Back in 2016, Kings Kaleidoscope, a Christian and currently six-piece band hailing from Seattle, released two versions of their 13-song album called ‘Beyond Control’. Why two versions? Well, one song off the record, ‘A Prayer’, included two F-bombs.
As you can imagine, it sparked a good deal of controversy, with some calling their authenticity as a ‘Christian band’ in question. To me, though, this is one of the key identifiers that they are what makes up a true Christian band: they’re honest.
Now, you could counter that anyone, saved or no, could make honest art, and it could still be littered with profanity and vulgarities galore, and I think I’d agree with you to a point. The point where I’d disagree is in their motives. Anyone who’s set themselves to creating something understands the process of creation, and how with a big project – especially a public one, like producing an album of songs – you must take every little detail into account.
The best works of art are the ones not born from whatever the artist felt in the moment, they’re created from the weaving together of many feelings, many thoughts, and many intentions. It’s hard to imagine an artist who hasn’t given any thought to the question of why he’s creating what he is. Your creative self-expression can be a great method of exploring yourself, especially in examining where you’re at with God.
If you’re a Christian, you’re called to a life of intentionality. It’s a never-ending process of putting sin to death, and to do so, you must know when you are sinning. We seem to have the big ones down: stealing, murder, rampant adultery, or any other giant evil. But, true to His character, Jesus called to attention the amount of evil happening every day in our hearts, namely that to hate a brother is to murder him, and to lust after someone is to commit adultery with them. While those can sound extreme, Jesus’ words here remind us of our depravity, the severity of sin and God’s hatred of it, our desperate need for a Savior, and our incessant need for repentance. We must be intentional to self-reflect, and to pray for God to help us to identify and eliminate our sin. I know that in my experience with sin, the sin happening in my heart can often slip past my radar if I’m not prayerfully examining myself, in light of God’s commands and the redemptive work of His Son.
We must be intentional about killing sin, which goes hand in hand with our necessity to be intentional to glorify God in everything we do. This means that we must be mindful of how we create art, to be sure that every detail is killing sin, and glorifying God. Here I think of the hymns of old: they’re careful, but incredibly rich in their theology, requiring those singing to reflect on the often dense wording to get at what truths their author is communicating about God. I also think of Kings Kaleidoscope, and the incredible honesty that they put into their music.
Chad Gardner, the multi-instrumentalist frontman of King’s Kaleidoscope, who handles a majority of the producing, and writes a lion’s share of the lyrics, has had a few interviews on his song, ‘A Prayer’. Chad and the band began as the worship team for Mars Hill Church, before leaving to form Kings Kaleidoscope. They’ve featured many hymns among their original songs, fusing them with their own musical spin while retaining the timeless lyrics, and capturing the worshipful heart behind them. In fact, they’re known for this, as each of their albums could be aptly described as music that you can worship God to.
And part of what serves to bring me closer to God in their music is Chad’s honesty about his own life, in his struggles, emotions, and trials.
From an interview with Spirit You All, Chad talks about ‘A Prayer’:
“The short answer is, that song comes from the deepest part of my gut and my being, and the fear that I face throughout my life – I’ve had really severe anxiety disorder my whole life, and that’s been a major part of my struggle and story.” He goes on, “[A Prayer] is about the fear of running from God or that God will turn his back on me and I will end up apart from him in hell. And the actual lyric is something that is from my journal – I don’t know how everyone else has conversations with God, but I have very vulnerable conversations, and God already knows how afraid I am. I usually figure it’s good for me to pour out my soul to him, and that’s what that song is.”
It’s an outpouring of his soul, in a fashion akin to a ‘dark night of the soul’, but it doesn’t stop there:
“So [A Prayer] is there for people who have felt like me. And I know fear and Satan and death – the voice of all of that is not poetic, it’s not thoughtful, it’s not patient. It’s aggressive and demanding and terrifying. And that’s what came out of my heart because that’s what I was hearing, and so that’s what I chose to leave it in the song. It was to say, look, this is the reality of how we feel sometimes, and this is the reality of how God responds to that. And I just want people to know that that is life. It is freaking scary, and God talks to that and he speaks to us right where we are.”
The song is one of the most honest songs I’ve ever heard, and one that I can relate to in a deep way, that resonates in my own struggles with feelings that betray my desires, and ultimately brings me closer to God. For Chad, including the original version of the song, instead of the edited and ‘clean’ version was not an easy decision to make:
“The choice to keep that original version, which is straight from off the top of my head, really, as well as the edited one… It took me a long time, and I really sought counsel and had a lot of conversations with pastor friends of mine and family.”
He continues, “So I came to my label and said, “Okay, I think that I want to release a version of a song with an f-bomb in it. I want to do it in the most respectful way possible.” They were like, “What in the world?” Because most artists are trying to do shock jock or something, but there’s none of that vibe for me. I’d say, I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind about it or convince anyone of anything. I’m just trying to be honest and vulnerable. I think that’s important in art, and important as a Christian. If there’s any place that I can share my story and my testimony for what it really is, it should be the church at large. And that’s what I’m doing.”
The song is an honest reflection of this truth:
We desperately need God, and He is there to meet us in our desperate need.
Your art, as a Christian, should reflect this honest truth as well.