The Songs of Youth

I was nostalgically talking to a friend yesterday about some of the music we grew up listening to. The context of the conversation was “one-hit wonders,” and how we remember some of their catalogs going deeper than one hit.

I suggested one band in particular: Eve 6. They had one big hit that everyone remembers, “Inside Out,” and then basically nothing that got real airtime. That song was on their freshman album, which was coincidentally released when I was a high-school freshman myself. I was fifteen years old at the time. That song is catchy, a cleverly lyrical poem about self-destruction at the end of a failing relationship. The rest of the album is more or less awful.

Two years later, when I was seventeen and had enough money to buy music without hearing it first, I bought their second album, “Horrorscope,” on faith. It was a complete reversal in the sense that every song on the album is listenable, and some of the tracks were good enough that I played them to death.

If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that this is the part of the essay where I typically wax poetic about how I had missed some profoundly spiritual lesson in a song, and then share the lyrics and a YouTube link, and detail a few bible verses that highlight those lessons.

This entry is going in a different direction.

About a month ago, I was having a conversation with a friend and mentor, Pastor Mark (of TheSpringsChurch.net), and I asked him a question about finding spiritual balance in my life. We live in a secular, material world that is rife with profanity, hatred, sex, and violence–and that’s just what’s on television! My struggle, I said, was in knowing what parts of my old life I needed to shed, and what parts I could maintain. His answer, which I dive into at a later date, went something like this: when I am living with God in my soul, and a gratitude for salvation, and love in my heart for my neighbors, the rest will take care of itself. When I’m confronted with a behavior that I’m unsure about, the answer will present itself. The old saying about pornography is that “I know it when I see it.” This was the same idea, but on a less specific scale.

Yesterday, I logged into Spotify to relisten to that old Eve 6 album, expecting to be transported back to my youth. Don Draper, in one of the most powerful scenes in the history of television, addresses nostalgia. (It’s worth noting that Don’s mentor Teddy actually misquotes the etymology of the word. It actually means “A painful yearning to return home”)

When I played the album, though, instead of being teleported back to that time, what I felt was more akin to what Mark was telling me about. I felt as though I was sloughing off old skin. Every song was profane, sexualized, and contained drug references. What I once thought was clever now seemed trite and contrived. The entire experience made me anxious.

This was a new experience with nostalgia. I expected to be comforted, and to fondly remember an easier, less stressful time in my life. What I found, however, was a barometer by which I can measure my spiritual growth.

I think I finally understand this verse in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:10-12). My old, childish taste for that album fell away as I ran through the tracks, because it is no longer a part of my journey.

 

In the Right Place at the Right Time

Yesterday, I spent a few words here talking about the idea of predetermination. It’s a very difficult thing to wrap my mind around. (Almost like a story about time-travel where travelling into the past closes a loop–the thing that you travel to the past to accomplish has already happened, because in any version of the present from which you originated, you had already traveled back to the past to change that thing. Whoa, right?) Today, I’d like to spend a few minutes further exploring that, and the opposite, and how free-will (choice) figure into it.

Determinism is the branch of psychology/philosophy that says that every event in our lives has led to this moment. Every decision we’ve ever made, and everything that has ever happened to us, has colored our mind in a way that determines how we will act, or even how we will make a choice. When we go to make a choice, the confluence of events that led to the choice being presented shape how we will react to that decision. The core of the idea is that external stimuli determine our actions and thoughts. Some take it a little further, and say that we are not really responsible for our own actions, because we could not control those external stimuli. (That last part is baloney.) Predetermination is similar, but is the idea that everything that is happening cannot be changed at all. It’s a very fatalistic view.

I remember reading an article a few months ago about the idea of predetermination. The article started with a simple “experiment,” wherein the author addresses the reader directly and said, “lift your right arm,” or something to that effect. The author’s point was that the reader chose to lift his or her arm, but it’s difficult to say whether or not it was predetermined that they would do so. I remember not lifting my hand.

