Musings on Mormonism



A few songs I’ve been listening to lately (with discussion)

I can picture my dad’s first response upon reading the title: “What, Bryce’s jungle music? Sorry, I’ve got my Wagner. I wonder what’s going on at The Beaglespot…” In truth, I don’t really blame him – sharing what music we’re listening to with the entire world strikes me as a particularly self-indulgent internet activity (am I being too cynical here? Probably). However, I manage to justify it by thinking:

a) I’m just promoting music that I think is praiseworthy and of good report (obviously an extremely subjective thing – again, Dad’s probably thinking “Praiseworthy? Dvořák is praiseworthy, not whoever this Travis fellow is”)

b) beyond aesthetics, such as a good melody or harmony, it’s possible for music to communicate worthwhile messages and ideas in a unique and powerful way. Perhaps someone reading this post might come away with something of value.

c) maybe people find my interests more interesting than I think

and lastly,

d) who knows? Maybe I’ll help introduce someone to some music they end up liking, and also have something new to bond over (that’s what happened with Bob introducing me to Rush. Now we can always reminisce about Rand-inspired lyrics and Geddy Lee’s oh-so distinct voice)

So, here are some songs I really like:

Mates of State – My Only Offer

The two band members of Mates of State are a married couple, which I think is, if you’ll pardon me for being sentimental, incredibly cute and romantic. I’m not sure what this song is about – something along the lines of feeling stifled by suburban family life, I’m guessing – but regardless, I really like the music, especially their harmonies.

U2 – Miracle Drug

(unfortunately, this video refuses to be embedded, so here’s the link)

Although my musical tastes have shifted away from U2 and become somewhat more sophisticated over the last few years, I’ve still got to hand it to them for writing songs with heart and soul. I’d heard this song many times before, and just assumed it was about Africa (Bono being quite the advocate for aid and development in Africa), but really didn’t know anything else about it. But just today I discovered their explanation for the song, which, if you didn’t catch it in the video, is this:

Bono: “We all went to the same school and just as we were leaving, a fellow called Christopher Nolan arrived. He had been deprived of oxygen for two hours when he was born, so he was paraplegic. But his mother believed he could understand what was going on and used to teach him at home. Eventually, they discovered a drug that allowed him to move one muscle in his neck. So they attached this unicorn device to his forehead and he learned to type. And out of him came all these poems that he’d been storing up in his head. Then he put out a collection called Dam-Burst of Dreams, which won a load of awards and he went off to university and became a genius. All because of a mother’s love and a medical breakthrough.”

Totally awesome. “Of science and the human heart, there is no limit” – I really believe that, especially because I think God is involved in both. And with God in the picture, there are truly no limits.

Eisley – Telescope Eyes

No big story here, I just really like the song. Like with Mates of State, Eisley has some great harmonies. Also, I love the drum fill at 2:09 – simple but cool! The words seem to deal with alienation as a nerdy kid, something I totally cannot relate to!

…ok, I was a nerdy kid (and in some ways I still am), but I was fortunate to grow up in a great place with lots of great friends.

and last on the list,

The Fray – You Found Me

(ditto on embedding issues – here’s the link)

Singer Isaac Slade’s explanation:

“You Found Me” is a tough song for me. Its about the disappointment, the heart ache, the let down that comes with life. Sometimes you’re let down, sometimes you’re the one who lets someone else down. It gets hard to know who you can trust, who you can count on. This song came out of a tough time, and I’m still right in the thick of it. There’s some difficult circumstances my family and friends have been going through over the past year or so and can be overwhelming. It wears on me. It demands so much of my faith to keep believing, keep hoping in the unseen. Sometimes the tunnel has a light at the end, but usually they just look black as night. This song is about that feeling, and the hope that I still have, buried deep in my chest.”

And in another interview:

“I kept getting these phone calls from home – tragedy after tragedy… If there is some kind of person in charge of this planet – are they sleeping? Smoking? Where are they? I just imagined running into God standing on a street corner like Bruce Springsteen, smoking a cigarette, and I’d have it out with him.”

