Day Seven: Only Love – Mumford & Sons

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Vulture

You might not think of the realm of pop music as a place where theology is discussed or unearthed. “Aren’t they all just about sex?” Well, yes. On Kiss FM they are. You won’t find much of anything there. But look at the broader sphere of pop music, not just the Billboard Hot 100. Many artists are still trying to fill the God-shaped hole in their heart.

It might seem contradictory, but some of the best theology comes from secular music, in my opinion. Oftentimes, Christian songs are basically love songs anyway. Let’s be real. The whole sloppy wet kiss thing.

A song is a song if it helps you uncover what it means to be human, wherever you find yourself in life. Songs “hit” you a certain way because where you’re at in life.

So sometimes “rah rah Jesus” worship music in church isn’t what you need. Sometimes you need something more…introspective.

How you listen to a song determines the meaning to you – that’s fairly obvious. (That’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time.) If you’re not paying attention while listening to a Christian radio station, you’ll wonder why they’re playing so many romantic songs. They just sound worse.

Which is why we have Mumford & Sons.

Mumford has been giving us solid theology ever since Sigh No More (“Awake my Soul,” anyone? They literally played that at my church one time.) Their first album rocket-launched this Irish folk band into banjo-strumming stardom. Who doesn’t love a good barn-raising set to the tune of “I Will Wait?” Their music has been pure genius from the start – not only their unique musicality (which we will get to later,) but also their solid lyrics that do more than just repeat or vamp.

With their latest release in 2015 of Wilder Mind, Mumford found itself in the middle of a divided fanbase. For their new album, they decided on a new sound. They ditched the banjo for a drum machine and synth backings. The lyrics and Mumford-iness remained, but some faithful listeners were a bit…confused. Others embraced the new sound – while it’s poppier than their last two albums, it’s still Mumford. You can’t expect a band to stay the same in the midst of changing times and tastes.

Our song today comes from that controversial album, because hey, why not spice things up a bit?

Day Seven: Only Love – Mumford & Sons 

“Audrey, you sure have been covering a lot of love songs.” Well, yes. I have. But they haven’t been specifically love songs, have they? Like I’ve said, there are straightforward “Ooga-chaka ooga-ooga” love songs, and there are more nuanced ones. Songs where we have to dig to find all the layers. This dig will be a bit shorter, since this song relies more heavily on instrumentation than lyrics. It’s one of the shorter ditties of the album.

We hear the familiar voice of Marcus Mumford singing about loneliness. We find him in this place a lot.

Loneliness again
I was stuck to the spot without a friend
Alone again

These opening lines seem to point to more than a heartbreak over a girl. This guy feels totally marooned. He hungers and thirsts for human connection. Or perhaps it’s a divine connection?

I didn’t fool you but I failed you
In short, made a fool out of you
And a younger heart

And again, it smacks of a heartbreak. But it smacks of something deeper as well. Some interpret this song as a conversation between Marcus and God. Marcus wasn’t able to fool God (no one can,) but he feels that he’s let Him down.

And you saw me low
Alone again
Didn’t they say
that only love would win in the end?

The person or thing that “sees” Mumford might be God. The refrain is almost a direct reference to the love chapter of the Bible. The book of Corinthians says “Love never fails.” But in this circumstance, Marcus isn’t feeling that. He’s being real and raw about his situation.

Mumford & Sons is good at not mincing their words – I remember being afraid to listen to “Little Lion Man” when I was younger because it drops a few f-bombs. Their songs have layers to them. Marcus has gone on the record and stated that he is a Christian, but just because you’re a Christian doesn’t make you exempt from the struggle – or the doubt.

How many times have you found yourself wondering if love really will win in the end? Not just in the context of relationships, either. This world can be a pretty crappy place all around. There are good days and bad days. There are trials and triumphs. And when you’re at your lowest low, it’s hard to worship God through “rah rah Jesus” music. Sometimes that’s the best time to worship by contemplating, praying, and advocating at the throne of God.

That’s why I think this song is pretty strong from a religious standpoint, even if Marcus didn’t intend for it to be. To me it’s an expression of struggling faith. To someone else, it might be a heartbroken plea to a lover.

It’s all in how you listen to it.

 

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Lord, Deliver Me.

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Lord, deliver me.

 

Deliver me from hatred into love.

 

Deliver me from anger into peace.

 

Deliver me from sadness into joy.

