Music, the Silver-Lining

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Hope in the darkness. It’s hidden in the midst of great sadness.

I don’t normally dedicate my articles to specific people, but this is for Emily Shiflit. Emily and I were having a discussion about music when we first met each other. She mentioned that some of the songs I brought up seemed short on hope. She wanted to know why I liked songs that seemed hopeless. She shared some of the songs she liked. The lyrics were great, but the music grated on me. Why? What is it that I look for in music? Is the music I enjoy hopeless? If so, why do I like it? Is it all subjective? Lots of thoughts and too big of a discussion to fit in a Facebook message or text, hence a blog post.

Self-examination can be very revealing, encouraging, saddening, or just interesting. I’m normally a happy and upbeat person. I often see the silver-lining, so to speak. But I love things that are sad, gray, and melancholy. I like the rain that falls from the silver-lined cloud. I also feel, or have an angry passionate streak, which tends to come out in my love of heavy metal and Irish Punk music. Then, there’s the nostalgia side of me that loves Christmas and folk music. Like most of you, I’m an odd person.

But what is it about contemporary Christian music that generally just grates on me? Why is it that I turn on the Christian radio station and instantly start gagging? Why is my ‘Lord’s Day’ playlist so short?

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I love the imagery in the lyrics of this song. Remember that winter will fade and spring will come again. There is something very Narnian about it.

The focus is only on the silver-lining. The music, for much of contemporary Christian songs, is…mambsy pambsy. This was a term which me and my siblings invented, or stole from a book, which communicates someone being weak in a refusal-to-get-their-hands-dirty-and-get-the-work-done sort of way. It’s weak, wimpy, and almost a waste of space. This is how I view the music of most contemporary Christian artists. I’m not talking about the lyrics, just the notes they use to communicate truth. Music should match the truth being communicated. Their music is soft, inoffensive, mild, and annoying. There is no brokenness communicated in the music. There is little longing, little anger, little sadness, and thus little truth, little hope, and little salvation. The smaller you make God, the smaller you make salvation. The smaller you make the offense, the smaller you make grace.

When I was a child, I listened to a lot of Christian music. When I was a child, happy music was my fare. But when the rain came, when my faith was tested, when the trials of life crowded in around me, and the depth of my own depravity came to light, I found praise songs and most contemporary Christian music lacked depth. They were fine for the spring of life when all is green and bright, but they quickly burned away when the hot summer sun glared down upon them full of damnation and driving away every cool shadow. The Christ in those songs couldn’t have endured the cross. The Christ in those songs didn’t love me anymore than my boyfriend did. The praise didn’t include standing on the very cusp of the pit of hell and being rescued when you deserved to die. They didn’t include sin. They didn’t include my worthlessness. They were happy and thus weak. They failed to understand that to have a silver-lining you must have a very dark storm cloud blocking the sun.

Seeing the silver-lining should never deny the thunder cloud hiding the sun. 

It is truth that makes the silver-lining shine. Remember, hope is a light in the midst of great darkness. That means you have to pass through that darkness to reach your hope. So, why do I love Mumford and Sons even though the hope in their songs is often hidden behind sad, and somewhat angry folk music? Because that’s real life. Hope is often hidden deep beneath darkness.

Why do I love Metallica’s Master of Puppets? Because we are enslaved to our sin and it is damning. That comes through in the song in a far more real and visceral way than most contemporary Christian music.

Dark, heavy, but true. This is what sin does to us.

Dark, heavy, but true. This is what sin does to us.

The Bible teaches us that Christ did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. Christ didn’t come to make us perfect and give us perfect lives. He came to make us like Him. Not only should the lyrics communicate this struggle, this war, this perpetual battle between flesh and spirit, but so should the music. Our modern ‘worship’ is all about feeling good, but go back and listen to some old hymns. Listen to the sober tone to their music. Listen to how the music swells and grows, drops and dives, as the sinfulness of our own hearts is exposed by the light of God’s grace.

I don’t hold to separating out Christian and Secular, since God gifts both saint and sinner with artistic talent. I think lessons and truths (small truth, big Truth only comes from the word of God) can be gleaned from both. I also know that our emotional reaction to art has much to do with what we bring to the table. A song that speaks to you may seem insignificant to me, while a song that makes me weep may annoy you. Isn’t art an amazing thing? Isn’t it amazing that God saw fit to include it in our lives?

Emily, I hope this helps explain why I love the songs I love. Thanks for sparking the conversation that lead to this article! And please, don’t take this as me thinking my songs are better than anyone else’s favorite songs, this is more an exploration of self. I’m sure there are plenty of counter arguments to what I have said in justifying my own song choice. One of the interesting parts about getting older is how I have returned to the roots of contemporary Christian music with a renewed love of old hymns. The truth set to sober, serious, heavy, music feeds my soul when I sink down in the pit. They help me more easily remember the truths of scripture and sometimes memorize scripture themselves. For me, it’s a returning after years of avoiding “Christian” music almost all together. God is always good. He does not give us only sunny days, but provides us a song in the rain.

 

One of the Christian bands that I, so far, enjoy. Their lyrics are pretty good, not great, but good, and I like their music so far.

Gungor is one of the Christian bands that I, so far, enjoy. Their lyrics are pretty good, not great, but good, and I like their music. They have that haunted tone that I love so much.


