The F-World


As a musician (I'm a drummer and guitarist), I've got an ear for challenging or snappy music. As a writer, I've got an appreciation for witty or deep lyrics. It should be no surprise then that most contemporary music bores me to tears. It lacks charm, and most of it suffers from a dearth of both musicality and lyrical excellence. Doesn't matter what the genre is.

If I have any musical weakness, I'm overly fond of jangly, "sunshine" pop with monster hooks that'll have you singing along all day.  That Rickenbacker 12-string sound brings a smile to my face. Think bands like The Association, The Zombies, The Byrds, and—of course—The Monkees. Think AM radio's golden age. That style of music largely passed into lore. No one writes music like that anymore. Worse, no recent band has the cleverness to pull it off consistently.

I don't buy a whole lot of music like I once did. The last CD I purchased was Derek Webb's She Must and Shall Go Free, which has a sort of folk and roots rock feel. Good music, stunning lyrics.

The other day, I followed a link looking for some trivial fact and it led to a site that played a random selection of "baroque pop," contemporary sunshine pop music that has the feel of the real thing. The song was by Belle & Sebastian, a band I'd not heard before. Not only was the song "Another Sunny Day" absolutely right on sound-wise, but the lyrics abounded in perfect touches.

So I did something I've rarely done: I downloaded the song from iTunes. Played it over and over at full volume. For about a half hour I was immensely pleased by the find.

Only one problem…

When you get to be my age, lyrics run past you and you don't get them with the same precision you did as a teenager. I caught that first stanza, but a couple jumbled ones followed. The British accents didn't help. So being the kind of person who cannot gain full satisfaction from something without knowing every trivial detail about it, I summoned the lyrics from one of a bazillion lyrics sites.

Awesome lyrics, clever and witty. And I'm reading and…oh.

The effenheimer. The F-bomb. Right there. Third stanza. And not in any grammatical usage that I've ever encountered before.


How I'd missed it the first hundred times I played the song, I can't say. After seeing it there in the lyrics, it was if the singer now shouted the word right in my ears, helped along by the background chorus who repeats it with the same emphasis.

Dang. The Monkees wouldn't have talked like that. And where was the "Explicit Lyrics" tag at iTunes? Nowhere to be found. I guess in the bizarre context used in the song, someone deemed it "Non-explicit."

That's what Apple gets for cozying up to Bono. What's an F-word between friends, right?

Because I write for a living, I'm attuned to the issue of censorship. I think I can also make a case that the F-word has legitimate uses. Kevin Carter's Pulitzer-Prize-winning photoI just don't want to hear it in my sunshine pop.

In fact, I don't want to live in a fallen world. I don't want to hear the "old familiar suggestion" coming out of the mouth of a twelve-year old girl. I don't want to hear about fathers decapitating their toddlers. I want to close my ears and scream at the top of my lungs to drown out the news telling me that the sex slave trade is alive and well  in the world, mostly populated by teenagers and tweens.

But we live in a fallen world—the F-World, for want of a more clever ID. Everything around us reeks of sin, as if some quark-sized evil implanted itself in every atom in existence.

Yet consider how easily we Christians believe two lies:

  1. We can play with that evil and not have it consume us from within.
  2. We can keep that evil at bay and never have to confront it. 

I see far too many Christians making excuses for the sins they justify in their own lives. We might even come up with clever renderings of particular Scriptures to cover our shame, but in the end, it's only amplified.

Or we'll scoff at some contemporary leader we don't like who goes down in flames, while we pat our man on the back. Then we're shocked—SHOCKED—when our man's feet prove to be clay.

So many of us navigate the F-World poorly. We mindlessly jump from church to church, forever running from whatever it is that we despise in its operation, unable to come to grips with the truth that the Church must live in the F-World until Christ returns. Or we do the opposite and embrace every piece of garbage the F-World throws at us as if its manna from heaven. Both are foolish. Both come to ruination.

I hear Christians talking all the time about the F-World. Why then do we seem to be more at the mercy of the F-World than at the mercy seat of Christ? For all our theology on a fallen world, we lurch from extreme to extreme in the ways we deal with it. One day we're burning all our hard rock albums because they're evil, and the next day we're buying them all back off eBay because to the pure all things are pure. 

It's bad enough that our incoherent message on how to deal with the F-World confuses the lost, but it confuses Christians even more. I've been a Christian for thirty years and I can honestly say that I don't think I've met another Christian who understands the tension of living in the F-World to the point that he or she deals with it as Christ did. Finding that narrow path must be far more difficult than we believe.

Bunkers or Excess. In the F-World, neither one makes sense. 

{Image: Kevin Carter's Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo of a vulture stalking a starving Sudanese child. Shortly after winning the prize, Carter committed suicide.

22 thoughts on “The F-World

  1. Rick

    I’ve been there, too – downloaded something that sounded really good in the 30sec soundbite, only to find that the first cut of an album had an f-bomb or some other similar bad reference. And I wrestle with the “censorship” notion, too, and decide to err on the side of “I just don’t need that” and deleting it forever. Dang it.

    • Rick,

      Honestly, I’m not offended by a word. What offends me is careless usage. What offends me is who says it and in what context.

      That song didn’t need it, especially in light of the rest of its lyrics, which were quite witty and well done.

  2. The context of the use of the f-word in “Another Sunny Day” is to mean that the ref gave them no help. I find it interesting that the meaning of a single word can become so worn over time that it becomes used in just about every context, not unlike “smurf”.

    So what does a Christian do? When I was in high school, no I one I knew well swore around me because I was the “good one” and swearing in my presence caused shame. It is telling that our culture no longer feels shame in the presence of Christians. This can be attributed to several issues, but the primary ones are hardness of heart, and lack of witness.

