Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Gospel through Eminem?

"Have you ever loved someone so much, you'd give an arm for? Not the expression, no, literally give an arm for?"

Yesterday, I discovered this video, and watched it and looked at the lyrics and was amazed - I'd not really heard much Eminem before, but knew he was controversial and intense in his style a lot of the time. However, this song I found incredible meaningful and incredibly full of love - it portrays a message of hope for a better future that I found actually inspiring. More than that, believe it or not, I'd say that many parallels can be drawn with it and the message of hope Jesus gave. Anyway, here's my take on it...

1) The intimate, loving relationship between him and his daughter is touchingly powerful:

"I keep having this dream,
I'm pushin' Hailie on the swing"

Eminem's love for his daughter is a incredibly significant theme, which  is developed throughout the song, such as in his mentioning of him playing with his daughter Hailie on the swing, with her favourite thing to do with him being the 'underdog' (pushing the swing high enough for him to be able to run under it). This special father-daughter love for swinging is mentioned throughout the song, and the 'underdog' is shown later in the video, in Eminem's vision of the reconciled family.

There's also the "tiny necklace locket" Hailie gives him as he leaves, with her picture in it; she tells him, "This'll keep you safe Daddy, take it with you" - a wonderfully innocent, childlike sentiment which by its mention shows him that it deeply moved him. In addition, the "Number One Dad" coin she gives him at the concert which he is seen with later, whether it was meant or not, was again clearly something he treasures. 

Even though this is portrayed as being part of a dream, these are such intimate items and intimate memories, the personal sort of memories a close "Daddy" figure shares with his daughter, showing the love he has for his daughter, the love that makes him regret not feeling he was there for her. 

This, it could be said, begins to parallel another love, a love which is similarly intimate and personal - God's love. Paul writes in Romans 8:15 that God does not want us to, "receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear", meaning God does not want or seek people's worship motivated by terror and fear, but instead loves us in the same way a father loves their daughter or son, to the extent that we can refer to God as, “Abba! Father!” The words used for "Father" and the "Abba" were both highly personal and intimate ways of referring to God in Jesus' day, showing God, likewise,  desires such a personal and close relationship with people, because, just as Eminem has deep affection for his daughter, God loves them with intimate, deep affection. As early church thinker Augustine wrote, 
"God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." 
He loves on an individual level, each and every one of the people on the planet, you, me, and even people who committed atrocities such as Adolf Hitler, because it's so powerful it has no limit, no exception, unconditionally, as a mother or father's love is.

2) Eminem's love for his daughter Hailie is so wonderfully powerful that he's do anything for her:
"Have you ever loved someone so much,
        you'd give an arm for?
Not the expression, no, literally give an arm for?
When they know they're your heart..."
This 'literally give an arm for' could be interpreted both in that he has tattoos of his daughter on his arm (indicating how permanent and central she is to his life, even referred to as his very "heart" itself), and in that he would do anything for her, which is amazing to think... In this, he seems to touch on the epitomisation of the love of a father here - self-sacrificial, genuinely felt, unforced and unconditional love.

This all brings to mind the love of the figure described in some of the deeply lamenting opening lines of the Flyleaf song, "Circle":
"Circle encircles the earth
Chance and choice break his heart
His innocent arm moves to save me and I am spared
His beautiful arm
        is bloody and cut off
His heart ripped out to show me he loved me"
I can't help but be reminded, both by Eminem and Flyleaf, of the love of Jesus sacrificing His life in a torturous death on the cross here as an amazing parallel here. In Jesus' own words at the last meal He has before death with His closest friends, "This is my body, which is given for you." (Luke 22:19) Jesus, in passionate, true love for others, freely gave His body and whole life to bring people to the joy they were made for, which is the highest form of love which can ever be shown.