I also remember an episode of the television show “Fringe,” which I loved dearly. A quantum scientist explained the idea of time by pouring a bit of water through a tube. This illustrates the idea we can only see part of time at one time. But in reality, he said, time is not so linear. The truth, he argued, is that the tube is always completely full, and all events are happening simultaneously. Just because we cannot see the entire tube at once, we perceive time as linear because we perceive everything linearly.

(As an only slightly humorous aside, one of the fathers of American science fiction, Ray Cummings once wrote that “time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” This quote is commonly misattributed to Albert Einstein.)

For the purpose of this essay, there are two ways to look at it, and both have effectively the same outcome. One: God, who is omnipresent, exists outside of time and can see across it. Two: time does not exist (or rather, only exists in our perception), and therefore God, who is omniscient, perceives everything all at once because everything is happening simultaneously. Either way, the outcome is that God knows what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen.

Here’s the rub: if everything is predetermined, then what is the point of this exercise that we call life? If there is no free will to choose our own path, then there would be no need to continue the experiment. If there is no choice, and our path is predetermined, then we would already be where we’re headed…

Let’s take a look at a few key verses (at least they’re key to me), with my thoughts in italics:

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There is no need for patience if our choice has already been made for us.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free” (Galatians 5:13). We have the freedom to make our own decisions. If we didn’t, we would have no need for salvation.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). God is asking us to let us into our hearts. If that choice were already made, and we could not change it, there’s no reason to ask.

“And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Genesis 2:16). This is the big one. This is the first one. This is why the whole thing started anyway. If we weren’t free to choose, and our choices were predetermined, none of this mess would have happened anyway!

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic soon, but I’m mentally spent. Maybe I’ll go watch a time-travel movie.

On His Will

The purpose of this writing space is to spill onto paper what’s in my mind, and gain perspective on what troubles me. Today I will offer far more questions than thoughts.

I was reading part of “Desiring God” by John Piper, and Piper drew attention to something that always struck me as odd. He begins a chapter with a question: “Who planned the murder of Christ?” The answer, of course, is God. Christ was sent to earth to spread the Word and love of God, but he was also sent here for the explicit purpose to suffer for our sins. His preordained purpose, before He even descended down to earth, was to be betrayed and murdered.

That’s not the odd part. That was the whole point.

What’s always struck me as odd was that Judas and Pontius Pilate and Peter, who respectively betrayed Christ, sentenced Him to death, and denied Him three times, are treated as though they behaved of their own volition. They sinned against God, of course, but did they really have any choice? Was this their free will acting? Or was it God’s will, executed through their actions? In the book of Acts, Peter himself says: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

I’ve said before that one of my great struggles with understanding God is that I am poorly equipped to grasp these two opposing threads of thought. This is the greatest paradox of faith. These people (along with others) sinned against God, and by that sin fulfilled their purpose within His will and plan.

I’ve come to understand what free will means within my own life and choices. I choose, every day, to get up and try to become closer to the best version of myself. Sometimes I falter along that path, but I try to use my own will to stay focused on achieving that best-possible outcome. The tricky part comes when self-evaluating retrospectively: were those choices really mine? Or was I simply acting according to a plan? Could I have acted any other way? Was the confluence of events that led me to those decisions simply part of God’s machinations?

Part of my daily prayers is to take to heart the line “Thy will be done.” I ask God to make me an instrument of His will, and to show me my path to becoming what he has in mind for me. Sometimes, that feels like the only choice I have in the matter: I can choose to submit to that willingly, or I can choose to deny that. Either way, though, it is difficult to tell the difference between being a part of His will, and being apart from it.