    Norman Rockwell’s 1951 painting “Saying Grace” is a fascinating look into this idea. The look on the various faces in the diner reveal a world of reactions to the presence of Christ. How many of us are willing to live the overtly visual signs of our salvation ‘on our sleeves’ as it were? Not to rub others faces in our piety, but simply because this is our life? We cannot do much about hard hearts, but we can do much about our witness.

    • David,

      Actually, I DID understand the way it was used, but I hadn’t seen it with “all” stuck behind it like that. Using it to mean “zero” I’ve heard before.

      Still, it’s gratuitous in light of the rest of the lyrics. I guess that’s modern-day Britain for you.

  3. Matt Self

    No one’s ever asked me to burn my Coltrane records, but I’ve yet to hear any 20th or 21st Century musicians play with the worldly passion you hear on “A Love Supreme.” Isn’t a little odd how easy it is for us to divy up our lives? “This is fleshly but inappropriate, this is fleshly but acceptable, this is spiritual.”

  4. Rick

    With you again – it’s not that I was offended, and it’s not that I felt it was inappropriate. But I chose to delete because I felt in most contexts it’s unnecessary. If someone wants to raise awareness or get something out there, it feels like a cheap shot most of the time. Like a raunchy comedian – are they really funny, or are we reacting to the taboo? If it’s “appropriate”, I actually have no problem – but I can’t think of many instances where it fits like that.

  5. The F-World – clever and painful.
    I find that I hold the world at arms length because caring hurts too much to…care much. The disappointment in seeing the lost and broken continuing to be lost and broken is agonizing. It is much easier to feel guilt and continue excusing myself from doing anything.

  6. As a guy who loves to write lyrics I can’t for the life me see myself ever using the “F” word in a lyric. There are so many more ways to creatively express that emotion or feeling that I have to honestly wonder what is the point?

    • What feeling or emotion? This is what I don’t understand about the word…It’s used in so many contexts, and yet has only one association, that it’s hard to determine what is meant by its use. I think the word is merely used for its ability to shock, and yet is so copiously lathered on in modern speech that it has completely lost any value at all. A word which represents the act of copulation is used to denote anything from violent rejection of a person to lack of help in a difficult situation? Most often it’s used much like “um” or “ah”; interruptions or stacatto bursts in the normal flow of a sentence. It becomes a word used by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    • That’s why you couldn’t write “Show Biz Kids” (Steely Dan). I cannot imagine that

      Show biz kids making movies of themselves;
      You know they don’t give a darn/hoot/poopie about anybody else.

      would have conveyed the same disgust and outrage as the orginal f-bomb did. But maybe that’s just me.

      Like Dan, it is the carelessness – or laziness – that bothers me more than a specific word. I don’t speak “French” myself (much) but I do understand it fluently.

  7. Mike

    Great post; I hope I haven’t misunderstood you here, but I’ve wondered along similar lines regarding the apparent tolerance of sin in our hearts and the world: and if we simply have under-experienced the power of the God.

    Re: Michael Brecker. How sad, but what joy to listen to his music!

  8. Jeff

    Dan, here’s an author/pastor who at least understands the tension that you mentioned, Rick McKinley. He pastors a church called Imago Dei in Portland and wrote a book called This Beautiful Mess. And he spent some time talking about the tension between living the Kingdom life but living it in a fallen (some would call it post-Christian) world. I highly recommend it.

  9. Heather

    Bunkers or Excess. In the F-World, neither one makes sense

    That covers a lot, including the camps of parents we find ourselves being sucked into. As soon as we decided to homeschool, all of a sudden we’re supposed to lock our doors, shelter our kids from all people and all things not on the approved list. But we don’t, because we’re committed to reaching out to those around us. But then I continually find myself offending someone (without using words at all) because we also refuse to sacrifice our children’s minds on the altar of making everyone feel ok about their choices. The place between Bunker and Excess is really, really hard.

    Agree so completely on Derek Webb’s CD. Have you heard the acoustic The House Show where he did a lot of those songs plus my favorite “I Repent” in people’s living rooms?

    And thanks for the picture and the reference on it. I’m thankful we can get those images and so sad that we need them.


  10. Zac

    “One day we’re burning all our hard rock albums because they’re evil, and the next day we’re buying them all back off eBay because to the pure all things are pure.”

    This reminds me of how hard it is for me to find the middle ground, and how I haven’t found it yet.

    So the question remains to me- in light of ALL Scripture, where does the narrow path lie in such a case?

    • Zac,

      There is one Lord, Jesus Christ. Anything that tries to assume control of your life sets itself up against that lordship, no matter how innocent that thing might be in itself. It could be watching football on TV. Or even talking with friends. But if it starts to intrude on the Lordship of Christ in your life, then it has to be dealt with. I think, more than anything else, this is the ultimate message of Scripture regarding these kinds of issues.

      Some of God’s commands in this regard have not changed. For instance, witchcraft is clearly condemned in Scripture and that condemnation has not been rescinded in the New Covenant. (Think about it; it sets itself up to have Man as Lord over the elements, not Christ.) But others are not so clear. I think this is why the Lordship issue is the bedrock principle.

      It also means that some people will need to avoid some things that others do not. Some will need to avoid alcohol because it threatens the Lordship of Christ in their lives. Others are free to enjoy it in moderation because it doesn’t attack that lordship.

      All this is attuned to the Holy Spirit operating in your life. It is an act of discernment, a never-ending reflection before God to ensure that Christ’s Lordship is always kept pre-eminent.

      Good question. I pray that my answer reflects God’s heart on this issue.

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