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SAO: Jon Foreman


Singer-songwriter Jon Foreman’s career has spanned twenty-plus years and a myriad of musical endeavors from rock and roll to film scores. Although he is best known for being the front-person of the band Switchfoot, he has also made his mark as a solo artist, releasing 8 EP’s worth of material since 2008. In his work, he seeks to honestly and authentically explore various manifestations of darkness, doubt and fear that are part and parcel of to life, while also reflecting upon threads of hopefulness and redemption.

Foreman’s latest release, The Wonderlands, a four-part series of EPs, was released in 2015. Each EP—Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness and Dawn—consists of six songs, all of which represent one of the twenty-four hours in a day. This day-in-a-life project constructs an inverse arc that stretches from brightness, down into darkness and back up into a renewed, burgeoning light.

“Terminal,” the first song from The Wonderlands starts the metaphorical day off unusually—the narrator realizes that human beings are “terminal.” This is not just an expression of mortality or finitude, although those concepts are encompassed. It is a proclamation of brokenness. The song begins:

“The doctor says I’m dying
I die a little every day
But he’s got no prescription that could Take my death away
The doctor says it don’t look so good It’s terminal”

It seems like an odd way to begin the day: admitting to a state of continual, progressive and unavoidable death. However, this state of death is not presented in pessimistic terms. It is not an injunction to assent to death, but rather a rally call against the fact of death, with the understanding that it is a real symptom of brokenness but should not paralyze the human person. The song concludes with humble force:

“We are, we are the living souls...
We are fatally flawed in the image of God”

During the “shadows” of the day, however, doubts concerning mortality and its metaphysical implications appear. “My Coffin” interrogates the universal human question of existence after death:

“When the brain waves stop How will I know?
When the carbon bonds that hold me Start to go
Is there something buried Beneath this skin?
Is he free when I am lost
In my coffin?”

“My Coffin” recognizes the necessity of death for the event of resurrection to occur. This type of juxtaposition—sunlight, obscured by the brokenness of shadows and darkness—is the crux of Foreman’s overall project. He attempts an honest witness of a distorted world, knowing that concealed doubts yield destruction. “All of God’s Children” captures his probing hopefulness, which clings to a belief in renewal:

“Underneath these wars Underneath these walls Underneath the bullet holes
I still don't know who we are
But it's shining underneath
Oh, I've been waiting for love to give birth New life to show pain it's worth
I've been waiting for peace on earth Like a newborn child
Oh, like a newborn child
Shining underneath”

Jon Foreman’s work of authentic witness has extended beyond music to include his writing for HuffPost. In a personal essay from 2010 entitled “The Dark Horse: Joan of Arc, Elliot Smith and Me,” he echoes the hopeful struggle against brokenness that is encapsulated in many of his songs: “Most days, my adversary is the feeling that nothing will change...I fight the notion that nothing I do will ever make any difference, that love will never be able to make a dent against the horrors of hate, that my life is insignificant, that faith, peace and love have no chance against the forces of violence, hatred and brutality among us.”

While his work recognizes a general sense of brokenness, his recent songs have not yet named the full political weight of the brokenness that exists within American Christianity. His 2008 song “Instead of a Show” critiqued religious hypocrisy, but it did so without much specificity. His 2017 essay, “An Open Letter to the American Church,” moves in a more pointed direction. He confessed: “We are born from a history of glory and shame. From the cross to the inquisition, from slavery to civil rights. Yes, this church of triumph and failure is my family: awkward, beautiful, and fatally flawed.” Foreman’s songs ruminate and spark conversation concerning a more general sense of human brokenness—war, death, hatred and social violence— but they have yet to specifically touch upon or critique the “fatally flawed” aspects his letter observed within the current culture of American Christianity. Perhaps, with future releases, that will change.

—Daniel Hickey

September 2017
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