Lord,

Deliver me from

silence

when I should

speak

From complacency

when I should be

moved

From guilt

when I should be

grateful.

 

Lord,

Deliver me

 

from my careless tongue

 

my wandering eyes

 

my deaf ears

 

my hesitant feet

 

Deliver me

into love

when I feel

unloving

into mercy

when I feel

unmerciful

into forgiveness

when I feel

unforgiving.

 

Lord, deliver me

 

from

 

self-pity,
self-focus,
self-criticism,
self-harm.

 

Lord,

deliver
me
from

myself.

Lord,

deliver
me
into

You.

I believe.

Deliver me

from my

unbelief.

 

a. w.

 

let my love be heard.

a tree in Brettheim Germany; let my love be heard by Alfred Noyes and Jake Runestad

Angels
where you soar
up to God’s own light
take my own lost bird
on your hearts tonight
and as grief once more
mounts to heaven and sings,
let my love be heard
whispering in your wings.

A Prayer by Alfred Noyes
Music by Jake Runestad

I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in Germany in 1945, but I can imagine that there were probably few moments where the tension wasn’t tangible. I have no doubt that it shaped daily life. It shaped the life and legacy of those who lived it. It changed families, worldviews, politics, beliefs. So I can only imagine what day-to-day life was like.

If you travel west of Nuremburg you’ll find the small town of Brettheim nestled in the German countryside. It’s a blip on the radar, a tiny, unobtrusive town, but 73 years ago the small town was rocked to its core.

The long, bloody war was finally coming to an end in 1945. One evening in April, Hitler Youth arrived in Brettheim to defend against the oncoming American forces. The town knew that the boys were marching into nothing more than a bloody slaughter that would only prolong the war. The townspeople disarmed four of the boys of their guns, and all but threatened to give them a spanking for being so foolish. They threw the boys’ weapons into the pond and essentially publicly chastised the boys for their childishness.

The Hitler Youth reported the incident to their commanding officer, and that same night the SS showed up in Brettheim and began asking questions. One man confessed – a local farmer named Friedrich Hanselmann. He was almost immediately sentenced to death, but the mayor of the town refused to sign the death sentence – so he too was hastily condemned, as was a local schoolteacher who also refused to sign.

They were hanged from tall trees that stood at the entrance of the town’s cemetery. The commanding officer ordered that the bodies be left hanging for four days – on pain of death.

A year ago, a tall, solemn man named Father Michael led a group of travel-weary college students up a cobbled hill to Brettheim’s cemetery. It was a blue, hazy day – a day that made you feel as though nothing in the world could go wrong. The view was pastoral – beyond the quiet stones of the cemetery was rolling countryside dotted by small homes and criss-crosses of backroads. On that hill, Father Michael told us the story of the three men who lost their lives for throwing weapons in a pond.

“And if you look up,” he said, “these were the trees they were hanged on.”

I felt so many things at that moment, but more than anything I felt numb. I felt like I was standing there watching the swinging bodies of faces I’d seen, lived with, in my everyday life. Maybe numb isn’t the right word. Maybe it was surreal. How am I supposed to feel? 

I was in Brettheim on a choral tour, so that night we sang at Father Michael’s church. One of our pieces was based on a poem simply titled “A Prayer,” though it had soul-stirring words that went much deeper than mere prayer. It was a song of the human heart when it aches. Our director began telling our audience that the song was dedicated to the three men who sacrificed themselves for the dignity of their town and their own humanity. Our director could barely finish, and hardly any of us could sing. Tears were welling in my eyes and spilling down my cheeks. The music connected me to the strong emotions I could barely feel earlier that day. Now I couldn’t help but feel them.

In that small German town, my life changed. The way I looked at history changed. Instead of seeing it as a sentence in a textbook, I saw the towns. The people. The real tragedy, even in the everyday. How even the tiniest town can change history in the worst or the best way.

And what do we do with that heaviness – dare I say, that guilt? How do we let our love be heard? It may be through tears, deep and bitter. Love can be spoken in weeping. Love has many languages – we need only speak it.

I knew that day how important it is to let my love be heard. In the midst of pain, tragedy, and heartache. You may never know the story of a person, or a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. There is sometimes deep sadness behind people’s smiles.

Whatever your song is, sing it with love. Whether you sing joy, or grief, or a mixture of both, sing it with love. Let your love be heard.

How can I make a difference?