[the following commentary is fairly lengthy]

Struggles with faith in a world of difficulty and doubt – is there anyone on the planet who has not grappled with such a ponderous topic? Having gone through plenty of my own dark days and watched so many others go through theirs, this is something with which I am well-acquainted. Incidentally, this universality of discouragement and tested faith among man is the topic of the most recent book by Michael Novak (for whom I intern at AEI), No One Sees God, which I have yet to really get into, but basically posits that believers and non-believers alike experience uncertainty and even darkness in this life. It’s not a particularly happy notion to dwell on, but the reality is that we can only hide behind good times and sunshine philosophies for so long – life, being quite long and sometimes treacherous, leaves no person untested in this regard (and that by design; more on that later) – and if we are already in the thick of it, then it is a fact of our existence which we cannot ignore, although we may try to get it resolved as cleanly and painlessly as we can (e.g. just stop believing in God*) or else busy our lives with distractions in the material world**.

“Where were you when everything was falling apart?”, or, uniquely familiar to Latter-day Saints, “Oh God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (Doctrine & Covenants 121) The truth is that, to varying degrees, we are all separated from God. Even the Savior Himself, during the most heroic and transcendent act in human history, was left without God’s presence for a time (Matthew 27:46). But only for a time! I believe that we all have periods of time, brief in the eternities but interminable here in mortality, wherein we feel that God has taken a vacation, that somehow, even though we thought Him to be loving and omnipotent, He has somehow stopped either caring or having the means to do anything to help us. These periods of affliction may be the direct result of our own unwise choices, they may be the result of the choices of others, or they may have no clear cause whatsoever. But no matter how dire our circumstances, nor their origins, both of the above conclusions about the nature of God are, and will always be, false. God does exist, and He is involved in our lives in ways that are remarkable, although typically easily overlooked. Very often, he works through other people to send His love and assistance. And He does love us – but that is an understatement. He is thoroughly invested in us and unwaveringly dedicated to our growth and happiness, even during our trials and afflictions***.

“No One Sees God” is a mostly accurate statement – it has some very notable exceptions, however (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 24:11 and 33:11; Matthew 5:8; and Acts 7:55-56, to name a few) . Yet, actual visual confirmation of God’s existence ought not to be the issue, as wonderful as sight and the other physical senses are. What is important is that God chooses witnesses who can testify for themselves of God’s true nature and reality, and then share how we can each know for ourselves. Finding out for ourselves – that is the real issue! The process is not complicated, but it requires instruction in true principles, patience, and trust and confidence that God can and will give you an answer. One more thing – it require deliberate effort, earnestly doing the right things with the right motives, such as prayer, study of the scriptures, and applying true principles in your life. When we do these things, God sees our earnest efforts, however imperfect, and does respond!

But back to the original topic, wondering where God is during our hard times, I offer these concluding thoughts. First, just because we don’t sense Him right now doesn’t mean He is not still closely involved in our lives. Second, if we don’t sense Him, we ought to examine ourselves to see if we are leaving any room for Him, or if we are making a conscious, faithful effort to invite Him to participate. God respects our freedom to choose, and will not force Himself into our lives no matter how much He yearns to bless us. But, as Jesus taught plainly, when we seek and ask, our loving Heavenly Father answers generously (Matthew 7:7-11).