The real rub is that this is one of the oldest philosophical questions, and belongs alongside “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is Love?”.  I’m not sure that there’s such a thing as an answer, except what we can take on authority. And that’s always been the hardest part of the Word to swallow, if I’m being honest.  Even C.S. Lewis, a man whose own personal journey and thoughts I respect greatly, struggles to give this sufficient reason in his masterwork “Mere Christianity.” In the chapter entitled “The Practical Conclusion,” he writes on the subject of authority: “In other words, I believe it on His authority. Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy.” Fair enough, but the logic is still circular. Trust that this is the real word of God, and believe it because God said it is so.

I’m not going to solve this one today, I don’t think. It’s just something to think about. It’s not going to change which side I choose (if I even have such a choice).

What I’m Looking For

Today is an auspicious day for those who nostalgically delight in revisiting music from the past. Today, U2 released a 30th anniversary version of “The Joshua Tree,” which is not only ostensibly their strongest effort (I personally prefer 1991’s “Achtung, Baby!”), but is also arguably one of the very best albums of all time. It is both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, and the first three tracks are universally known and beloved.

It also, surprisingly, contains perhaps the most famous and commercially successful Christian rock song ever written.

There are a few hints at spirituality throughout several tracks on this album. Take this lyric from “Where the Streets Have No Name:” “I want to feel sunlight on my face/I see the dust-cloud disappear, without a trace/I want to take shelter from the poison rain.” The allusion is loose and vague, but the imagery does contain the connotation of salvation. Even the song title feels vaguely spiritual. It could refer to a small town where one might find freedom in being a stranger, or it could refer to the true freedom of finding heaven.

Look also at these images in “With or Without You:” “See the thorn twist in your side . . . Through the storm we reach the shore.” It’s an aching love song written to a woman, but there are definitely some biblical references.

But track two, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” is unquestionably, undeniably religious. It’s about yearning for something beyond the confines of this dusty and material world. It’s about seeking warmth in all the wrong places, and finding that you are still cold. It’s about a burning desire to find a spiritual connection to God’s will, and it’s about the chains of slavery to earthy desires being shattered. See for yourself:

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
(I was) burning inside her.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

[Refrain]

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

The strange thing to me is that the song is so popular, and so ubiquitous that I always overlooked that part of the content. For years, I always assumed that it was just a simple love song (and in a way it is, but not worldly love). I never even considered the fact that it might be a song about seeking God, or even seeking something beyond this world.

There’s a psychological occurrence called the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon” or “frequency illusion.” The idea is this: when you learn about a piece of obscure information, like an uncommon word, you will start to see it pop up more and more frequently, because you are aware of it’s existence. Essentially, when we are aware of something, we are more likely to see it’s prevalence. A childish example of this is the car-game “Slug Bug.”  When you are looking for Volkswagen Beetles, you will see far more of them than you will if you’re just driving around.  The same is true of Christian allusions, at least for me.

Now that I know what I’m looking for, I see it everywhere.

The Fear of God

This may be the most personal thing I’ve ever shared here in this space, in the sense that I have never told anyone this story.

I don’t have many nightmares these days. When I do, it’s more about something catching me off guard than something actually being frightening. In fact, I’m not afraid of things like I used to be (except snakes, because they’re extremely creepy and they’re terrifying and anyone that doesn’t think so is wrong.) Once in a great while, I’ll admit that I still have the dream where I realize I have an upcoming final in a class I didn’t realize I was enrolled in. That’s a relic and a quirk, though. That’s not fear.

When I was little, however, I had a recurring nightmare. I can’t really explain the content of the dream, because it’s not really like anything was actively happening. It was more of a feeling. I would dream that I was being admonished by an unknown entity. I remember the feeling of being literally crushed under the weight of the admonishment, as though the actual words being spoken to me were physical things. They felt infinitely large, and unbearably heavy. They made me feel very, very small and meek. Standing up against them felt like I now imagine it might have felt to be Atlas, holding the weight of the entire earth on my shoulders. Mostly, these nightmares made me feel overwhelmed, and indescribably afraid.