It was the last leg of a very long trip for me. A fun and fulfilling trip, but a long one. The trip I took to Europe last year was taxing both physically and emotionally. I took in so much wisdom, so many stories, and a good amount of chocolate. Europe was full to the brim with meaning for me. It still impacts my life to this day.

We were in Eisenach, Germany, at Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther did the unthinkable and translated the Bible into German, a language that his people could understand without having to rely on the Catholic church. His translation essentially changed the world forever. He did it all on pain of death – even his friends risked their lives for his work.

Wartburg Castle is an incredible bastion overlooking the Eisenach countryside. Set atop a high, sheer cliff, it takes a good many flights of stairs just to reach the portcullis. The courtyard teems with birds, vines, and tourists. Walking into the fortress, you feel the history in the High Middle Ages architecture. It’s almost as though you can feel its meaning, even if you didn’t know anything about it.

Now I’m sort of a medieval nerd, so I loved exploring an ancient castle with centuries of history. I loved standing in the very room where Luther lived and wrote and cried out to God. When I finished the semi guided tour I found a quiet spot at one of the higher points in the courtyard to look over the countryside past the great walls of the fortress.

I found myself in a quiet moment where I could meditate, mull over the history I had just stepped into. What was I supposed to do with all that I had just seen? In that quiet moment, I opened my heart to God. Your servant is listening. Even on that spiritually-saturated trip, I was sometimes starved from the voice of God, allowing my busyness to take me from one event to the next. Now, he had me where he wanted me. And in that moment he spoke into my soul and his words will ring in the caverns of my mind forever.

“Be a Luther.”

Those words caught me by surprise on that quiet day. What could that possibly mean? After learning all the things that Luther had done, I was dumbfounded. How could I possibly do all of the things that he did? Where would I even start?

It’s mind-boggling to think of a legacy that spans generations. Think of the people from hundreds, even thousands of years ago, that we still talk about today. I mean there’s a reason we talk about some presidents more than others. Some of them made a bigger impact than others. Did they know that their legacy would be talked about decades later? Maybe they did, because they were president. But I don’t think they thought that when they were in their mid-twenties and still figuring out who they were going to be.

There are people living today that people will still talk about generations from now. You could be one of them.

You’re probably thinking exactly what I was thinking as I sat on that hilltop – How? can’t do all the things Martin Luther did. Luther changed the way people approach God. His legacy was just celebrated 500 years later in Germany and in other reformed churches across the world – because he changed the way we do things.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was true. I could be a Luther. It started to make sense to me. Here’s what I figured out:

While he was living, Luther couldn’t have possibly known the impact he would make. Most of his days were spent thinking he was going to get killed for what he was doing. Then the Catholic church would have burned his Bible translation and it would’ve all been over. He started with faith, not this grandiose feeling of greatness. He had faith that God would use Him in any way He saw fit.

To be basic for a minute and quote from the musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton sings at the moment of his death, “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden that you’ll never see.” Everyone who is walking on this earth right now is planting seeds. Those seeds will grow in some way or another – you’ll either grow a garden for your descendants or your roots will die with you. Part of that responsibility lies with you and how you live your life.

God’s hand is in that as well, as it was in Luther’s life. Luther dedicated his life to Christ after a particularly terrifying storm (that crap can get scary.) He was willing to face excommunication and even death in order to spread God’s word to more people. Luther obviously wasn’t a perfect man, but he did his best to remain faithful to the Lord. Our life ultimately belongs to the Lord, and He will use it the way He sees fit. 

Along with that, Luther stood on the shoulders of mountain-movers who came before him. Luther was born far after the Reformation had begun, he just happened to be a fairly big catalyst who helped move it along. And as he continued his work he surrounded himself with faithful people who also wanted to spread the Gospel. He certainly didn’t do it on his own.

Gardens don’t grow overnight. A tree starts as a sapling and takes years, even decades, to grow into a mighty oak. As it grows it changes the landscape around it, its roots grow deep, and its branches stretch tall. But it needs time and good soil. Unlike a tree, you have a choice in how you nurture yourself. Will you commit your life to a God who will deepen your roots?

Will you trust your growth to a Sovereign Lord?

a. w.

 

What is My Worth?

It’s fairly safe to say I won’t be opening my heart up for awhile.

