May your efforts be your own

The most beautiful thing about really good poetry is that it is both personal to the author, and personal to the listener or reader. Like all good writing, the purpose of a poem or lyric is to share a specific experience or thought in a way that makes that experience universal, but in a way that is not cliché or general. It’s a really tricky line to walk. When it’s done right, a poem, lyric, or line can be internalized by a listener in the context of their own thoughts.

Since realizing my own relationship with God, I’m sometimes surprised by the spiritual bend of some secular bands and songs within the context of my own spirituality. One of my very favorite bands is The Killers, a Las Vegas Americana/Dance-rock band (I also love coming up with names for new, imaginary musical genres specific to only one band.) I don’t often explore secular music here, but sometimes a lyric will strike me in just such a way that the music no longer feels secular. I want to touch on two songs today from the above-mentioned band.

The first of these is “Be Still,” from the 2012 release “Battle Born.”

The overarching theme of the song is that life is short and hard, and the dusty, material world can break your spirit. We are caught “in the belly of the beast,” and only spirit and heart can overcome the tempestuous storm surrounding us. The main thrust of the lyrics is just the titular two words: “Be still.” To me, in the context of Christianity, this means being a fixed point, and letting the Lord’s guidance calm the storm in my heart. Think of all the distractions and temptations that set upon us in a single day: television, work, music, sex, and money swirl around us like a hurricane.

One of my favorite stories is Christ calming the storm in the book of Matthew: “‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm” (Matthew 8:26). The story ends so matter-of-factly. He just did it. No description of mystical gestures, no words railed against the storm. Just cause and effect: faith, then stillness. Be still. Let the Lord be your true North, and stop the compass that guides our hearts from spinning wildly.

The second song I want to explore is “A Dustland Fairytale.” It’s a modern folk-rock song–it tells a testimonial story instead of relating general ideas. It is easily my favorite song of theirs, and I hope you enjoy it, as well.

There are two specific lyrics I want to call out. The first one comes with the chorus: “I saw the devil wrapping up his hands/He’s getting ready for a showdown.” I’m not sure that I have much to say about this one, other than it is a beautifully written image. It gives a weight to the devil that we don’t usually imagine. He’s not some horned demon or serpent slithering in the grass. He’s a gritty fighter right in front of us, and he’s preparing for a battle.

The next lyric is a wonderful testimonial that has always had special appeal to me, but that affection is amplified now that I have lived through it. “Change came in disguise of revelation/Set his soul on fire,” he writes in the second verse. “Disguise” is absolutely the perfect word to choose. When I first made the decision to accept Christ in my heart, I thought that it would add to me, and make me more than I once was. I thought maybe if I was lucky, it might even multiply me. But what I didn’t really expect is that it would completely change the way I saw the world. I am not only more, but I am also very different; I am truly changed, and I didn’t really necessarily see that part coming.

While I was doing a little research for this post, I read a bit about the band leader. Brandon Flowers–lead singer, ring leader and lyric writer for the band–actually is a Christian. (He’s Mormon, to be specific, but Christ is Christ in this context.) It’s not an accident that these two songs (as well as several others) have a spiritual connotation. In fact, I’m sure it’s intended.

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