Thoughts that may or may not be worth your time

There’s a political debate happening tonight which I am not watching. Maybe I should be, but I’m not. I’m studying Spanish, and I’m thinking about a paper I need to write about the value of studying language and literature in college. And it’s not that I don’t care what they’re saying in that debate, but yeah, it’s sort of that. I don’t care, because I don’t think it’ll be any different than what they’ve said before. Aren’t I supposed to care, though?

Didn’t a bunch of people three hundred years ago write and discuss and, ultimately, fight for the right for every American man to have a voice in electing his country’s leaders? And later, some other brave people spoke up and gained for me the right to vote as a woman? And then brave, caring people fought for the right for black people to vote, too? And finally for every citizen over 18. And this year, because of centuries worth of people discussing and debating and caring, I get to vote this November.

How dare I not care?

How audacious is this apathy. I’ve been raised to love my country, love its heritage, love its flag and its anthem and its pledge. I am thankful for freedom, freedom which, because I’ve never experienced anything else, I take for granted.

I want to do the right thing. What on earth is the right thing?

Do I vote for someone I don’t agree with completely (maybe not much at all) in order to keep at bay someone I disagree with vehemently? Is it okay to vote for the lesser of two ridiculous, frustrating evils?

No, I hear. Yes, I hear. Only if you’re sure one is truly less evil than the other, I hear.

I don’t think I’m ever going to find someone I agree with on all points. I think one person would likely change much of the very structure of how the government works; would likely undo (or try to undo) much of what those people centuries ago were building upon.

Can I just not vote? I’m realizing this privilege—this worth-dying-for right that I’ve inherited—is more of a duty for an adult than it is a fun new thing for a bewildered college student who’s mainly just trying to pass her classes and graduate on time. It’s a responsibility, and it’s one I didn’t really ask for.

It’d be so much easier to leave it to other people to decide. And then I could complain about what other people decided. But I wouldn’t have gotten to think for myself—I wouldn’t have had to make a decision and stick with it.

You might be thinking “good grief, Jo. It’s just one vote—it’s not a big deal it doesn’t matter anyway.” It matters, I think. And I want to take it seriously, if I can. So I should probably be watching that political debate, but I’m not. And I’m sure as heck not on social media right now. And I’m not interested in angry debates on Facebook.

Here’s what I’d be interested in. A Real-Life Conversation about what might be the best thing to do, come November. It might be dangerous—if we’re not careful and courteous and kind, we might stop being friends for a bit, til we grow up and realize that four years will pass like nothing and the most that might have happened is a change of jobs, a couple more friends married, a couple more nieces and nephews in the world.

Or maybe terrible things can happen in four years. Terrible, awful, unbelievably corrupt things can happen in a surprisingly short amount of time. That seems possible.

I just feel like being convinced of something. So I’m offering, I guess, to listen (in person only!) if you want to explain to someone why what you decide to do this November is the right thing. And if you want to hear it, I’ll explain what I am gradually coming to terms about doing, and yeah. Conversation in real life, yo.

Or you can just read this and be disgusted by my apathy. Or you can just read this.

<><Jo

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Like a Headless Chicken

I’m pretty sure they call what I’m about to do here “eisegesis,” which means it may or may not be heretical. I mean, if I thought it was heresy, I wouldn’t write it, but I’ve been wrong before. So read at your own risk:)

I’ve been reading in Matthew, and I love reading about Christ calming the storm. I am so often like the disciples, whom I can imagine running to and fro, bailing water frantically, screaming–freaking out–while in the corner Christ sleeps peacefully. Did they try to wake him before the last moment, when they felt for certain they would surely drown? Or did they resolutely try to handle the situation themselves, torn between the two thoughts of 1. It’s not serious enough yet to disturb the Master and 2. how is He not waking up on His own to help us? Martha comes to mind–her rebuke, I mean, of Jesus’ apparent apathy toward her situation–her question, Lord, don’t you care? Previous to this, Jesus has just preached a long sermon on a mountain somewhere, in which He’s said, among other things, that the Father answers prayer–but do the disciples ask for help? Not until the last minute, when their vain efforts to handle it on their own have failed completely, do they turn to God, who calms the waves and wind He created in the first place.

Hey disciples, I get you. I understand the desire to be able to handle things myself. I want to feel in some small way capable and independent. So I think, God, you can handle the big stuff, but I got this little thing. I can do this myself.

So I try to deal with anxiety, or loneliness, or doubt, or any of a thousand things, without turning to God, and soon I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I’m moving around a lot, worrying, so maybe I appear normal, but there’s kind of a problem. I have no head. I’m not really alive. So that’s pointless.