I’ve been in two relationships, and both of them were emotionally abusive in their own way. Both of them played deeply into my present anxieties and trust issues. In the first, he didn’t even want me to call him my boyfriend. He was there for me when it was convenient to be there, and he acknowledged me when he was lonely. But other than that, I’d go days without hearing from him. My second relationship was too good to be true. He was very protective and very jealous – and very stifling. After four months, he decided that he didn’t think he could marry me, and he did what he promised he’d never do – he left.

I cried my eyes out over both relationships. I’ve had massive anxiety attacks over both relationships. And both of them have made me scared of opening up again. Why would I do that if it’s just going to lead to another heartbreak? Why not just block myself off and never love again?

Well, that’s not what love is for. Fortunately.

Oftentimes, we find worth solely in our earthly relationships. Maybe it’s not even a romantic one. We find worth in the love of our parents, or our friends, or our kids. They are our “world,” as some of us like to say. And they can be, but they’re better off as a part of a whole and not the entire thing. Because making someone your world is a lot of pressure – on you and them.

Maybe for you, it’s not people – it’s things. Your worth is found in the number of figures on your paycheck. Or what your boss says on your annual review – or what you say about your employees. What car you drive, what house you own, what you can afford to do and not do.

The common denominator is that all of these things can be taken away. Money can be gone in a flash (2008, anyone?) Spouses can up and leave. Children move away, parents pass on. Your boyfriend tells you he doesn’t love you anymore, or even worse, he’s found someone else. Just like that. Where is your worth now?

I’m making it sound easy to detach yourself from these things, but it never is, is it? I haven’t given birth to a child, so I don’t know the true strength of a mother-child relationship yet. I know how easy it is to become so attached to someone that your worth depends on them. And I know how it feels when they get taken away, and boom – there goes your worth. When both of my relationships respectively ended, there were times when I thought of doing the unspeakable. Literally thank God for my friends, who were there when I needed them the most and talked me off the ledge. It shouldn’t be that way. We shouldn’t be believing we are worthless just because someone left us. Because that’s simply not the case. No one is ever worth telling you how much you’re worth. 

Because that’s just the point – in this life, people are going to make you feel worthless sometimes. When you’re six months out of college and still haven’t found a job, you might feel pretty worthless after rejection email after rejection email floats through your inbox. When you’re twenty-six and attending the sixth wedding you’ve been to that summer and can’t seem to get even one date, you’re probably not feeling super worthy.

It’s great to have people who make you feel worthy – in fact, you should have people in your life that remind you your worth. I’m not saying you should detach yourself from all human emotion and relations. I’m actually saying the opposite. Just remember where your true worth comes from. It’s not your children, your job, your boyfriend, your anything. It doesn’t even have to do with you.

Your worth comes from a God who loved you so much, despite your shortcomings, despite your “unworthiness,” that He drank a deadly cup and died for you. He endured unimaginable pain so that you might taste grace. That worth is paramount to all else. That worth doesn’t depend on anything you do or don’t do. And it certainly won’t change with the wind.

Jesus doesn’t leave you because He’s “just not sure anymore.” Jesus doesn’t only give you attention when He’s lonely. He’s not going to move away, or disappear, or think you’re worthless because you didn’t get that six-figure job. He is your world, and He wants to be your world. 

People come and go – that’s just the truth of this broken world. An unfortunate truth, but a truth nonetheless. But the Love of the Lord remains forever.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

Palms Open, Ready to Recieve

O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss, till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.

How are you feeling this week?

This week, we are following our Lord to the cross. We just celebrated Palm Sunday – a time of great jubilation for Jerusalem. But, petty as the human race is, that joy will not last. At the first sign of danger, we flee. We turn our backs. We deny Him three times.

How can a week begin with such great joy and end with great terror? I think you know how. Have you ever had a day begin with great joy and end in sadness? Kind words are spoken one minute, and the next you can barely speak because of the anger you feel?

This week starts with palms – beautiful, fresh branches cut down to be lain at the Savior’s feet. This week ends with the palms of our Savior bleeding out, the tendons ripping, our Christ in unimaginable pain.

How do you approach a week filled to the brim with unimaginable pain and unspeakable joy?

With palms open, ready to recieve.

To fully know and understand the sacrifice of our Lord for our betterment, we must also fully know and understand his anguish. Savor this Holy Week and all the flavors it provides – joy and celebration, death and betrayal. Denial. Hope.

Even our Lord begged for His cup to be taken from Him. But He surrendered, and He suffered so that we might be bathed in the blood of salvation and be with Him in glory.

He endured that pain so that we may never have to taste it in its fullness.

