Saturday, August 11, 2012

I hear God's word in the unlikeliest of places

Secular music has always spoken to me more than church music. Maybe the way I'm wired, or, my sin nature, but, I hear meaning is thick, heavy waves when I listen to songs outside the church in a way that I don't often get inside the church doors. A few weeks ago I as going to work and I hear a Mumford and Sons song, The Cave, playing on the radio. Now, I had heard this song may be 50 times, so, it was hardly an issue of newness, but, something washed over me when I listened to it this time. God gave me some insight into the song, and, from there, myself, the church, and, human nature in general. The song, which you can listen to below

the lyrics, particularly the ones that kicked of this stream of thoughts, are, right here,

It's empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you've left behind

The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat
You can refer to the entire song's lyrics, though I suspect a few of them are wrong, at this link:

Now, I don't want to perform a full-blown spiritual post mortem on what happened, but, I think going through the lyrics, and, sharing my thoughts will help shed some light on why it impacted me so much. If people think musicians outside the church are not wrestling with spiritual truth it may help to know that the song drew its inspiration from GK Chesterton's biography of St. Francis of Assisi, Chapter V. The last two lines of the second verse were what really grabbed my attention. As I hear these lyrics, I envision a man, looking at another, recognizing and understanding the lengths to which desperation will draw them. But, more importantly, I heard, and, connected with, the idea that one who succumbs to taking desperate measures in dire straits. And, from this willingness comes a shame born from the loss of pride and incomprehensible depths to which the will to survive will draw us.

From this thought I saw many related notions branch out, a brief, flicker of connected, brightly lit ideas. In life today, in all of life, people find themselves torn between an overriding sense to take action. In the lyrics we see this depicted by one who would normally rely on a harvest, "The harvest left no food for you to eat", being forced to eat the flesh of men to survive--"You cannibal, you meat-eater". Such a transformation, from one who thrives on the bounty of nature to survival coming from the horrific, the inhuman, acts of cannibalism. This simple picture encapsulates a great image of mankind, a grand creature depraved by necessity to a state no different from that of a beast. In such a case, one would feel defeat, one would feel lost, one would feel deprived of their very humanity. Indeed, one would forever live with a sense of shame. That shame and sense of defeatedness stems from our very nature. It is this willingness to do whatever one must to survive which leads to the shame seen between souls. 

In today's world, I see everyone living with some similar weight. From children to the oldest of our societies, we hang our heads, defeated by our own survival instincts and necessity. It is this shame that we must contend with on a constant basis. In fact, I think it is one of many spiritual conditions common to all of man. We, as Christians, war with shame, as well as guilt and fear, simply by virtue of being alive. This is one of the most common wars we fight, every moment of every day. The little wars we wage with others, and, at times, with ourselves, are efforts to alleviate this sense of shame, or, if we have a rare moment of blessing, to escape its haunting presence. Much of our actions are focused, whether we realize it or not, on trying to recover lost innocence, on trying to neutralize shame, on, in a way, trying to escape the human condition. Many of our passions are really coping mechanisms. Ways to try to kill this immortal sense of defeat.

When we fight with others, we struggle, in tiny ways, whether to race to be first to the red light, or, to overpower another in silence a challenger. These are all moments when we are given the choice, "Do you want to regain your pride?" We see others as threats, either having taken in the past, taking now in the present, or, foreseeing in the future, one steal more of our life. In a way, when people force us to act, we perceive their actions as threats to our pursuit for shamelessness. In James, Jesus' brother says this, "1-2Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don't have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn't yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.  2-3You wouldn't think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you'd be asking for what you have no right to. You're spoiled children, each wanting your own way." I never understood what this was really about, but, after seeing the human condition of shame I now recognize much of our lives are spent running from it. Looking for opportunities redeem ourselves from who we are.

That is it: we are trying to redeem ourselves from who we are. But, this is impossible. We are who we are. Not to spout the obvious or find meaning in tautologies, but, it is a fundamental struggle people face. We want to be who and what we are not. Our actions are largely driven by the desire to overcome necessity and escape ourselves. If you could get people to honestly answer you, how much of their behavior would really be an effort to become or feel like they someone else? Drugs. Exercise. Workaholism. Relgion. Sex. Food. Most of the problems that plague people grow from their efforts to escape, to have an ecstatic moment where they truly realize what it is like to not be who you are. Many pursue God because his redemption converts, transforms and eradicates who we were by nature and replaces it with who we are in God's Kingdom. 

Another song which captures tiny glimpses of this imagery, of a person at war with themselves and those representing the lost self, that part we need restored, is John Mayer's Say What You Need to Say. You can read the full lyrics for this song here,, and, hear it by playing the video below.

