Introspection: noun: observation or examination of one's own mental and emotional state, mental processes, etc.; the act of looking within oneself (Dictionary.com).
Out on my run today, I once again found myself conscious of my thinking pattern. Whether it’s the fresh air, or a change of pace, I often find my mind flicking to a different angel where insights are more meaningful and ideas are more amplified. I came to think about my faith during this run; it is no news to me that my faith isn’t straight up, black and white, formed from a cookie-cutter of all other God-fearing men. And perhaps that is how it should be, we are, after all, unique not just in makeup but in our own experiences in life and journey with God.
My mind, as I see it, is made up of many different facets, each inter-linking and overlapping, each, in my opinion, responsible for making me who I fundamentally am. But it’s not that simple. Not all aspects are complimentary, derived from similar foundations or beliefs. In short, some things are more healthy and fruitful than others, yet each serves a purpose in shaping me.
As a person, I am not fully captured by one single school of thought in my cognitions. I came to thinking on my run that my thinking is mixed and eclectic, a piece of something from one influence, and something else from another. Much like my range of friends, my changing hair colour over the years, my flavours in music and career paths past and present, I take a number of things on-board and as they fuse together they shape me. Like all complex creatures, I resonate with many feelings and convictions. The overlapping, however, does not stand as united in the world’s eyes (I took up my cross), nor does it stand as a mirrored reflection of Godliness (I took up music that does not glorify Him).
Let me explain…My taste in music is broken into three categories: Firstly, I have my infinite love of old music, products of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I’ve defended this taste by proclaiming the lyrics to be more wholesome, yet reflective of everyday life. It doesn’t destroy one’s inner peace with highly sexualised connotations common to modern day numbers. The beat is different, the feel is different, and the verses stand as a testament to idealisms and social practices in an era gone by, and, at times, I often wish I’d been part of that era (particularly in light of the popular artists and dancing). The lyrics portray vivid emotions (I learnt the Truth at 17, Janice Ian), and convey simple (and seemingly idyllic) stories (Bus Stop, The Hollies). Compare the latter track with Umbrella by Rihanna and you’ll see how what could have been a simple, contented melody takes on a whole other persona…
Second in my music categories, in an entirely different tangent, I feel an attraction towards another type of music; this much closer to present day. Some artists were born lyrically into my world during my teens, years crucial to bridging the gap between adulthood and childhood. I didn’t just dance to the beat, or follow the crowd, I listened and interpreted and remembered words. Some artists I left well behind, others I’ve brought albums from which I carry with me to this day. And since those days of young, I’ve found a good deal of truth in the opinions that were expressed. The church, with its doctrine of prosperity, isn’t always life in reality. In fact, for me personally, it isn’t often life in reality. Praying through the years has seen me bathed in massive disappointments in a number of areas when the prayers did not work in my favour. The well-intentioned church leader would propose that God knows what is best for us, that his thinking is not bound to human limitations. This may well be, but that doesn’t always mean God’s will for situations and circumstances is what comes to pass each and every time. Particularly when it involves other people. It eludes me sometimes that things ever flow smoothly from God’s perfect plan, the world is so fallen.
So it is that I came to feel an emotional association with certain secular artists and their reflections offered through lyrics. I didn’t jump on board with this flavour as a slight toward God for either unfulfilled dreams or lack of emotional protection toward me as a person. It was more like a natural compulsion to let my inner turmoil’s be recognised by someone who seemed to know exactly what I was feeling. It’s a connection, in a sense, that stands outside of that with the maker. The word idolatry comes to mind, and while I can’t deny there isn’t a framing of the sort the interest ends at the end of the track. I have no inclination to follow these singers on twitter, or read of their private lives online. My connection could be said to be more tied with their choice of words than the person who delivers them.
At times, in an effort to aid my spiritual growth, I’ve decided to banish such music. I’ve been out and brought God-focused music, the likes of Ann-Maree Keefe and Third Day, for example. This substitution has alleviated a little of the need for the world-focused, person-dependant alternative, but it hasn’t replaced it entirely. The depictions are not quite apt enough (though Keefe’s Wednesday’s Child comes close), the rawness of soul and the frank, brutality that is cited in the song’s climactic point has been replaced with phrases like “yet I will praise the Lord”. This could well be why in times of struggle I turn to Ecclesiastes, rather than Psalms of David that declare His greatness as a means to soothe the inner turmoil. Ecclesiastes holds much in the way of realism, and if I am more melancholic than jovial it’s little wonder that “There is a time for everything… A time to dance, and a time to mourn, a time to embrace and a time to refrain” excreta rings true to me.