It was for you. Recieve that gift.

Greet pain with palms open, ready to recieve.

Greet joy with palms open, ready to recieve.

Remember during this Holy Week the suffering of our Lord. But remember also His glory.

a. w.

tasting our bitter herbs.

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In a traditional Passover meal, it’s common to partake in bitter herbs. A seder often includes an herb called maror, which literally means “bitter.” The word bitter comes up a lot in the book of Exodus, probably because the Israelites don’t really look back on Egypt with a whole lot of fondness. But they looked back on it nevertheless. And thousands of years later, their descendants are still honoring it, still remembering.

Why would they remember such a terrible time? Their entire race was enslaved by a powerful kingdom that was unbending when it came to labor and punishment. They had all but given up on God after their own newborn babies were killed in front of them. Even after Moses led them out of Egypt, the Israelites wandered around the desert for a heckuva long time. Probably not a lot of happy memories.

But every year, generations gather together and partake in a meal of six parts. A lot of times we eat food to enjoy, but this meal is eaten to remember.

How often do you think about something you’ve done and it brings a bad taste to your throat? If you’re like most people, it happens often. We as humans like to carry around regrets. We like to look back instead of look ahead. And looking back – remembering – is a good thing to do, if you do it right.

See, the Passover meal isn’t shared and eaten in order to wallow in self-pity. While the meal does involve saltwater to represent the tears and anguish the Jewish people have suffered (as well as other foods that are eaten symbolically, not out of enjoyment,) it’s not a pity party where everyone cries woe is me, woe is us, nothing has gone right. 

It’s a meal to remember the goodness of the Lord.

After Moses delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, they were far from grateful. Although they were free from bondage, they had no idea what was going to happen next. They got scared. When humans are scared, they do things they regret. The Israelites muttered and complained and lost faith in God almost altogether. They wanted sign after sign to know that God was still with them. And even when he did send them a sign (i.e., manna from heaven to provide food for them) they still got scared and stored as much of the food as they could because they didn’t trust that the Lord would provide the next day. The same thing also happened with water. Most of the Israelites literally wished they’d have died in Egypt.

Not very great memories for a people to have, am I right? “Hey kids, want to hear about the time me and your mom were so hungry we wished we would’ve died in slavery?”

So why do families gather together every year and eat a meal that represents the mistakes and suffering of their ancestors?

Because remembering the bitter times reminds us of God’s goodness.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to wait on the Lord. I hope that doesn’t sound like a complaint. I’ll tell you right now, 2018 has not been an easy year for me so far. Things have happened that have caused me to plunge deep into self-searching. That self-searching easily turns into self-doubt and then self-pity. Every day is a struggle to wait on the Lord.

And lots of people have gone through way more adversity than I have and remain faithful to the Lord. How? By partaking in a feast of bitter herbs.

There is a fine line, however. Remembering can easily become a pity party. At least I know that’s true for me. If I think about my past mistakes, I end up wasting the rest of my day by wallowing in my own suckiness. There’s no hope for me. I’ve made too many mistakes, too many regrets. 

There’s a difference between regretting our bitterness and remembering our bitterness.

Have you ever noticed how if you regret something, it really doesn’t help anything, other than making you feel terrible? Yeah, me too. Remembering is different. Remembering is feasting on our own bitter herbs, tasting the ugliness of it –

And remembering what God did to restore us.

Remember your bitterness, but also remember the grace of God that came alongside it. Remember your faults, but also remember how God has filled in the cracks of your imperfection with his love.
Remember the badness, but remember also the goodness of the Lord.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Psalm 27:13  

Think about your bitter herbs. Be specific about them. A lot of people see the Lenten season as a time to give up something earthly, like sweets or social media, but I also see it as a time of deep (and sometimes painful) reflection. What is preventing you from approaching God on His throne? What needs to be purged from your soul so that you may open your soul to God?

You will experience bitterness in this life, in some way, shape, or form. It may come from an oppressor on the outside, or it may come from within. If you don’t confront and taste your bitterness, you will remain locked in a cage with the key in your hand, complaining about how there’s no way out.

How have the Jewish people been able to survive for thousands of years even in the face of adversity after adversity? By tasting the herbs, and remembering the Lord.

How will you, as a Christian, be able to stand the darkness of the world and still keep your faith? By tasting the herbs, and remembering the Lord.

Remember these bitter herbs. Taste them. And then remember Who was by your side all along.

a. w.