Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Part III

What happens in the next five books of the Bible will send ripples through the pages of history. The nation of Israel reaches highs as King Solomon builds a vast kingdom only to find a nation torn in two and then sent to Exile.

It is a story of lost and found and how God can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things

The characters that take stage range from Kings and commoners to prophets and priests who all play a part in this story; God is an author who never wastes words or an opportunity.

10. 1 Kings - Kings & Queens: 30 Seconds to Mars

Written during the Babylonian exile of Jews, 1 Kings opens with King Solomon and his quest for wisdom. Author Jeremiah does not hold back tracking the positive and negative choices of the Kings of Israel. This historical book is grand in scale and mirrors the anthem of Jared Leto's Kings and Queens.   "We were the kings and queens of promise/ We were the victims of ourselves/ Maybe the children of a lesser God/ Between Heaven and Hell."  It is here that the split of Israel (North) and Judah (South) begins and sets the stage for the struggles of Israel to come.

11. 2 Kings - Viva La Vida : Coldplay

There is not a main character in the second book of Kings, however human nature is the major theme throughout.  Israel is a broken mosaic of choices made that set a nation of promise into a nation in captivity.  Chris Martin's bittersweet symphony matches the tone of nation searching to pick up the pieces, "One minute I held the key/ Next the walls were closed on me/ And I discovered that my castles stand/ Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand."  If there was a bright spot in the dark cloud over Israel it would be Elisha and Elijah, a beautiful illustration of how God can use us despite our insecurities.

12. 1 Chronicles - Iris: Goo Goo Dolls

It is said that Ezra wrote these next two books of the bible, and at first glance could look like a retelling of OT texts, but there is more.  The audience of this book was written for a nation returning from Exile.  Like an artist putting together pieces of a mosaic, Ezra rebuilds the fractured history of Israel to show how they fit together into God's plan. "And I don't want the world to see me/ 'Cause I don't think that they'd understand/ When everything's meant to be broken / I just want you to know who I am," there is a common thread of wanting to belong that echoes thru Chronicles much like thru the song Iris; and that's something we all can relate to.

13.  2 Chronicles - Sigh No More: Mumford & Sons

The second part to Chronicles focuses on Judah.  The book is very historical, but there is a purpose to giving the past a second look.  It is amazing how seeing things from a different persecutive can make even the toughest parts of the past find meaning and purpose. "Love; it will not betray you/ Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free/ Be more like the man you were made to be." The lyrics from Mumford & Sons are a poignant epilogue to Chronicles that although a nation maybe in downfall, it is not the end.

14. Ezra - My Hero: Foo Fighters

After years of exile under the Babylonians the Israelites were allowed to return home and find second life.  Ezra is a reminder that even the ordinary can be a hero.  Ezra was a humble low-profile leader, that played key role in bringing together a community to rebuild a temple and also a nation.  "There goes my hero/ watch him as he goes /there goes my hero/ he's ordinary." Some thought that "My Hero" was written about Kurt Cobain, but Dave Grohl says the song is a "celebration of the common man." We all want to make a difference, but most of us lead ordinary lives, Ezra shows us that we can do both. (Check out the acoustic version of "My Hero" which brings out the heart and message of the song).

What songs today remind you of characters in the bible?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Pt. 2

The next set of books of Bible after the Pentateuch (the first five) play out like a great drama or a summer blockbuster.

It is amazing to see how God continues to use flawed characters to overcome challenges and accomplish great feats.  The people who take a major role are multidimensional.  They have have problems.  Doing the right thing is not always done, and there are consequences for decisions made; but Grace is the main dynamic throughout. 

The God of the Old Testament has a stereotype for being angry and judgmental but again and again he proves to be a God of second chances. 

God never gave up on Israel and he never gives up on us. 

5. Joshua - Wake Up : Arcade Fire

The book of Joshua opens in epic fashion as a new generation has a new leader; Joshua.  A nation that has been marked with 40 years of failure will now be a generation of promise.  The song Wake Up plays a dynamic backdrop as a Israel becomes a nation walking into the Promise Land and in an ironic way finally wakes up to be the people God called them to be. The reprise in Wake Up would also play well in contrast to the anticipation of the wall of Jericho falling... cue for the horns.

