In Defense of a “Sloppy Wet Kiss”
First and foremost this is a small fracture in a greater conversation that has been emerging for years concerning worship styles. I’m looking forward to the day that the “how” of worship is talked about a lot less than the “Who” of worship. The object of worship is Jesus. I believe God is freeing us from the absurd, fast-food-type obsession with getting Jesus, our way, when & how we want Him. Thats what you’re radio and your iPod are there for.
If you’re spending a lot of time talking about worship styles: the kinds of music played, the way the music is play, and maybe even how loud the music is … you’ve inevitably missed the point. The point to worship is Jesus. It’s pretty much that simple.
John Mark McMillan hasn’t missed the point. In fact, he’s probably hitting closer to the center than a lot of song writers have in a long time. He writes songs. Most of his songs have application in the arena worship because they are vertical. He’s not writing songs for me, or you for that matter. He’s writing songs that make sense of where he is, what he’s going through, and express the tensions that surround all of those places.
The brutality of being an artist is that when you produce something (a song, a painting, or even a blog) it enters the public arena where uninformed people suddenly have the ability to interpret your work. If you give a crap about what you’re saying … this conversation can be painful & the criticism can be cutting. However, if you believe in what you’re doing, the tension will leave you more resolved and focused towards the direction to which you’ve been called.
John Mark doesn’t write cheap songs. They’re not cotton candy melodies washed down with sweet, Jones Soda guitar riffs. First of all, the majority of his songs are structurally difficult to reproduce for the average worship band. They’re not A/C B/C D C structured songs. John Mark’s songs aren’t for your average worship leader in your average church.
Five years ago when I stepped into my primary role at our current church to lead worship I made one bold move (on my part): I wanted to do a John Mark song our first Sunday. It was my way of saying, i don’t know what you’re used to singing … but we’re going somewhere new, challenging, and different and here’s a glimpse.
That song was “How He Loves”.
If you haven’t noticed, HHL is now in the top 100 CCLI songs and has been covered by so many people it’s futile to list them here. When I sang the song five years ago, nobody in our church had ever heard it. I thought it went over well. Our people engaged the song, somewhat. The song works in corporate worship because it’s chorus is so easy to sing and easily learned because of how repetitive it is. Unlike a lot of other songs, though, the verses are full of imagery, and depth. These words carry weight. Even if our folks just listened to the verses and sang the choruses, I was happy, because the verses communicated so well.
I had a meeting with some core musicians on our team two weeks later, and one genuinely humble, Jesus-loving guy reported this concern: “I loved that song, but I have a problem that the only line the people in my small group remembered was “sloppy wet kiss”.
That’s a problem?
I understand what he was saying. He was saying … listen … we’re supposed to be singing about Jesus, Grace, Love, or Mercy … where’s this line coming from? And why do people remember THAT LINE? Shouldn’t they be remembering something like “Jesus loves me”?
That one line, “sloppy wet kiss”, has brought a sort of tension in the world of worship music. Every worship leader has that song in their pocket, and every church has made some sort of decision on how to handle the lyrics. Recently a pretty significant worship artist covered the song and replaced those few words with the phrase “unforeseen kiss”. From what I understand, churches have made up all kinds of words to replace the word and resolve this perceived tension. Bryan Allain (via Jon Acuff’s Blog – “Stuff Christians Like”) wrote a pretty awesome blog about some other suggestions for replacing the lyric: [CLICK HERE TO VIEW BRYANS BLOG]
I know that John Mark has received countless critical and slanderous emails, comments, and tweets concerning the line. Some people have criticized him for propagating the idea that God would never do anything sloppy. Some people are furious that such sensual imagery is used in worship. Some people are just idiots and want to be mean.
I thought I’d take a few moments and offer a defense for the phrase.
I think it’s important to examine how some people from certain perspectives would end up getting upset / offended / panties-in-a-wad over this particular lyric.
1. Sloppy. The use of the word “sloppy”, when examined out of context, leads to a false implication that God is a haphazard Father, that His affection and attention have little provocation or cause, and perhaps if you’re just bitter or some hyper-spiritual Christian in a theological peeing contest, you might ascribe an implication that God makes mistakes to the word. Again, all of that happens when the word is examined out of context. As with all textual study: read before, read after, and endeavor to understand the way the language is being used.
2. Affection Makes People Uncomfortable. The imagery of an embrace and kiss with Jesus, especially a sloppy one (on the mouth), is a bit uncomfortable for those whose experience with Jesus has refined itself to a mental / right-belief-sort of pursuit. There is a large contingent within the church that has a purely congative pursuit of Jesus. The thought of anything other than sitting down, having some sparkling water, and discussing the deep truths of the scriptures when the first meet Jesus is slightly appalling. Embracing and kissing might be a tad uncomfortable, but apparently they were quite common in the culture of the early church (reference: Romans 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 1 Peter 5:14).
