8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. 9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. 10 But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. 11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. 12 These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; 13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
I wanted to see if I could write a song about false teachers that had a bit of joy in it – funk, really. Joy certainly seems to be the last thing on Jude’s mind, never mind funkiness. We don’t know what exactly these teachers were actually teaching, but we know Jude was mad about it. A few characteristics of their cheatin’ ways stood out as song fodder.
- They “rely on their dreams,” grandiose visions of the future that, apparently, authorize them to do whatever they want. After all, they alone carry the spark of spiritual greatness! With them alone can true justice be found, the sword sundering sheep from goat! But if you confront them with the violence and greed implicit in their words, suddenly they bat their eyes and do their best John Lennon impersonation: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…” (Not calling The Clever One a false teacher, although anyone who holds up “Imagine” as John’s best work is peddling heresy.) They’re just dreamers, you see. Can’t you let a fella dream in peace, and maybe make a few bucks in the process?
- They’re perfectionists. My wife and I are fans of Anne Lamott’s thoughts on the subject: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.” Perfectionism means thinking of oneself as artificial intelligence, cleansed of the messiness known as “human nature.” In this case, it’s not enough for these false teachers to be common recipients of grace. They have to be spiritual elites, insulated from the dreary business of learning from their mistakes like everyone else. Mistakes are for plebes.
- They resemble extreme weather. Roving clouds, wild waves, stars being sucked into cosmic whirlpools. Bring your rain jacket, is all Jude is saying. (This third feature inspired both the lyrics and the musical structure, which aspires to the unpredictability of climate chaos).
Enterprising dreamers, spiritual one-percenters drunk on power, avatars of unthinking instinct: suddenly the false teachers don’t sound so ancient after all, nor do we moderns sound so immune to their charms.
And yet the best remedy for Satanic wiles isn’t matching gloom for gloom, curse for curse (see archangel Michael’s example). As another flawed recipient of grace, Thomas More, said, “The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.” If being under the thumb of a false teacher is a drag, getting out from that thumb must be a thrill. Writing this song, I couldn’t help but think of the thrill radiating from the music of the podcast Sinner’s Crossroads, a program devoted to the no-frills brilliance of bootleg gospel recordings from the mid-20th century onward. It seemed like the right idiom for calling out self-importance and pretension.
As for the central metaphor, there’s a Biblical precedent of Israel using place names to rebuke oppressors, literally putting them in their place: Babylon, Tyre, Rome. For me, this converged with a storied tradition of breakup songs that substitute place names for ex-lovers: Georgia, Memphis, Los Angeles. I have nothing against Florida, but in light of its importance to one of my favorite short stories, its use here was basically inevitable. Get with the flaw!
Lucas Kwong is a literature professor and musician. When not grading papers and researching Victorian popular fiction, he writes songs and performs around Brooklyn as part of the garage-rock two piece THE BROTHER K MELEE (www.brotherkmusic.com). THE BROTHER K MELEE’s releases include the compilation Seek Assembly, the music videos for tracks “The Brink” and “Vengeance” (compiled from Prelinger Archive footage), and the single “Stranger From the Country,” which was commissioned for Resurrection Park Slope’s 2017 Via Dolorosa exhibition. Lucas’ writing has been published in Religion and Literature, Victorian Literature and Culture, and on Image Journal’s blog. He lives with his wife in Brooklyn.