This may seem an oddball post to the few of you who read this, but it’s something that’s been on my mind occasionally for quite some time now, usually whenever I hear one of a few songs written by one Maynard James Keenan, most commonly known as the lead singer of the band Tool. Keenan is a controversial figure, known nearly as much for his odd behavior and political incorrectness as he is for his brilliant musical talent. But here I want to deal with one specific issue he has often addressed: the Church and Jesus Christ, and his mother, Judith Marie, who was a devout Christian.
Keenan’s own attitude toward religion is quite clear: he has great disdain for religion and any idea of God, and has singled out Christianity for attack in many interviews as well as songs. However, his mother was a devout Christian, and she was his hero. She had great influence on his life, but when he was 11 years old she suffered a cerebral aneurism which would leave her paralyzed for the rest of her life. This profoundly impacted Keenan, as he saw that she remained faithful to her Lord even through her suffering, and his initial response was rage. Writing a song called Judith in 1999 which was released on his first album with A Perfect Circle, Keenan addressed his mother for her faith quite plainly:
You’re such an inspiration for the ways
That I’ll never ever choose to be
Oh so many ways for me to show you
How your savior has abandoned you
F–K your God, your Lord, your Christ, He did this
Took all you had and left you this way
Still you pray, never stray, never taste of the fruit
Never thought to question why
It’s not like you killed someone
It’s not like you drove a hateful spear into his side
Praise the one who left you broken down and paralyzed
He did it all for you
After his mother’s death in 2003, however, Keenan seemed to at least respect, if not agree with, his mother’s beliefs. Tool’s next album was released with the title 10,000 Days, which was the approximate length of time between his mother’s paralysis and death. Two of the songs on the album were about his mother: Jambi and the two-part song Wings for Marie in which he writes:
High is the way, but our eyes are upon the ground
You were the light and the way, they’ll only read about
I only pray heaven knows when to lift you out
Ten thousand days in the fire is long enough, you’re going home
You’re the only one who can hold your head up high
Shake your fists at the gates saying:
“I’ve come home now!
Fetch me the spirit, the son, and the father
Tell them their pillar of faith has ascended
It’s time now, my time now, give me my wings!”
You are the light and way that they will only read about
Set as I am in my ways and my arrogance
Burden of proof tossed upon the believers
You were my witness, my eyes, my evidence
Judith Marie, unconditional one
Daylight dims leaving cold fluorescence
Difficult to see you in this light
Please forgive this bold suggestion:
Should you see your Maker’s face tonight
Look Him in the eye and tell Him:
“I never lived a lie, never took a life, but surely saved one
Hallelujah, it’s time for you to bring me home!”
It has also been noted that when performing Judith live after his mother’s death, Keenan changed the first line of the chorus from “F–k your God” to “Thank your God” as a way of honoring his mother.
Now, back to my original reason for writing this post. Judith is a very raw song, full of powerful emotion and stirring musical themes, which made it a hit single and radio favorite. It is difficult to listen to, though, because of the anger and resentful lyrics toward God. However, I feel a touch of hope at the same time, knowing he has at least come a little ways from his rage through the positive influences of his mother – he still rejects God and the church, as is made clear in the first part of Wings for Marie, so we can still pray he comes full circle one day, but it is revealing to see his reaction to the events in his life that shaped his feelings for God and Christians, and I think we as Christians can draw some wisdom from the feelings he has shared.
In Judith he plays the role of Eliphaz, the friend of Job who witnesses the suffering of his friend and says that if God is just, Job must have done something to deserve this suffering – for if Job is innocent, God must be unjust. Job is affected by this thinking and in chapter 24 questions why God would be seemingly indifferent to wickedness and suffering. At the end of the book, however, God explains that Eliphaz and Job cannot understand his reasons, and that the ways of God may be incomprehensible at the time to us, but that does not make them any less just or perfect.
By Wings for Marie, he acknowledges that there may be a heaven and a God, but still can’t see past the apparent hypocrisy and self-righteousness of the church here on earth, whom he refers to as “the collective Judas.” This sort of reaction is why I have always struggled personally with the attitudes and goals of so many churches locally, as well as why I make it a point to be as honest and open with people in my life as I am able to. I do not wish to alienate people by presenting a two-faced or incomplete message. I’m honest about my flaws (as if they were all that hidden to begin with) because I don’t want to give people a chance to call me a hypocrite. Each of us must strive to reflect honesty and love in our own lives as best we are able: while it is true we cannot control the actions of others in the church, we as a whole comprise the church, and so by changing our own lives can slowly change the perception of the church as a whole by those around us. We cannot save people ourselves, that is up to God alone, but we can try to remove as many obstacles to the truth as we can.
Maynard James Keenan says he is alive today because of his mother, because of the faithful, honest life she lived. Can anyone say the same about you?