If I could get into the habit of going to God first with every troublesome thought or situation, I think I’d be happier. I think it pleases God when I admit my dependence on Him; when I celebrate His marvelous capability by acknowledging my pitiful inability to handle even the “small” things.

I want to believe that the Father’s gifts are truly good. I want to live each day with the knowledge of Matthew 6:25-34: that I am called to seek God and His will, and that in that He will satisfy me.

It makes sense that He would know the best thing for me. I agonize about what it is I really want–because it changes daily!–but the Maker of something knows His creation so completely, surely He knows what the creation needs.

It’s sort of like if a character in one of the stories I’ve written came to me and complained about how I’d written them. Whatever they complained about–how they were designed, for example, or when their story ended, or perhaps that they weren’t as integral to the plot as they wished they could be–I think I’d have a response.

It’s just that, as the author, it was my job to write the best story I could–one that communicated what I’d wanted to say–and for that reason I’d placed each character where I did for a purpose. Maybe I’d have patience with the character, since I know the overarching plan of my story, and the character has a limited view, but still, to think that a character isn’t crucial simply because she isn’t the main character of the story is ridiculous. You can look at almost any work of good literature and find at least one “side character” you remember well–maybe even better than you remember the main character.

I’m thinking of two characters like this: the first is Gavroche, from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Tiny character (figuratively and literally), appearing in only three, or maybe four chapters of a massive book of many chapters and many characters. Yet Gavroche is crucial, I think, to the story. [It’s been a while since I’ve read this, so if I’m mistaken about how much Gavroche appears, tell me. And if you know that information, bravo for reading the book. :)]

The other is Samwise Gamgee from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I think J.R.R. Tolkien did an especially good job of illustrating the crucial part each character has to play in the telling of a story, but Sam. Holy smokes.

I could talk a long time about how I admire Sam’s persistent hope; his faithfulness as a friend; his stoutheartedness; but what I want to focus on is his role as a secondary character. Frodo is the one who carries the ring and bears the burden, but Frodo could not have gotten far without Sam, and Frodo knows it. If Sam knows how indispensable he is, he doesn’t let on much, doesn’t revel in his own importance. If anything, he delights in serving his friend, and when he finds himself, at one point, carrying the burden on which Middle Earth depends, he isn’t glad to somehow be a more crucial character.

Sam does what’s next.

In one of my classes, we’re reading a book called Culture-Making, by Andy Crouch. This guy, in practically every chapter, tells me the way I’ve been engaging (or not engaging the world) is wrong; that I need to do things differently in order to really make a difference. Reading it has got me anxious all over again, because at the core of who I am, I want to save the world. And I can’t. There’s already a Savior, and my humble, glorious job is to talk about Him and live like I know Him.

A job at which I stink, most of the time. My job isn’t to be the most capable person when something crazy happens and this storm blows in out of nowhere and threatens to sink some kind of metaphorical boat we’re all in. My job is not to be the main character of the Story. My job is to do what’s next, with a willing heart and a soul that rejoices in God’s provision.

It’s a job that can seem awfully daunting when I’m running around, handling things by myself. I can slip into questioning whether God actually cares about what’s going on down here. But it’s when I finally just ask, just plead for His help, that He gets up and speaks quiet into His creation. And then my job is very simple: to stand and marvel.

Thanks for reading! Respond if you want to. Don’t if you don’t:)

I’m Recommending a Band

Tenth Avenue North. There you go. You don’t actually have to read any more of this blog post, cause mostly I’ll just be talking about how I’ve enjoyed their music lately, and maybe I’ll quote parts of the songs that have been most helpful to me. I’m not telling you to go listen to them. I’m inviting you to listen, because maybe you’ll enjoy it. That’s all.

If you are still reading, and you aren’t really sure what band I’m trying to recommend, I’ll be clearer. The band is Tenth Avenue North, and if you listen to Christian radio, chances are you’ve heard them already, especially their songs “Love is Here” and “By Your Side.” So I’m not being hipster at all, I guess, because they’re kinda semi-popular, maybe? I don’t know.

Friends know I tend to go through phases of really really enjoying a band for a short period of time, before moving on to something new (looking at you, Jukebox the Ghost). So it could be I’ll read this in a few years and shudder at what horrible judgment I had to recommend this horrible band Tenth Avenue North.

I don’t think that’ll happen, but maybe.

The main reason I’ve enjoyed this particular band lately is because their songs seem to be very much based in Scripture. If they aren’t quoting Scripture directly, the themes of their songs line up quite well with what I believe. Distinction: they line up with what I believe, and with what I know, which isn’t always the same thing as what I happen to be feeling at any given time. I can assent intellectually to any number of truthful things, but it doesn’t mean I wholeheartedly live every day in light of the truth.

