Spoken-word poet and author Amena Brown is well acquainted with the lies we tell ourselves and noise that’s infiltrated our lives. In her latest book, How to Fix a Broken Record, she shares a variety of stories from her own life like learning her worth, learning to love herself to learning to say no to people and growing in her relationship with God.
Why did you want to pull that imagery of a broken record into the title?
I’m a big music lover and have really loved returning to vinyl. There’s this element of listening to records that’s different from any other way you listen to music: The needle can get stuck, get dusty and start making that skipping noise. I start thinking: What is that noise in our lives? And what are those sounds and messages and words that keep us stuck, too?
What causes people who may otherwise feel like they’re spiritually healthy to become broken and disconnected from that spiritual health they once had?
To be honest, I feel like even when we think we’re super well-adjusted, we all have broken records in some area. Even when things are going really well, we are always aware of our brokenness. That’s a part of the humanity we all share.
How do the misconceptions of God—specifically, how many think of God as judgmental—play into the role of brokenness?
My perception of God is one of those areas of my life where I have broken records. Sometimes it’s wrong because of the ways human beings have acted in the name of God. Sometimes it’s wrong because of broken relationships I’ve experienced. I think part of the healing process is being able to get to know God for who He really is, for who Jesus really is, and not just taking the press release we sometimes get from other people.
Sometimes I equate God to this mean voice that’s in my head: “Man you messed up again. Really? Wow. Don’t come talk to me until you fix that.”
But when I really learn more about the actual character of God, I stop repeating that broken record in my life. Even when I’m so messed up that I’m sure God doesn’t want to talk to me, [God says] “My arms are open all the time. I don’t want you to fix yourself before you feel like you can come to Me.”
Do you feel the modern American Church can do a better job at making Christianity less about behavior modification?
I think in American Christianity, we have a lot of bullet-point ideas about the faith. [We talk like our beliefs] should end in a period, when there are a lot more parts of this walk with God that have question marks.
Some of those question marks will never get answered. Really, to follow Jesus is to exist in this tension of what we know and what we don’t know.
That’s such a leap for some people.
Yeah, and rightfully so. It’s important to acknowledge that faith is weird that way. It’s weird for our humanity to say I will surrender my whole life to someone I can’t see. I find a lot more solace now in just being like, oh, I’m just not gonna know all of this.
People who follow you know you’re a poet. There’s a G.K. Chesterton idea about faith that mathematicians try to build a bridge to the infinite while poets are happy to just swim in the sea.
Poetry is always centered in the question. Poetry was never intended to give us these black-and-white, yes-and-no, absolute answers. Poetry is meant to exist in this middle, where we’re in our humanity and experiencing the divine. We experience grace while we’re a mess. While we wait and don’t know how long we will wait. I’m letting poetry teach me it’s OK to exist in the question. God is not just in the period, God is in the question, too.
For someone that is dealing with brokenness in their own life, what’s the best approach to speaking healing into their life?
My first answer is therapy. Sometimes you need a professional. That may be a taboo idea for Christians, but I don’t think it should be. God can meet you in a church service or God can meet you in your therapist’s office. Having a counselor has been a huge help for me spiritually. I’m dealing with my life being broken, the places that my community may be broken, that the world might be broken. That’s hard for me to process.
And one thing I’m learning is, if you are in a place of pain, hurt, grief, it’s having to open that up in front of yourself and in front of God. Sometimes you have to sit with it for a little bit. I think I have done myself the biggest disservice when I have experienced some of those feelings, and I try to rush myself past it. Sometimes I need to admit I’m in love with that person, or I need to admit I feel dissatisfied, or I need to admit I’m going to church every Sunday but I’m angry at God. I think God can meet us in the place where we are honest.
What was the biggest thing you learned while writing the book?
I’ve really learned the power of being vulnerable. In our era of social media, vulnerability can become cheap because we’re telling each other everything in certain ways, but I think well-timed, well-placed vulnerability is so important because I have found there are a lot of things in this book that healed me by writing them. In turn, there are people healed through their own stories. That’s been a really powerful conversation to be part of as a writer.
You mentioned social media and how that has made people more comfortable with being vulnerable. But the other side of the coin is how it’s distorted our perception of people’s lives. How does that play into that idea of brokenness a lot of people encounter in today’s culture?
Social media, used well, could be so awesome. There is a place for us to connect to each other and be real and honest in a different way that we do when we’re in person. I think social media provides that for us, which I think is dope. And on the other side, it’s good for us to remember our real life, to enjoy social media for what it is and enjoy our real life, too.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.