Cry, baby, cry. Make your mother sigh.

I am such a sap.  Every song I hear today is making me emotional.  Well…not every song.  Just most of them.  While I labor at work over various things that do not interest me in the least, I listen to music…my music.  I prefer to have control over what I hear because the stuff they play on the radio usually bores or offends me.  I’m not morally offended by the music…it’s more of an aesthetic offense.  That’s not to say that I am some sort of elitist, unable to enjoy the music of the common man, whatever that is.  I like a lot of music that would get me kicked out of most “cool” conversations.   That probably leaves me somewhere in the middle with most everyone else.

Back to me crying.  I see that I never actually said I was crying, so I should probably clarify.  I haven’t cried today listening to music.  I have gotten a little misty eyed a few times.  The first time it happened, I figured I just really needed to hear that particular song at that particular point in time – that happens every now and then to me.  But then, the very next song got me even more worked up, and it was not one of the usual suspects.  It was a random song that I like, but have never responded to in an emotional way – at least not like I did today.

So what does all of that mean?  I have no idea.  Perhaps I am just really tired and everything is going to hit me harder today than usual.  Perhaps I am more attuned to the emotional truth of each song and that is causing me to have a stronger reaction.  Perhaps I should try to spiritualize this as much as possible and find out what it is about those songs that is causing me to act like a teenage girl watching a Twilight movie.  That won’t work though, because two songs were instrumentals, so I can’t get anything lyrically from them to point me in the right direction.

More than likely, this is all pretty easy to figure out.  I am a sap.  I cry at movies and TV shows that don’t even cause my wife to blink.  I cried the other night watching an episode of the TV show Jericho.  I remember watching Bridge to Terabithia with my boys a few years ago and I was a mess at the end.  I was so worked up by the film, that it sort of embarrassed me.  I didn’t want my boys to see me crying over a kid’s film.  So yes, I am a sap and I cry.  Maybe it’s just that simple.  I’m not sure though.

I don’t typically get very emotionally connected to what I listen to while I am work because I am not able to give myself over to the music like I can at home.  I get distracted by work and stuff.  Today seemed like a normal day – I felt sufficiently distracted by work, but that didn’t seem to matter to the music or to my heart.  (I’m sorry about that last sentence and the way I ended it.  There is sappy and then there is SAPPY – and that was about as SAPPY as I can imagine.  I swear it won’t happen again.)  On a normal day, one song might get me.  Maybe two if I am really feeling it.  Today, I stopped counting at five.

By now, you are probably asking yourself, “Why did he write this?  And more importantly, why did he decide to share this?”  Two very good questions and I don’t have very good answers for them.  Perhaps I just want people to get to know me a little better.  (Even I am rolling my eyes about that one.  That’s not it.)  Perhaps I feel guilty about not posting anything on here for such a long time.  (I am confident there is a lot of truth in that.)  I’ve told my wife that I don’t typically plan what I am going to write…I just start writing when an idea pops in my head.  That’s what happened this time.  I noticed I was responding more intensely to music today and I felt I could write about it.  Perhaps it’s as simple as that…

I’ll add this final thought in conclusion:  I think I am responding to these songs today, because sometimes I need to feel things deeply.  Most days I just coast through life.  Not in a bad way.  I’m not disengaged or anything.  I think most people have very ordinary days most of the time.  You don’t get emotionally worked up most days.  At least I don’t, even though I am more apt to do that than many other men I know.  I think on days like today, I am being gently prodded to keep my heart open and a bit broken.  Not just for my own good either.  I think it’s on days like these that if I allow these songs to do what they are capable of doing, I become more in tune with things of a spiritual nature.  Maybe my emotional spells today will allow me to be more empathetic with a friend or coworker, simply because my heart has already been laid bare.  Perhaps a day like today is God’s way of telling me to stop being so careful with my feelings.

Or maybe I’m just a sap.

(In case anyone was wondering, here are the songs that turned me into a little girl today:  U2 – With or Without You / Needtobreathe – White Fences and Keep Your Eyes Open / Future of Forestry – Would You Come Home / Patrick Doyle (Thor Soundtrack) – Prologue / The Gaslight Anthem – Mae.  There were more, but I think I think you get the point.)

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God Gave Rock and Roll to You

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8

When I was in my early twenties, back in my college days, I was confident, sure of myself, and completely convinced I had all the big and important things in life figured out. I’ve known a lot of people that have gone down that road. (There must be some “full-of-ourselves” hormone that most college students have.) I had all the answers. Or at least all the answers that really mattered in my life. I knew what I believed and nothing would dissuade me from my convictions. Those were simpler times.