3. It Matters Who Jesus Is To You. One of the greatest abuses of the Gospel is that we often wrap the message of Jesus around us, our will, and our message. There are a lot of different Jesus’ out there, especially in our Western, Americanized version of Christianity. Maybe you serve drill-sargent Jesus, who kicks your butt when you make mistakes. Maybe you are following mommy Jesus, who holds your hands, cries with you when your feelings get hurt, and tells you that its going to get better. Maybe your trying to follow professor Jesus, who gives you a lot of books to read and is constantly inviting you into debates where you can prove your new, superior knowledge. You might even be following popular, cool Jesus, that tries to fit in and be as non-offensive and loving to folks as possible. If you’re not comfortable with an affectionate Jesus, a sloppy wet kiss is definitely going to make you a little uncomfortable.
WHATS THE REAL DEAL WITH A SLOPPY WET KISS?
1. Colloquialism. Understand that John Mark is distinctively southern. If you’re not from the south, you won’t get this. Southern language is filled, not only with a beautiful twang, but a brilliant selection of colloquialism. These phrases mean something locally they don’t mean everywhere else. You might ask: “Why does John Mark use this type of confusing language? Wouldn’t it just be easier to use more direct wording, communicate in way that clearly expresses what the author is saying?” Well … that makes sense to me, but apparently it didn’t make sense to Jesus. Jesus used loaded language all through the Gospels that had rich, hidden meanings. I think “Jesus did it” is about as good a reason to do something as you could come up with.
2. The Moment / The Message. Context is everything when understanding what is written. Read before. Read after. Gain perspective. The moment this line drops is when John Mark’s friend, Stephen, who the narrative of the song is about, meets Jesus: “Heaven (Jesus) meets earth (Stephen) like a sloppy wet kiss.” If you don’t understand the moment & the message, it’s impossible to understand the few words you’ve zeroed in on. This is a song about the abundant love that God has for us, in redemption and in tragedy. I love Jesus. When I think of the moment that I finally meet him face-to-face, I’m more willing to tell you that there will be tears, affection, and joy. Affectionate is an understatement for what I expect in that moment.
3. “A Sloppy Wet Kiss”. In the South, this term is used to describe an overly affectionate kiss. It’s not necessarily even used to describe a passionate kiss, like kisses shared between wives and husbands. I remember as a child my grandmother threatening to give me a “sloppy wet kiss”. It was the threat of more affection than I could handle. It was a bit uncomfortable. I’m very content knowing that Jesus is overly affectionate. The most content and loved I’ve ever felt has been in His tangible presence. If you’re uncomfortable with an affectionate Jesus, you might need to revisit some scriptures to gain a greater perspective and put some childish perspectives aside of who Jesus is.
JESUS, AFFECTION, & AN OBSERVATION
In the scriptures there’s a moment of scandalous affection between Jesus and a “sinful” woman. In Luke 7, a woman simply described as a “sinner” fell to the feet of Jesus weeping. Her tears fell upon Jesus’ bare feet. She kissed his feet. Then she broke open a flask of perfume and poured it over his feet. With her hair down, she began to wipe up his feet … cleansing the feet of Jesus.
This might seem a bit risque today; it was down-right scandalous in Jesus’ day.
Contextualized, it’s the equivalent of a woman entering a church staff meeting and performing some sort of lap-dance while offering tears of repentance to the pastor.
If Jesus was on staff at most churches today and this went down, He would have been fired after the show.
It’s gets better …
Jesus responds to the criticism (which we all would be thinking if we were in the room) with a small parable.
He starts by talking about money and debt: One man owes a lot of money. One a small sum. Both debts are forgiven … who would love more?
“The one, I suppose, for whom the larger debt was canceled” replied Simon.
“You have judged rightly.”
Right there, Jesus opens the door to overly-affectionate responses to His great love for us.
If you’re uncomfortable with a sloppy wet kiss, then you’re probably the guy in the back of the room muttering under his breath “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)
If you’re uncomfortable with a sloppy wet kiss manifesting into your relationship with Jesus you might just be missing one of the most significant components of a healthy relationship with our Lord: adoration & affection towards Jesus in response to His great love for us.
Ultimately, if you’re uncomfortable with a sloppy wet kiss, you’re probably uncomfortable with the real Jesus.
Maybe you need to get to a quiet place, put on some Boys II Men, and remember what it was like in middle-school, where holding a hand and getting note between classes made your heart race.
Maybe you need to get ready to have your first sloppy wet kiss with the only one who will ever love you completely.
Perhaps it’s time to take some moments to understand what you’re hearing, to be willing to be uncomfortable, and find the beauty in the tension.
Lay aside the regrets and experience His extravagant love:
From “How He Loves”We are His portion and He is our prize. Drawn to redemption by the Grace in His eyes. If Grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking. So, heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss And my heart stirs violently inside of my chest I don’t have to time to maintain these regrets When I think about the way … He loves us. Oh, How He loves us …