HUNTINGDON, PA - January 28, 2012 - Christian poet and YouTube sensation Jefferson Bethke has created and performed poems that pierce the heart and mind with their intensity, their fervor, and their resonance, thus compelling audiences to respond, whether positively or negatively, to his impact on their souls and their beliefs.
In an interview with the Communities@the Washington Times and Lori’s Centiments, Bethke revealed what inspires him to write poems that literally and figuratively reach out and grab the listeners’ attention, holding it until the last stanza has been uttered. “Jesus. I know it’s simple and cheesy, but it’s true. Me just resting in Him and getting a deeper understanding of how awesome His grace is continually starts a fire in my heart that I have to get out. His love, His grace, His mercy for us on the cross, despite our failures and shortcomings, continues to spark and transform my heart. That the creator of the universe wants to know my name, and pursued me when I didn’t want it, and created us to bring glory to Him (not ourselves) inspires me daily.”
Bethke’s first poem released on YouTube in early to mid January, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus,” drew over 17 million viewers to date, inciting responses both for and against Bethke’s message. Some accused him of being “anti-church,” which he stresses he is not.
On YouTube, Bethke posted the following statement: “[It’s a] poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the scriptures, Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of His day. At it’s core, Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man-centered, Jesus is God-centered. The poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules, and feel “not good enough” for God. With Jesus, you have humble, confident joy because he represents you; you don’t represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect, putting us in perfect standing with God the Father.”
In our interview, Bethke reiterated some of the sentiments he expressed on YouTube: “I wouldn’t say my viewpoint is ‘soured’ on churches, but rather hypocrisy, legalism, and self-righteousness. When I see people upholding rules or regulations more than Jesus and Him crucified, then it bothers me, because self-righteousness is essentially saying, ‘we don’t need your sacrifice, Jesus, we can do it on our own.’”
Bethke’s choice of semantics in his poems is from his heart, but has offended some who don’t know that he attends church, reads his Bible, and loves Jesus. In our interview, Bethke affirmed that he attends Mars Hill Church in Seattle. His pastor is the Rev. Mark Driscoll, a well-known pastor and author.
Driscoll’s book on marriage (Real Marriage), in fact, prompted Bethke to compose his recently-released poem, “Sex, Marriage, & Fairytales.” Quickly growing in YouTube hits, this poem is also insightful, riveting, and thought-provoking.
Obviously, Bethke’s use of literary techniques, such as hyperbole (which he uses frequently to get the audience’s attention), alliteration, metaphorical language, and assonance are part of the reason for his success, although there is definitely something more to the poems that makes us pause, even reflect about how we serve Jesus and others in our own lives.
In addition to the aforementioned poems, Bethke also has another on YouTube titled, “Sexual Healing.” Again, the words grab your attention, while the poem itself quickly explains the true meaning: respecting women and learning to love their hearts and minds before “touching their bodies” in marriage. The poem clearly stresses abstaining from sex until marriage. The message behind many of Bethke’s poems touches the core of young people’s hearts, making them think about the topics and the choices that they make.
One teen, Karla, 16, and her mother, Kathe, agreed to give me their opinion on the poem, “Sexual Healing.” A portion of their comments is as follows: “I really feel Jefferson was able to understand the emotional impact that sex has on a woman and the negative impact an unwanted pregnancy had on him (before he became a Christian) when he thought his girlfriend was pregnant. He calls on people to “follow the King” and not what society is telling us to do. I feel that Jefferson feels redeemed through his own experience and wants to share this with anyone who wants to listen. Kudos to Jefferson He truly speaks from his heart and soul. He really sees the true value in the sexual act.”
Perhaps the reason that Jefferson appeals to most young people is because he has been where they are now. He sees the world from a young person’s eyes and knows the pressures that society inflicts upon the teens and young adults of today. A recent graduate of the Pacific University, with a degree in political science, Jefferson committed his life to Christ while in college.
“I became a Christian in college. It wasn’t overnight. It was a slow process, but essentially I realized me as king of my life wasn’t working and that we were created to find rest and satisfaction in God. I also saw the cross for what it is and Jesus pursuing us while we didn’t even want Him and it transformed my heart.”
Bethke grew up in Tacoma, Washington, “on the south side, which isn’t the nicest and thought it was ‘normal’ until I moved.” During his growing up years, Bethke attended church, but didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He has testified that his life turned around after he gave his life to Christ.
Describing his relationship with Christ today, Bethke answers with the same candor that he uses in his poems: “It’s messy. It’s gritty. It’s not perfect. I’m still growing and just continually clinging to Him. We aren’t alive until we are alive in Him.”
Obviously, Bethke’s candor and sincerity in his poems are reaching many people in the way that he hopes it to. For example, one mother, Andrea, and her teenage children, 16-year-old Kolten and 13-year-old Karina, of Los Angeles, CA, have all found Bethke’s poetry to be compelling. “My kids loved it and I found it very touching - it hit a nerve. They (her children) seem less interested in the traditional version of “church” and the hypocrisy they see - and more interested in the heart of Christianity and showing love for Christ and others.”
Andrea added that the most touching aspect of the poem, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus,” for her son Kolten was “the message about Jesus dying for HIM and wanting him despite his flaws, etc. - the heart of Christianity indeed. I think many churches lose that central, core, heart-calling message.
“And it’s about other stuff - and then the heart is lost. The poem has heart and brings the message back to the heart of Christianity, which everyone hungers for at their core,” she concluded.
Bethke wants people to get his message, just as Andrea and her family did. “I love Jesus. I’m addicted to grace, and I’m just a messed up dude trying to make Him famous,” Bethke states on his Facebook page.
The poet, who has only been writing for a year, said he is working on more poetry that will soon be released. “One on worship and how we are worshipping something whether or not it’s Jesus. Everyone has something that is king in his life and if it’s not Jesus, it’s detrimental in the end.”
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