Nerd Pastor Interprets the STRANGER THINGS Viral Song 'Running Up That Hill' by Kate Bush
Stranger Things Season 4 Part One has graced us with its remarkable presence, and maybe you’re still recovering from the late-night binge like I am. Regardless of all of this season's shocks, twists, and turns, I think we can all agree on the one cameo no one was expecting: Kate Bush. A phenomenal artist of the past and a relative niche one at that, I’m not sure that Kate expected the renaissance her anthology is now receiving.
But the song is more than just an epic moment; it’s also a great story worth telling that speaks to the overall story being told by Stranger Things. Make no mistake, them Duffer boys didn’t pick this song accidentally. It’s also a story worth telling in the church. So what say you and I run up that hill to make a deal with God and find out what in the world we can learn from a 35-year-old synthy jam?
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and dagnabit it’s season 4. When will there be justice for Barb? I’m your Nerd, Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give your coat as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, also go the second mile. Give to the one who asks of you and does not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. What reward do you have if you love those who love you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I usually start these videos by asking if you’ve heard of our selected nerdy topic for this video. Still, if you’ve somehow managed to slide under the radar of the phenomenon that has been Stranger Things for the past decade, I’d be more impressed than anything.
Even still - I’d be equally impressed if you’ve managed to avoid the resurgence that the Kate Bush song ‘Running Up That Hill’ has received.
But just in case - what is Stranger Things, and what is happening in Season 4 Part One?
Stranger Things is the story of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, as it endures the mysterious series of haunting events that occur due to some scientific tampering in the area.
Our story follows so many characters but centers around a few families and their relationships with a very unique and super-powered telekinetic named Eleven, El, or Jane.
We have El’s boyfriend, Mike Wheeler, and his big sis Nancy; we also have BFF Will Byers, his older brother Jonathan and their agape mama Joyce played by Winona Ryder. Then there is the town sheriff Hopper who becomes entangled in a mess. Along the journey, we learn the stories about the rest of Mike and Will’s friend group, even picking up some new friends along the way, like Max Mayfield and the one and only Steve Harrington.
Season 4 brings us to a place where the friend group has been splintered by the events of the prior season, and our main characters are figuring out how to cope with all kinds of loss, loss by death, loss by proximity, or just plain old loss by growing up.
Sort of side note: some peeps give Stranger Things a hard time because of the age discrepancy between seasons since they first started this show with a very young cast that has grown up quicker than seasons can come out, but I think that seeing these kids grow up has been my favorite part of the meta of the show. I care about these kid actors in a way that I think my parents got to experience with actors like Drew Barrymore or Elijah Wood. So - food for thought
I anticipate we will have another nerdy sermon when part 2 drops in a few weeks, so for this video, I really want to focus on this insanely viral song Running Up That Hill, and a bit about the character Max Mayfield who is intimately tied to it.
So, no massive spoiler in this, but spoilers for Max Mayfield leading up to this current season of Stranger Things.
Let’s start with the song… the excellent news is that the lyrics are pretty repetitive to make more room for that synth.
The chorus looks like this:
And if I only could,
I'd make a deal with God,
And I'd get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
Be running up that building.
If I only could, oh...
So, we have the song's protagonist, who is desperate to swap places with the piece's focus. So desperate that they would make a deal with God, which is a pretty significant deal, to do so.
Then Kate Bush tells us that the feeling is like running up a road, a hill, and a building.
Then she closes with the sad refrain - she would do that… if only she could. That implies what? That she can’t.
Nevertheless, the protagonist tries, but it’s a perpetual state of running, running, and getting nowhere.
The verses are challenging to interpret. One possible understanding is a conversation between lovers - our protagonist may not be suitable for their love, but the magic is gone. Something is different. Something has changed.
Something that the lover has done has hurt the protagonist - but they are in deep denial over the pain. They don’t want to accept the pain but instead want to keep pursuing the potential harm of the relationship.
Now, the challenge becomes answering the question, what is right? Is the protagonist correct that they can conquer this division? Or is there harm being done?
Regardless of our answer to that question, it seems like the magic is gone, and the protagonist is having trouble getting the lover to understand from their perspective.
According to Kate Bush herself, this song is about a compelling relationship between a man and a woman that leads to insecurities because of its overwhelming nature. So, to clear up those misunderstandings, her protagonist wishes to make a deal with God to understand the difference between men and women possibly.
