You might not think of the realm of pop music as a place where theology is discussed or unearthed. “Aren’t they all just about sex?” Well, yes. On Kiss FM they are. You won’t find much of anything there. But look at the broader sphere of pop music, not just the Billboard Hot 100. Many artists are still trying to fill the God-shaped hole in their heart.
It might seem contradictory, but some of the best theology comes from secular music, in my opinion. Oftentimes, Christian songs are basically love songs anyway. Let’s be real. The whole sloppy wet kiss thing.
A song is a song if it helps you uncover what it means to be human, wherever you find yourself in life. Songs “hit” you a certain way because where you’re at in life.
So sometimes “rah rah Jesus” worship music in church isn’t what you need. Sometimes you need something more…introspective.
How you listen to a song determines the meaning to you – that’s fairly obvious. (That’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time.) If you’re not paying attention while listening to a Christian radio station, you’ll wonder why they’re playing so many romantic songs. They just sound worse.
Which is why we have Mumford & Sons.
Mumford has been giving us solid theology ever since Sigh No More (“Awake my Soul,” anyone? They literally played that at my church one time.) Their first album rocket-launched this Irish folk band into banjo-strumming stardom. Who doesn’t love a good barn-raising set to the tune of “I Will Wait?” Their music has been pure genius from the start – not only their unique musicality (which we will get to later,) but also their solid lyrics that do more than just repeat or vamp.
With their latest release in 2015 of Wilder Mind, Mumford found itself in the middle of a divided fanbase. For their new album, they decided on a new sound. They ditched the banjo for a drum machine and synth backings. The lyrics and Mumford-iness remained, but some faithful listeners were a bit…confused. Others embraced the new sound – while it’s poppier than their last two albums, it’s still Mumford. You can’t expect a band to stay the same in the midst of changing times and tastes.
Our song today comes from that controversial album, because hey, why not spice things up a bit?
Day Seven: Only Love – Mumford & Sons
“Audrey, you sure have been covering a lot of love songs.” Well, yes. I have. But they haven’t been specifically love songs, have they? Like I’ve said, there are straightforward “Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga” love songs, and there are more nuanced ones. Songs where we have to dig to find all the layers. This dig will be a bit shorter, since this song relies more heavily on instrumentation than lyrics. It’s one of the shorter ditties of the album.
We hear the familiar voice of Marcus Mumford singing about loneliness. We find him in this place a lot.
I was stuck to the spot without a friend
These opening lines seem to point to more than a heartbreak over a girl. This guy feels totally marooned. He hungers and thirsts for human connection. Or perhaps it’s a divine connection?
I didn’t fool you but I failed you
In short, made a fool out of you
And a younger heart
And again, it smacks of a heartbreak. But it smacks of something deeper as well. Some interpret this song as a conversation between Marcus and God. Marcus wasn’t able to fool God (no one can,) but he feels that he’s let Him down.
And you saw me low
Didn’t they say
that only love would win in the end?
The person or thing that “sees” Mumford might be God. The refrain is almost a direct reference to the love chapter of the Bible. The book of Corinthians says “Love never fails.” But in this circumstance, Marcus isn’t feeling that. He’s being real and raw about his situation.
Mumford & Sons is good at not mincing their words – I remember being afraid to listen to “Little Lion Man” when I was younger because it drops a few f-bombs. Their songs have layers to them. Marcus has gone on the record and stated that he is a Christian, but just because you’re a Christian doesn’t make you exempt from the struggle – or the doubt.
How many times have you found yourself wondering if love really will win in the end? Not just in the context of relationships, either. This world can be a pretty crappy place all around. There are good days and bad days. There are trials and triumphs. And when you’re at your lowest low, it’s hard to worship God through “rah rah Jesus” music. Sometimes that’s the best time to worship by contemplating, praying, and advocating at the throne of God.
That’s why I think this song is pretty strong from a religious standpoint, even if Marcus didn’t intend for it to be. To me it’s an expression of struggling faith. To someone else, it might be a heartbroken plea to a lover.
It’s all in how you listen to it.