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Grand Rapids, MI


Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Music

Fill The Sky


So, Louis is responsible for putting me on to Oasis. I'm not going to tell him, though, just to see if he reads this. Check out these lyrics to Let There Be Love:

Who kicked a hole in the sky so the heavens would cry over me?

Who stole the soul from the sun in a world come undone at the seams? Let there be loveI hope the weather is calm as you sail up your heavenly stream Suspended clear in the sky are the words that we sing in our dreams Let there be love

Come on Baby Blue Shake up your tired eyes The world is waiting for you May all your dreaming fill the empty sky But if it makes you happy Keep on clapping Just remember Ill be by your side And if you dont let go its gonna pass you by

I'm particularly fond of the imagery of the sky being filled with the words we sing in our dreams. Ok, redundancy, but here we go again. When our hearts resonate with the deep love that undergirds the universe, then our dreams reveal the longing in our hearts for the restoration of all that love gives. Then, the cry from the second verse, "The world is waiting for you/ may all your dreaming fill the empty sky..." Yup. The world is waiting for you. Yes, you. To sing the song of love, the song of creation. The world is waiting. What are you waiting for? (ooh... that even convicted me.)

Let there be love.

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Henry, Poetry, & Song


(Since Peter's reading...) It was quite a few years back that I walked into the church late at night to pick something up, and an elderly woman from our congregation had passed away. She was a saint, lover of books, and great conversationalist with God. They took her books and laid them out on a table for anyone to take and add to their own collections. I got first dibbs because I was there late at night before everyone would arrive the next morning. So... I browsed, and it was there I found this old book. It was dark blue with gold etching and leafing and lithographs inside. It was called "Little Rivers: a book of essays in profitable idleness." Since I'm a fly-fisherman and a book-addict, it seemed right. The book was by Henry Van Dyke, who was himself a Presbyterian pastor in the 19th century, fly-fisherman, poet, writer, English Literature teacher at Yale, among other things. (Not to be confused with the 20th century novelist by the same name.) For loves of things like the book of common prayer, he was the major writing presence behind the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.

I loved the book. So, I decided to learn more about the man. I found a couple of his old out-of-print books at used shops. At one point I found the whole collection (Avalon series) at a used book shop in Kalamazoo. So, Peter and I got some good coffee and headed off to one of those dusty, old, smelly places that houses such wonderful shelves of history and richness.

I'm going to do a few posts on Henry... just a couple... that connect with what I've been writing about. But not now. Now, I'm going to talk to my wife.

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Eminem, Sacraments, and Poetry VI


Then it happened again. I was driving again. This time, the tears came stronger. It's one thing to reflect back and see how you've been shaped by culture and context and how the sins of others and of your own have affected you. You see the fall out in your life, and sometimes you see the causes, and it hurts. But then, there's a much worse hurt, and that one comes from the self-awareness that you've been a player in the song of destruction and the fallout comes against someone you love. I turned to a different hip-hop station, this one out of Grand Rapids, and again Eminem came across the airwaves with a song about how his life, decisions, and the pain of his relationship with his former wife Kim has affected his two daughters. It's unnerving, too. I later saw the video, which made it even harder because it shows Marshal watching home movies of his two daughters enjoying life as only participation in the innocence of childhood can. He gets the impact of his own decisions on his children. That cuts deep. Here are a few of the lyrics which are layered with the steady solemn beat of lament and regret sublty underlined with a variation in a minor key of the mockingbird lullaby on piano...

Yeah I know sometimes things may not always make sense to you right now But hey, what daddy always tell you? Straighten up little soldier Stiffen up that upper lip What you crying about? You got me Hailie... I can see you're sad, even when you smile, even when you laugh I can see it in your eyes, deep inside you want to cry Cuz you're scared... ...We did not plan it to be this way, your mother and me But things have gotten so bad between us I don't see us ever being together ever again Like we used to be when we was teenagers But then of course everything always happens for a reason I guess it was never meant to be But it's just something we have no control over and that's what destiny is But no more worries, rest your head and go to sleep Maybe one day we'll wake up and this will all just be a dream [Chorus] Now hush little baby, don't you cry Everything's gonna be alright Stiffen that upper lip up little lady, i told ya Daddy's here to hold ya through the night I know mommy's not here right now and we don't know why We feel how we feel inside It may seem a little crazy, pretty baby But i promise momma's gon' be alright [Chorus] And if you ask me too Daddy's gonna buy you a mockingbird I'mma give you the world I'mma buy a diamond ring for you I'mma sing for you I'll do anything for you to see you smile

The lyrics by themselves don't capture it. You have to hear it, see it, feel it. The regret is deep, and there's almost a dullness to the song. It's not angry, it's not railing... it's a dull pain, a slow lament, a deep groaning. It reminded me of this from Job [chapters 23 & 24]:"Even today my complaint is bitter; his [God's] hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! ...The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help."