6. Judges - Heroes : David Bowie

People who say that the bible is a boring book haven't read Judges.  This book breaks all the rules.  The melodramas continues with graphic depictions of violence and sex, but also of redemption and hope.  Perceptions are turned on their head as the underdog becomes the hero and women become empowered.  The lyrics from Heroes by David Bowes are the cliff notes to this amazing book..."though nothing, nothing will keep us together/ We can beat them, for ever and ever/ We can be Heroes, just for one day." (I prefer the Wallflowers version because I love the 90s and this song was the only good thing from the movie Godzilla).

7. Ruth - I Was Meant For You : Jewel

The story of Ruth is a brilliant bookmark in between the larger than life stories of Judges and 1 Samuel.  It is a tender story of woman who in the eyes of society is a nobody only to find her true love to help her become somebody.  Ruth lost her husband and her country, and what happens next mirrors the words of Jewel, "Dreams last so long/ even after you're gone/ I know you love me/ And soon you will see/ You were meant for me/ And I was meant for you." Boaz would not only redeem Ruth but the nation of Israel (however the guy in this video is no Boaz).

8. 1 Samuel - Paranoid : Black Sabbath

King Saul on the surface had all the characteristics of a great king.  He was tall, charismatic, and intelligent.  However, underneath Saul was a tortured soul.  Ozzy Osbournes Paranoid, tells a story of a  protagonist who pushes people away but longs for support. "All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy/ Think I'll lose my mind if I don't find something to pacify /Can you help me occupy my brain?" Enter David.  Who would come to pacify Saul's internal struggles but over time would intensify his insecurities. The lyrics and pace of Paranoid play an erie contrast to the conflicted character of Saul, "I need someone to show me the things in life that I can't find /I can't see the things that make true happiness, I must be blind."

 9.  2 Samuel - Mr. Brightside : The Killers

David was the bright side to Saul's dark side of the moon.  That being said, David was not without his faults. The second book of Samuel is split into two parts; David's triumphs and David's tragedies.  His downward spiral began with his failure to go off to war and instead decided to go off the the roof and give in to temptation.  Brandon Flowers lyrics paint a picture of a sinful tale with an upbeat melody, much like David's life. "Jealousy, turning saints into the sea/ Swimming through sick lullabies/ Choking on your alibis / But it's just the price I pay/ Destiny is calling me/ Open up my eager eyes /‘Cause I'm Mr Brightside." (I was torn to go with All These Things That I've Done because the message fits well too, but my wife liked Mr. Brightside better).

What songs make you think of stories and characters from the bible...?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Soundtracking the Bible Pt. 1

Last year I wrote a blog called The Top 50 Non-Worship-Worship Songs, listing Pop songs that could be Worship songs.  It started with 25 and turned in 50; honestly it was hard to stop there.  

It turned out to be my most popular post.

People love music.

This year I was inspired to write a similar blog when driving in the car with my wife.  I heard a Dave Matthews Band song and thought to myself, "that sounds like a book of the bible." 

After that moment my mind was racing thinking of songs and books of the Bible that could match in theme and style.  I mentioned this crazy blog idea to my wife and she loved it (always a good idea to listen to your wife) and on the car ride home from Philly to the Poconos all we talked about was books of the Bible and Rock songs.

Research for this musical series has brought a lot of excitement to my devotional life which at times can be pretty predicable and lacking inspiration.

We serve a creative God and creativity brings the Bible to life.

This look through the bible is an artistic approach and the ideas expressed are open to interpretation.  I understand that through the years Rock music has been seen as unbiblical, but hopefully you can see truth in the art and read in between the lines.

"Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black when I read white." -William Blake
Rock of Ages: A Rock & Roll Look Thru the Bible: 

1. GENESIS  - Sympathy for the Devil : Rolling Stones
  • Taking a page from C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, Mick Jagger's role of the narrator is from the Devil's perspective.  Interesting thing is that the word Devil is not mentioned in the song and Devil is not mentioned in the book of Genesis but you know that his influence is felt. The line "What's puzzling you is the nature of my game," is a brilliant observation that is throughout the first book of the bible from Eve and the fruit to Abraham and his missteps with Hagar.  Sympathy... is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of the Devil and also the most controversial. 