But back to the banishing. My intentions were good, but I never went with both feet in. I emptied my car glove box of all music that was not made with the intent of drawing man closer to God and left a collection of Chris-o alternatives in its wake. I didn’t, I must mention, go so far as to throw away my compact discs. Like the memories of the songs in the background of my mind, they simply remained further out of hand, but were never completely gone given their continued stay in my possession. Inevitably though something would happen, something usually being in the form of a disappointment that reset my mood to low and my mind would no longer take the happy-side up compositions that make up so many of the Christian artists albums. I needed real and raw and I needed it now.
It is easy to say that I set myself up for a repeat of more of the same each time I turn to the works of the world-bound artist. I make my own scars a little bit deeper by bathing them in something not centred on God. This is where realism intersects with my, albeit flawed, faith. We all need comfort, we all crave for pain to be eased. I have and always will cry out to God in my pain, not by reciting words contrary to my emotions but by declaring my despair in my own verses reflective of my frame of mind (kind of like Job). To me, this is what having a ‘real’ relationship with God is about. I am sure most Christians know too that God doesn’t often deliver us from our suffering then and there as we’d like Him to. In this sense, my less than godly music isn’t a substitute for God’s intervention. Rather, it fulfils my need to feel that someone can so vividly relate, through and through. There is no sweet, delicate lacing common in Christian sounds, the careful-not-to-offend variety. There is the frankness that I described earlier, and I feel a wordsmith gifted in this way, on my same wave length, helps me get through those times, until this season too does pass.
Nowadays driving in my car is admittedly a less common experience. As a mature student reasonably new to the college experience, I have filled my trustee mp3 player (the student’s alternative to an ipod? Perhaps not, I’ve yet to see anyone else on the bus with the same) with songs of my choosing. Like my thoughts and moods, the music is again divergent; the need to find audio expression that could identify with any given feeling is only a click away. I can honestly say I would not look forward to my time on the bus if I was to fill that 8GB of acoustic memory with only hymns and songs of praise. Yet the inter-tangling of God, as is within my mind, is also represented there, and so becomes the third component of my musical tastes. And I note pointedly that God, though my music player lives permanently on shuffle, will always bring certain God-themed numbers at just the right time. ‘Dark Horses’ begins as if a product of the grunge and rock genres, the music itself seems to be tainted with darkness. But it isn’t as it seems: it is Switchfoot’s technique of attracting the young, human mind to consider wider themes, the artists are obviously aware of how lost we can sometimes feel in a world that is we have to exist in. It’s set to identify with the alien feeling that abounds within us as Christians in a lost and fallen world. It doesn’t attempt to submerge us in happy-clappy, un-able-to-relate composites either. In short, Switchfoot seems to be all about keeping it real.
‘Caught up in Yourself’ by Third Day is another that seems to visit at the most opportune times. When I get to thinking that nothing will ever change in certain areas, that the fog will never clear and that life has become about living with the fog rather than achieving clarity, kind of like Paul with his thorn, this number emerges. And it is about being caught up in what hurts the most, it is about staring disappointment back in the face rather than fooling one’s self into a believe that everything is 100% ok. If it is all fine and dandy, why are we here trapped on earth, separated from our maker? In this world, where sin is the bar of separation that keeps us from instant-Godly intervention, we do get caught up in ourselves, and this is “[calling] it like it is”.
I’m sure some readers will believe this prose to be a reflection of not striving for higher things, but rather like holding on to things of this world and then wondering why God didn’t come through. I think if we are honest though, none of us have internal dialogues that are completely in line with God. We all have cracks in our faith, we all have clutches that we turn to in hard times, whether it’s turning to comfort food, slandering, escapism or retaliation. As my need to turn to songs that so aptly resonate with how I internally identify at troubled times rises, so too does the Spirit living in me rise up. It doesn’t demand to be chosen, it doesn’t demand to take over. In my trying times, it simply reminds me that it is there listening to me, an effect that music can’t offer. God must know that in times when break through isn’t instant, it is better to simply be quietly present.
In the words of Third Day, like the readings from the bible, life is more than just waiting to be in heaven to have any sense of fulfilment. “Life is more than dying, and there’s burning in your soul…”. The song identifies the human tendency to try for greater purposes, yet such efforts are still an ocean away from perfection (“when you’re so good, but you’ll never be good enough”). In the end, though not often consciously, I fuse the need for recognition of my feelings that comes with certain (worldly) songs with my dialogue to a higher power, and though this method too is flawed, all anybody can really do is take Third Day’s/the bible’s advice and “thank God for His grace”.