Hurt me so good

While working on a review of the Ruppes latest project, Something in the Air (which I hope to have out soon), I gave a listen again to the project’s current big radio single, “Lord it Hurts.” Stylistically, it recaptures some of the Ruppes golden sound from Kim Lord’s most recent days with the group, which is really just a way of saying that Brenda Ruppes’ voice works best in big tunes with expansive modulations and heady passages full of powerful resolutions. But I finally managed to pin down something that I’ve been intrigued by ever since I first heard the song. Lyrically, it’s really quite unusual, at least it’s an outlier in the way its theme pivots on a pretty dark depiction of as-yet unrelieved suffering: “things are really crummy right now,” the song says (I’m paraphrasing of course), “and I’m taking a good beating from life in general; I have even had cause for doubting, but I’ve not lost faith.” Of course this idea generally isn’t at all new to Christian music, much less Christianity. But the particular poignancy with which this tune labors the point is pretty remarkable, even for evangelicals fascinated by narratives of crisis and stories about the valley. Consider this from the song’s bridge and compare it the boilerplate hereafterism that so many tunes hustle in after the lyrics have raised the specter of doubting or meaningless suffering: “So I will not be discouraged, though this battle rages on / I know You won’t forsake me Lord, this is where I belong.” It’s that last line about belonging here in the battle that’s worth emphasizing: not just that I know my faith won’t forsake me … fine, fine, yes, yes … heard it a thousand times. What sets these lyrics apart is their insistence that the recognition (and articulation) of my current existential location - spelling it out in concrete words - is vitally connected to my larger spiritual well-being. The only song I can recall from recent memory that comes close to this is Mike Bowling’s “Heat of the Battle,” which repeatedly tells us that though “I might have gone down in the heat of the battle, don’t count me out of the fight.” Like “Lord it Hurts,” (which, it’s also worth pointing out, is punning off the expression of exasperation or pain, “LORD, … it [or that] hurts”), “Heat of the Battle” insists not only or even primarily on the necessity of tribulation (poetic verse of all sorts has been using that idea at least since Milton), but mainly on the centrality of stating that RIGHT NOW IS A REALLY CRAPPY TIME FOR ME. I’m not calling into question the writers’ or vocalists’ belief in the ultimate redemption that a song like “Lord it Hurts” is predicated on. In fact, I admire the gritty humanity that these songs unflinchingly describe. And what I’m interested in is the way that description helps us imagine, process, and come to terms with an important psycho-spiritual reality: lives of faith are often full of times when we feel decidely faithless. The truth these songs contain, the realization they unfold is not just that things can be really crummy a lot of the time, but that part of the ability to persevere is bound up in the need to have out with the darkness, the melancholy, the depressed spirits, and to summon the necessary faith for recovery by reassuring ourselves of faith’s ultimate existence and promised triumph.

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