Today, when I hear someone use the phrase “fear of God,” or “God-fearing,” I imagine something akin to that feeling. Those nightmares were never something that I’ve told anyone about, nor were they something that I necessarily associated with God, but the idea of fearing a vengeful God is familiar to me through recalling those dreams.

The entire point of this diary is to explore my relationship with God, and the daily thoughts that I have regarding that relationship. So here’s a major thought that I’ve been considering for a long time:

I do not think that I fear God.

I think that God is the very definition of awesome–I am in awe of Him. I think that the fact that God is infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient is fearsome. But I do not feel afraid. What I feel is peace, love, acceptance, and comfort. And especially I feel gratitude.

There’s a reason that almost all of the references to fear of God are in the Old Testament. Simply put, that reason is Christ. I think the sacrifice He made and the love that He brought with Him made it so we have nothing to fear. One of my favorite verses is in the book of John: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). In that chapter, Jesus is talking about being a slave to sin, and being set free, but I believe that with that comes the freedom from living in constant fear. The freedom from sin is also the freedom from fear, and is also the freedom to feel joy in its place. This freedom does not advocate sinful behavior, but lifts our burden of it.

That is what I think Paul means when he writes about freedom throughout the Epistles. Consider what he says in Galatians, chapter 5: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:13-14). In that way, that freedom from fear is also the freedom to love each other.

When I was very small, the sheer weight of fear in those nightmares would burden me, so I think it’s fitting that what God offers me is the opportunity to lift that burden from my shoulders and have Him carry it instead.

The Mathematical Theologian

I got about fifteen pages into “Desiring God,” by John Piper last night before I got sidetracked. Piper and I have studied–and been influenced by–the same man, but for very different reasons.

Blaise Pascal was a prodigy mathematician that lived in 17th century France. His thoughts influenced many of our modern branches of practical mathematics. His work in probability theory influenced how we think about modern economics and social studies. He was also one of the first people to invent a mechanical calculator. He lived an incredible life, albeit a short one–he died before he turned 40. I undoubtedly use principles he discovered every day even without thinking about it (I work as a sales analyst) as do countless others.

What I did not know about Pascal was that he was also a Catholic theologian, and a key proponent of the idea of Christian Hedonism, which is the main thrust of John Piper’s entire life’s work.

Hedonism by itself sounds sinful, and in most contexts it could be. It is the pursuit of pleasure through satisfaction of urges. In fact, when most people talk about self-control, that is exactly the type of thing that they’re trying to avoid. Theological Legalism is the implementation of divine “laws” to curb unbecoming and lustful appetites and behaviors.

The phrase “Christian Hedonism,” therefore, sounds counterintuitive at best, and oxymoronic at worst. At first glance, don’t those two terms seem opposed? Don’t they seem mutually exclusive? How can one hope to be a good Christian, and also pursue satisfying pleasures? The word “urge” even sounds sinful.

The answer seems obvious once it’s laid out in front of you: that satisfaction and pleasure can be derived in God. Piper quotes “Pascal’s Pensees” in Chapter 1:

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

(As a side note, it appears Pascal probably felt the same way about altruism as I do: there is no such thing as pure human altruism if part of the reason someone is being altruistic is to feel happy. He argues that literally every action we take is our will exerting its desire for happiness.)

One common reason that people say they turn to God is that they feel a void in their life. Feeling unrest, feeling unhappiness, and feeling anxiety are all symptomatic of the same thing–they are different ways of expressing that something indescribable is missing from a life. My best friend (who is my brother in every way but parentage) and I often discuss feeling this void, or feeling the symptoms of it. That well feels infinitely deep and infinitely wide, and the problem feels impossible to solve sometimes.

Pascal’s argument hits this problem exactly on the nose: Our soul’s main pursuit is happiness, and in doing so we are constantly trying to fill an infinite void. There is only one thing, he says, that can fill an infinite void: the infinite Himself.