The lyrics that grabbed my attention here, again, were early in the song. Mayer sings,
Take all of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all of your so-called problems,
Better put 'em in quotations

Walking like a one man army
Fighting with the shadows in your head
Living out the same old moment
Knowing you'd be better off instead,
If you could only . . .
Here I see phrases, "wasted honor" and "one man army/fighting with the shadows in your head/Living out the same old moment/Knowing you'd be better off instead". The same theme, captured here in poetic phrasing, touches on a very real phenomenon all people face. Woundedness. Lost honor. Glory stolen. One man armies. Wars against our minds. All of these things depict the mental and spiritual battles we face all day, every day. How often have you put someone down for no good reason, but, merely as a way to make yourself feel better. You have stolen another's glory and honor for yourself to get a hit, a little bump, just like a junkie, to get you by for a little while. You know that pain, that shame, that guilt, tearing at your soul will come back, slowly, predictably, and, it is you. The memory of moments of weakness, of defeat, of powerlessness ushered in by necessity. There are times in life when you cannot win. There are times in life of which you cannot be proud. These are part of who we are, but, in our world today, the unspoken dilemma presented, picture by picture, subtly crafted into our worldview, is that we must be more than humans. We must be better than perfect. We must be supernatural.

We are assaulted by these impossible tasks endlessly. And, most people don't even realize it. Our lives are an eternal response to impossible challenges, and, most of us never stop long enough to realize there is a way out. There is an escape that allows you to be human and live with your humanity. It is the way of love. In the first song, after we are painted a picture of the defeated man, we see the hero, one no longer controlled by shame saying in radical fashion,
But I will hold on hope
And I won't let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I'll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I'll know my name as it's called again

Cause I have other things to fill my time
You take what is yours and I'll take mine
Now let me at the truth
Which will refresh my broken mind
These positions, stand contrary to the image of our first, defeated, fallen soul.  But is the cry of contradiction, the stand against a willful submission to one's lost nature. He is vowing to hope, be strong, restore himself and refresh his broken mind. Brokenness is an eternal challenge which we must answer for as a part of the human condition. Injustice, pain, suffering, and, misery are as natural as life itself. However, our response to them can be one of admission and acceptance or one, as we see in the lyrical counterpoint, one of rejection and, in my mind, of a supernatural choice to not let the human condition chain one's soul. Life shall always seek to overcome you. The universe is bent towards entropy, destruction, loss and pain. Live long enough and you will see this truth. However, we, as humans, are aware of something else, something, even though it may not be seen, greater, equally as eternal, to which we, in our minds, must cling to be more than beasts. If we live, letting nature be our Lord, despair and meaninglessness are but the natural, obvious outcomes. However, if you choose to place hope in something above, something unnatural, something, potentially supernatural, our fate is determined by our hope, not our lives. Our lives are, then, but, a testimony to our hope, a messenger of redemption found beyond necessity. For necessity is but what is required for all to be as it is.

I urge people to not waste any more of their honor on waging war against yourself. Quit letting nature, in the form of defeat, insult, and, offense, constrain you to this broken world. Reach up for something higher, the next level, the place we cannot see until we get there. Shame and fear and guilt seek to not just represent your defeatedness, but, at every turn, steal your life, your honor, and the glory God has placed within you to give away as love. Do not misuse that resource trying to make up for what you can never regain. Quit seeking restoration for meaningless offenses. By no means should be we let injustice prevail and I pray that we beg God for his presence to represent the good, just nature that is his own in, to, and through our lives. However, we are all defeated. It is whether we choose to remain that way. Allow God to overcome who you are with who Jesus is. For he is the one who can show us how to stand when we are broken, to hope when all is lost, and, to believe when nothing deserves it. I hear God speaking to me in my defeat, my loss, and, my despair and I hope others can as well. For, it is not in the loss we find God, but, in recognizing that what we lost was never ours in the first place. Stop holding onto things to which you have no right and defeat will lose its power very quickly. Listen in the dark places of your life and see if God is speaking to you and come out of your cave too!


  1. You words really speak to me, Will, especially today. Something made me mistakingly click on your blog web address rather than the one that I was supposed to pull up, and having just heard The Cave on Pandora...I guess it was no accident or mistake. I'm going to have to go back and read this several times.... Unfortunately, I think the biggest battle for me will be to let go of the war on myself. Love you Will....

  2. Thanks Jeanne. Glad it spoke to you. I am coming to be of the opinion that accidents happen when we simply don't see God's hand at work. : )

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