow,” the artist opens up about trusting that there is hope in the midst of the dark times.


“I’d forgot how to daydream
So consumed with the wrong things
But in the dark, I realized this life is short
And deep down, I’m still a child
Playful eyes, wide and wild
I can’t lose hope, what’s left of my heart’s still made of gold
And I know that I’m still [expletive] up
But aren’t we all, my love?
Darling, our scars make us who we are, are
So when the winds are howling strong
And you think you can’t go on, hold tight, sweetheart”

Looking ahead, I’m excited to hear more music from Kesha’s journey of recovery. And I’m reminded of the power that exists in sharing your life in a way that draws fellow survivors together, reminding us all that we aren’t struggling alone. So what’s your journey of recovery? Where are you in dealing with the pain of your past? Comment below to share your story.

 

 

 

Whitney Thompson is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She has written for several publications including Advocate magazine, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal, and Upper Room’s Teen Devozine.


More on Music

Bono Talks about the Only Real Problem God Can’t Deal WithPeople have asked me, “Why are your stories so dark? Why do you spend so much time talking about the painful parts of life?” I’ll tell you why we tell messy stories.
Katy Perry: Witness for the darkness- You read this song and you keep waiting for God to show up, for the ending to turn happy, but it never does. But that’s why I love it so much.
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.

We tell messy stories. We do. I know that. Most of the storytelling coming from faith backgrounds obsess with the happy ending. The prince always gets the girl. The villain always gets his due. But I Am Second tells messy stories. They don’t all end clean. All of them, even the ones that do end happy, have just a ton of mess and a ton of pain.

I’ve written for I Am Second since two months after it launched. And much of the written content that’s flowed through I Am Second has come across my desk at some point. And people have asked me, “Why are your stories so dark? Why do you spend so much time talking about the painful parts of life?”

I’ll tell you why we tell messy stories. It’s because life is messy. People are messy. The world is a mess. To tell a story, any story, about real people apart from this mess is just inauthentic. It’s fake.

Bono, from U2 fame, gave an interview with David Taylor a while back that struck a chord with me:

As I look through the Scriptures, I just see a bunch of the dodgiest people ever collected in one place. Murderers, adulterers, ego-maniacs. I mean they sound like most of my friends. They sound like me. I mean, David’s treatment of Bathsheba’s husband, it’s mind blowing. He had such darkness in him. He murders [her husband], gets him sent to the front line to take advantage of [his wife].

Bono references one of the Bible’s biggest heroes, King David. But you can’t tell David’s story without telling how he had an affair with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband. And this is one of the good guys!

We know God doesn’t have favorites, but if he has, you think it might be David. You think how? It’s revealed through the psalms of David: honesty. They are marked by honesty.

David’s honesty has long inspired Bono. Through David’s many psalms and poems preserved in the Bible’s Book of Psalms, you see a rawness and vulnerability too rarely heard.

I want to argue the case for artists who might be listening in to our conversation and are not giving expression to what’s really going on in their life because they feel it will give the wrong impression. We don’t have to please God in any other way than to be brutally honest. It’s the root, not just to a relationship with God, but it’s the root to a great song. In fact, it’s the only place you can find a great song, only place you can find any work of art of merit.

He listed out many of the darker, more painful, and raw themes found in the Book of Psalms.

I would really like this conversation to unlock some artists. I think they’re trapped artists. I’d like them to be untrapped.  Getting it out in the open is very very important. I’m just starting to realize that the only real problem that God can’t deal with is the problem you don’t know you have or that you’re lying to cover up.

One of the hidden treasures on our site is the story of David McKenna. I remember when we brought him in to share his story, he was just so open about his struggles. He actually emailed us the next day telling us that he wasn’t sure if we’d want to really feature his story. He told us he was still in the middle of it all. He was still fighting his addiction. The battle wasn’t yet won for him.

David Mckenna was trying to protect our reputation. He feared that when he messed up again, as he knew he likely would, we would look bad for having featured his story. But that’s just it. We are all a mess. That’s the human story. That’s the story we are trying to tell. That’s my story. That’s your story. That’s all our stories. We want to tell that beautifully broken human story.

There’s great hope in the broken story. Hope is faith in the unseen. It’s realizing the mess we are and trusting, hoping that God is the type to still love us despite the mess. The stories we share, even the stories I’ve told about myself (see below) are meant to share that hope, demonstrate it through all the broken lives that God cared to put back together.

But as always, I think David said it best in one of his psalms:

Into the hovels of the poor,
Into the dark streets where the homeless groan, God speaks:
“I’ve had enough; I’m on my way
To heal the ache in the heart of the wretched.”

 

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.


Want to read more about my mess?

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.

The Sad Reason I Only Wear Brand Name T-Shirts– 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. I’m not.

 

 

 

 

Every year we show up at Warped Tour, a massive summer concert tour with the biggest and newest names in music. We have a booth and we ask people to tell us their stories. We get stories like this:

People ask us why we go to these kinds of events. This is why. It’s these stories. We go to hear people’s beautifully broken, human stories. We want to engage people with their story, listen to them. We do this because we care. And we do this because we too have a story to tell.

Hope happens when you believe in a different story, a different telling of your purpose and place in life. We believe we tell that different story, the story of hope. It’s one that plays out through the dozens of raw, diverse, human stories represented on our website. But we don’t get to tell this story of hope unless we care enough to listen to another’s story first.

One of my all-time favorite stories in the Bible is the one about Matthew. This guy was despised by the religious establishment, hated and judged. He was after all a traitor to his country and his God. He took a job working for an enemy nation to collect taxes for them from his own friends, family, and neighbors who’d been conquered by this enemy nation.

But one day Jesus came to his town and walked right up to where he was collecting taxes and invited Matthew to follow him. He didn’t call him names, judge him, shout out all the terrible things he’d done, or even demand that he confess his wrongs and return all the money he took. No. He just gave him an invitation to follow him. Jesus then shows up for dinner at Matthew’s house and the religious leaders in town have the predictable reaction of judgment.

“Why does he eat with such sinners?” they ask. It was one thing to talk to Matthew, but a whole different thing to go and hang out with the guy at his house.

But Jesus turns the tables on his critics and says, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m not here for good people, I’m here for sinners.”

Pause just for a second and think about what Jesus just said. The only people who get to see the doctor are those who know they are sick. 

There’s so many times when I go to bed at night wondering why I said whatever I did to my wife, why I yelled at my daughter, why I wasn’t kinder to my neighbor. It’s frustrating that I seem incapable of being the man I want to be. But it’s stories like this that remind me of the hope that Jesus came to give. A hope for messed up people like me.

So why do we show up at unexpected places, places like Warped Tour. It’s simple. Jesus didn’t come for good people. He came for people who knew they weren’t. He came for broken people. And that’s why we go to these places.

We don’t go because we think we are better. We go because we know we are not. We’re not there on some humanitarian mission to help the poor souls at rock concerts. We go because we’re all poor souls in need of help. We go because this is where we keep finding people looking for hope. And we want to have that conversation.

 

 

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.

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.