Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Busy Busy Busy

Hi all.  Sorry it's been so long since I've blogged.  I've been super busy with school.  My Spanish class is taking up most of my time.  It's incredibly hard this semester.  And right now I'm only getting a B in the class.  I'm hoping to bring it up to an A by the end of the semester so it won't screw up my 4.0 average.  In fact, I am going to read a poem in Spanish in the school's talent show next week just so I can knock off two of my bad quiz grades in Spanish class.  That was the deal that the teacher offered, and I'm desperate.  The rest of my classes are going well.  Math is very easy, fortunately.  English is time consuming, but doable.  And American National Government is boring, but I'm getting an A.

Well, I applied to the University of Pennsylvania, and I didn't get in.  The good news is that I can try again next year, and I won't have to submit my high school grades.  They must have given too much weight to my high school grades which were really bad.  I was pretty bummed about it for a while, but now I'm looking toward the future.  I am also thinking about applying to Yale and Columbia next spring.  They both have special programs for adult students.  And both of them basically require SATs.  I'll definitely be the oldest student in the classroom for that, but hopefully it will be worth it.

Here's a sample of my work from English class.  It's an analysis of a song.

Personal Jesus
Depeche Mode is a synth-pop band from the 80s.  Although they continue to make music today, they really peaked in the late 80s and early 90s.  Martin Gore, the writer for the band, has taken on many heavy subjects ranging from relationships to religion.  Depeche Mode’s song “Personal Jesus” is both a mockery of fundamentalist faith, and an expression of deep faith.  The song came out at a time when Depeche Mode was a very popular and influential band.  The song made them even more popular, and brought a lot of fans who really did not understand Depeche Mode, and so misinterpreted the song from a more evangelical point of view.  This song is, in fact, an attempt to free people from certain religious extremists.  Fundamentalists, for instance, who believe they have a personal relationship with Jesus, can be very aggressive with their faith.  They believe they have certainty of moral knowledge, and so cannot be reasoned with.  They can lack humility, quite unlike Jesus.  This song attempts to offer another point of view.
Gore has confessed that he finds religion very confusing.  Many of his songs speak about Christianity and religion in a very suspicious manner such as “Blasphemous Rumors.”  “Personal Jesus” was not intended to be a literal praise song.  This can be gleaned from the fact of some irreverent language in the song such as “Lift up the receiver; I’ll make you a believer; I will deliver; you know I’m a forgiver” (lines 22-25).   In these lines, Depeche Mode mocks the sales pitch of fundamentalists.  The sales pitch usually goes something like this: If you say the “sinner’s prayers” and accept Jesus Christ into your heart, then your sins will be forgiven and you will be given a whole new and wonderful life.  You will believe more and more as you get closer to Jesus.  If you have a strong faith, you will be rewarded with an unbelievably great life.  But if you have problems, it is because you do not have enough faith in Jesus.  The fundamentalists push their faith because they believe the more souls they “lead to Christ,” the greater will be their reward in heaven, so they are very motivated, “I’ll make you a believer” (line 23).
Some people, when knowing that the song is, in part at least, a mockery, might take the whole song to be blasphemous.  I do not take this view as I do not see it as an attack on Christian faith, but a particular type of faith.  It is an attack on a certain type of narcissistic faith—the kind that believes that Christianity exists to serve the whims and preferences of the believer, a personal Jesus who does not ask anything of the faithful.  He is merely “Someone to hear your prayers; Someone who’s there” (lines 6-7).  It is a vision of a Jesus who has been dehumanized and acts as a servant in the worst, most demeaning sense—an image of God made by man.
Marilyn Manson covered “Personal Jesus” and, being that he is a known Satanist, it is fair to assume that he did not have good intentions in recording the song.  In that sense, the song can be viewed as purely blasphemous and an attack on Christianity itself.  Many “believers” speak of having a “personal relationship with Jesus.”  Even Pope John Paul II said that believers have or should develop a “personal relation with Jesus.”  So “Personal Jesus” can certainly be seen as an attack on that type of Christian faith, or that aspect of Christian faith.  The song does mock the notion of having a personal relationship with someone who you can neither see nor hear, someone about whom there is no historical agreement.  I believe, though, that Depeche Mode’s version of the song offers more nuance that Marilyn Manson’s version of it.  Their intentions were better.
“Personal Jesus,” while no book of Job, is an expression of frustration with religion, and hence, an expression of deep faith.  “Someone who cares,” (line 4) “Someone who’s there” (line 7). These are words of bitterness to anyone whose prayers have never been answered.  They are also words of longing.  Would it not be nice if there was a personal Jesus “someone who cares” (line 4).  The song is intentionally vague so that people may interpret it however they like—if as a praise song, then as a praise song, if as a mockery, then as a mockery.  This probably has something to do with the song’s success.  If its meaning was clearer, it probably would not have appealed to such a wide group of people.  I believe that the song would have been a more controversial song had it not been so subtle, and had it not been for the fact that so many received it as strictly a praise song.
“Personal Jesus” also criticizes cheap grace.  “I will deliver; you know I’m a forgiver” (lines 16,17).  These lines, if taken literally, lead one to believe that no matter what you do, it will not harm your personal relationship with Jesus.  We know that in real life our actions and words have repercussions.  It would be nice if the world as a whole was more forgiving, but it is not.  So what, then, is the point of a Jesus who “forgives” people?  Wouldn’t a more loving Jesus advise people not to do things that will make them an object of contempt to begin with?  So, cheap grace is not, then, a very Christian way to live.  This is how the song is very critical of a certain type of faith, namely, one that promotes cheap grace, rather than being critical of Christianity in itself.
“Personal Jesus” has many different meanings to many different people.  To a fundamentalist, it is a praise song.  To a Satanist, it is a song that mocks the Christian faith.  To a moderate Christian, it is a little bit of both.  It is a brilliant song in that sense.  It is very difficult to write anything of substance that is yet so open to interpretation.  The song will undoubtedly remain one of their best songs for years to come.