Finally, even if we are basically doing things right, we may still be tested and stretched to our limits. The story of Job comes to mind as a prime example (Job 1:1). Yet, like Job, we may have, or develop through our trials, the kind of faith that “when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) While a student at BYU, I saw a quote posted in someone’s office which I have not been able to find since (so I cannot confirm its authenticity, nor convey it perfectly), but which I found to be incredibly profound and thought-provoking. In essence it said this: there are certain challenges we face in this life, which, although unprecedented to us in their intensity, are absolutely essential in motivating and enabling us to truly come to Jesus Christ. This rang true for me then, and it rings true to me still. Jesus is our Savior, and through his gospel we may become bound to his infinite merits and receive the greatest of all gifts, eternal life with our Heavenly Father and our families. However, to be so bound requires faith, not a vague and passive belief or even a half-hearted commitment to basically live a “good” life and do a lot of “good” things – these are a good start, but they are nowhere near what is needed. What we need is living, active, courageous faith, where we have drawn our line in the sand and our allegiance to and trust in the Lord is so complete that it cannot be called into question, even in the midst of adversity and uncertainty. This faith takes much effort and time to develop, and it inevitably requires, I believe, the suffering of those certain particularly grueling trials, not to discourage us and make us miserable, but to show us who Christ is, what He has done, what He can and will do for us as we draw closer to Him. Such trials are unique in their potential to facilitate that deep and abiding faith which will empower us to truly follow Christ, withholding nothing of ourselves. It is my experience and testimony that Christ has the power to turn all things to our good, and that, as he passed through the dark and rose from the grave in triumph and glory, with His grace we too may rise from the gloom and ashes of our afflictions, rising to ever greater heights. Perhaps most miraculous of all, through Christ, the awful, but temporary, misery and suffering through which we wade in this life will be replaced with matchless and enduring love and joy – experienced fully in the eternities, but even found in unexpected abundance here in the present!

*to be clear, I am not endorsing this option

**I don’t recommend this either, although I am sympathetic to the plight from which it arises. It tends to promote the tragic assumption that such spiritual matters are unimportant and not worth the fight

***I have seen some glimpse of this absolute and loving dedication to one’s beloved children in my own mother. She is Asian, and thus culturally prone to heavy involvement in her children’s lives in the first place, but I can say with confidence that she has spared no effort to make her children her absolute #1 priority. And I appreciate it 🙂

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Comments

  1. * Christie says:

    Oh, Bryce.
    How deep thou art. I admire you for that, so I will ignore the U2/sophistication comment. 😉 Truthfully, I’m not loving their new single and don’t have any boots to put on anyway. (I’m assuming you’ve heard it.)
    Have I ever told you my Job story? I was supposed to give a talk about him in primary once, and insisted that I could prepare it myself. However, having lazed away the time, I found that I was completely unprepared on Sunday, to the point that I had no idea what hardships Job had been through. I stood up and said something like: “Job, uh, he had a really good life…” before dissolving into tears.
    And that’s what happens when we don’t prepare, kids!
    As an aside, I had never heard that story about “Miracle Drug” before. What a beautiful testament to a mother’s love.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 5 months ago
  2. * Bryce says:

    Thanks, Christie! Actually, quite often I wonder if I let my pondering (or just conveyance of such pondering) on deep things get a little out of hand. I’m starting to think a little more parsimony on personal things would be healthier and more appropriate.

    But anyway, I’m sure there was a more tactful way to say that U2 doesn’t do it for me like they used to. Musically, I do think they are a little bit on the “lite” side (which is not to say they don’t still have some good tunes), but lyrically I still find them quite substantive. When it comes to music, in the end I simply say “To each his/her own!”, so don’t feel snubbed by my U2 comments – even if our musical interests have diverged a bit, I still love and respect you!

    And that was quite the sad Job story! Don’t feel bad, though – I’ve had my share of talks, as a young ‘un and an adult, that just were not moments of triumph. Also, what you were able to say before tearfully retreating was technically true about the beginning and end of his story 🙂

    Yeah, that was a great story behind “Miracle Drug.” I hope there’s also a good one behind “Get on Your Boots” to make it a bit more appealing 😉

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 5 months ago
  3. * Emily E says:

    I’ve seen Eisley in concert once. They were pretty good live. Lovely harmonies.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 5 months ago
  4. * Bryce says:

    That’s cool! Yes, their harmonies are quite good.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 5 months ago


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