3) His desire to protect her is also so poignant- he never wants anyone to harm her:
"And you know you were their armour
And you will destroy anyone who would try to harm her"
"Then turn right around in that
song and tell her you love her"
His love for her also means that he wants to protect her so strongly from anyone who would harm her - referring to himself as "armour" and having intense anger at anyone who would want to harm her, to the extent that he'd want to "destroy" them - portraying an incredible intensity of righteous anger, but one based on love for her.

This protective anger, based on love, again just in me seems to parallel the passion of God's love incredibly. God's love is certainly not emotionless - and this can be seen in the fact that God has such incredible desire to protect and care for people that He is made angry, in the righteous indignation sense, by things that harm and cause pain.

The idea of God's anger (often referred to as God's "wrath") in my view is often totally misunderstood - God is not some person who is constantly filled with rage and trying to find any excuse to condemn humanity - to the contrary, we see God saying in Ezekiel 18, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone." This is referred to, reiterated and insisted upon again and again - just take a look at Ezekial 18:23, Ezekial 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 as a few examples... Like the perfect defense lawyer, God very clearly desires no person to ever be condemned to any form of judgement!

In fact, the poetic psalm-writer in Psalm 145 writes that God is, "gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love". In fact, in 1 John 4:16 we see the incredible statement that, "God is love" - God is not simply a bit loving, or mostly loving, but utterly, completely, wholeheartedly, absolutely, without condition and exception, loving. "God is love" means that God is so completely loving that He is the very definition and paradigm and epitome of love itself - in that, if we want to have a reference point, someone we can point to when describing the true and fundamental meaning of love, God gives that. And this is, unlike what the Church has unfortunately often portrayed, is not for a select few, but for absolutely everyone, no condition or limit or exception. Christians very often get this wrong - but thankfully God is not defined by our mistaken ideas and misconceptions about Him. Instead, as thinker Jerry Bridges insisted:
"God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God"
God loves us no matter what we think or how badly we portray Him, as Christians unfortunately have done very badly both in the history of the church and in recent times. Thankfully, God is far more wonderful than people make Him out to be!

Why then is there ever this idea of God's anger? This is where the Eminem rap line comes in - he is angry at the idea of anyone ever harming his daughter Hailie - not out of any selfish emotion, but simply because he loves her that much - that he'd never want to see her harmed. Similarly, God's anger is not separate to, neither is it in opposition to, His love, but instead is as a result of love - God becomes angry, it seems to me, because He sees harm coming to those He loves (which is everyone!), because He never wants to see any person harmed or condemned. God's anger is there because He loves, and, just as Eminem's anger shows his love for his daughter, God's anger actually shows His love for us.

4) This love drives him to a vision of hope, moving out of the nightmare of being alienated from his family, wanting to "wake up" and be reconciled to them all, including his ex-wife Kim Mathers

"That's when I wake up, alarm clock's ringin',
there's birds singin'"
This song and video has, in my view, an incredible emphasis on reconciliation. Eminem appears to be fighting against his alter-ego named "Slim Shady", the rap performer whose celebrity status has driven him away from his family (and his daughter who even piled up boxes to stop him leaving). The reference in verse 3 to the gun, and him shouting "Die Shady!" before apparently killing himself with it, I initially took to refer to suicide, but it seems to be more complicated, and hopeful, than that. He seems to express a longing in this song to end the things which have alienated him from his family (represented by Slim Shady, whose reflection he smashes). He longs for the family he could have had, even considering Kim's biological daughter, whom she had with another person after their marriage broke down, Whitney Laine Scott (referred to as Hailie's "little sister" in the song), as his own daughter. The dream he's having seems to represent the parts of his life he wants to be gone, resenting that, while he desires to protect Hailie, he has often become the very one who has caused pain to her, while him waking up (after leaving behind the alter-ego) represents the life he actually ultimately seeks. 