 

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Writing Journal: Being a Mini-Creator

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Being a novelist has deepened my understanding of some of the truths of Scripture.  It has helped me relate more personally to some doctrines I knew and believed but found difficult to understand.  These are very personal observation.  Please take them with a grain of salt and not as perfectly sound, doctrinal expositions.  Meaning, they are like all experiences, examples, and analogies for the truth of Scripture – they fall short at some point.

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
― George MacDonald

I read this quote the other day and it gripped me in the corner of my mind where my stories wait for the chance to come out and play.  I have sets of characters that I have written stories about for years.  Again and again, I send them off on dark adventures.  Some of them make it out on paper…or computer, and some of them don’t.  New stories with new characters get mixed in there, too.  It’s like having a new friend – so exciting.  Some of you with children will probably tell me that you get what I’m saying but you learned it by having children.  I learned it through the process of creating worlds, lives, and the events in those lives.  Someday, I hope to join you, but for now, you can join me.

The process of creation is something unique to human beings.  Sure, you can stick a paintbrush in the trunk of an elephant and watch them splash paint on a canvas, but to birth art you have to be human.  Why?  We are created in the image of God with souls.  Part of that expression is being little mini creators ourselves.  I can relate to the power and beauty of realizing God, the incomprehensible, has comprehended me because I create.  The process of creating little fictional lives makes this quote mean more to me.  Why?

I destroy their lives and rebuild them.  I walked with them through the darkest of moments.  I design and create them.  I weep as I injure them knowing they had to be injured or they’ll never be who they need to be.  I suffer and rejoice along with them.  I am irrevocably tied to the lives of my characters.

This may sound strange, and it may be something only other novelist can relate too, but these fictional characters are very ‘real’ to me.  I don’t mean that in some mystical way I think they exist, but they are something I’ve created, and they are an extension of my soul.

This is just a hint, an inkling, a tiny example of what it means to be formed by the hand of God, to have Him write my own story.  I’m real.  I’m a human writing about humans.  He is God creating.  To move beyond my experience as a writer and think about God – mighty, holy, loving, perfect, complete in Himself – thinking, designing, and creating me, is a humbling thought.  Mind blown.  My brain just can’t comprehend it.  So I return to my little example to keep my brain in my head.

e4ddc8cd09daedbde32cae418edd178fI spend so much of my time thinking about my characters, and God says my worth is far above sparrows, which He tends to every day.  I plan each little step they take, each word they speak, each mistake they make.  God says He formed me in my mother’s womb.  I focus on how I’m going to heal them.  God says he will make me more like Christ and finish the work He began.  I’ve literally sit and weep on my keyboard as my characters suffer, experience loss, are tortured, and even die.  God says He’ll never leave us or forsake us.  I’ve gotten a better sense of walking through the valley of the shadow of death and fearing no evil for He is with me.  Why?  Cause I’ve put some people through hell and agonized over them more then than I did when they were happy.  I don’t worry about them when they’re at the good part of the story.  I worry about them when they’re at the darkest part of the story.

I have a better sense of not rejoicing in the death of the wicked because even my evilest characters have a small drop of pity from me.  I don’t have any qualms about their death.  My antagonists are evil.  But, I still pity them.  I pity them because they don’t want salvation.  They love their evil and have no desire to leave the darkness and come to the light.

I have a better sense of the salvation of monsters because I’ve saved some.  My favorite characters are the ones so unworthy of salvation.  I look forward to the day when I am before the Throne of God and I get to see all the vile sinners He has saved.  I anticipate that there will be some very horrible people there.  Why?  Well, for one, I’ll be there and I know my sinful heart.  I also know because on a very small, human level, I have copied my creator – like a fumbling child after a parent – and saved my own monsters.  Saved monsters are so much deeper and more wonderful than saved unicorns.

517af6dcdb6fb3c8f6e3f067d3827746I write stories, even my fairy tales, about things that go bump in the night and the men and women who battle them.  I’ve have characters who give up on anything resembling a normal life to protect that normal life for others.  This has given me a deep appreciation for the sacrifices required by the men on the front lines in the physical battles and the women who stand by their sides.  That understanding has blossomed into a deep respect for the men who wage spiritual battles against darkness.  It has helped me appreciate and pray for the men responsible for my soul.  Do you ever think about what your pastor has given up to be your pastor?  A well paying career, worldly respect, friendships, hobbies, a hidden life free from judgment and peering eyes to name just a few things.  Pastors have many sleepless nights filled with concern for their flock.  Everything they do is under the microscope.  And yet, they willingly put themselves and their families through this for the sake of the glory of God, the gospel, and you and me.  My appreciation for their sacrifice has been enriched by my writing.

If I, a weak and distracted writer, can spend that much time working on her characters, how much more does God work on us, His beloved children?

All this the Lord has helped me see over the years I’ve been writing.  In another words, I look at life through my Christian-colored glasses translating my experiences through the Bible, not the Bible through my experiences.  When you do it in the right order, there is a treasure trove of truth to learn.  I’m so thankful for my writing gift from God.  I hope to encourage and lift others up with it.  I’ll never write a story void of darkness, but I will always have light, hope, and a happy ending.