Whether Eminem knows it or not, his, like mine and yours is a wounded soul crying out for help. Throughout the song, there are several places where he shares his hope (mama's gonna be alright, etc.) He knows intuitively what my theology teacher said, that the world is not the way it's supposed to be. Goodness has been twisted. Beauty has been stolen. The song of joy has been placed in a minor key. And we are all both victims and participants, recipients and players. Those of us who are parents (hopefully) realize at some point that we have passed on pain and hurt to our children, and we come to a point where we seek to make the change, to alter the universe for our children, to give them a hope and future rather than the sins of our fathers and mothers. And yet, at times, we participate, and it breaks our hearts. We yell at our children. We tell them to be quiet when they're singing for joy at something silly. We criticize them. We divorce their other parent. We show anger and disappointment with a look, or a word. We crush their spirits.

We've got to let that soak. We have to be honest about the deep wounds we have. And we need to allow ourselves to groan for relief. Because it is in that groaning that we come to the edges of ourselves and begin to look beyond ourselves for a hopeful solution. It is in the emptiness of struggle that so often we begin to hear the even deeper sound of a song that cannot be destroyed - the song that is older than creation itself, a song of hope, redemption, re-creation, and renewal.

Long ago, a poet, known only as an afflicted man, wrote a poem recorded as Psalm 102 that has these two lines as a title:

A prayer of an afflicted man. When he is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord

In this poem he writes these powerful words:

Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly... Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones... Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: "The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death."

To some, that might not sound like much, but to others, myself included, the idea that God looks down upon us and hears our groans as we struggle with the song of destruction in our lives means alot. It offers me more hope than I've found elsewhere. And my heart and soul resonate with that song profoundly. It is that juxtaposition that drew me to tears both times because I long to speak, write, sing the song of creation well not only to myself and my children, but to the Eminem's of the world who feel the tension and long for resolution. "In the resonance [of the song], in the reverberations, we speak it, it is our own."

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Eminem, Sacraments, and Poetry V


In the last blog I said, "At base level, I think it comes down to a kind of artful honesty and self-awareness." That's it. Something begins to border on the spiritual when we make that connection between the deep emotional responses of our experience and the story of goodness and evil that play beneath the fabric of reality. We deeply resonate and respond out of these cries of the heart whether we realize it or not. Those who realize it, pay attention to it, and even speak it are entering into a sacred space where they being to wrestle with God consciously or not. that's what I mean by sacramental. And that's what happens with Eminem. As an outsider, listening to his poetry, I can resonate with it even when I haven't had the experiences he has because [again, echoing Bachelard] there is a reverberation of my soul with his through both of our connection to the deeper reality - the songs playing beneath the fabric of life.And so this is what happened. A couple of years ago I was driving in my car listening to music. Bored with whatever was on NPR, I switched over to a Detroit hip-hop station when an Eminem song came on. I pumped it up because of the phenomenal sounds and the movement, and began to allow myself to be "carried away" by the poetry. It was the song, "Cleanin' Out My Closet." [If you don't know it, you can listen to it or see a live video at] Being a follower of Jesus and a believer in confession and clarity about the good, the bad, and the ugly, I was impressed by his honesty. The brokenness that he could deeply emote was raw and unnerving. It made be feel ashamed of the confession we had spoken on the previous Sunday in monotone, half-hearted expression that we had sinned in deep and profound ways against God and others. It made that feel pale and shallow. And here was someone who was really saying it, really putting it out there, really allowing his stuff to be public. And there I was, driving through downtown Ann Arbor, Pastor of a Christian, weeping because of an Eminem song. Why? Because my soul ached with the pain of creation groaning. I could feel what the first century writer Paul said in his letter to the Romans -

"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God." [NIV]

Mathers, whether he would say it that way, feels this in his soul and speaks it with power, and I felt it. My heart and soul reverberated, and it made me want to "respond in kind." [Hirsch]

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Eminem, Sacraments, and Poetry IV


At base level, I think it comes down to a kind of artful honesty and self-awareness. This isn't the kind of self-awareness that comes as a result of determined introspection through the help of a therapist (although that's extremely helpful), which is often filtered too much through the mind. Instead, it's a kind of honesty and self-awareness that comes through a posture of openness in the heart which responds to some deep resonance that goes into the deep core of who we are and results in spontaneously deliberate expression. Let me say a bit about that "deep core of who we are." I think that has several parts. The first, and probably most immediate part is who we are in terms of our history of experiences in the midst of certain cultural, social, and environmental contexts. It is these histories of experience that in so many ways inform and shape who we are in relationship to the rest of the world around us. The second goes even further down and out. The second resonance is who we are as we connect to the realities of creation, the fall of creation, death, resurrection, recreation, and consummation. This is the reality that CS Lewis was talking about that I mentioned in an earlier blog. It is that place where our heart and soul begin to dance to the song of creation or wince at the simultaneous song of destruction. We live between these songs, both playing beneath the everyday realities of our lives and we respond to them as with every experience rooted in them. We resonate with the beauty of a simply painted fall leaf falling gracefully and perfectly from a maple tree in our yard. Something in us responds to that beauty. And we wince at the simple, destructive words spoken between two children on a playground. Why? Because our history of experiences relate profoundly with that greater story of creation, fall, and redemption.