It seems that Kate is relatively confident in the result, too. Even in the compelling music video that I highly recommend you watch, Kate’s self-portrayed protagonist ends up being separated from her lover by imitations of the love that they once had so profoundly.
So what about Max? Well, Max has a pretty rough story in Stranger Things. She is a new kid in town and befriends our leading group of Mike, Dustin, Will, Lucas, and El after getting involved in the events of season 2.
As we learn more about her, we discover she has a nightmare of a stepbrother Billy, a bully and an aggressor. He gets this from his dad, who is Max’s stepdad by default.
Max holds all of this in for a while before sharing it, but it’s clear that a life of divorce and an unhappy home life has made for some natural stress in her situation.
Then with the events of season 3, Max watches her stepbrother Billy sacrifice himself to save Eleven, resulting in some seriously conflicted feelings and the trauma of watching a member of her family die.
So with all that considered, it is no surprise why this song is Max’s favorite. Not only is it a delightful synth tune that is easy to get lost in, but it’s also a song that is helping Max actively understand herself - she is feeling things that no one else can understand.
Music has this effect on us anyway. Max is leaning in hard to a song that affirms no one else could understand her. That doesn’t make it healthy. And it doesn’t conclude Kate Bush’s song a good ending.
With that in mind, let’s see what this scripture has to do with this song and feeling.
In our selected passage, Jesus is doing one of the things that he does best… he is making the truth of the law and prophets more apparent to those in his living context. The Pharisees tried, but they missed the point of the teachings of those that came before.
So Jesus comes along not to throw out the old law but to fulfill it - in other words, to see it through to its true sense.
Sometimes Jesus does this by taking an old idea and adding to it, but this is an occasion where the people have it dead wrong. First up on the chopping block is the adage ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ from Exodus. This refers to revenge on those that harm a pregnant woman within a tribe in Israel. People are misapplying it and taking just the quote out of context in order to justify harm to be done to offenders. Hm.
Jesus says that we should offer the other if anyone harms us on one cheek. If anyone should rob us of our jacket, we should also show the shirt off our back.
If someone wants you to walk one mile for them, walk two.
What’s this all about? You’ve heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Well, Jesus continues and throws out another onto the chopping block.
Wait, wait, wait - where does it say that? Oh, it doesn’t. God never commands us to hate our enemy. Jesus isn’t correcting a misinterpretation of law here. He’s calling us out on something that isn’t even in the book. Hm.
Instead, Jesus says not only to love our neighbor but to love our enemy. To pray for them, be there for them, hear them out.
It’s easy, Jesus says, to love those who love you, but what about those hate you? Those challenges set us apart as perfect, holy children of the ideal, holy God.
What is Jesus getting at here? There is more to our enemies than a stereotype. People are people; people are people. We’re all going through our own lives with challenges and shortcomings.
It is incredible to divide and become exclusive because we don’t have the time to think of those unlike us as anything other than enemies. We turn things into a binary; we tell ourselves that there is no way we could ever understand another.
And that’s Kate Bush’s theory here as well - it would take a deal with God for a man to understand life to a woman and vice versa.
I get it, and I don’t know if I disagree, but I know that Jesus says it. Doesn’t Matter. We aren’t called to understand; we’re called to be holy and love beyond our understanding.
It becomes absurd, as ridiculous as offering our jacket when our shirt is stolen. We become so excessively loving that we offer more to our enemies than they deserve. Because we don’t know where they are coming from, and we don’t have to.
It’s not a matter of running up that hill on the roller coaster of life trying to pursue understanding so we can find a way to love others.
Jesus says my burden is light, easy, no running up buildings required.
In her trauma, Max is going to lash out and hurt people. But it’s up to those other people to love her despite that and reach her amid that darkness. And it’s the same for you and me. Jesus calls us to love people despite their brokenness.
What does this mean for us today?
Stop trying to understand or make rules about who to love and when to love them - instead, just love them first and trust that God will give us all the understanding we need when we need it.
For the Maxes out there running up that hill, be the outstretched hand offering up a better way out of the rat race and the monotony and the pain of an enemy-filled life.
Whether you’re the on-again, off-again boyfriend (Lucas), the best friend who also happens to be a telekinetic (El), or the one who got away (Dustin), know that you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.