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#541 - "When We Come Alive" by Switchfoot
Chad and Jerome talk about fire metaphors, and the idea of truly living.

After the biblical messages behind the songs in Christian music from the late 1990s led me to Christ, I started collecting the WOW album compilations to check out new faith based-bands. That was how I first heard "New Way to be Human" by then-relatively unknown band Switchfoot. There was something special about their brand of alternative rock, which I've come to truly cherish over the past 15 years. I eagerly anticipate each new release.

2005's Nothing is Sound is one of my all-time top albums with the standout songs, "Stars," "Happy is a Yuppie Word," "The Shadow Proves the Sunshine," "The Blues" and "We are One Tonight." Their emotional rock songs have often pointed towards a bright future with hopeful lines like "I don't believe the emptiness / I'm looking for the kingdom coming down" in "Happy Is A Yuppie Word" and "Though the world is flawed these scars will heal / We are one tonight," in "We Are One Tonight."

In the same vein as those songs, Switchfoot's album Fading West has some of those same hopeful moments in songs like "Love Alone is Worth the Fight," "Who We Are," and "When We Come Alive." I had the chance to interview drummer Chad Butler and keyboardist Jerome Fontamillis in person at Creation Northeast about the anthem, "When We Come Alive."

Please tell me the personal story behind this song.

It is interesting that you reference a kind of re-occurring theme from some of our previous songs found in this song as that's kind of natural. As an artist and as a creative person you want to be discussing and talking about the things happening now, but what is interesting is to look back at works of art over time and to see threads and themes pop up. For us, it is sort of a diary of times in our lives that we've been through highs and lows together as a band. The songs that we've written and chosen for the albums over the years tend to reflect what we are learning. For this album it was a very real process of intentionally going around the world for a year looking for inspiration for these songs, experiencing highs and lows. 

The film Fading West came out before the record. We did that to share the stories of where these songs come from. You can see on screen some of the difficult situations during the writing process and the decision to leave those in the film. We are being vulnerable and honest and real that we're trying to figure out life. We don't have it all figured out. I like how you summed up the message of this song with "Love Does." I hadn't thought of that and I am a fan of Bob Goff. Sometimes the simplest phrase can capture what you are trying to communicate.

Jon Foreman also explained the song's meaning during a Spotify track-by-track: For me, this is a song that speaks to the idea that a lot of times we go through life halfway, living halfway lives," he said. "And yet, there's a spark that can grow into a fire, that the song is speaking to... that we are fire when we come alive, burning brightly. The idea that all it takes is a spark to light that thing up.

Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?

Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message):
"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand--shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."

What is the takeaway message?

There are references to ideas that have been talked about in some of our previous songs as I can see from your notes about the song. You mentioned how the repeat of the word, "Gone" in this song reminds you of "Gone," for example. There are a limited number of words in the English language. After nine albums, we tend to reuse and recycle some of these words. I'm so visual and even when I'm hearing instrumental music I'm seeing something and I'm moved by the imagery. 

To talk about being "On Fire" and "burning brightly," my favorite line of the song is "we light the sky when we ignite." I think as human souls we have the opportunity each day to truly live or to fall into complacency. For me the imagery of a burning ember and the possibility of a spark igniting not only one life but the lives of many, to me that is exciting. There is urgency with that. We've recently experienced fires in Southern California. This last fire came extraordinarily close to our homes. That's a lot of fire imagery in our lives recently. Ultimately, fire is a strong image of truly living.

Jerome: We are trying to sum up how we live our lives and the journey that we've been through and we're trying to be honest about what we're going through now and have gone through the last few albums. You always look back and remember times in your life and want to write about that. It is easy for me to become complacent in life and to just go about life as if it is dull. The idea of sparking a fire within me to live life is exciting.

The sun goes down like a photograph
You try to stop time in the aftermath
But it's gone, gone

Yesterday reads like a tragedy
I try not to lose what's left of me
But it's gone
Yeah, but we carry on 

We are fire
Burning brightly
You and I

We light the sky 
When we ignite
When we come alive
When we come alive

It feels like I could get lost today
The winds in my mind get swept away
And I'm gone, gone

And it's one last time to the wishing well
I throw down the change and I wish them well
But they're gone
Yeah, but we'll carry on

We are our souls on fire
We are reaching higher
We are our souls on fire
When we come alive
When we come alive

Strength, heart, soul

As the band and I discussed that Matthew 5:14-16 passage, we thought about how convicting it is to really try to live out that command to "let your light shine." What a great and awesome responsibility we have as followers of Jesus to "be the light of the world". This song is great way to have encouragement because "We are fire. Burning brightly, You and I." Like in the hymn "Refiner's Fire"--we are meant to be refined to be more like Jesus and as the song reminds us, "We light the sky, When we ignite, When we come alive."

A theme from the last several Switchfoot albums has been "Love Does" as stated by the Bob Goff book.  In Love Does, Bob Goff described that "sometimes we present ourselves as a copy of who we are instead of the original version of ourselves because we don't want to get damaged."

This song and "Love Does" are also about realizing that if your eyes are open to the needs of others around you and if you serve others and care about people more than think about your selfishness and doubts, then you can be "souls on fire," and "reaching higher," against injustice and against suffering, hunger and pain. Remember, "Love alone is worth the fight."

Matthew 5 tells us: "You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept." One day there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, and no more pain. Until that day, Jesus commands us to love the Lord your God with all your "Strength, heart, soul." That's when we come alive. Amen to that!

(Watch the band sing the song here.)

NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.

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