So, this is where the poetics of life and expression begin to border on the sacramental. Back to Eminem in the next post.

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Eminem, Sacraments, and Poetry III


So, back to Eminem. Eminem's story is the story of someone who, when he heard the poets of inner city Detroit (and New York and LA), felt something inside him suddenly stirred. Instead of doing what we so often do - denying that stirring, or blaming it on stomach churning from the stir-fry - he chose to allow himself to be captivated... or as Hirsch would say, he welcomed the transport that - in this case - the inner city poets provided. That, of course, is the first step - to admit and allow the resonance, and to allow oneself to be carried away by it. But not only did he allow himself to feel the resonance and the reverberation, he also moved onto the second step: he becomes (again in Hirsch's words) one of those "who honor the reality of roots and wings in words, but also want the wings to take root, to grow into the earth, and the roots to take flight, to ascend. They need such falling and rising, such metaphoric thinking." He begins to live by those experiences, partially because the art (in this case the poetics of rap) becomes an experience in which he comes alive. Why? Because he in that transformational experience of entering into the resonance and allowing his soul to sing, he begins to uncover and truly feel his real self beneath all the masks, coping mechanisms, and denials. And then he doesn't stop there either. He moves to what I think is a third stage. Again, in Hirsch's characterization, he would be one who is "so taking by the ecstatic experience - the overwhelming intensity" of hearing reality in rhythm and rhyme that he almost needs to "respond in kind." And he becomes a poet. He begins to speak from a deep reality in his own life, experience, and emotions that it's truly something unique, powerful, and even moving.

I'll be back with an example in the next post. Thanks for reading, and bearing with me.

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Eminem, Sacraments, and Poetry II


So, what Hirsch is getting at is that those who allow themselves to truly enter into the poetic expression find a resonance with a deeper reality. They find that something deep in their souls resonates with something being expressed through the soul of the other poet. Recently, a friend let me borrow a book that's captured me. It's tough reading (reminds me of being in school again), but worth it. This is the kind of book I get stuck on sometimes because I don't understand the words and sentences, and other times because it sends me into intense thinking. Anyway, it's called "The Poetics of Space: a classic look at how we experience intimate places" by Gaston Bachelard. In the introduction, he says this: "Poetry is not directly sprung from some causal relationship directly, but as a resonance or reverberation..." and "The poet does not confer the past of his image upon me, and yet his image immediately takes root in me..." and "...poetry, rather than being a phenomenology of the mind, is a phenomenology or the soul..." and finally, "In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations, we speak it, it is our own." [italics mine]

When I read this, I began to think that when you or I see a piece or art, read a piece of poetry, or listen to a piece of music, there is or is not an immediate resonance or reverberation or sometimes dissonance that elicits something in us and calls us to cry forth, to create, to speak, to art, to sing.

And yet most of us have developed such strong capabilities (or, we might call them disabilities) of controlling, manipulating, containing, and suppressing those resonances, be they beautiful or ugly or both. But true poetry, good music, and lasting art comes from the gut, the splankna when our soul responds and resonates with goodness and evil, beauty and terror. The poet, musician, and artist allow (to go back to Hirsch) themselves to be carried away, to be transformed, to be in transfiguration.

That's why so few of us really love poetry or get art or listen to good music - because we have been trained since we were young to control our feelings, to manage our impulses, to deny or deepest tremblings, misgivings, leaps of joy, and subtle resonances with the deep strains of creation and our struggles with the pain of its groaning.

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Aside: [Eminem, Sacraments, & Poetry]


Ok, so to make some disclaimers... before the criticism born of misunderstanding. I'm not recommending that you listen to Eminem. Let me give you some reasons why I sometimes do, along with some important context.

First, Eminem is a brilliant young man, whose history has both warped his view of reality and the world, and imbedded a certain deep anger within that he's wrestling with.

Second, he's fabulously talented.

Third, I listen to and read pop culture and art in order to understand the culture in which we live. When you exegete the culture through its pop artists, art, literature and the like with focused critical thinking, faith in the Spirit for discernment, a guarded heart (remember, it was Jesus who warned us about how "input" effects "output") you begin to discern several things.

