Potty Mouths & Gospel Hearts

Potty Mouths & Gospel Hearts November 28, 2012

So my daughter is in high school.  She is in high school in an inner city, Atlanta public high school.   We live, shop, play and worship in a community thumping with a beautiufl cacophony of colorful people – thanks be to God.  And Zoë, my worldly child with an old soul, who is patient with her frequently dim mamma, is teaching me a thing or two about the Kingdom of God.

Z shared a video with me recently.  Being a bit of an old fart these days who is happy with her “music from the 80’s, 90s and now” station or Pandora Indigo Girls stream I had not really run into an abundance of Macklemore/Ryan Lewis selections.  I certainly had not heard his hipster anthem Thrift Shop.  But I sure am glad she shared it with me on our recent road trip to Florida.  Now I keep returning to the video, something about it has me enthralled and last night, after the umpteenth viewing a bolt of awareness hit me.  This song, sprinkled with all sorts of specious language is a beautiful vision of God’s Kingdom.  Huh?  Well, watch the video and then come back to the conversation.

In case I have not made it abundantly clear, and for those who have a delicate sensibility, the language is course – explicit even – but I invite you to hang in there – I think it is worth it.


Welcome back.  Take a deep breath – you’ll be ok 🙂

When I first heard this song I kinda rolled my eyes, began with a hint of dismissive attitude (all the while genuinely grateful for a daughter who felt she could safely share with me something I might find offensive). See, we live in a city where there lingers a palpable and seething racism that percolates up from all colors of the rainbow and it sometimes is born on the pumping rhythms of rap music – (and yes, often in the twangy lines of a county song, I know) so when she cranked it up on that south-bound road my ears were loaded with all my own pre-conceived, granny-panty notions.  Shame on me. But after a minute I laughed. Anne Lamott recently said that laughter is carbonated holiness and I believe it – when I allowed myself to laugh and enjoy the obvious humor and fun I gave space for even more to happen. Before I knew it I got a little hooked on the sound, and fell in love with the visual and then last night it struck me – I love this because I can see the Kingdom of God amidst the hipsters and hijinks.  It is simple as this…

I see black and white folks, I see old and itty young folks, I see big folks and skinny folks, I see nerdy and über cool, I see women and men, I see Asian and Latino folks – all laughing, dancing and playing together.  And I hear a pointed word about economic justice too. Did you hear it?  To my eyes, that really do want to see God’s goodness in everything and everyone, the whole romp looks a little like a Gospel where we are called by Jesus to love everyone, everyone, everyone.    Could you see it?

THEN – if that little personal growth moment was not enough, I Googled Mackelmore for about a minute and connected a few more dots – wow what dots they are!  I saw the video below a month or so ago but when Zoë shared Thrift Shop with me I did not even remotely make the connection.

Warning – this one might require a tissue or two.



So what’s my point with all this?  I guess it’s a little reminder to myself, and anyone else who might be open to it, that solid preaching and damn fine renderings of the Gospel are OFTEN found in the most unlikely of places – outside complex theological ruminations, outside Zondervan and Lighthouse book stacks, outside Mercy Me and Casting Crowns videos, outside of church and most definitely outside our preconceived notions of what is holy and what is profane.

What crazy-ass place have you heard the Gospel recently?


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181 responses to “Potty Mouths & Gospel Hearts”

  1. Bigotry and profanity are not exclusive to the mixed race inner city; they’re both right here in my predominately white suburb. Most of my neighbors are quite capable of putting together some good thoughts without the profanity, when they feel that it’s more appropriate. Others can’t seem to find any other adjectives. To suggest that inner city people need profanity-laced Gospel messages in order to “get it” and “connect” is absurd. For Christians to sing the praises of profane rap songs as a deep and amazing outreach tool is just incredulous. I’m not buying it. Crude speech just isn’t necessary, and it certainly isn’t amazing.

    • Julie,

      I think you may misunderstand my post. I’m not at all saying that inner city folks hold the patent on profanity not that we need it to “get” a message. My point is that if we listen beyond our prejudices and preconceived notions of what is holy and profane we might find gospel messages in surprising places. I’m also saying that these artists, in one song, have lifted up a message, though crude in language, is filled with love of neighbor and self, is filled with economic justice. In another song, once I had connected the dots, I found a message of radical love and hospitality that one, if they are reading with open hearts and minds, might read in our Gospel.