“There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”

If you have a twenty-thousand-gallon swimming pool, you’re going to need 20,000 gallons of water to fill it. If you have an infinitely deep hole in your heart, in order to fill it you’ll need another infinity. Like I said, the answer seems obvious when it’s laid out in front of you by a mathematician.

I love you for free

I watched a (surprisingly decent) romantic comedy last night, called “Sleeping with Other People.” The movie stars Jason Sudeikis as Jake, and Alison Brie as Lainey. They’re college “friends” that reconnect as best friends later in life. I don’t need to give many details here, because it’s a pretty formulaic rom-com. Anyone that’s reading this already knows how it ends. But, there are two fairly profound moments that struck me–where I felt a connection with Jake.

The first comes when Lainey tells him, “If you want someone to fall for you, you gotta be you.” To this he replies, “I don’t think I like me well enough to introduce him to other people.”

I’ve written here before that finding God in my heart was easy when I put my mind to it, and that’s true. What’s more difficult to describe to people is why I sought him in my heart. What was the genesis of this change of heart? What made me do it? Why was I one way, and now I’ve chosen to be another? Because I knew in my heart that my truth was that I didn’t like myself well enough to be that person around other people. I knew the reason I was floundering was that I didn’t even like myself well enough to be myself. My heart was constantly heavy, and I always felt like I had to hold myself back from being true.

This week’s message, delivered by Pastor Beth, dealt with Chapter six of Galatians. In that chapter, Paul revisits one of the great proverbs (and one which I’ve addressed here in this space before): we reap what we sow. He goes a little further, though. He writes: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). Here, Paul speaks to what was wrong with my heart, and what was holding me back from becoming someone I liked well enough to be happy being. I was sowing of my own flesh, and doing so only for me. That’s why I loathed myself. That’s why I needed this change. I needed to become someone I could respect well enough to be that person around other people. I knew that I needed God to do it.

The other moment that struck a chord with me was perhaps the most profound moment I’ve ever seen in a run-of-the-mill rom-com. It went like this:

Lainey: “Are we in love with each other?”

Jake: *Nods head affirmatively*

Lainey: “What do you want to do about it?”

Jake: “Nothing. There’s nothing to be done about it. I love you for free.”

This is an idea that is almost untouchable and unknowable: that we could possibly love another person without expecting anything in return. I wrote a little about this idea in an earlier post about altruism, and the idea that every relationship and interaction is somehow transactional–many of us go our whole lives feeling that way. I’ve certainly had trouble wrapping my own mind around the concept of altruistic love.

But when you think about it, that’s what God’s love is. It is free. We don’t have to do anything to earn it. No action is required. Even if we could earn it, would any of us be capable of being worthy of such a gift? Unlikely. But, it is free. God loves me for free. All I have to do is accept that love. Christ sacrificed himself for me for free. All I have to do is accept His love and sacrifice. That’s it.

When I talk about being as much like Christ as possible, I think perhaps that altruistic love is the highest ideal realization of that principle. I must strive to give love for free.

This song has nothing to do with anything, except that it is profoundly beautiful, and was from the movie. It doesn’t have a religious connotation or bend–it’s entirely instrumental. Even so, it’s still something wondrous to behold.

Puzzle it out

I can solve a Rubik’s cube in about a minute and a half. This is nowhere near any kind of record, but it’s a neat party trick. People that see me do it tend to consider it to be some kind of magical power, and they are invariably impressed by the intellect required; they treat it with an almost mystical reverence.

The thing is: it’s not a big deal at all. It doesn’t require a genius IQ, or any special magical powers. When I was in high-school, I just decided that I wanted to learn how to do it, and broke it down into components. The first two layers I puzzled out over the course of a long weekend in a cabin in the woods. The rest (the hardest part is finishing the last row) I sorted out move by move over the course of several weeks. It’s one of those things that looks much harder than it really is. I’m a mechanically inclined person that’s intrigued by puzzles, and I’m a pretty clever guy, but this is not something that is outside the capabilities of an average person on the street. I just did it, and they haven’t yet.