  1. You can begin to understand the culture's hermeneutic - or way or interpreting reality.
  2. You can begin to develop a language to effectively communicate with that culture. Remember, communicating with micro-cultures is just as difficult work as it can be to translate and communicate with traditional overseas missions cultures. (I just realized that I've never explained this. Another blog series. Remind me.)
  3. The purpose, of course, would be to be able to communicate the Gospel as Paul does at places like Mars Hill and elsewhere by telling the gospel story in a way the culture understands. (Maybe sometime I'll write about how Paul uses the pop-culture of his time in several places to teach/ preach about the gospel.)

Fourth, I think it's important to have discussions like these within a community of faith, to evaluate the culture, to understand how a Christian world and life view compares to other views on the world, and to seek bridges between these worlds. (I suppose this is going to get us into a conversation of Christ-Culture debate. I've thought a lot about that, and am definitely in the camp of Christ transforming culture, but not necessarily by mimicking it. More on that later, too.)

Fifth, a good beat and well written lyrics, well, 'nuff said.

Ok, lastly, I wasn't implying that the music of Eminem was a sacrament, or that poetry was for that matter. However, because I don't have a sacred-secular dichotomization in my understanding of the world, I think that many things are sacramental in terms of contact with the divine, which is, of course, different from the whole discussions of Sacraments with a capital "S" as means of grace.

Enough aside for now.

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Eminem, Sacraments, and Poetry


Edward Hirsch says this about the reading and writing of poetry:"There are people who defend themselves against being 'carried away' by poetry, thus depriving themselves of an essential aspect of the experience. But there are others who welcome the transport poetry provides. They welcome it repeatedly. They desire it so much they start to crave it daily, nightly, nearly abject in their desire, seeking it out the way hungry people seek food. It is spiritual sustenance to them. Bread and wine. A way of transformative thinking. A method of transfiguration. There are those who honor the reality of roots and wings in words, but also want the wings to take root, to grow into the earth, and the roots to take flight, to ascend. They need such falling and rising, such metaphoric thinking. They are so taking by the ecstatic experience - the overwhelming intensity - of reading poems they have to respond in kind. And these people become poets." This might seem like a leap, but I'd like to use a Eminem as an example. If you've seen 8-mile (not for kids, and not a "wholesome" movie, but brilliant none-the-less), you know that there is an intersection between fabric of his real life and the poetry he hears and in Detroit. The poetry comes out of the guts of real-life people.

[Aside: One of my favorite Greek words is splankna, a word that is used to describe Jesus' compassion for the people. It means "guts tied up in a knot." There are those times when our emotions are so raw and so powerful that our ability to control and suppress them (our normal modus operandi) is just on the edge, and our physical body cries out with our emotions - and our tummies hurt. The Hebrew people saw the stomach as the seat of emotion, much more of a physical reality that our "heart," even though they carry the same connotations. Since many of us (we Dutch people do this really well) have separated so well the physical from the emotional and spiritual, speaking of the "heart" allows us a little distance from the real pain we physically feel in response to our emotions.]

Marshal Mathers (the un-public-persona'd Eminem) feels the reality of the brokenness of his home life, the dilapidation of his hometown, the separation of white and black not only at 8 mile but throughout his world, the longing for real relationships and intimacy, and he hears these emotions in the stomach of the lyric beat. As Hirsch would say, he welcomes it, it transports him and becomes his bread and wine because the poetry has birthed words that are deeper than even he could understand.

[Aside: The early Christian thinker Paul talks about the Spirit groaning with words to deep for us even to understand that reflect the realities deep within us. I wonder... is there such a deep reality within us that we struggle to give expression to - the language of the Spirit - and that there are times when we crossover and begin to feel it, to touch it. Was this what CS Lewis was talking about when he described sensucht, that deep longing that is a taste of heaven this side of eternity which drew him to become a Christ follower? A glimpse? Is that what Hirsch's is saying about poetry? that it is a bridge which temporarily transports us... or he uses the word "transfiguration," echoing the moment of crossover when Jesus and his friends are on the Mount of Olives. Is this a type of spiritual sustenance? And to push it even further... Hirsch uses the phrase "bread and wine." Interesting. Why? Because the bread and wine are thought to transport us between earth and heaven, they are "sacraments," bridges from here to there. John Calvin thought that when we partake of the bread and wine during the feast of the lamb, that the entire congregation was actually transported (read "transfigured") for a moment across that bridge and into the heavenlies, to the throne-room of Christ. That's what a sacrament is. Hirsch is, in a sense, calling poetry a potential sacrament for those who dare to enter.]

More on this in the next post. This was going to be a short post... but it's created a bit more thought.

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