      Boiled down, i am not claiming that some people need the message laced with nasty, base language i order to. Hear it but that base and crude language do not prevent a good and grace filled word from being spoken. A Holy messages need not be stiff and Puritan to be righteous. I am inviting people to listen and seek the holy where they least expect to find it.

      I guess really what I was saying most is that when I first encountered the song I dismissed it as “just more hip-hop trash” with my own prejudices front and center. Then, when I let my guard down and 1. Trusted my daughter and the messages she lets in 2. Really listened and looked – I heard and saw something that I needed. A message I really needed amidst our own struggles to fit in as one of twenty white families in a high school of over 800 students. I was seeing and hearing and feeling more tension than harmony, more animosity than community when this song, Thrift Shop, finally got through. Then I saw and heard a whole different message and then I found the second video which made me sob with a cracked open heart like only a rare moment in church has been able to.

      I really appreciate your comment so I could further clarify.

  2. …Remind me to tell you about how Lightning Farron-yes that Lightning Farron-was instrumental in converting me to Christianity.

  3. It’s been 30 years since I last saw the little girl who ask me to name my daughter after her.( I did)
    I loved you then and I love you now. I’m proud your my cousin. I hope someday to see you again
    but if not here on earth we both know where we will. May God Bless you and your family.

    • Kathy,

      Thank you so much, it is wonderful to hear from you and I am so grateful for your love in this crazy world. Thank you for your open heart and mind and for reading my wonky little blog!

      Peace cousin,

  4. Welcoming, accepting and loving one another is the fundamental quality of those who believe in God.
    You have a beautiful child, who has complete confidence in your love.
    As parents a strong inner compass; where we can, cannot and want to go, is a must.
    The world may go it’s way, and we can try, but may not be able to steer it.
    Unlike the larger world, as parents, we have responsibility to sensitize our children.
    If we do, an attitude of firmness may override the path of least resistance.
    Firmness does not mean being a tyrant, but identifying, sensitizing and following the compass.
    Only then will we have children who are loving at home, accept others outside and be able to discern.
    There are portions in the first video, I would want my daughter to be made aware of.
    I would love my daughter to develop and grow in the relationship and confidence she now has.
    And, I would like her to go out into the world aware, with the confidence of a strong inner self.
    Often, many children lose their way at home, then outside, before they are lost completely.
    When children find their bearings at home, they may not lose their way in the wide open world.

  5. Kimberly, both videos were wonderful. The first one reminded me of a youth mission trip to a homeless shelter several years ago. Some of the kids and I were in a barn sorting through donated clothing. They were disgusted (not too strong a word) by the donations. Torn, stained, 20+ year-old styles, etc. Yes, many of us give away good, clean, sometimes-new, gently-used items, but many of us give away junk. The Sunday after we got back the youth spoke about their trip in Worship. More than one brought up the donated clothes. Those teenagers will never forget their experience in the “clothing barn,” and neither will I.

  6. Thank you for writing this post and sharing these video resources. I conduct Anti-Racism Training for The Episcopal Church wherever and whenever I’m invited, and I often use contemporary videos from hip hop artists and comedians to tell the story. So often, in these types of resources, these artists can make a point through music and spoken word performance that would take me 45 minutes of being a talking head to make. So, yes, the Gospel lives everywhere. The places may feel unlikely to us, but that’s only because it’s not where we from the older generations live. We’ve become our parents in many ways.

    • Lelanda,

      Thank you for the work YOU do in this messy ministry of Kingdom building! I’d love to know some of the other videos you use to wake people up!


  7. http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=PQ6yStyqL1g&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DPQ6yStyqL1g
    Jamie and Stefan are church-going Presbyterians who use a potty mouth to full effect in this sing. Do you hear the Last Supper in the opening? Yep, I did too and Stefan told me it was intentional. But he also said it is about the killing of bin Laden. Their music is full of powerful gospel truths. Check out “Wrestling Israel” on this album where they talk of the bomb not the balm in Gilead. The Flobots are seen as one-hit wonders with “Hamdlebars” but they are worth checking out as they continue to preach it

  8. The first, and most wonderful, aspect of this story is that your daughter feels safe to share with you…. What a blessing for you and for her! The second point for me is the old adage that says if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In this case, once we let go of our old ways of seeing (and hearing) things, we see the God in others and they can see the God in us. You’re not a hammer, well maybe you’re a “God” hammer, and for that I am thankful……. Lord, make me a hamer, too!