When I teach students about reconciliation, I start with an unexpected source: Eminem. Believe it or not, his new track, “Headlights,” serves not only as a musical olive branch to his mother but as a beautiful example of human reconciliation. At the same time, the rapper demonstrates an interesting deviation from this approach when he considers divine reconciliation.

Eminem describes his tense, explosive arguments with his mother as “atomic bombs” and the climate of his house growing up as “Vietnam.” He suggests that his mother struggled with alcoholism to such a degree that the state ultimately seized his younger brother, Nate, from her possession. His mother kicked Eminem out of the home on Christmas Eve, causing an “estrangement” that remains until this day.

young_em_momHe lays his disdain for her bare in the 2002 track, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” where he goes as far as to say that he hopes his mother burns in hell.

“Headlights”, however, moves toward making amends. The rapper begins with an admission that he “hates” his separation from his mother and the fact that she has only met her grandchildren once. Then he moves into the challenging work of reconciliation.

First, Eminem owns his contribution to the damaged relationship. He acknowledges that they “took [their arguments] too far” and that his volatile personality played a role in the regular fireworks at home. He expresses regret for writing a song that defamed his mother and “cringes” when they play it on the radio. He seeks forgiveness for the ways he hurt her. He doesn’t stop there, though. Next he shows a compassionate attitude toward the difficulty of his mother’s situation. She was a single parent, whose husband left the family, never to return. The family lived in near poverty as evidenced by him questioning as a boy, “Why’s the power off?” Eminem describes his mother’s personality and addiction issues as a “sickness,” giving her the benefit of the doubt, as if her problems were beyond her control. He accepts her as she is and forgives her. He exercises empathy.

But then he takes one final, surprising step. He does more than seek a “clean slate”–he actually tries to loves her. He writes:

And I’m mad I didn’t get the chance to thank you for being my Mom and my Dad /
So, Mom, please accept this as a tribute I wrote this on the jet.

Even though his mother inflicted great pain and created vast dysfunction in his life, Eminem thanks her. He even writes her a tribute.

Eminem’s exhibition of confession, acceptance, and forgiveness in the song illustrate a model for reconciliation.

But the song isn’t over yet. In what comes next, Eminem raps in somewhat indirect terms about a reconciliation with God. As the song closes, he imagines his plane going down. As he plummets to his death, Eminem tries to make peace with his life, declaring:

And if the plane goes down / Or if the crew can’t wake me up
Well, just know that I’m alright / I was not afraid to die
Oh, even if there’s songs to sing / Well, my children will carry me
Just know that I’m alright / I was not afraid to die
Because I put my faith in my little girl / So I never say, “Goodbye, cruel world.”
Just know that I’m alright / I am not afraid to die

vma-03-2Eminem’s absence of fear in death suggests a peace with God, a reconciliation of sorts. (Surely a person expressing a potential fear in death linked to morality suggests a belief in a judging God.) His justification for this peace comes from his “faith in [his] little girl.” The line should not be interpreted as him believing that his child can forgive his sins. Instead, Eminem, as he says earlier in the song, believes that he has been a good parent, and, therefore, has been a good enough person that he has no fear in death. In Christian language, his acceptance from his Maker comes out of his works or moral performance, his virtue as a reliable dad, especially when compared to his own mother.

The interesting element of this song is the conflicting dynamics of reconciliation. Eminem’s reconciliation with his mother involves confession of his wrong, compassion for her situation, acceptance of her imperfection, and an extension of unmerited love.

But when it comes to peace with his maker, Eminem articulates a more works-oriented version of reconciliation. This raises a valuable question. Does reconciliation in a divine relationship deviate in principle and approach from reconciliation in human reconciliation?

My experience says that such an approach results in awkwardness and tension, rather than reconciliation. If a husband wrongs his wife, does it make amends for him to simply clean all of the dishes and take out the garbage without an apology or conversation? If one friend betrays another, do things move forward peacefully with one friend “trying real hard” but not owning up to his or her wrong?

If God indeed is a personal God, then the dynamics of both human and divine reconciliation operate the same. Confession and honest conversation seem to be essential ingredients in making peace in strained relationships with God and man. One wonders, then, if our hero might find a new intimacy and deeper peace with God were he to approach his heavenly Father in the same way he has his earthly mother.

Probably goes without saying, but the song contains characteristically strong language: