Friday, May 25, 2012

6 Songs On The Topic Of Atheism

The writer G.K Chesterton once commented that the saddest moment for the atheist is when he is thankful but has no one to thank. Yet in a very odd way their desire to "thank" in itself is a sign of the existence of God. In other words, is it really possible for a man to desire to do something which is utterly impossible? Can a man desire a thing (or even dream about something) that is beyond the realm of all possibility? Does this cosmic orphan (who is man) long for a Father which, as it turns out, does not in truth exist? And if there is a God, then why is there so much evil in the world? These are some of the interesting questions I will explore as we look at songs which possess atheistic themes. One thing is certain, the individuals highlighted in this survey certainly possess strong opinions about "Nothing":

6. What If God Was One Of Us - Joan Osbourne

As with most of the songs on the list, it is not atheistic per se (after all, a song about nothingness is not very enticing, if such a thing is even possible). What you have here instead is a rather populist push against His general way of doing things (or not doing things); "What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home." Has anyone told Joan about the Incarnation, or the fact that Jesus was indeed lower than any "slob on the bus", seeing as he began his life homeless? Nevertheless, some may counter that Joan is simply asking important questions, and not intending to be sarcastic. I cannot read her mind on these matters, but I can read her lyrics (as well as her superior preening in the video); "Yeah, yeah, God is good. Yeah, yeah, God is great!" This might make me the cynical one, but the mocking tone that she uses for these phrases would seem to suggest to me that she means it ironically. Probably the silliest and most awkward line in the song is when she tries to weave the Church into the discussion; "Nobodies callin' on the phone, except for the pope maybe in Rome." I am no grammar expert, but I am pretty sure that don't work. Apart from that silliness, there is a critical question that she does raise. Indeed, it may be the most interesting thing in the whole song; "If God had a face, what would it look like? And would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe, in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints and all the prophets?" Fair enough, some people don't know if they would want to believe, particularly if believing means accepting what the Church teaches. Now whether or not we think this a good thing, there is a real question here. What is being described is an individual looking over the great divide between belief, and not so much atheism, but rather the deeper question of whether or not one desires to know the answers, especially if those answers are something in retrospect we would prefer not to have learned.        

5. God - John Lennon

Whether Lennon intends it or not, a number of his songs reveal in a nutshell what happens to an individual when they cease to believe in something. Lennon is the poster boy for modernity in this song. Whereas "Imagine" comes at the subject from a more Buddhist/Marxist perspective (an interesting combination), this song approaches the subject from a purely Cartesian perspective. In the chorus (if you can call it that), he pronounces all of the things that he doesn't believe in; from the Beatles, to Kennedy, to Jesus. He then concludes by declaring that the only thing he does believes in is "me". And then as if recognizing just how utterly selfish and solipsistic this sounds, he adds, "Me and Yoko". In the beginning of the song, he similarly highlights this Cartesian notion by declaring "God is a concept by which we measure our pain." Once again, according to Mr. Lennon really the only thing that exists are concepts like God- that incidentally have no reality- and concepts like John and Yoko, which apparently do. Besides a genuine sense of skepticism at everything that he had apparently once believed in, there is also a very palpable sense of anger and bitterness in his voice. This supposed nothing feels a lot like something. Indeed, he seems more passionate about the nothing than the something. It reminds me a little of a child who in the midst of a fight with his parents either holds his breath, or averts his gaze so as not to even look in the direction of his parents. Certainly in this case no one would concede that such a child does not believe in his father or mother.

4. Thoughts Of A Dying Atheist - Muse

What puts this song on the list, other than the title, is its straightforward storytelling. In the narrative, there is no attempt to convince the listener that this individual is seeking some greater meaning, or praying indirectly for some kind of divine intervention. Rather, as the title suggests, these are the final thoughts of a dying atheist- not from the perspective of some well-meaning Christian, but from the atheist himself. The songwriter lets the atheist's own experience speak for itself rather than turning it into an occasion to be preachy; "Eerie whispers trapped beneath my pillow won't let me sleep, your memories... scares the hell out of me, and the end is all I can see... Looking through a faithless eye, are you afraid to die?" Frankly, there is not a whole lot here to draw from lyrically, however, what I most appreciate about this song is the gloomy feel of it, along with its artful attempt to place us in the room of a dying atheist. The listener is ultimately left with the only real question that is worth asking, namely; "Does the dying atheist wish that there was a God?" And "what are the final thoughts of an individual who believes that there is nothing beyond death?" A great question, and I'm glad the songwriter only gives us a hint of what that might be.

3. One - Metallica

This song is not technically about unbelief, but it, along with the subsequent video, do seem to provide the necessary conditions whereby some might naturally argue that there is no God. I can still recall seeing the video in my early teens and being more terrified by it than I was by most horror movies. The video uses excerpts from a movie released in the early 1970s called Johnny Got His Gun, detailing a young man who goes to war inspired by patriotism, but returns home horribly maimed. As a matter of fact, he is so maimed that he has lost his arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouth- leaving only his functioning mind; "I can't remember anything. I can't tell if this is true or a dream. But deep down inside I feel this scream. This terrible silence stops me... Fed through the tube that sticks in me. Just like a wartime novelty. Tied to machines that make me be. Cut this life off from me... Hold my breath as I wish for death, oh God please wake me." As fatalistic as this may seem, the listener cannot help but to ask himself two important questions;  a) should any man be forced to live under such conditions (he is so incapacitated he is not even capable of taking his own life) and;  b) if God does exist, then how could he allow anyone to endure something like this. I cannot say whether or not what is depicted in the song and video are based on any actual events, but even if they are a little exagerrated, they do inspire a sentiment that is popular in atheistic circles; "God doesn't exist, but even if he did, he has a lot to answer for". The so called problem of evil may be an occasion for questioning the ways of God, but as popular as it is for atheists to criticize the God that they don't believe in, it is not really an effective argument against His actual existence. There are two errors of logic in this assumption; the first involves an invective against a non-existent being, and the second involves a moral argument (i.e. calling God wicked) when they themselves deny the very basis for calling anything moral in the first place. I do not deny that the song raises some serious questions about why God would permit such things, but nevertheless if we do go so far as to apply a moral term like "wicked" or "evil" to something, we must also acknowledge that we are implicitly recognizing that God exists. Indeed, our mere outrage at the apparent injustice described above in itself suggests the reality of a a higher Justice.

2. Blasphemous Rumors - Depeche Mode

For the atheist there are really only two arguments against the existence of God. The argument that science and rationality can answer everything we need to know, and the equally common idea that if by some chance there is a God we should demand an account of His actions. The problem with atheism from this standpoint is that it attempts to deny that there is a reason for existence by using reason. Indeed, they deny that there is morality by arguing that God is immoral. Thus the outrage of the atheist comes off as a little disingenuous. This Depeche Mode song is no exception; "Girl of sixteen whole life ahead of her. Slashed her wrists, bored with life. Didn't succeed, thank the Lord for small mercies." Like the former song there seems to be a question about whether the singer truly believe in God and rejects him, or is cynically rejecting certain pious sentiments that stand in the way of the reality of the situation; "Fighting back the tears, her mother reads the note again. She takes the blame it's always the same she gets on her knees to pray." As is likely apparent to most, there is an incredible amount of cynicism in these words. He thanks the Lord for "small mercies", implying in an almost sinister fashion, that God was responsible for this girl's boredom as well as keeping her alive (who incidentally would be better off dead). After that, he points to the mother who is obviously shattered by her daughters attempted suicide, and then comments dismissively that it's "always the same," and that she "gets on her knees to pray." Once again, there is mention of God and religion here, but not in order to suggest hope, but rather as a means to suggest that there is no hope, and even if there is- one should not fall for that predictable pathology of turning to God for his so called "mercies". The chorus confirms this previous suspicion; "I don't mean to start any blasphemous rumors, but I think that God has a sick sense of humor. And when I die I expect to find him laughing." The first line is the musical equivalent of beginning a sentence with the phrase "With all due respect...". We know that whatever follows can't be good... and indeed we are not disappointed. We are told in essence that all of this is part of God's wicked plan and- to make matters worse- he is actually in stitches over all of this misery. In the second verse, she appears to have "given her life to Jesus Christ" but that does nothing for her because she gets in a car accident and is put on life support. It is difficult to tell whether this song is a passive-aggressive attempt to get under God's skin, or just a clever way to dismiss the human tendency to look to God for an explanation for our pain. My guess is it's probably a little of both.

1. Dear God - XTC

Of all the songs on the list, this one is most telling in regard to where the atheist is coming from. What makes this song particularly sinister (even though we know that evil doesn't exist... right?) is the fact that the piece begins and ends with a child singing; "Dear God, hope you get the letter and I pray that you can make it better down here... But all the people made in your image see them starving on their feet, 'cause they don't get enough to eat from God. I can't believe in you..." Part of the video and the song are played in reverse, which increases the creepy factor. One expects a child's voice to embody innocence and trust, what you get from this child is neither one nor the other. At any rate, the first verse really does reveal everything that you need to know about the designs of these so called atheists. As a result of this song, and the others before it, I am led to a stunning conclusion: atheists do not in truth exist. In fact, I should write a song called "Dear Atheist... I don't believe in you". Why do I say this? In short, could there be any greater irony that someone writing a song about how they don't believe in God, while spending the entire song ranting about that God. I take that back, actually- there is a greater irony. It is the song "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette about ironic things that are not ironic at all- but I digress. It is relatively obvious that this songwriter does believe in God simply by virtue of his blatant bitterness towards Him. But more than that, there is a very subtle, but clear, statement that is made in this song; a distinction which seems to highlight the difference between not believing in the existence of a God and not "believing in him." More to the point, how can someone declare to a non-existent being- while addressing them directly- that you don't believe in them. Technically you can't, but you can if what you mean by this "I don't believe in you" has less to do with a being's existence, and everything to do with a rejection of what that being stands for. In other words, I can tell someone that I don't believe in them without denying their literal existence. As Scripture says; "Even the devil believes in God" (James 2:19), though obviously that doesn't imply that he actually "believes in him".  

In a certain sense this list reveals a kind of Pascal's Wager. The question is does one follow their misery all the way down into the pit of despair, or does one fight like Job against all that seems unjust and unfair in this world. Of course, we cannot merely be complainers along the way (like Judas), we must do something to mitigate the injustice that we see around us. Interestingly enough, it is not usually those who devote their lives to service and charity that find that life has no meaning, rather it is those who tend to do nothing but complain about it.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Book of Job Set to Popular Music

The problem of evil can be stated in this way: if God is all powerful and all good, then how can evil exist? This must mean that either God is not all-powerful, not all-good, or some combination of both. I would not dare presume that I could answer something so profound and ineffable as the mystery of why "bad things happen to go people" (only the cross can begin to do that), but what I do offer here is a list of songs which, in different ways, address the problem in the only way that it can be done without it coming off as trite or simplistic; with stories and images that embody the strange manner in which we encounter God in our suffering and doubt. The fact is the cross did not take away death and suffering, what it did was change the significance of death and suffering. And so the songs below explore the paradox of why God chooses what is most inglorious to reveal his glory, and why our greatest source of doubt often becomes an invitation to the beatific vision.            

5. Show Me How To Live - Audioslave

What makes this song so interesting is the fact that it combines a heavy sound with lyrics that possess a Job-like desperation. The lyrics fit the style of music. In this piece, Chris Cornell has found God, but he doesn't sound all that pleased with what he has found. However, the gist of the song is not one of complaint so much as a demand for action from his Creator; "Nail in my hand from my Creator, you gave me a life, now show me how to live!" He is obviously not agnostic in his sentiments, and is in fact imploring God to show him what his vocation is, though he probably wouldn't use that kind of language to describe it. "And in the early dawn moving right along couldn't buy an eyeful of sleep. Built with stolen parts, a telephone in my heart, someone get me a priest. To put my mind to bed, this ringing in my head, is this the cure or is this the disease." This isn't the poem the "Hound of heaven", but it certainly has a similar theme. God is like that hound, that telephone, spurring us on, and sometimes it is really annoying, and sometimes we are not necessarily keen on what He seems to be saying to us. In point of fact, the anxiety comes precisely from the idea of being called and not knowing what we're being called to. In the case of Chris Cornell, he finds himself considering that a priest might be able to help him with this, though in classic rock n' roll style is somewhat skeptical about this kind of solution.

4. Solsbury Hill - Peter Gabriel

Occasionally Peter Gabriel will write a song that is at its heart religious- if not explicitly so. Two other examples of this include Mercy Street and Here Comes the Flood. He did record the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ, but I am speaking here about his main body of work. According to Gabriel, the lyrics of the song describe some sort of mystical experience he had on "Solsbury Hill." But because musicians tend to be quite shy when it comes to revealing the the specific meaning of their songs, Gabriel has said precious little about what he means by what he means. In fact, God is never actually mentioned in the song. However, in the first verse he does allude to this mystical experience on "Solsbury Hill", whereon he hears "a voice" that he cannot ignore, one that has apparently "come to take him home". The closest thing to an obvious religious reference in the song occurs in the second verse; "To keeping silence I resigned, my friends would think I was a nut. Changing water into wine, open doors would soon be shut." As in the previous song, there appears to be some ambivalence on the part of the songwriter about this mysterious pounding in his chest; "My heart going boom boom boom!" Not to mention a kind of reticence when it comes to revealing this message to others. I wouldn't say that he is a prophet, but I will suggest that the sentiments he describes are frequently echoed by those who encounter God in the Bible. Should he say something? Should he not? What seems to be relatively clear is that as a result of keeping this message inside, he feels that his life is "in a rut". The song is also about him leaving his former band Genesis  (an ironic name for the subject matter), though this fact in no way militates against the former theme. To the contrary, it actually gives it context. In the end the song suggests that once Gabriel reveals all that is weighing on him, he ultimately feels a sense of liberty; "Today I don't need a replacement. I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant... you can keep my things they've come to take me home".

 3. Laughing With - Regina Spektor

This ambitious song written by the Russian born pianist Regina Spektor, is quite unique in its attempt to  discuss humor in a divine context. "No one's laughin' at God in a hospital, no one's laughin' at God in a war. No one's laughin' at God when their starving or freezing or poor." Right away in the song she strikes at the heart of an important truth. Indeed, she is not the first to say, in essence; "there are no atheists in a fox hole",  but what makes this sentiment so original is that she brings the question into larger focus. In other words, in the face of suffering not only is man not laughing at God, but he is in fact in desperate aching need of his consolation. The only one who can really laugh at God is the one who has the luxury of leisure, not to mention a healthy dose of cynicism; "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick" (Luke 5:31). As the song goes forward, she continues to describe numerous unpleasant scenarios in which man does not have the luxury nor the desire to laugh at God. To the contrary, they would in these situations most certainly want to call out to Him for help; "No one's laughin' at God when it's late and your kids not back from that party yet. No one's laughin' at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake." Even more fascinating is the route she takes in the chorus; "But God could be funny, at a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke. Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think they're 'bout to choke. God could be funny, when told he'll give you money if you pray the right way. And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini, or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus. God can be so hilarious". It might have been predictable if Ms. Spektor had just started talking about God's sense of humor in the chorus, but what she does instead is something a little more subtle than that. Whereas in the verse she makes it clear who isn't laughing at God, in the chorus she seems to be mocking those who, for various reasons, are making a mockery of God. According to Ms. Spektor, the reason people don't take God as seriously as they should, is because oftentimes they only see a caricature of Him. It is their faith, or the frivolity thereof, that makes a mockery of God, not the very idea of God. To conclude the song, Ms. Spektor once again turns the tables; "No one's laughing at God... we're all laughing with God" as if to make one final distinction between the mockery of "laughing at", and the more divine orientation of "laughing with".

2. God Shuffled His Feet - Crash Test Dummies

Known mostly for their "Mmm Mmm Mmm" song, this little gem off the same album also explores, albeit less directly, the humor of God. In a kind of ironically epic fashion, this piece begins with the sound of a skipping record player- as if to suggest that the song and the subject matter are of an "ancient" nature. As the vocals break in, the listener knows right away that this song is meant to take on a kind of Biblical tone; "After seven days, he was quite tired, so God said; 'Let there be a day just for picnics with wine and bread.' Gathered up some people he had made, created blankets and laid back in the shade." As the verse moves forward, a dramatic tension develops when the people start asking God questions; "The people sipped their wine, and what with God there they asked him questions like; 'do you have to eat or get your hair cut in heaven. And if your eye got poked out in this life, would it be waiting up in heaven with your wife.'" The question is how do you explain matters of the spirit to the children of flesh? According to the lead singer, therein lies the crux of the problem; "God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them. The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him". As revealed by the chorus, God is unable to answer their question in a way that the people understand. This is not a blasphemous idea. To the contrary, it is quite Biblical. From the Israelites in the desert, to Jeremiah, to the apostles; needless to say man doesn't always get God, and frankly, God doesn't always get man. In the second verse, God attempts to tell the people a parable as a means to facilitate the conversation. However, as is often the case in the Gospels, the parable seems to be on a different wave length than the people who ask the question. The final verse concludes with a particular sentiment that epitomizes this troubling chasm between God's revelation and man's subsequent misunderstanding of it; "The people sat waiting out on their blankets in the garden, but God said nothing- so someone asked him 'beg your pardon. Not quite clear about what you just spoke was that parable or a very subtle joke". Ultimately the song ends on a comical note, with God pacing around, man clearing his throat, and neither one achieving the desired results.

1. Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen

Originally released in 1984, this Cohen classic has been covered on numerous occasions, and undoubtedly is the most recognizable on this list. Nevertheless, I have not selected it because it is recognizable, I have selected it because it captures something about the divine that few can express, much less understand. Not unlike the popular Advent song O' Come O' Come Emmanuel, it combines two sentiments that are not ordinarily associated with one another: sorrow and joy. "Well your faith was strong but you needed proof. You saw her bathing on the roof. Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya. She tied you to a kitchen, she broke your thrown and she cut your hair. And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah." Combining the story of David and Samson, this verse not only reveals the tragic tale of some great figure who has fallen from grace, but oddly enough it reveals that this "fall" has led to something that implies rejoicing. Before these events he was simply the golden boy who could do no wrong (particularly in the case of David), now as consequence of his fall and subsequent repentence he recognizes God as his Rock and his merciful Savior. Yet there is another significance as well, for the Hallelujah chorus is not sung with a tremendous amount of exuberance, rather it is sung in a very melancholy way. What this suggests is that this knowledge, this Hallelujah, has come at an incredibly great price. But more than that it suggests that perhaps not every Hallelujah- not every epiphany- is one that is necessarily the immediate cause for rejoicing. In O' Come O' Come Emmanuel, the words "rejoice" offer a brief, if muted, enthusiasm about the coming freedom; a freedom that is not yet realized. In the verses that follow he declares; that "love is not a victory march, but it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah" and "it's not a cry that you hear at night, it's not somebody who's seen the light, it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah". What this song brilliantly recognizes, is that Hallelujah (that untranslatable Hebrew word), has many different shades to it. Therefore, we should never fail to realize that our Hosannas come, not from a manufactured gaping grim, but as a result of a crucible wherein our sins are transformed in the purifying fire of redemptive suffering.      

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Can You Win An Argument With God?

Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the Judeo-Christian worldview is the conception of a God who is incredibly down-to-earth (maybe too much so). It is quite reasonable to envision a God who tells mankind what to do. What is difficult to imagine is a God with whom we can debate successfully. Indeed, it is most reasonable to posit a divine being who believes that man should effectively be "seen and not heard". What strains credulity is the notion that God not only wants to hear from us, but that he actually alters his decisions based on the words we speak to him.

One of the earliest examples of this divine condescension involves the patriarch Abraham. As God prepares to destroy a wicked Sodom and Gomorrah, he tells Abraham that he plans to send fire and brimstone upon the city because "their sins cry out to heaven." What follows is a most unusual event. During this exchange Abraham actually begins to negotiate with God; " 'Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city, would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of fifty innocent people?'...The Lord replied "If I find fifty, I will spare it." (Genesis 18:24-26). After this initial request, Abraham continues to negotiate, and he is eventually able to wheedle that number down to "ten innocent men." Apparently the bar was not set nearly low enough, for the two cities were ultimately destroyed.

Later on in Genesis, there is another unusual scene in which Abraham's grandson Jacob wrestles with "the angel of the Lord." Whenever this term is used, it generally implies more than the idea that God has sent a simple messenger to speak to man. Rather, it means that God Himself, under the appearance of a human being, is speaking to man. However, not only does Jacob wind up "wrestling with the angel" but, according to the Scriptures, he is even victorious in the battle; "Then some man wrestled with him until the dawn. When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob's hip at its socket... The man then said let me go for it is daybreak. But Jacob said, I will not let you go until you bless me...Then the man said, 'You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.'" (Gen. 32:25-29). Whatever else can be said of this divine WWE, one thing is certain: Jacob wrestled with God and won. Not only does he reign victorious over the almighty, but God actually blesses him for his efforts, and then places him among the pantheon of great patriarchs.

In Exodus, when God tells Moses that he wants him to be His spokesman to His people, Moses protests claiming: "I have never been a man of words... For I am heavy of speech and heavy of tongue" (Exodus 4:10). According to scholars, this passages suggests that Moses was in all likelihood a bit of a stutterer. God responds by telling him to trust in His power, but as Moses continues to protest, the Lord eventually concedes and says in essence; 'Fine. I will ask Aaron to help you, but I am not pleased with your lack of trust.' Once again, God has a specific idea for how he wants things to go, but as a consequence of the objections of one of his servants, he modifies those plans. In point of fact, there are any number of occasions in which God changes his mind in the Old Testament. His reasons for doing this are generally two-fold: repentance and/or intercession. 

There are other examples in the Old Testament of prophets and patriarchs debating with God, but not all of these end in victory. For example, Jonah wants the Ninevites to suffer, while God wants them to be saved. Point goes to God. Or when Job gets reprimanded by God for ceaselessly questioning His motives (though God also compliments Job for his willingness to ask the difficult questions, and then ultimately give him back everything he lost, so...). At any rate, this is not a post about arguments men lose to God- which is pedestrian enough- but rather those arguments that are won.

In the New Testament, Jesus wins many debates against the Pharisees, but there also numerous occasions where he concedes the point. Perhaps the most notable example of this is at the Wedding Feast of Cana. At some point during the celebration, the wedding party apparently runs out of wine, and so Mary brings this to the attention of Jesus; "They have no wine." Based solely on Jesus' response, one might be under the impression that he will ultimately reject her request; "How does your concern effect me? My hour has not yet come" (John 2:3). As a matter of fact, it is difficult to see anything but a sense of annoyance from this exchange (a sentiment not terribly foreign to a son). Yet as if to affirm his own words in the Gospel of Matthew about a son who first says "no", and then says "yes", he too responds affirmatively to her request in the end. Interestingly, there is no moment in this passage that says he changed his mind and consented to his mother's wishes, though he ultimately does. All we hear from Mary after the exchange, are the words; "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5). I do not know what happened in the intervening moments between the rejection and the fulfillment of the request, what is inarguable are the results. The jugs were all filled with wine by Jesus, and the wine, according to the Gospel, was nothing short of vintage. As for myself, I can't help but to think of all the times that my mother (or wife) has asked me to do something that I was not particularly inclined to do, and how often my "no" became a "yes" after further consideration. But whatever the case, this mother seems particularly un-phased by what seems to the rest of us to be nothing short of a solemn rebuke. She calmly tells the servers with what I imagine to be a wry smile, 'his bark is worse than his bite.' Subsequently, he fulfills her request [to the brim] despite the fact that this clearly was not the day nor the time in which he intended to begin his ministry.

In this last example I would like to focus on an incident which I believe expresses the underlying reason why God not only is willing to argue with us, but more importantly, why he sometimes even agrees to act in accordance with our will. When Joseph and Mary took Jesus up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, they stayed for about a week. While there, Jesus gets separated from his parents who think that he is with some other family members. But when they haven't seen him for three days, they look frantically around him for him thinking that something terrible may have happened to the boy. In the end, they find him in the temple talking with the teachers about the law of God.

Yet as interesting as the story is what comes next is even more so. First he tells Mary and Joseph that they were silly to worry about him in the first place because, of course, he was about his "father's" business (namely God the Father's). But as noteworthy as this exchange is, what comes next is nothing short of mind-blowing; "But he went back down to Nazareth with them and remained subject to them... growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:51) According to this passage, God Himself was obedient to his earthly parents and as a result grew in "wisdom and stature". Hebrews declares; "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Stunningly, what this passage suggests is that "obedience" is the very virtue by which Jesus is made perfect (how a perfect being can be made perfect after he already is perfect is question I will leave to my readers). Far from being incidental, this notion of obeying and being subject to the will of human beings, even wicked ones, is fundamental to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; "For though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to exploit, rather he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:6-11). Now this doesn't mean that God is indecisive, or that he doesn't have a specific plan for human beings. What it means is that God is so humble that he doesn't even act like he's God. In other words, he doesn't have (from what I can tell) any divine swagger, nor is he likely to declare with scorn, "Don't you know who I Am?" (pun intended). Rather, he is so humble and respectful of our free-will that, far from crushing us in a debate, which he could most certainly do, he ultimately allows us to quite literally crush him.                  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The 8 Girliest Songs... Written By Men

In order for a male artist to write a truly "girly" song (and when I say "girly", I mean "adolescent girly"), he must follow the following guidelines. Firstly, (assuming you didn't know any better) you would have to believe just by looking at the lyrics that a woman had written them. In other words, there are certain behaviors and attitudes that are commonly associated with the feminine (as opposed to the masculine). Secondly, the artist must sound as though he would cry if you were to punch him in the stomach. More specifically, his voice must sound a bit like a whine or a whisper. These songs were selected, not because they are lyrically without merit, but rather because these words should never have come from a man. I have not included "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" here because that deserves a category all its own:

8. Dream Weaver - Gary Wright

This song begins with the memorable lyrics; "I've just closed my eyes and jumped aboard the dream weaver train. Driver, take away my worries of today". First of all, what kind of man sings about a "dream weaver train"?  And by the way, this is not just a passing theme in the song; it is its central message; "Oo Oo dream weaver I believe you can get me through the night." I suppose if it were a song on a children's show about a Kangaroo or a Purple Dinosaur, it might be understandable, but for a grown man to say such things to other grown men is downright embarrassing. Moreover, "Oo Oo" is not exactly what I would call the most virile way to start a chorus. It doesn't help that Mr. Wright's fluttering vibrato makes his testimony sound all the more feeble. If this song were a person, it would probably be bullied.

7. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go - Wham!

Full disclosure. I have always liked this song, and am only mildly repentant of that fact. Nevertheless, if I am being honest with myself then I have to say that it has some of the girliest lyrics of all time. First off, any song that begins with the word Jitterbug (twice) is probably not going to be a song about valor or courage. The musical accompaniment then immediately breaks in; "You put the boom boom into my heart, you make my soul fly higher when your lovin' starts". Now whether or not she actually puts the "boom boom" into your heart is irrelevant. The point is you don't appeal to a woman by saying something girly like this, or by making gestures over your heart while reciting the phrase. A girl of thirteen might even find these words a bit infantile (even were they to come from the mouth of the great Justin Bieber). During the chorus, George Michael uses a play on words that borders on unforgivable; "Wake me up before you go go, 'cause I'm not plannin' on goin' solo." In this instance, using the word "go" twice is not merely a way of avoiding syllabic awkwardness, but an incredibly muscular way of saying two things at once. On the one hand, he is asking her not to forget about him when she goes out dancing, on the other, he is referring to the type of dancing she will be doing (i.e. Go Go dancing). Now just a imagine any man saying these words to you with a straight face... neither can I.

6. All By Myself - Eric Carmen

The fact that Celine Dion covered this song and that it fit seamlessly into her arsenal of sappy love songs (or in this case loveless), should tell you everything you need to know. If a man is lonely, he should talk about it, yes, but that doesn't mean that he should indulge himself in a bout of self-pity. It is not wrong for a man to cry, but if a man finds himself weeping every time he sees that Sarah Mclaughlin commercial, we might have a problem on our hands. Indeed, we are extremely sad to hear about your condition my friend, but suck it up, this is no time to be falling apart in front of an audience of millions. Have a little decency.

5. We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off - Jermaine Stewart

The sentiment of this song is quite noble. It involves a man trying to persuade a woman to, in every way, leave a little something to the imagination. The problem (as you will see) arises in the way in which he tells her to slow down; "Not a word from your lips, you just took for granted that I want to skinny dip. A quick hit, that's your game. But I'm not a piece of meat, stimulate my brain... Take my hand, let's hit the floor. Shake our bodies to the music; maybe then you'll score." What man says to a woman, 'if you dance with me, I will seriously consider sleeping with you.' The second verse begins in a similar fashion; "Just slow down if you want me. A man wants to be approached cool and romantically". To the contrary my friend, a woman wants a man to approach her romantically; it is the man who must learn the high art of romance.
If I have failed to convince you at this point of the girly nature of this song, perhaps the chorus will relieve you of any doubts; "We don't have to take our clothes off, to have a good time. Oh no- We can dance the party all night and drink some cherry wine. Uh huh." Frankly, I don't know what's girlier, the bit about the cherry wine, or the subsequent phrase "Uh huh". What I do know is that no self-respecting man should ever say; a) he wants to dance the party all night; b) drink some cherry wine; and/or c) recite the words Uh huh after expressing the previous two sentiments. By all means rebuke the lady for her lack of class, but do not do so while suggesting that "cherry wine and dancing" are the manly alternative.

4. Superman (It's Not Easy) - Five For Fighting

Forgive me for sounding uncharitable, but the lead singer sounds a little bit like a timid Muppet. But of course that is not the only reason this song made the list. The reason can be intuited by the parenthetical title. This song is one big long whine fest about how difficult it is once you have made it. Poor me, I have all this responsibility, and now I have everything I ever wanted, and it doesn't make me happy. This is a wonderful epiphany (man does not live by bread alone), but need it be couched in a song about how everyone should feel sorry for you because you are successful; "I can't stand to fly...". Well son, then get out of the way and let someone else wear your "silly red sheet"; "...and it's not easy, to be-hee me"... I am so sorry that you are having such a bad time of it, but is it really seemly to complain to the world about how difficult your life is? "I'm only a man in a silly red sheet, digging for kryptonite on this one way street". Just a side note, for anyone who writes a song about Superman (and that includes Three Doors Down), Superman does not like kryptonite; it is bad for him. Hence, why would he be digging for it; "... only a man in a funny red sheet, searching for special things inside of me". Well Superman, while you're 'looking for special things inside of you', the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket, but at least you found "special things inside of you."

3. Sometimes When We Touch - Dan Hill

This one, like All By Myself, should be filed under the category of "You might feel it, but you don't have to say it!" The verses of this song seem to depict a man that is incredibly indecisive; "You ask me if I love you, and I choke on my reply. I'd rather hurt you honestly than mislead you with a lie. And who am I to judge you, in what you say or do, I'm only just beginning to see the real you." I have no idea what most of this means, but based on the rest of the song I can at least deduce that this individual needs to come to a conclusion and stop acting liking a mercurial little school girl. In the second verse, he prattles on like some musing existentialist; "I'm just another writer still trapped within my truth; a hesitant prize-fighter still trapped within my youth." Come back to us from the land of make-believe, little Danny, and get to the point. By the way, what does it even mean to declare yourself a "hesitant" prize-fighter, and how does that relate to your serial indecisiveness? Perhaps by "hesitant"  he means hesitant to actually get in the ring and fight. Nevertheless, the crowning jewel of this embarrassingly sentimental song is the chorus; "Sometimes when we touch, the honesty's too much and I have to close my eyes and hide. I want to hold you 'till I die 'till we both break down and cry. I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides." What sublime words can I use for such an abyss of manliness? What can I possibly say to help Dan Hill recover his dignity after he has practically admitted that he wants to play a game of Peek-a-Boo, and then afterwards have a little cry fest (we can at least be grateful for the fact that he makes no mention of a tickle fight). I suppose the only way one can respond to this is... "Congratulations, you are the second runner up on my list of girliest songs!"

2. Firefly - Owl City

This song begins with these memorable words; "You would not believe your eyes, if ten million fireflies lit up the world as I fell asleep." I think the first line should be "I sound like I'm twelve years old, I live in my parents basement..." It gets worse; whereas Dan Hill simply wants to cry, this guy admits that he gets "misty-eyed", whenever those beloved fireflies disappear. I suppose that we can at least be grateful for the fact that he doesn't mention curling up in the fetal position and weeping every time one of his pet hamsters dies. "'Cause I'd get a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs, as they tried to teach me how to dance. A fox trot above my head a sock hop beneath my bed, a disco ball is just hanging by a thread." All right Johnny, you've spent enough time by yourself, it's time to go outside and try to make some friends of the same species. Making matters worse, throughout his vocal performance he combines two things which are verboten when attempting to preserve some semblance of manhood: vocal throatiness as well as vocal breathiness. He literally sounds like someone is punching him in the stomach as he is singing the song. He sounds, hurt, weak, and on the brink of tears. Incidentally, it is impossible to use the words "sock hop" in a song and maintain any hint of masculinity.

1. Take It On The Run - REO Speedwagon

I remember the first time I ever heard this song. I was with my sister in her room and we listened to it on her record player. She was in her early teens at the time (which seems strangely appropriate), and was a big fan of the band. I never asked her why, but I suspect that, as a girl of about fourteen, she could "totally" related to the lyrics. Indeed, the words couldn't be any more adolescent were they to be lifted from a little girl's diary. The story line revolves around a girl who is "possibly" cheating on her boyfriend. All the same, it is difficult to tell who the lead singer is angry at; the girl who may be cheating on him, or the people who are gossiping about it. I am not sure he even knows, but he is quite fierce in his accusation. In any case, the girliest line that has ever been uttered in the history of pop music is the first line of this song (drum roll); "Heard it from a friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard from a friend you've been messing around." The only thing that could make this sound more girly is if he had inserted the word "like" in between each phrase. After singing such words, not only should he repent in sackcloth and ashes, but he should renounce any claim to being a man.   

Just missing the official list are such classics like Styx, "Lady", and Savage Garden's (whose name alone could be on our list), "I Knew I Loved You." Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon," also receives honorable mention, especially for this line; "Lovin' would be easy if your colors were like my dreams. Red, Gold, and Green- Red, Gold and Green..." I think that says it all.