One of the main areas of my life where I was resolute in my beliefs was in regards to the music I listened to. Through much study, prayer, and fasting (I’m using poetic license here) I decided that I would only listen to Christian music. No more of that terrible secular music that was birthed in the very pits of hell. That music was causing me to sin, backslide, and abandon the faith (once again – speaking poetically). No more would I listen to the likes of Nirvana, Collective Soul, Pearl Jam, and most definitely not The Beatles. These bands were comprised of sinners and that meant that nothing they could say would help me in my spiritual journey. In fact, what they said would have the opposite effect. From my superior vantage point, secular bands had nothing to offer Christians. They were devoid of all honesty and truth. And even though their music was really good and a lot of fun to listen to I would turn my back on them so that I could continue down the straight and the narrow. I had convinced myself that unless the songs I listened to were clearly and without prevarication speaking about or to God, then they were useless to me. What benefit could songs like The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love offer me? I had fallen prey to the faulty thinking that has trapped so many Christians throughout time: God is too small to operate outside of the creativity and the machinations of believers. Perhaps even more significantly I had failed to comprehend true worship and it was in that failing that my mind and my motives went astray.

Worship goes beyond words and catch phrases. It does not need a quota of religious terminology and expressions. Real worship does not come about if we say “Holy” or “Jesus” or “Praise” enough times. Worship is the very nuts and bolts of our lives. It comes from the most basic and elemental parts of our souls. True worship is uncomplicated and many times unremarkable. God lives in the mundane; in the boring details. He excels in working with the everyday and the commonplace. Scripture tells us that if mankind fails to praise Him like we should then nature itself will cry out. God’s glory is proclaimed by the sun and stars, their unspoken truth is being revealed to the world. If God is capable of eliciting praise from inanimate objects, then why are we so convinced that He can’t be glorified by the tongues of sinners; whether they intend it or not. Why do we recoil at the thought that God could communicate His truth through the creativity and the talents of unbelievers? That was my error, and perhaps the error of many. I was limiting God. I had confined Him to a little corner of my world. He could live, move, and act in that space, but nowhere else. He could speak through my Christian songs. But He was incapable of receiving praise or communicating truth through the thoughts, words, and music of an unbeliever. Simply put, my God was not so big or so strong or so mighty and there were some things that my God could not do.

When this realization hit me, I’ll admit, it hurt. It shamed me. I was so arrogant in my ignorance. I was master of my universe and to be frank, my universe sucked. I had heard the phrase, “All truth is God’s truth” since childhood and I thought I believed it. Sadly, I had learned to compartmentalize my life. Well intentioned, I had constructed separate spaces for the sacred and the secular. God was allowed to speak to me and to receive my praise through the unambiguously Christian. God was overlooked, or even worse, not welcome, in the secular. I could enjoy sports, food, television, and even movies as long as those areas of my life were separate from my hearing and understanding of God’s voice. For some reason I had no problem with those areas in their unbaptized form. Music on the other hand was different. Secular music was dangerous, frightening and decidedly not Christian. The line must be drawn here and no further! I would remain safe and comfortable surrounded by songs that didn’t offend or question me. Songs that played it safe; using the appropriate language and ideas.

After the aforementioned epiphany, I realized how narrow my thinking had been. God was at work in ways that my mind could not fathom. His truth was being proclaimed and communicated by the most unlikely people imaginable. But isn’t that just like Him? Scripture is full of examples of God using damaged and even unbelieving spokespersons. Nebuchadnezzar proclaimed:

Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God…no other god can save in this way.

He was in no way a “believer” but he spoke the truth: There is no other God that can save in that way. King Darius wrote a decree extolling God’s power after Daniel had been saved from the lion’s den:

For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.

Wow! That’s a praise song right there. We have no evidence that Darius was a believer yet he wrote those words for the entire nation to read and hear. The truth was crafted and penned by a sinner and it was heard by most of the civilized world.

Perhaps the most amazing example in Scripture is the time when God used Balaam’s donkey to save his life, by speaking. Yes, a donkey spoke to protect it’s master who was disobeying God. If God can speak the truth through an animal then I have no problem believing that He can use the likes of John Lennon or Mick Jagger.

