In the summer of 1983 I was an extremely screwed-up 16-year-old kid, eaten up with anger and depression. Since I was first able to talk, I told people I wanted to be a football player “when I grow up,” but the fall of ’82 had been my last season playing the game I so dearly loved. Even at such a young age, I was already experiencing back pain, and found myself going to the chiropractor once a week to get my back popped.
Only to go right back out the next day and get it misaligned by blocking, tackling and taking hits in practice.
My chiropractor said I might want to consider not playing my junior year of high school, which, at first, I fully ignored. No way was I not gonna play football! I had fought my way up through the junior varsity squad and was being groomed as a starting lineman on the varsity team. This was what I’d always dreamed of.
After thinking and praying about it, however, I finally decided the doc was right; I had no business out there on the field. I could get seriously hurt. Thus, much to my chagrin, I quit. Already struggling with depression from a failed relationship with my father, and from my “dirty little secret” (the fact that I’d been molested when I was five, written about in my last blog), realizing I’d never play football again pushed me further into the abyss of depression than I’d ever gone before.
I remember talking to a relative about this around that time. She asked, “What’s wrong, honey, you seem down?”
“I’m just depressed,” I replied.
She literally laughed at me. “You ARE kidding, right? My goodness, what on EARTH do you have to be depressed about? You have your own car, your dad makes good money, you don’t have to work…you have the world by the tail.”
Don’t you just love when people try and tell you how you should be feeling, based on their outsider’s perspective? So I didn’t tell anyone else about my feelings for a long, long time. Keeping it bottled up just made things worse, but I felt there was no alternative.
Of course, now I see the truth, in that I should have tried to talk to someone about my anger and depression, instead of letting it build. I could’ve mentioned this to my mom or even my pastor, but I didn’t.
So into this hurricane of emotions came rock’n’roll. Yeah, I figure you were expecting to hear about some major revelation, or that I read a Bible verse which magically transformed my life. But God works in mysterious ways, and I guess He knew I had no more use for the Bible at that time than a cat has for pajamas (to partially quote a line from “JFK”).
Living in a small town in Missouri, where the only local radio station was Southern Gospel (a style of music I dearly LOATHED), I wasn’t even aware there WAS such a thing as Christian rock. I went to church camp that summer, and was hangin’ out at the dorm one lazy afternoon when a kid walked by and said, “Hey, man, you heard of Petra?”
“Petra? No, what is it?”
He just sorta laughed, took his Walkman headphones off, put them on my ears and hit “play.”
And my world has never been the same.
The first words I heard were backwards, a popular trick in the 80s called “backmasking.” Unbeknownst to me, the voice said, “What are ya looking for the devil for when ya oughta be looking for the Lord?!” Then that guitar kicked in.
Man…I mean, wow…
I had never heard anything like it. He loved the song so much he only let me listen to part of it, but the second I got home from church camp, the conversation went like this:
MOM: “Hey, how was camp?!”
ME: “AWESOME! Ma, I heard this song called ‘Judas Kiss,’ and it’s Christian. I don’t know who sings it (I couldn’t recall the band’s name) and I don’t know the name of the album, but I have to have that cassette.”
Mom had never heard me get jazzed about ANY Christian music, so she was thrilled. She made the one-hour drive to Kansas City the next day and went to a Christian Book and Music store in the mall, asking them about a song called “Judas Kiss.” She purchased the tape, brought it home to me, and I must’ve listened to the whole album ten times that night.
Music made my life worth living again. I would even go so far as to say it saved my life that summer; that bleak, depressing summer. I began collecting Christian rock (and later heavy metal) albums, a habit I still enjoy.
Elvis once said, “I learned very early in life that: ‘Without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain’t got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend.'”
Don’t tell me music can’t save your life. I know different.
To all my friends in Christian bands, I would say, keep on working, keep on writing, keep on singing, keep on playing, keep on pushing, keep on sweating, through the darkness, through the pain.
You’re doing the work of God, here, and I’m not even kidding when I say you’re saving lives.
Based on Luke 22:47-48
What are ya looking for the devil for
When ya oughta be looking for the Lord?!
I wonder how it makes you feel when the prodigal won’t come home
I wonder how it makes you feel when he’d rather be on his own
I wonder what it’s like for you when a lamb has gone astray
I wonder what it’s like for you when your children disobey
It must be like another thorn struck in your brow
It must be like another close friend’s broken vow
It must be like another nail right through your wrist
It must be just like Judas’ kiss
I wonder how it makes you feel when no one seeks your face
I wonder how it makes you feel when they give up in the race
I wonder what it’s like for you when they willingly disobey
I wonder what it’s like for you when they willingly walk away
Words and music by Bob Hartman © 1982