Be My Escape

My a cappella group is singing Relient K’s “Be My Escape” this semester. In discussion at rehearsal after we received the music, it was pointed out that the words are about as fundamental to how cool the song is as the music (and the music is pretty amazing), but it’s fairly intricate and rapid and hard to understand all the details. Here’s my interpretation.

I’ve given up on giving up slowly
I’m blending in so you won’t even know me
Apart from this whole world that shares my fate

The song has essentially one large conceit, of which fate is going to be an important part. One thing to note here is that “giving up slowly” is keeping trying at least a little bit, or if nothing else pretending to not have given up; if he’s “given up on giving up slowly”, he’s given up hard. Another is that the last two lines are a full sentence, so he’s not “apart” from the world, but indistinguishable from it, and resigned to share his fate with them. But that’s mostly straightforward.

This one last bullet you mention
Is my one last shot at redemption
Because I know to live you must give your life away

Suddenly there are a lot more things going on, of which the first is the wordplay of “shot”. It’s both his chance at redemption and firing the bullet; for redemption, or escape, he can kill himself and give his life away. But he then says he does that to live, which seems to be a contradiction. The statement, incidentally, sounds much like an oft-repeated quote from the Gospels, Matthew 10:39, Luke 9:24 and 17:33, etc. etc.

Relient K is a Christian band, and they are undoubtedly going for that reference. But more than that, there are parts near the end when “you” cannot be anything other than Christ, and I think there’s no good reason to say that it’s anyone else here. So what is the bullet Christ mentions? Of course it’s not literal, and this resolves the contradiction: the bullet is the chance to end the old life, the one that makes the singer just part of the rest of the world that shares his fate, and to find spiritual rebirth. Stepping back in one more place this is quoted, John 12, we find this verse before it: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

And I’ve been housing all this doubt
And insecurity

More wordplay here: “housing” is used both in the sense of keeping it within himself, and building a kind of mental house to live in, out of those fears. The song continues on that imagery,

And I’ve been locked inside that house
All the while you hold the key
And I’ve been dying to get out

Keep the picture of the singer struggling with a locked door from the inside, and Christ outside holding a key (somewhat reminiscent of Revelation’s “I stand at the door and knock.”), for later in the song. At the moment, the focus is on the word “dying”, which is again used both in the idiomatic sense of desiring, and in a literal one,

And that might be the death of me

Once more, the idiom “the death of me” is particularly intentional; we’ve seen by here that the song is about spiritual death and rebirth. From here on, the chorus a lot more straightforward:

And even though there’s no way of knowing
Where to go, I promise I’m going becauses
I’ve got to get out of here
I’m stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake

As long as we’re here, it’s worth commenting that, though he may have fallen into the rut “by mistake”, it’s still entirely his responsibility to find a way out. The chorus after the second verse fills out this concept by changing that line to “’Cause I’m afraid that this complacency is something I can’t shake.”

There’s probably a full treatise on how this plays into the Christian conception of sin and especially original sin, but I won’t get into that detail here, except to note that this is a pretty fundamental part of the song.

I’ve got to get out of here
And I’m begging you
I’m begging you
I’m begging you to be my escape

I’ve given up, I’m doing this alone now

He’s no longer part of “this whole world that shares my fate”.

’Cause I’ve failed and I’m ready to be shown how
You’ve told me the way and now I’m trying to get there

The Way, the Truth, and the Life.

And this life sentence that I’m serving
I admit that I’m every bit deserving
But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair

The last line is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful of the song. Life’s not fair, it’s true, but if it were, he’d be stuck with his “life sentence” instead of having any options to escape it.

On the subject of a life sentence, I think this is more wordplay. At the least there’s more wordplay between that and the word “life” two lines later, but beyond that he’s not awaiting but currently serving that sentence, while “locked inside that house.” My reading is that the pun involves taking “life sentence” very literally — he is sentenced to have nothing beyond earthly life. As a human, human life is what we deserve, but the singer finds it constraining and seeks to escape and live more than that. After another chorus, this view becomes clear:

I am a hostage to my own humanity
Self-detained and forced to live in this mess I’ve made

and we start getting to the heart of the Christian message. God is not an almighty tyrant popping up out of nowhere to morally condemn humans for being human; we are already constrained by the very nature of our mortal life.

And all I’m asking is for you to do what you can with me
But I can’t ask You to give what you already gave

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still “hostages to our humanity”, God came down, took on those chains in his birth, and in his death broke them. In the attempt to figure out how to escape humanity, God put his very being to that cause.

One last chorus, drums and guitars quiet until two powerful downbeats on “dying to get out,” and at the end of that:

I fought you for so long, I should have let you in

Remember the imagery of Christ from outside holding the key. Also here, at least in my reading, is a little bit of a pun, in that we expect that phrase to go “I should have let you win.”

(Oh how we regret those things we do)
And all I was trying to do was save my own skin

One last idiom chosen very intentionally. Beyond the idiomatic meaning of salvation and preservation in general, “skin” in particular refers to his human nature, the earth-life that he was clinging to. But the God he was fighting was trying to do nothing else but provide perfect preservation and salvation for him,

Oh, but so were you
So were you

13 September 2010