The revered Renaissance sculptor and painter Michelangelo is credited as having once said “If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.” Sometimes I have to remind myself of that on my walk with God. I speak with people who are further along their path, and I see how easy it sometimes looks for them. They can recall scriptures at will. They can relate lessons from the Word to practical life lessons without the use of Google, or even without the use of the Bible itself. I have to remind myself that even though it doesn’t come as easily to me, there is nothing mystical about these abilities. What I’m seeing may look like genius, but in reality it’s nothing but behind-the-scenes hard work. These people can recall scriptures because they’ve been reading their Bible longer and with more dedication than I have. They can relate lessons of the Word to this world because they’ve lived those lessons, and I am still growing into them.

If someone were to read this blog, they would quickly discover my affinity for Paul’s first epistle to Corinth. This verse comes from there: “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:8). What I have now is the Spirit, and what I seek with all my heart is the wisdom of God. What I need to do, though, is simple: I need to put in the work.

I have three books lined up for the coming weeks. One, “Desiring God” by John Piper, was given to me as a gift from my dear friend Brendon. It’s a treatise on understanding our relationship with God through the lens of Christian hedonism. The second, “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg, I first read about twenty years ago, and was a gift from a Pastor I respected greatly. It’s time to revisit it. The third, “3 Circles” was a recent gift from my friend Pastor Mark, and I’m looking forward to internalizing the concepts therein.

It’s time to get to work.

What Happened

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about God’s plan for me. Despite my best efforts, this means that I’ve also spent some time looking into my own past.

I know it seems like it’s completely unrelated, but a movie quote from “The Matrix: Reloaded” keeps resurfacing in my mind. Morpheus tells Neo and Trinity “What happened, happened, and could not have happened any other way.”

It’s painfully easy to look back at mistakes that I’ve made in the past and second guess decisions. Words I’ve said, or left unsaid. Things I’ve done or left undone. People I’ve let down, and people to whom I clung for too long. Regret is a very human enterprise; we can imagine how things could have gone differently if we had changed one thing. Such an exercise can be at once liberating and maddening, but ultimately it’s futile. What happened, happened. No amount of longing or wanting or praying can change it.

Lately, I prefer to take a different tack, and view the past through the lens of God’s plan. Once my vision is colored by that lens, it becomes easy in hindsight to look back at the confluence of events that led me here and say that I was on a path, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time. The Grand Clockwork of which we’re all a part, the Invisible Machine, continued to turn even though I was unaware of its machinations, and the invisible hand of my Lord was guiding me towards Him.

That can be a great relief if I consider it in the right context. Some people consider that to be fatalism, as if saying that I am part of a “Plan” means that I have no agency. I disagree with that interpretation; I know that I am responsible for my own actions, and that I can make choices to stray from God’s path. I know this because I have done so. But the relief surfaces when I consider that a thousand tiny stimuli guided me towards the path that I’m on now, and that those stimuli were no accident. When looking at only two or three points on a data plot, coincidence can make it easy to identify false trends. When there are hundreds of congruent points, a best-fit line no longer represents coincidence; that is called correlation. When those data points lead me to a decision, that is called causality.

For today’s two verses, I turn again to my dear friend Paul the Apostle. In his letter to Philippi, he emphasizes the importance of forgetting the past. Paul, once a sinner and blasphemer himself, would know better than most the import of releasing oneself from past infractions. Dwelling in that past, he says, will not make us better in the eyes of God. Only moving towards Him can do that. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

In his second letter to Corinth, he exclaims the joy of having shed the old skin of the past: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is another source of relief: the old me is gone, and all the decisions he made have been molted away. The result is a fresh me, tender and raw, but born anew.

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.