What’s saving you?

What’s saving you right now?

I remember reading that quote a few years back, and it’s stuck with me since.

To me, the quote isn’t saying we need something new to save us. It doesn’t mean that there is salvation anywhere but in Jesus, the one who embodied salvation. Instead, it’s a reference to the fact that each day, each of us needs something to call us to the life we’ve been given – to remind us of the power and purpose of the life that we’ve been given by Jesus.

In fact, that’s what salvation is. It’s not some distant idea, some out-of-this-world cosmic hope. Instead, salvation is receiving life now – and living it. So, when I think about what’s saving me now – I think about what is helping me hold onto, and live, the salvation I’ve been given.

So, what’s saving me now? A lot of things, but one that stands out is music.

I’ve never been particularly musical, though I did play tuba in my high school band. And I sang in a freshman choir in college. And I did once sing a duet as a part of a high school church musical program.

But I am also the guy who was a part of a college camp team, working on getting ready for the summer, when the camp director came in. He heard us sing, and then said: We’re going to make you guys a drama group.

So, while I’ve often sang and played, it doesn’t mean I always should have.

Even so, I love music. I love the power and passion that it provides – filling me with a sense of transcendence as it speaks to something deep within me. So, when my daughter gave me a subscription to spotify – a music streaming service – I have enjoyed discovering, and re-discovering, music that speaks to my soul.

So, I thought I’d share some of the music that has been saving me. Maybe it will speak to you, too.

First, Over the Rhine. Lead singer Karin Bergquist’s deep and evocative singing grabs you and won’t let go. And it reminds me that I’m not the only one in need of grace. A church in Knoxville took one of OTR’s best songs, from what I think is their best album, and brought it to life:

And there are these lyrics, from their song “Jesus in New Orleans”:

But when I least expect it
Here and there I see my Savior’s face
He’s still my favorite loser
Falling for the entire human race

Yesterday, I was on the treadmill, and the following song came on, by a group simply called “The Choir.” I was doing my best to lip sync to is, so as not to disturb my fellow exercisers – and so as not to embarrass myself. I think I did okay on the first one, but probably not on the 2nd. Anyway, even though this song doesn’t describe what I was literally experiencing yesterday, it gave me permission to wrestle with other goodbyes.

And then there is this other song from The Choir, which speaks the black and white truth.

And then there are these lyrics, from the deliciously-named T Bone Burnett:

Are we supposed to take all this greed and fear and hatred
seriously? it’s like watching dust settle it never changes
it’s too consistent

mercy is not consistent it’s like the wind
it goes where it will. Mercy is comic, and its the only
thing worth taking seriously
(The Wild Truth)

Or this song.

But I’ve got to end with my all-time favorite musician, Terry Scott Taylor. Just about everything he writes strikes a chord with me. I have no idea why he doesn’t have a wider audience. Well, actually I do. It’s because most people like their music fluffy, and their lyrics even fluffier. Taylor strips that out, getting to the essence of music, life, and faith. And he does that through at least 3 bands (The Lost Dogs, Daniel Amos, The Swirling Eddies), along with some solo work and other musical ventures. I am confident Taylor is going to get his share of airtime – and his due – on the other side of eternity.

For a few years, some fellow Taylor-ite would bring The Lost Dogs to the Louisville area, and have them do a backyard concert. Somehow, I found about it, and I would join this guy and his small church group for a summer concert by Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, Derri Daugherty, and Steve Hindalong. It wasn’t exactly the Yum Center, but I sure ate it up.

Anyway, I don’t think I could count the times that Terry and his crew have come alongside of my life and given voice to my hunger and thirst. I’m just thankful he’s still making music: like this, and this, and this. Oh, and I can’t overlook this great album, written while The Lost Dogs drove Route 66.

Ok, I worked enough on this blog. Time to move on. But alas, I didn’t even get into The Call (and this lifeline of a song), or The 77s, or Steve Taylor and his many iterations. And lest you think I only go for obscure artists, I love Dave Brubeck and his jazz artistry (especially in his most-famous song, a partnership with Paul Desmond), or Nickel Creek and their smooth bluegrass sound. I’ve even liked U2 for years.

In the end, I’m grateful for music that keeps me sane. And whole. So, I’m gonna keep on singing. If you don’t like it, you might want to cover your ears…

What Do You Do When Life Gets Bad?

Mandy loved music. She was a standout vocalist at her high school, and began attending Colorado State University to study music education. She loved music, she was good at it, and she was pursuing a career doing what she loved. Who could ask for more?

But then things took a turn. She began noticing that she couldn’t hear the teachers in her classes. Then she realized she was losing her ability to hear most of the piano notes. At her year-end freshmen recital, she had to watch the lips of others to keep in time with the song. After that recital, it was over. In the span of one school year, Mandy had gone deaf. She was subsequently dropped from the program, and she left school, figuring she would never sing again.

Mandy was angry. But her dad told her, You still have a gift; you still need to use it.

Her dad’s words sunk in, and Mandy found a way to get back into music. Using a phone app, she learned she can visually start at middle C, and then from there find her starting note — and learn a song  She returned to vocal music — but sings barefoot, so that she can feel the vibrations through the floor to stay in tempo.

Music isn’t as easy for Mandy as it once was. But I guarantee you — it’s more meaningful.

Your story isn’t the same as Mandy’s, and probably isn’t nearly as dramatic — but the reality is that all of us suffer. All of us struggle. We all have to face dashed dreams, and hurt we can’t help.

The question is not “if,” but how. Not “if” you will struggle, but when you struggle — how will you respond?

The question is also not “why,” either. We often can’t answer the “why” question. Instead, the question is: what will you do with the stuff life hands you that you don’t want? Do you learn from it? Do you face it head on? Do you wrestle with it?

A 19th century writer once asked a perennial question: “You desire to know the art of living, my friend?” His response? The art of living, he said, “is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering” (Henri-Frederic Amiel).

Learning to live, in part, is learning to face the challenges we cannot control, we do not want, and are hard to overcome. Suffering isn’t something we seek, but it finds us. And the question that it leaves us with: will we just suffer through it, or will we learn from it?

One thing is sure: life won’t be as easy on the other side of suffering. But, if we let it — if we learn from it; if we grow through it; if we let God’s grace sustain us every step of the way — life will be more meaningful.

Music That Keeps Me Going

As anyone who has iTunes knows, the newest album from U2 was automatically added, for free, to users “purchased” folder. With no effort, and no cost, Songs of Innocence was just … there.

Some people complained. Others critiqued the music. As for me, I was just glad I could figure out where the songs were, and how to move them to my iTunes playlist. It took me and my non-Apple-programmed mind a bit longer than it should have. While others were worried about Big Brother, I was happy just to find the songs.

For I learned a long time ago how important music is to me. It lifts me up when I’m down. It makes me smile. It makes me think. It reminds me what I believe. It reminds me that I am human.

I think that’s what the best art does. It reminds us who we are. Whether it’s music, or movies, or poetry, or a great story – the best art tunes us into the truth about us. And sometimes that comes packaged in Christian content, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I am challenged by a Christian book, and sometimes I am gripped by a Hollywood movie. Or a song by U2. Or Dave Brubeck. Or Mat Kearney.

The list goes on. But in the interest of claiming my little piece of the blogosphere for music that I think is essential for the human journey (and the journey of faith), here are the top five groups I want spinning on my playlist:

  1. Lost Dogs. My all-time favorite band. Simply the best story-telling in music I know.
  2. The 77s. If you stick me on a deserted island with only a cassette player and one cassette, I’d bring along Sticks & Stones. (And yes, I still do have the cassette version of this album.) And If I had landed on that island because of my own stupidity, I would be able to listen to God Sends Quails over and over – my favorite song about failure. (Hmmm, is it okay to have a favorite “failure” song?)
  3. Nickel Creek. Bringing bluegrass into the 21st century, one smooth mandolin lick at a time.
  4. The Call. If you’ve never heard of these guys, give a listen to “I Still Believe.” And keep believin’.
  5. Over the Rhine. What a voice. What an album. And what a nice rendition of the best song on that album.

Anyway, those are some of the musicians and songs that keep me going. Any that you would add?