I will never forget sitting on the sidewalk by the side of a Portland street with a bunch of other music lovers, late at night. Jon Foreman, the frontman of the band Switchfoot, leaned up against the windows of the Real Mother Goose, a furniture import store right next to the MAX tracks. He had just played the hottest concert I’ve ever been to (temperature hot – it had been blazing), a 45-minute set in the extreme dripping heat. Still he got his guitar from the tour bus, walked down the street like the Pied Piper, and we all followed. It was just us, him, and his guitar for nearly an hour.
It was pure Jesus magic.
I had been a longtime fan of Switchfoot, ever since the early days of “You Already Take Me There” and the skydiving music video, but that night bred a die-hard loyalty. It’s like when you’re friends with someone for so long that it doesn’t matter how often you see her or even what she does. That friendship bond, strengthened by shared experiences, will never break and you can always pick up where you left off.
I’m serious when I say I don’t care what the band does – they could release a CD of cows mooing, and I’d pre-order the special edition.
They choose a different artistic direction. My friends in Switchfoot released their eighth studio album yesterday. It’s called Vice Verses.
I first heard the title track “Vice Verses” over two years ago via the internet, thanks to some thoughtful person who recorded an acoustic session that Jon did. He was sitting in a folding chair with people all around him. And he sang this song I had never heard before. “Vice Verses.”
The song started out musing upon the ocean, but quickly delved into questions about the nature of life and eventually built into a plaintive cry. “Where is God in the city lights? Where is God in the genocide?”
And on this particular bootleg recording, Jon’s voice cracked with emotion when he sang, “Where are you in my broken heart?” and the rest of the song came out through a choked voice.
It was the cry of my own heart.
“Everything seems rusted over, show me that you’re there.”
I’ve come back to this song over and over, and I think it’s my favorite of theirs – which is saying a lot with songs like “Shadows Prove the Sunshine,” “Sing it Out,” and “Your Love is a Song.” I also became extremely pretentious, just for the fact that my favorite song wasn’t even released on an album yet. Win.
In preparation for this album, the band launched a Twitter campaign, asking people what their Vice Verses were. I didn’t enter, because I didn’t know what that phrase meant. What are vice verses? I know what vices are, I know what verses are, but what are they together?
“I’ve got my vices, I’ve got my vice verses.”
I think I’ve figured it out now.
“I know that there’s a meaning to it all, a little resurrection every time I fall.”
To me, Vice Verses are those things which redeem our vices. We all know our own vices, we all know what we do wrong, what makes us bad and wrong and not good enough. We recite them like a liturgy, clinging to our own failures. We are the screw-ups, holding close those mean things little boys said to us on the bus or lies our teacher told us about who we were. Bad things.
We know our vices.
But do we know our vice verses?
I find that I struggle telling you what I’m good at, or what I truly love, or what gives me the greatest joy. I can bluff if asked outright, but it’s not usually the truest answer. What truly are the things that make my life worthwhile? That keep me moving forward even though my vices sometimes scream so loudly that I can’t even hear myself?
I believe this wholeheartedly: until we can name those things that give us true joy and meaning, we cannot escape the trap of our vices and we cannot move in the correct direction. How do we know where to go if we have not stopped to identify the tools we have to get there?
As for our vice verses, you can’t just say God or Jesus or any of those canned Sunday School answers. Yes, God and Jesus are good, but they are not your vice verses. These things are what were formed by the Creator to show us Himself and to give us purpose. They are gifts.
Most of the band shared their Vice Verses on their YouTube page. Maybe my definition is incorrect, but that’s what I’m working from to give you my own:
My vice verses are the deepest belly-laughter with deep friends, the joy of being known, the hope of something more, and beautiful words creating a beautiful story that tells of the beautiful possibility we humans have of redemption,
Vice Verses. What are yours?
Buy the new album here: www.switchfoot.com
Photo credit: Sara Kelm, Copyright 2009