BL: I’ve got to be honest; I’m new to Levi the Poet. I recently came across your YouTube video entitled, “Pretty in Pornography” and was really captivated by it. For those who aren’t familiar with the work God has entrusted you with, who is Levi the Poet?
LTP: First of all, thank you. Frankly, it is a miracle to me that anyone cares about this project, and I have no other option than to come back to a place of humility and worship directed at the God who remains to true to his promises – namely, that he uses foolish things (a 22 year old with plugs and a loud mouth) to accomplish his goals.
I am Levi, and I am some sort of poet, so one day I was driving in a car with my now-wife, and we figured the most logical thing to call this project would be: Levi The Poet (if that’s any indication of my creativity, feel free to stop reading this interview right now! Haha!). I had been writing for years, mostly because I consider myself a relatively introverted person, and to think that God would have me speaking in front of people for a living is proof that 1) he has a real sense of humor and 2) he is not a liar to say that his plans are better than ours, because there is no possible way I would’ve ever imagined myself doing anything like this, and he has been so kind through it all.
Levi The Poet is realistic, repentant and redemptive. That’s the mission. That’s what I want all of my material to be – a means of pointing to the End, whose name in Jesus. Sometimes, realism makes people uncomfortable because it inevitably leads to transparency about topics or circumstances that we’d otherwise avoid. Public repentance makes us squeamish, and I get that. But Jesus is our redemptive hope, and the Bible says that there is joy before the angels of God when even one sinner repents, and that no one who takes refuge in the Lord will be condemned.
I think Levi The Poet is the story of how I’ve had no choice in life other than to take refuge in the Lord, Jesus Christ, who has kindly pursued and graciously saved me.
BL: You’re living the tour life right now and in looking at upcoming shows, you’re absolutely everywhere. How has touring been for you spiritually? Mentally? Is there anything you specifically do to stay grounded while on tour?
LTP: Great question. Touring can be really difficult spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I’m probably sick at least once on every tour – so I’ve either got the most miserable immune system in existence, or it is allergies, and I just haven’t figured out what works yet!
I’d say that one of the most difficult things about the tour life, for me, is being away from our regular community at home – being away from our friends and family, and our church body. Thankfully, my wife and I are involved in a church at home that really utilizes the technology we have available today, and we’re able to stay up on the teachings we’re going through. I always try to connect with our community group, or an elder back home and talk through what is happening on tour. But you definitely have to be deliberate about it. I have to make a conscious decision to pursue prayer and intimacy with Christ, and with Brandi, because there isn’t a lot of consistency to get rooted into – to create a schedule that might be more doable at home.
To be honest, I’ve been convicted recently that I’ve not truly treasured Christ the way that I’ve called other people to at these shows on the tour I’m currently speaking at. It’s been a sanctifying conviction; one that I hope the Lord will use to purge sin and protect me from in the future. I can very easily get all wrapped up in my head about how I’m doing, what I’m doing, who I’m affecting. The truth is that Jesus does the work and has kindly allowed me to be a part of it. My identity can’t be Levi The Poet, and it can’t be whatever results-oriented thinking I get stuck in. My identity has to be firmly planted in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ, because if I base my joy on anything other than the unchanging, immovable work of Christ, it will always prove to be a house built on the sand.
BL: You’re deeply personal in the “Pretty in Pornography” video. Has pornography been a real battle for you or is it more taken from the perspective of someone else? What advice do you have for arrested by porn?
LTP: Pornography was a battle that I fought for about 12 years of my life (which, honestly, was probably my problem, as I didn’t allow Christ to fight much of it for me). Most of those battles ended in failure, and the repercussive shame from those failures left me feeling condemned and hopeless. I used to stand in front of my mirror with both middle fingers held up to my reflection saying, “F*** you, Levi. You’re going to hell, because you’ve apologized so many times, but you’re obviously not sorry, so you’re obviously not saved.” It was a maddening, saddening, terrifying thought – that I had somehow fallen from grace because of my addiction.
As for other Christians who have experienced or are experiencing the same: firstly, those accusations are lies. Do not adopt them as your identity. I say that because it is the grace of God that saved you, and therefore your relationship with him was never contingent upon your purity in the first place, and your continued relationship with him is not shattered by failure. Your relationship with him is contingent upon the saving grace of the cross of Christ, and the fact that, while you were an enemy of God, he chose to love and save you. There is no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus.
Secondly, that truth does not negate or minimize your sin, and so by the power of the Holy Spirit, we must work towards killing it. Too many Christians minimize pornographic lust because of its addictive qualities and, while I don’t deny that porn is in fact addictive, we choose whether or not we feed that addiction, and we are not victims for viewing porn, we are perpetrators mentally and financially supporting such atrocities as prostitution and human trafficking, and a general dehumanization of God sons and daughters.
Change does not come by minimizing sin and making yourself immune to the conviction that stings for a reason, change comes from “walking in the light, as He is in the light” where Christ is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Repentance looks like something practical. For example, I strongly support an organization called XXXChurch (http://xxxchurch.com), which exists to provide hope and healing for those that have been affected by pornography, because I believe that they provide very practical ways of walking in obedience to the biblical mandates for purity. XXXChurch offers accountability and filtration software for phones and computers, among other awareness, prevention and recovery resources, so that we might be a people who take seriously the Apostle Paul’s call to “flee sexual temptation.”