So what does this all mean? I think there are few things that we should keep in mind when considering these ideas. Most importantly: Use wisdom. I’m not advocating jumping in head first into all the world offers us. Much of it is garbage and should be treated as such. Much of is dangerous and deadly; Flee from temptation and all that. But that is where discernment and wisdom come into play. Know your strengths and your inclinations and make good choices on what you will entertain and what will entertain you. Secondly, look closer, listen more carefully, and examine more fully. The real stuff, the things that really count are not always easy to spot or easy to ingest. Those things have to be tested carefully and completely. Your search will lead you down some unforeseen roads, and that is ok. As Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message would put it; God plays in ten thousand places. Don’t underestimate God’s ability to make His truth known. Finally, don’t be afraid of the difficult questions. When you listen to secular artists you are going to be challenged. They don’t see the world through our eyes. Many times they are going to confront God directly and perhaps even have a few negative things to say about Him or his children. Guess what? God doesn’t mind. In fact, I think he appreciates the honesty much more than the shallow spiritualized rhetoric that is found in so much of our modern Christian music. To prove that He doesn’t mind He made sure His revealed Word was full of questions. There are plenty of examples in Scripture of this. If you spend enough time with the secular your faith will be questioned. Rest assured of that. Embrace that. These people are searching and are simply expressing that search in the only way they know how; through their talents. Mankind has questions, even Christians have questions, and it is much healthier to accept that and figure out ways to confront those questions than it is to close our eyes, ears, and minds to the very things that could be a catalyst for growth.

At this point you might be wondering what the passage from Philippians has to do with any of this. Simple: Truth, nobility, purity, loveliness, and excellence can and will be found in a thousand different places. Don’t be afraid to think without limits when searching for them because contrary to popular opinion, God is limitless and He is looking forward to taking your hand and revealing His truth and His glory to you in ways that are beyond your imagining. God has made everything beautiful in its time and he created humanity with an innate ability to appreciate truth and beauty. He did this so that we could and would recognize the Originator of that Truth and Beauty. God is at work in the sublime, in the transcendent, in the fallen, and in the broken. God is drawing all men unto Himself and He uses more than His Words or His people to accomplish this. He even uses those things that entertain us. Just one thing: Be sure to recognize when God is making Himself known through these broken vessels. If you don’t, it would be a waste of a really great song.

The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God.   Gilbert Meilaender

Music Mix.

I got this idea from a message board I frequent.  Basically, you take your MP3 player and you put it on shuffle and then list the first ten songs that appear.  No cheating.  No skipping.  Just list the songs that appear.  It’s very simple but it’s kind of cool to see what other people have on their MP3 players.  Here is my list for today:

  1. Paper Moon – Shout Out Louds (Work)
  2. A Different Drum – Peter Gabriel (Passion)
  3. Unless God Appears First – The Elms (The Great American Midrange)
  4. This Kind of Life Keeps Breaking Your Heart – Hammock (Maybe They Will Sing for Us Tomorrow)
  5. Ara batur – Sigur Ros (Med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust)
  6. Umbrella – Rihanna (Good Girl Gone Bad)
  7. Greet Death – Explosions in the Sky (Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever)
  8. She’s Alright – The Choir (Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen)
  9. Truman Sleeps – Philip Glass (The Truman Show Soundtrack)
  10. One Month Off – Bloc Party (Intimacy)

Now, it is your turn.  Post your music mix in the comments section.

The Top 20 Albums of the Decade. (2000 – 2009)

I have been discussing this with some friends and I figured I would post this here.  My list is very limited as I just haven’t listened to as much music this decade as in the past.  I got married in 2000 and that and my growing family has reduced the time I can spend on new music.  But, I do have a list that I am pretty happy with.  Here it is:

20.  The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (2006)
19.  Howie Day – Stop All the World Now (2004)
18.  Plankeye – Strange Exchange (2001)
17.  Hammock – Raising Your Voice Trying to Stop an Echo (2006)
16.  Patti Griffin – Children Running Through (2007)
15.  Honey – Three (2003)
14.  Monarch – Lowly (2006)
13.  Peter Gabriel – Up (2002)
12.  Bloc Party – A Weekend in the City (2007)
11.  The Elms – The Great American Midrange (2009)
10.  Coldplay – A Rush of Blood To the Head (2002)
09.  The Listening – The Listening (2006)
08.  Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is not a Cold Dead Place (2003)
07.  Jimmy Eat World – Futures (2004)
06.  Need to Breathe – The Outsiders (2009)
05.  Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
04.  The Elms – The Chess Hotel (2006)
03.  Arcade Fire – Neon Bible (2007)
02.  Sigur Ros – Takk (2005)
01.  Cush – Cush (New Sound) (2000)

I might add some info about each album if I have the time but for now the list will have to suffice.  Agree? Disagree?  Think I am crazy?  All of the above?  Let me know.

2 Things I’m Looking Forward To

1.  The ElmsThe Great American Midrange.
I ordered my copy weeks ago – it releases on Tuesday, September 15th.  This is my favorite band in the world right now.  They are great live and on album.  Their music is real, honest, and flat out rocks.  Check ’em out if you haven’t heard them yet.  Go to their website: www.theelms.net to check out their music.

2.  Need To BreatheThe Outsiders.

I will picking up this CD tonight if all goes according to plan.  I’ve enjoyed their previous two efforts and am really looking forward to hearing what they have done on this one.  They blend southern, anthemic, and a little blues for their sound.  Check them out at www.needtobreathe.net.