#PlanetCCM: Five Iron Frenzy, the Soundtrack to My Deconversion (and Reconversion)

Photo by me!

Content Note: Discussion of suicide and depression

My husband (fiancé at the time) went to a Five Iron Frenzy show last year, shortly after the band reunited and started touring again. When we walked out of the concert venue, we both started to say something at the same time, then stopped, and laughed.

“You first,” I said.

“No you.”

“Alright. I was just thinking that Five Iron Frenzy kind of makes me believe in God again. Maybe being a Christian doesn’t have to be horrible. What were you going to say?”

“Well, I was actually going to say that Five Iron Frenzy makes me feel like it’s okay that I don’t believe in God anymore.”

Five Iron has a special place in our relationship. The band brought both of us down very different paths, yet somehow, at the same time, brought us closer together. It has been, and continues to be, the soundtrack to both of our complicated, mixed up faith journeys.

I couldn’t let #PlanetCCM go by without talking about the impact Five Iron Frenzy has had in my life.

I discovered Five Iron Frenzy late in high school (I heard from Relient K that they were really, really, really good) and enjoyed some of their sillier songs. It was in college, though, that they became one of my favorite bands of all time.

In my sophomore year at a small Christian college, I joined a Bible study group that a few women in the dorms had put together. The topic was “sex,” and the material for the Bible study was terrible (it promoted ex-gay therapy and said that a desire for masturbation was caused by demons if you’re wondering how terrible).  But the people in the group were wonderful, and despite the material, it became a space where many of us who had been drowning in shame for years could be open about our sexuality for the first time in our lives.

In that group, we would often share song lyrics and verses that inspired us. One of the other women in the group shared the lyrics to the song “Distant Shores:”

If mercy falls upon the broken and the poor, dear Father I will see you there on distant shores.

God, I was broken at that point in my life. Broken by the sexual abuse that I had suffered years before and was just then starting to face for the first time. Broken by the Church’s messed up, shaming teachings about sex and autonomy.

This song became the first foothold in the theology I have today–God is on the side of the suffering. God is with the broken.

The more I began listening to Five Iron, the more they challenged my conservative political leanings. I don’t think I would have the desire to work for justice that I do today if it weren’t for some of their more political songs. Songs like “Day We Killed,” reminded me that no, we do not live in a post-oppression society. They taught me that my “innocence” and ignorance of the system that benefits me is deadly–for me and for others:

Into mass graves we’ve shoveled lives
a massive pipeline for the lies
a past so vast with genocide
and ignorance we hide behind
You say that we are done with this
turn blind eyes and still dismiss
chalk this up as something passed
and still create a lower caste

As my politics changed, my faith had to. My fundamentalist, conservative beliefs couldn’t hold up against the knowledge of the injustices that those beliefs supported and promoted. I could no longer believe in the unjust, oppressive God I’d grown up believing in

My love for Five Iron Frenzy accompanied this change. They didn’t hold back on their criticisms of injustice in the church out of a desire for false unity or  shallow love, and I knew I couldn’t do that either. Songs like Brave Saint Saturn’s (a side-project that some of the Five Iron Frenzy members were involved in) “Blessed Are The Land Mines” spoke truth to power and put words to the bitter disillusionment that I was experiencing:

Nail the gold up to the altar
Like Ahab taunts his crew to war
Blessed are the shareholders
Lack of faith is for the poor
Hold your wallets to the sky
A temple built to sooth yourself
Blessed is the church who tries
To help you build blessed wealth

Losing my faith was hard. God, it was like someone died. No, it was like died. I lost my identity. I lost friends. I lost certainty and community and everything I had ever known. The depression that I’d been struggling with for years only worsened to the point where it was unbearable. Five Iron was “there,” though, playing in my dorm whenever I needed something to believe in. It didn’t fix me or anything, but it was there.

“I just don’t feel like flying anymore…”

I got to a point during this period of my life where no one could make “every new day seem so new.” In fall of 2011, I took some medication that I wasn’t supposed to drink alcohol with. I drank a lot of alcohol with it, hoping that would do the trick. I passed out on the bathroom floor hoping to never wake up.

I did of course, otherwise I couldn’t be writing this. I got on medication that eventually helped me get to a much better place. But it’s not easy to recover from a failed suicide attempt.

I found hope in a funny place though. Five Iron Frenzy started a countdown to who-knows-what (with Five Iron, you never know what, right?) that fall. I would tell myself, “Sarah, you have to stay alive until November 22 at least. 10 more days…9 more days…”

On November 22, Five Iron Frenzy announced that they were reuniting, and shared a new song that they had made–”It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.” I listened to that track over and over again as I struggled to get healthy again. I held onto those lyrics whenever I was ready to give up.

“Hope still flies.” 

Eventually, I got to a point in my life where I was healthy enough to start rebuilding the faith I had lost, picking up the pieces and setting them on a foundation of justice and equality. Five Iron Frenzy helped me do just that. My husband, who started questioning his religion even before I did, never did come to a place where he believed in God again, and found a lot of hope in band member Scott Kerr’s story of becoming an atheist.

Five Iron Frenzy got the both of us through some rough times, and gave us energy and hope to hold out for better times. Even when we were coming to different places in our journeys, we found solidarity in our love for that goofy ska band. That still hasn’t changed. Thanks, Five Iron Frenzy. Relient K was right–you were (and are) really, really, really good.

Abe and I, with FIF’s lead singer, Reese Roper.

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  • Erin

    I LOVE THIS.

    I didn’t discover FIF until my freshman year in college, three years after they broke up. But all through my struggle with self-injury and depression and anxiety and my family, I listened to THOSE EXACT SAME LYRICS and prayed that God was actually with the broken and the poor, that there would be a new day, that there was something to live for and be hopeful about.

    More recently, I’ve stopped speaking to my parents because of their reaction to my coming out as a lesbian. It was a rough holiday season (during which we had our last giant fight, and I left their house and quit taking their calls), and I’m feeling pretty crappy about life. I think I need to get out my FIF albums. Thanks for sharing your journey and reminding me that I’m not alone.

  • aim2misbehave

    Wow, I haven’t listened to them for like 10 years, so I’m gonna go check out their new music now! And right now that song about the blue comb is just going through my head, lol…

  • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

    They led me on the path towards activism and social justice as well!

  • http://kateschell.wordpress.com/ Kate Schell

    I had no idea they had produced anything recently. I’ll have to listen to their newer stuff. Loved them in junior high.

    • Jared Budlong

      Check my reply below to see their reunion show in full on YouTube., it doesn’t have much of their new stuff, but it’s 1:30 of live continuous FIF!

  • Corey Watson

    It’s very comforting to know that I’m not alone with my doubts. Deep inside, I know God’s there, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel the same to me as it used to feel.

  • Jared Budlong

    I probably should waited to post the videos until after this but better late than never right?

    Thanks for this post! I’ve never quite gotten to the point of seriously doubting God, but man does life get rough sometimes and the best cute I’ve found is FIF!

  • Y. A. Warren

    My children asked me throughout their lives whether I believe in “God.” I always told them yes, but that I don’t believe what people say about “God.” At this point, I attempt not to use the term “God” as a name. A “god” is a being that is self-absorbed and demands sacrificial homage to survive. I now use the term “Sacred Spirit” because that is how I relate to the Eternal, Universal Energy that manifests in many physical forms, including in us.


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