My heart has this infuriating tendency to rebel against my head.

So on their album called “The Light Meets the Dark,” for example, when I hear the following words, I connect in a way that’s rare with a lot of modern Christian music:

I’ve got voices in my head and they are so strong // And I’m getting sick of this, oh Lord, how long // will I be haunted by the fear that I believe // My hands like locks on cages // of these dreams I can’t set free // …please Lord how long // Will I be held captive by the lies that I believe // My hear’ts in constant chaos and it keeps me so deceived // …My mind is like a building burning down // I need your grace to keep me…from the ground // And my heart is just a prisoner of war // A slave to what it wants and to what I’m fighting for // Empty my Hands

“…My hands like locks on cages of these dreams I can’t set free.” Man. I am frustrated to no end by this, my apparent inability to stop fretting about what I wanted or how I thought it should be. We can only pray that God will empty our hands for us, changing our hearts to desire what He desires for us.

Or how about this one:

…We’re caught in the in between // Of who we already are and who we are yet to be // And we’re looking for love but finding we’re still in need // It’s only what we have lost will we be allowed to keep // And we’re waiting but our eyes are wandering // To all this earth holds dear //

Yeah–there’s a pretty good picture of being a new creation in Christ, and having a new spirit, a recreated heart, but a very human body which still gets easily distracted. The song continues,

Look at all the pretty things that steal my heart away // …Lord I love so many things that keep me from Your face // Come and save me // …We run to finally be set free // But we’re fighting for what we already have received //

I need that reminder, that Christ has already redeemed me, but that, day to day, His righteousness does not come naturally or easily for me. In fact, I tend to fail miserably. If I’m attempting this on my own, I will get distracted every time, maybe even by “pretty things,” things that aren’t necessarily bad, but that keep me from seeking Christ first.

So, anyway, those’re some of the songs on this one particular album. It would be ridiculous of me to go quote all of the songs, as much as I think they’re worth the while. The other album I have is called “Over and Underneath,” and while I may not quote much from it, I’ll describe it. It’s a little like reading the Psalms: full of honest crying out to God for comfort and satisfaction.

The last track on the album is called “Hallelujah.”

Aaaaaaaaah. It’s just good.

Their other two albums I don’t own, but I listen on youtube/spotify (which is what I guess I’m recommending you do–after that, if you want to, then you can buy all their albums so they can keep doing what they’re doing:). One’s called “The Struggle;” the other is “Cathedrals.” I’ll be briefer with these:

Cathedrals

We were built by the hands of love
Redeemed in spite of what we’ve done
We are the spirit’s dwelling place
And now, children of the light
Fight back darkness with delight
Lift your eyes up to His face
Let joy take temptation’s place

Open up our souls to feel Your glory
Lord, we are a desperate people
Your cathedrals
God, fill this space
Let joy take temptation’s place
We will taste and see You as You are

Father, let Your kingdom come
Keep us from our lesser loves
Nothing else can satisfy
Like the joy found in Your eyes

May we see You as You are.

Forgive Me

I hear you calling out my name, Lord
But I can’t look you in the eye
So I, I just stay away
I tried and tasted what’s forbidden
And it filled me with delight
But now I’m still hungry inside

Forgive me, forgive me Lord, for living, like I’m not yours
I forget, how kind you are
You are light for my foolish heart

Oh God, I let intruders into
The garden of my soul
Foxes are running wild
I thought you were holding on me now
To keep me from being free
How could I have been so wrong

What You Want

Everyday, I’ve been feeling the pressure
I always gotta know the plan
It’s a weight that I’ve tried to shoulder
I thought I could, but I can’t
And I’m so tired of chasing dreams
When I am wired to let you lead
You’re changing my heart
To want what You want
To love how You love
And that is enough
There’s no greater plan
That I need to know
You only ask me to follow

Okay, Jo. You’ve now written practically a treatise on this one band. [By the way, it is okay that I reprinted some lyrics here, isn’t it? I’m not by any means trying to rip off anyone’s creative work–on the contrary, I hope to get people listening. Hey reader, if you know the answer to that question, let me know, please, if I’ve inadvertently done something horrible by publishing this post.]

So what? Why are you praising this one Christian band so much?

There are two answers to that question.

  1. I’m a nerd.
  2. It’s not really the band that’s the point. It’s what they’re singing about. A short little blurb on the cover of one of their albums goes, in part, like this: “…we wanted those who heard our songs to hear the gospel, that is, that we don’t earn grace, grace was earned for us.”

And that’s an incredibly hopeful thing to remember.

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far!),

<><Jo