Why hate when you can love?
An open letter to The Flaming Lips
Dear Wayne, Steven, Michael and Kliph,
Let me introduce myself: My name is Josh, and I am a follower of Jesus. Not much farther down the list of things I am you will discover that I am a Flaming Lips fan. I bought my first Flaming Lips record in 1993, when I was ten years old and The Flaming Lips have been my favorite band ever since. Like most of your admirers, I have been an enthusiastic fan. I listen to your entire discography regularly, I sing along at your concerts, I hosted Zaireeka listening parties, I wore my oversized Flaming Lips t-shirts all through junior high as often as Wayne used to wear that old Sonic Youth t-shirt. I even showed up on Wayne’s doorstep with a stack of my band’s albums.
In fact, The Flaming Lips are one of the major reasons that I myself have been a musician, touring the world and releasing rock records for more than a decade. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
As I mentioned in the first sentence of this letter, I am a follower of Jesus. I prefer this title to the term “Christian” because of the dreadful and unfortunate connotation the word Christian conjures up. Believe me, I am by no means ignorant to the horrific reputation Jesus’ followers have earned both for themselves and for Jesus himself. Christians, by and large (and especially here in America) are thought of as hateful, highly politicized, right wing, republican, flag-waving, gun-toting, war-mongering bigots. Sadly, I cannot argue that this perception of Christians is entirely misplaced.
I realize that Wayne (and perhaps the lot of you?) has been an atheist for a long while, but I suspect that the bands aggressive stance towards Christianity in particular stems from the largely accurate description of them I mentioned above. That is why I am writing this letter, to apologize on behalf of Jesus’ followers and to clarify: we—Jesus’ followers—are not all like that. And, for that reason, to petition you with this simple request: do not hate us all.
I am, of course, an intensely imperfect person. But, I am by no means a racist, hateful, highly politicized, right wing, republican, flag-waving, gun-toting, war-mongering bigot. Neither is Jesus. In fact, actually following Jesus requires unconditional love for all people (including enemies), rejection of violence, rejection of faith in politics and rejection of patriotism. In short, the exact opposite of the traits american Christians are most notorious for. I’m not suggesting that these are or should be your ideals per se, I just mean to point out that an authentic pursuit of Jesus is, sadly, quite the opposite of public perception.
Let me be clear, my letter’s intention is by no means converting any of you to my way of thinking. Nor do I plan on complaining that your anti-christian rhetoric has offended me. It hasn’t. On the other hand, I’m afraid some of your more blatant statements might be—regardless of your intentions—misconstrued as hateful toward some of your very sincere admirers.
When Kliph wears a t-shirt that says “Christianity is stupid”—as is his prerogative—I’m not sure I’m mistaken in assuming that he is making an effort to point out that he believes that I am a fool. I love Kliph. He is enormously talented and has been very kind to me in person. I wonder why he would—without knowing me at all—think me a fool simply because of what I believe? Should we all be judged in this way? Would Kliph condone a generic statement that Islam is stupid? Or that buddhism is stupid? Or that atheism is stupid? Does he mean to say he believes that a certain set of beliefs are misplaced or that all who disagree with him are, well, stupid?
When Wayne sings “burning the Bible tonight,” I would honestly not censor him or suggest that he ought to change his lyrics. My faith is not so shallow that those who disagree frighten or offend me. I even suspect that I might understand, in a way, the sentiment behind the statement. But I wonder if beneath the lyric and the frustration with religion there is a more personal vendetta against an entire group of people. Please forgive me if I’m being presumptuous here. I am asking non-rhetorical questions, not making statements.
It may come as a surprise to discover that you have a great deal of devoted fans who are also devoted followers of Jesus. In my years on the road and in the music industry as a Jesus-follower myself, I have met countless creative individuals who have been inspired and influenced by The Flaming Lips who also believe that Jesus is God. They come to your shows, they buy your records, they cover your songs. They even share the stage with you.
I sympathize with the fact that Jesus-followers believe some crazy-sounding things. Yes, I believe Jesus is God, I believe in a literal, corporeal resurrection of the dead, I believe a personal, loving God created the universe, etc. I sincerely believe in all these things, but I do not hold these beliefs over the heads of those who reject them. I do not believe that these beliefs make me, in any way, better than any other human being. I do not believe that those who reject my beliefs are idiots or that they should be treated differently. In fact, I believe that Jesus wants me to love and serve everyone, especially those who deeply disagree with me, without an agenda to make them more like me.
Do you hate me? Do you think that I’m stupid?
Don’t get me wrong, I would never suggest that you should relinquish the passion that motivates your own personal beliefs, but does that passion direct you to dislike strangers who care deeply for your band and your art and even you as individuals outside of The Flaming Lips?
I hope that it will not offend you (or weird you out) to learn that I pray for your band daily. I DO NOT pray that you will become like me, or that you will “cease to be heathens” or some such nonsense. I pray that you will be safe in your travels, that you will be blessed each day with joy and laughter, that you will have life—as Jesus puts it—to the fullest! Now, I understand and that you believe those prayers disappear into thin air, perhaps you even think me a fool for praying them. But do you resent me for doing so?
It is my sincere belief that Jesus needs new PR. I find it a terribly upsetting irony that by and large the equal rights, social justice, creative and expressive community of artists here in the states are so hostile towards Jesus. In reality, the Flamings Lips sentiments of peace and love, kindness towards animals, and hope in the face of death are not at all dissimilar to the way of Jesus. The american Christian sentiments of war, anger, retribution and judgement on the other hand have more in common with Satan than they do with Jesus. Those “god hates fags” folks are NOT Jesus-followers. The people who would have you believe God hates homosexuals and disapproves of interracial relationships are DEAD WRONG.
To quote Charles Dickens via the Ghost of Christmas Present : “‘There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the Spirit, ‘who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’”
And hey, you love Christmas right?
I guess all this is to say, though I do not seek to correct or convict you with this letter, I do hope to convince you that many of the fans you promise are the greatest on earth, love your band with a very sincere affection and also love Jesus. We are by no means a religious lot. On the contrary, we think the myth of a Christian religion is an incredible fallacy. We are a subversive movement of rebels and lovers with an insatiable desire to see the world’s wrongs righted, the world’s hungry fed, the world’s widows and orphans cared for and most of all to see that those with no joy and no love receive both to the point that their cup runs over. We believe that this is what Jesus is after, not unquestioning minions who conform to arbitrary rules and regulations, but a group of rescued lovers who are deeply loved and who love others.
It’s true that many who claim Jesus would have you believe otherwise, but know that Jesus himself warns against them. When you rail against their type, I believe Jesus rails with you.
But do not hate us all. Why hate when you can love?
With unwavering devotion for many years and many years to come,
Josh Dies and Showbread