I love music.
I’ve played it in symphonic as well as rock bands. I’ve listened to it (currently on one of my SEVEN turntables). I’ve collected it from cassettes and CDs, to mp3s and now back to vinyl – I missed 8 tracks all together I suppose. I’ve witnessed it both in the recording process and in numerous live shows. I’ve been moved by it to run faster, cry harder, and laugh louder.
Perhaps I love music so much because
“Music often expresses what the soul cannot speak.”
So, over the next few weeks I hope to join two of my life long loves together: the music I listen to, and the Scriptures I read – in a series I’m calling Soundtrack, because each piece will explore the music that has often marked the various chapters in my life with the soundtrack of Scripture, the Psalms.
Below is part 1 of this installment – Enjoy!
Somebody get my shotgun
Somebody get my blade
Sally’s been laying with another man
And he’s sleeping in my place
Somebody get my shotgun
Gonna shoot him sure as rain
You can run as fast as you want to boy
I’ll kill you just the same.
— The Avett Brothers, “I Killed Sally’s Lover”
Music has this long, dark history of Murder Songs – songs that revel in the deadly details of murdering another, more often than not, for some form of infidelity. Think of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” where he shot a man once “just to watch him die” or Cash’s rendition of “Delia’s Gone,” a song of a young man who drove into town and compassionately shot his girl twice because the first shot failed to deliver it’s fatal blow. Then there’s Knoxville Girl, perhaps the most dark and twisted of all Murder Songs in part because the songs is accented with such beautiful harmonies.
Here’s a QUICK STORY about me and murder songs! I joined a friend of mine, almost 4 years ago now, to listen to The Avett Brothers – one of the bands that helped pioneer the Alt-Country/Folk/Americana banjo strumming, foot stomping and hand clapping music scene popularized by Mumford and Sons. The concert was one of their best I’d ever seen (it was my 3rd one at the time). The place was surprisingly electric for a band that prides itself on acoustically driven songs surrounded by tight harmonies, and was on the verge of a fever pitch when they broke into “I Killed Sally’s Lover!” The place went crazy and with smiles on our faces, while singing at the top of our lungs, the entire arena participated in the long and dark musical tradition of singing murder songs.
Why would we do this? Why would I do this?
Why do Murder Songs persist in our progressive age?
I wonder if it isn’t because in our best moments we progressively long for justice. We ache for the wrongs of this world to be made right sometimes wanting “each person to get their due.”
I also wonder if it isn’t because, in our less than right-hearted moments, there is no amount of progression where songs like these don’t also reveal the hate hidden in the dark corners of our hearts.
Hatred is such an uncomfortable idea that it might surprise some that The Psalms (and several other places throughout scripture) include a similar genre of Murder Songs called the Imprecatory Psalms. These are the songs in which the author expresses his or her desire for God to injure (break arms, smash their face, pull their teeth) or even kill (drown, bash heads against rocks, strike dead) an enemy who has wronged them or stood in opposition to God’s way.
“Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.”
But hate-filled words writ as sacred Scripture are puzzling in our progressive age. In a time where the idea of evil is redacted from our social consciousness and hate speech is rightfully criminalized we are left to wonder what are these words doing in the Bible and what, for heaven’s sake, are we to do with them? Isn’t this the same Bible that encourages followers of Jesus to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them?
Yes, it’s true, we are to lean toward love, not hate. Yet this broken world, full of broken people, still gives way to hate bubbling up within us – especially, if not ironically, because of our acute longing for justice.
So what are we to do with hate?
Well, we could act on it! This is what Murder Songs sing of – men (and sometimes women too – remember the Dixie Chick’s “Goodbye, Earl”?) who take action because of their hatred toward another.
We could also just choose to ignore it. This is what our culture most often encourages – deny the existence of hate and suppress feelings that might be characterized as hate toward another. Here’s what we know to be true though – suppressing anger and hate, while it may lead to us not taking action toward our enemies, has a way of expressing itself or acting out toward those we love most.
Or, we could follow the lead of the Psalms and sing (or pray) through our heart’s hatred.
Here’s what happens when we choose to sing with Murder Songs of the Psalms after hate enters our heart:
1. When we sing the Imprecatory Psalms we deposit our hate of another into God’s hands, because God’s hands are more loving and just than our hearts.
2. When we sing about our enemies in the presence of God we are reminded that we were once enemies of God and God’s love conquers a multitude of sins – including our own enmity.
3. When we sing the Psalms we entrust our untrustworthy feelings about our enemies to God, and over time it frees us to love our enemies, not hate them.
So, the next time we feel ourselves welling up with anger, or even hate, remember – Jesus is right. We shouldn’t hate our enemies. And the Psalms are right. When we do hate our enemies, this is a way of dealing with it.