When the lead single from Switchfoot’s eleventh album came out, all the Christians rubbed their hands together in delight. Could there be a more perfect title than “Native Tongue”? The song had everything— not so subtle, but palatable references to God. A call to experience his Spirit “in the tongues of the flame,” and the feeling that this band had touched on the yearning of every soul to come back to the basics of our faith.
On its own, the song “Native Tongue,” is a call— a dare if you will, to move beyond our inhibitions towards the God who made us. But in the context of the entire album, it is the doormat to a reconstructed self that will cause us to examine remnants left in our soul from the last few years of America’s religious, political and racial divide.
A divide you and I are both very much apart of.
Of course, as an Australian who lived in America, it took me a little longer to realise I was part of this problem. And it’s fair to call it a problem, with numerous reports showing people have left churches since 2016 due to political differences.
If we are to speak in the language of Switchfoot, I only realised I had strayed from my native tongue when I sat judgmentally watching a stadium of white evangelicals watch a prominent Christian musician sing about the resurrection of Christ.
Thoughts of, “Why aren’t they participating?” and “Statistically, most of these people voted or are in favor of policies which go against the heart beat of God,” were flashing around my head.
Then, clear as day, there was God’s voice breaking through my pride and judgement.
“You are one of them.”
And so I set out in 2018 on a personal mission to break down my own cynicism and ashamedly, hatred, towards the very church I belonged to. It was only after hearing Native Tongue, that I realised I wasn’t alone in this fight.
Each song of this 14 track piece of art will make you humbly pick up the beautiful and ugly parts of your identity that have been forged in the fires of division. Sideline Christianity, or a facade of faith has no place in these 52 minutes. It is an album of action; where we look within and “take the speck out of our own eye,” before we do so for our brother and sisters.
Questions about life form the basis of an album that Jon Foreman has attributed to their wrestle with political, cultural and religious differences.
If “Let it Happen,” is the push we need to leap from our church pews into the rivers of atonement, then each song after is a desperate attempt to uncover the true nature of self, before we succumbed to the voices of our friends and our perceived foes.
We realise we are the outsiders living in sin when we hear the Legend of Chin-eseqe tones of “Living Water,” and Christ’s Beatitudes become palpable in a world of suits and ties, as God begs “Let me know you!” in the bridge. It is almost as if God is using the sounds of rock‘n’roll and brass to call back His church to the living water that is Christ, while we are fraught on becoming our own life source.
If there was any doubt that this church and I are one and the same, “Prodigal Son,” is a reminder of the bruised and broken state of my soul when I believe I can live out the Gospel according to my own agenda.
And the confession that “it feels like love is the hardest art to learn,” in “The Hardest Art” is an, albeit electronic, take on the true nature of love and God when we move past the world’s commodified versions of them.
Yet for all this conviction, there is no dwelling in shame or guilt in Native Tongue.
The turning point from pain to hope occurs in “Wonderful Feeling,” and with that the next step in the reconstruction of self and faith is evident— the moment we step towards God instead of hiding in fear, judgement or pain.
Perhaps most the most succinct summary of Switchfoot, and my, journey back to God is in the lyrics of “The Strength to Let Go”.
Humbly saying, “It took years to confess, that your love was the best at unraveling all of my pride. Had to laugh at myself when I realized that you were my home,” we return to a life led by mercy and forgiveness, rather than control and pain.
For all the to-ing and fro-ing die-hard Switchfoot fans have about their new (or old) sound in Native Tongue, one thing is abundantly clear— it is a fiercely honest representation of repentance and the sanctification Christ calls us to everyday.
2019 has just begun, but if there is one album you need to herald in a year of healing for a church and country divided in heart and mind, let this be it. Because in a cacophony of white noise, volatile words and anger that has seeped into every atom of our beings, Native Tongue is a call back to where we all started. Back to the language of love Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13.
That is the sort of love that Native Tongue welcomes us home to, if we are willing to humbly set down our pain and pride and start again.
Buy Native Tongue here