Broken Crown: Mumford & Sins

17 Apr

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I first heard of Mumford & Sons when my friends Amy and Maria got all giddy over them last fall. Apparently some folk-rock band came out with a great album, and since I do rather enjoy folk-rock, I was like, “Sure. I’ll check it out.” Then we left for a week’s vacation in Michigan. I snagged Mumford & Sons’ second album, Babel, at a Target on the way. And I was hooked.

We listened to it over and over. The first track, “Babel,” struck me immediately. Particularly the lines, “I’ll know my weakness, know my voice, and I’ll believe in grace and choice.” At the time, I was polishing draft of “Divine Intervention,” the eighth story in my “Organization” series. That one focuses on my narrator’s struggles to understand what he believes, so I had been on that theme for a while. The thought that I could “know my voice” was very powerful to me, a writer. And that I knew my own weaknesses was a fantasy I also indulged in at that time. (Recently, I’ve gotten a much more accurate picture of my weaknesses, namely that I have very low self-awareness.)

If you listen to Mumford & Sons for very long, you’ll notice that most of the songs are about belief and faith and freedom and the struggle to understand them all. On my first listen-through, I was pretty startled when the song “Broken Crown” came around. The rest of the album is fairly hopeful in tone, and all of a sudden you hear this:

Touch my mouth and hold my tongue
I’ll never be your chosen one
I’ll be home safely tucked away
Well You can’t tempt me if I don’t see the day

The pull on my flesh was just too strong
Stifled the choice and the air in my lungs
Better not to breathe than to breathe a lie
‘Cause when I opened my body I breathe in a lie

Then follows the chorus:

So crawl on my belly ’til the sun goes down
I’ll never wear your broken crown
I took the road and I f—–d it all away
Now in this twilight, how dare you speak of grace

Language aside, that’s a pretty intense thing to say. Now, Marcus Mumford has gone on record that he’ll never tell what that song is specifically about, but here’s my (extremely subjective) interpretation:

This is about the bitterness felt by many young Christians about the dissonance between what the Church demands and what they feel God demands.

I know in my time at Northwestern College (the one in Minnesota), I felt a sort of alienation from traditional “church” Christianity and what I thought the Bible actually taught. I saw all sorts of hypocrisy and self-serving behavior in these people who were to be our shepherds (this is the “broken crown” – undeserved authority). This led me to feel (and other to truly believe) that while God’s Word was true, the way it was interpreted and used by the ecclesiastical authorities was flawed. I felt (some believed) that it was better, in many ways, to openly acknowledge flaws and sins, rather than keep them a secret. It was our shortcomings that we took out from hiding under the bushel, not the forgiveness offered us.

I’m no longer certain that this is the answer. In fact, I am sure it is not.

While it is important and right to confess sins, we should not glorify them. My own use of profanity may serve as an example here. When I was a little kid, my mom made me eat soap when I said a naughty word. Believe me, it didn’t take me long to figure out what words or phrases to avoid (around her). But now? I swear. Not as much as I could, probably more than I should. I draw the line at a few words, but I don’t feel the same blush now as I did five years ago when I use profanity. I could trace the sources of this opinion (namely, that profanity occurs, and as a storyteller, sometimes I use it in my work and it’s bled out into real life), but it’s a side note. Point is, I cuss and I don’t care. I’m okay with swearing because it’s more “honest” than going “Confound it!” when I smash my thumb with a hammer. Or when I’m tired. Or want to make a point. Or just feel like it.

I tend to justify my own blatant sins by pointing out the “greater” sins of others that have remained hidden until recently. How many of us look at a pastor who’s been caught in an affair (gay, straight, or otherwise) and think, “What a hypocrite. Sure glad I’m not a total creep like him,” then resume our own lust/hate/self-righteousness?

I think, in order to prevent the current generation of the Church from falling into “Broken Crown” thinking, we need to find a balance between preaching against sin and acknowledging our own. I’ve been at both extremes.

Neither work.

-Forest Johnson
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Forrest Roy Johnson is a Minnesotan exiled to Iowa. His fiction has been featured in The Whole Mitten, Miracle Ezine, and Fiction365. Other fiction is upcoming in Kzine and HelloHorror. Visit uncomfortableopinions.blogspot.com to read thoughts on culture, religion, and other things thathe might have on his mind. Visit wild-and-sweet.blogspot.com to see what he’s working on in terms of living a sustainable lifestyle.

photo credit: Kmeron via photopin cc

One Response to “Broken Crown: Mumford & Sins”

  1. james August 22, 2013 at 21:07 #

    Excellent, excellent post! Thanks for the encouragement!

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