Once again, this parallels very interestingly the idea of leaving behind an old life for the hope of a new, better one, turning away from past endeavours (obsession with fame and popularity) which seemed attractive at the time but which brought dissatisfaction, to a better state of mind, involving being a good parent for Hailie, Whitney and Kim. This is the simple meaning of the concept of "repentance" in Jesus' teaching - it's not some complicated, ritualised process, but just the idea of turning from an old life to a new one, one which follows Jesus as the only One who can truly satisfy the human longing for something more. People are built to be in relationship (as in Eminem's family), but other areas of life can unfortunately alienate us from relationships, including our relationship with God. Such alienation and distance brings, as it did with Eminem, frustration, dissatisfaction and regret, with his daughter being the means through whom he realised this. This is why restoration of relationship, and therefore human fulfilment and human flourishing, is God's desire, because in love He desires to see people flourish and reach their true potential by being in positive relationship with others and with Him.
I walk right up to Kim and kiss her
Tell her I miss her
This idealistic vision near the end of the video is incredible, given all that the singer's been through, and gives a message of hope in all the darkness. This is the future Eminem genuinely longs for - he longs for reconciliation and the intimate family times he misses, with both Hailie and Whitney playing happily on the swings with both Kim and him, without resentment, division or sadness. The whole purpose of the song seems to be to leave behind the "Slim Shady" persona for the sake of a better, more fulfilling future with his family. Eminem's true heart is revealed as genuinely wanting to care for and help others, and even a hint of a personal faith is implied at 2:11 in the video, where Eminem crosses himself, almost as though to indicate he believes that, in some way, God is able to provide something positive to the situation. Elsewhere, moreover, he has expressed an interest in the idea of God, interestingly stating, "I definitely pray a lot more than I used to. I don't feel like I'm crazy wacky religious. But I do believe in God, and I do pray" (quoted by the secular website Hollowverse).

He definitely does not fit stereotypes Christians or anyone else would seek to place him in. What is clear, however, is that he is a real human being with an incredible heart and a genuine longing to hope and be loved.

"The Return of the Prodigal Son"
(J. Tissot)
This hopeful vision involves reconciliation with those he's been alienated from, and peace and acceptance not based on music quality, but simply unconditionally loved. What's striking about this, is that this sense of reconciliation is exactly what we see in Jesus' parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) - the son asks to have his inheritance to be able to move away, his father lets him, and when he's got nothing left due to spending it all, he decides to return, worried his father might not accept him again. But, to his delight, the father doesn't just accept him, but he runs when he's still far off to greet him, and holds a feast to celebrate his return. In this, both the son, and even more so the father, long for reconciliation - just as Eminem in this vision longs for reconciliation. With God it's not simply a vision or idealistic utopia, however, but a real, wonderful possibility - God longs for people to be close to Him, and reconciled with one another, and can make this happen.

In all this, the message of Jesus is so often misunderstood - it's not a set of moral criteria or hurdles or rules someone must fulfill to be accepted by God. It's not that we have to earn something for an angry, far-off idea of God. It's not for a select group of individuals, or for just an 'exclusive club' of people. Far from it, it is the message that God loves and thus desires relationship with all people, all without distinction and without exception, no matter gender, race, background, past history, criminal record, ability, religion, sexual orientation, political view or anything else someone could use to discriminate.

God longs for reconciliation, because He knows people will find true, lasting joy, once this is found - something which Eminem seems to have realised in this song. It's something He'll never force upon us, but if we so choose, God is infinitely glad to accept us and rejoices us to be close to Him, because He loves us. As Romans 10:9-13 wonderfully says, all we need to do is ask, as God is able to do everything else.

I end this with the lyrics of Katy Perry's song, "Unconditionally" - because to me this seems to capture so profoundly true unconditional nature of God's love:
Unconditional, unconditionally
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally

Come just as you are to me
Don't need apologies
Know that you are worthy
I'll take your bad days with your good
Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you
I love you

Acceptance is the key to be
To be truly free
Will you do the same for me?

1 comment:

  1. Amazing Ells! Such an amazing insight! You're an inspiration! :) xxxx


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