The Lyrics are pretty simple and shallow. They are all about partying, dancing, getting high, and basically living for pleasure. They are about a sense of self-ownership and freedom, with a repletion of the phrases “we can x” and “this is our x”. “We run things/Things don’t run we.” We can’t stop. We won’t stop.
It is an anthem of youth that is concerning itself with asserting that it will not be stopped in its pursuit of the party. At a very basic level, this is a song about sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
But it points to something more. Everyone who has ever been to a truly great party knows that the party is the people. It’s the spirit that moves the gathering, the crazy friend who is busting out his dance moves too early in the night, the three or four people on the balcony who are getting too deep for everyone else, and the group getting way too loud. It’s the moment when that song that everyone knows comes on, and, which is rare in our culture, all of a sudden our voices are one, singing together. And anyone who has been in that moment knows that more often than not, we sing together against something. This song has it. If we sing along we are singing together against . . . what? Responsibility? Age? Waste? Authority?
There is something wildly pagan about a good party. There is the uplifting of the senses to the higher powers, the elevation of pleasure, the worship of the wild gods of drink and sex. The little lights of men and women lift up their fierce celebration against the unknown and the solitude of individuality. And, if they so deign, the natural gods descend to move amongst us with the spirit of the bacchanalia, and the orgy.
“We Can’t Stop” is another summer party song. It’s a song that has been sung generation after generation. As flagons, wine skins, red cups and 40’s are lifted up across time, the spirit of the party moves. It rages. We sing.
Many in the history of the church would condemn it all. Others would simply dismiss it as harmless youth. Neither is the right answer as far as I’m concerned. Instead, we must ask what God can make of it. What can the Incarnate One who has made use of the very small things of hands and legs and eyes and ears, make of the party? What if the spirit that moved the party was, not replaced, but crowned with a new ruling Spirit of harmony and a new kind of elevation? The Erotic, not cast aside, but transformed, still called us to each other. The false high replaced with the true ecstasy too intense for the small imitations of our little drugs.
What if the Spirit reworked it all into something truly beautiful?
What Jimmy Fallon, Miley Cyrus, and the Roots do here is only a sign, only a hint, only the merest suggestion of the mystery that is the God who will take our human lives and shoot them through with eternal arrows of burning joy. Something small is made large.
I imagine that the pleasures of this life are not even to be compared with the pleasures of the next, and yet they are a shadow. This is so far from us when we understand the kingdom only as a set of laws, or a legal or forensic transaction between the Legal God and Himself. The kingdom is ecstatic, each of us going out from ourselves in total love for one another. What we saw as the spirit of the party will be seen only to have been its herald. The Spirit comes to make us love with a raging love and acceptance that brings us into wonderful harmony. Not just one voice singing, for there is the hell of self. But a harmony of voices, affirming and elevating, loving and healing.
It won’t be abstract. The people who were in a line in the bathroom trying to get a line in the bathroom will find the very thing they were looking for. It will look very different, of course. But what they will find, what they will do in that coming party, will have been hinted at in the drug. What we sought in sex and drunkenness will appear for real before us. There will be newness and resurrection, but it is these old paltry things that will be made new. One remembers the lizard of lust that becomes a stallion in The Great Divorce.
That coming feast which will be the biggest blow out that the universe has ever seen. For we will not merely be stoic drones shuffling around talking about how Holy God is. We will be our very selves made new, leaping and dancing with the divine life. We will be gods whose music will take up the songs of earth and transform them into the anthems of immortal joy which they only hinted at here.
And then truly will we say we can’t stop. Because there will be no end to the joy and ecstasy. The great enemy death will be cast away, and hell will be overcome.
Truly then we won’t stop.