    2. EXODUS - People Get Ready : Curtis Mayfield
    • Written at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965.  Mayfield pens an anthem that parallels the plight of the African-American in 1960s America with Jews in Exodus from Egypt to the Promise Land, with lyrics like "People get ready for the train to Jordan/ It's picking up passengers from coast to coast/ Faith is the key, open the doors and board 'em." As Moses transcends culture and time as a symbol of hope for people under oppression so does this timeless soulful song. 

      3.  LEVITICUS - I Fought the Law : The Clash
      • Leviticus is a book that focus on the Law and at first glance, may be be a book that is tedious in detail but underneath reveals a dynamic relationship between God and man.  I Fought the Law was originally written by Sonny Curtis in 1958.  The Clash version is the most popular and plays nicely against the backdrop of Moses as a character that has a punk rock spirit; and he of all people knows that the Law wins. 

        4. NUMBERS - We Didn't Start the Fire : Billy Joel
        • It is no mistake that Billy Joel's refrain of "We didn't start the fire, it was always burning since the world's been turning" has biblical illusions to the Old Testament.  The book of Numbers and the lyrics of We Didn't Start the Fire read like a phone book and at first glance can be overlooked but behind the names are powerful stories.  We may connect with the names that Billy Joel mentions but both are significant to God.  Interestingly enough Numbers and We Didn't Start the Fire cover a span of 40 years in history mixed with both despair and also hope. 

          5. DEUTERONOMY - Old Man : Neil Young   
          • Old Man was inspired by a conversation a youthful Neil Young had with an old ranch owner in regards to purchasing land.  Deuteronomy also focus on a transaction of "land" from an old Moses to a younger Joshua.  The lyrics of this song are haunting as the dialogue conveys imagery of hardship and testing but also promise and trust much like Moses' life.  The book ends with the death of Moses but there is also a sense of hope much like the tone that is throughout this poignant song. 

          Part 2 will focus on the next five books and songs covering Joshua to 2 Samuel. 

          Friday, January 6, 2012

          Keep It to Yourself

          'Tis the season for resolutions and New Year commitments to be a better person.  Which usually include a diet,  gym membership, or a new device for $19.95 that works your abs without really working your abs.

          It is refreshing to hit the restart button.

          Sometimes in our enthusiasm to conquer the New Year we fail.

          Sometimes we should keep our resolutions to ourselves.

          We actually might have a better shot of reaching our goals.

          "According to most Psychologists, telling someone your goals make them less likely to happen."  says Derek Sivers.

          We actually have a better chance if we keep it to ourselves.  The reason is because in our enthusiasm by telling others we already get that sense of accomplishment, and we create a "Social Reality" where the goal is already achieved.

          I found this principle to be true when I struggled to quite smoking when I was in college.

          Usually smoking and being a college student is not an uncommon thing, however at a bible college, not a good idea.  Following my freshman year and a messy breakup I started smoking on my summer break.  I continued to smoke into my sophomore year.  The administration soon found out because well, you smell when you smoke. No matter how much cologne or incense you may use... you smell.

          I worked with the Dean of Men all year to try and kick the habit.  I would tell others constantly I quit, then soon after I would start smoking...again.  It was a vicious cycle. So vicious that I was asked to "transition" after my sophomore year, which in Christian terms means "kicked-out."

          The interesting thing is that two weeks after my departure from bible college, I actually did quit smoking.

          The reason...

          I told no one.
          I kept it to myself.
          I didn't mistake "the talking for the doing."

          Check out this short TED TALK that really breaks down this idea of "Keeping it to yourself..."

          After a month or so I started to tell others I quit, after I was on the other side of the smoking mountain.

          I did make some resolutions this year...
          1.  _________ everyday.
          2.  _________ every week.
          3.  _________ every month.
          4.  _________ this year.

          but I'll fill in the blanks for you later.