Remember this, though, above all: Jesus is the savior. Jesus is the savior. Accountability is not your savior. Small groups are not your savior. Checking the days that you kept your pants on off on your calendar is not your savior. Jesus is your savior. Paul says that sin can die. In fact, Paul says that our sin died with Christ and that it can be put to death in our lives. So many of us live life as though we were only saved to sin management, to constantly suppressing sin but never being rid of it.
My prayer for you is simply that Jesus would become your greatest treasure. That Jesus would be your greatest desire. That he would be the most fulfilling joy you’ve ever sought after. That you have so reveled in his presence that you are no longer spending your days suppressing the desire to sin but that, at the end of the month, you think back and realize that you’ve forgotten your sin completely. The love of Jesus will be the ultimate abolishment of sin, and love of Jesus will be the thing that overflows into behavioral change.
BL: To say you’re “passionate” when you do spoken word is a gross understatement. Are you completely exhausted after every performance or do you eat Wheaties mixed with a monster energy drink each morning?
LTP: Haha! Well, I’ll certainly take that as a compliment! You know, I used to get way more worn out than I do now, because I used to spend every night’s performance trying to relive the pain that I speak about on my sleeve – I don’t know, so that people could see it as genuine or something. By the grace of God, though, a man in some random Oklahoma town once pulled me aside and told me that it was okay to simply perform without summoning past shame, past hurt, or past brokenness. It was okay to be vulnerable while still realizing that Jesus had saved me in the same ways that I was proclaiming his saving grace for others. So I don’t get as worn out as I used to, and I think that time will take a toll on the style of performance that I’m doing now as it continues to develop into something new.
BL: Who would you consider to be your greatest influences – in faith and in spoken word or music?
LTP: Oh man… the inevitable “influences” question is always a tough one. I’ll start it out by saying that the closest thing I ever listened to in the realm of spoken word poetry was: mewithoutYou, Listener and Bradley Hathaway. Ah… take that back – Saul Williams, too. Love Saul Williams. Bradley was the first guy I saw perform within the music scene, and I remember giving him stack of poems at a show one time in high school (he was kind enough to take them). I don’t know that they were very good, though. Haha.
Anyway – it’d take me a week to think of my biggest influences of all time, so I’ll name a few artists and theologians and friends and authors that I’ve enjoyed – in no particular genre or order or category: Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes, Counting Crows, Modest Mouse, Eminem, Martin Luther, Donald Miller, John Calvin, James Frey, John Green, Chris Lynch, Stephen King, Bon Iver, and T-Bone (yes, the gangster Christian rapper who used to rap about killing demons with shotguns – I used to love him! Haha!). Also, my dad, who died last year. He devoted his life to introducing people to Jesus, and is now rejoicing with many of his friends who were literally martyred for the faith that he introduced them to. And my mom, who consistently beheld Jesus as her treasure through the storms that sought to offset my family over the last few years, and continues to do the same.
Finally, my wife. One day, it might be revealed that she is actually an angel that Jesus sent to reveal himself to me when I didn’t believe he was real anymore.
BL: What’s up and coming for you? Any new projects?
LTP: My wife and I are touring a lot this year. We’re just wrapping up a six-week run with For Today and a bunch of other bands called Fight The Silence. I’ve been performing Pretty In Pornography and representing an organization called XXXChurch on this tour. We’ll be home for a couple of weeks working on a new album before we head back out for three weeks mid-May with an artist named Glowhouse – one of my best friends and favorite musicians. It is shaping up to be a really busy year. When we’re not on tour, we’re practicing, and hoping to record my second full-length album in July (God-willing).
You can keep up with / find out more about our schedule, news and more at http://levithepoet.net
BL: What’s something crazy a lot of people don’t know about you?
LTP: Well, I’ve told a couple people this, but… I have crazy stage fright. Sometimes it’s worse than others, but after four years of speaking in front of people – regardless of the size of audience – I still get nervous at every single performance. So annoying!
Also, I’m relatively claustrophobic, so I hardly ever go into the busiest part of the crowd at the shows I perform for anymore. Haha. I can’t stand being in sweaty mosh pits.
Levi the Fright-Ridden Claustrophobe! Haha!
BL: Where can people find more information on Levi the Poet? Do you have any albums available for purchase?
LTP: I do, yeah! Everything that I have released right now should be easy to find on any digital media platform (iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, Spotify, etc.), and I have an online store on my website with physical albums and other merchandise available for purchase at http://levithepoet.net.
Also, I’m a part of an organization called Come&Live! which is, essentially, a collective of musicians and artists that love Jesus and want him to be famous (not that he needs my help, of course). My newest E.P. Monologues is available there (http://comeandlive.com) for free download, as a way of extending the generosity Christ gave freely to me, in stretching out his hand, while I was his enemy, and loving me unto death. Feel free to pick it up from there, as well.
Interview by BL. Follow him on Twitter (@Godside239) or on Instagram (@Godside).