Songs to Feel

I hope this doesn’t seem super depressing, but I’ve had a lot of conversations this past week that dive deep into the depths of who we are and what we believe. When that happens I often like to listen to music that goes there with me. These songs don’t need much explaining. The  mood, the melody and the lyrics do that on its own.

Advertisements

Revisited: Fiona Apple

I remember the first time I “discovered” this song. It was a few years after Tidal came out, I think, and I was in my first real relationship, if you will. I was so sure I loved him, and in a way I did. But we were so incongruent. Our paths were heading in very different directions and I felt as if I had to choose between abandoning someone to their chaos to discover my own answers or… drowning in order to save someone else. This song spoke so deeply to me; that someone out there understood suffering and the beautiful depth it gave to life, as well as what it meant to be with someone who didn’t see it. Who didn’t know that the depth that we love others is the depth at which we might also suffer, and who didn’t believe the price we pay is worth admission. Over and over, I would choose to love at the cost of pain rather than choose to not love at all. I had to believe it was worth it. That it was an essential part of what it meant to be truly alive.

This is not to mean that I believe all love is pain or suffering, but sometimes there is loss, or betrayal, or disappointment. The guy I was with at that time… well, it worked out for the best for the both of us when it ended (I assume). And I’ve discovered there are special people out there who know some of these depths we can reach and choose to let it be something that enhances their life rather than steals it. That makes them treasure even more the shades and shadows, to reach greater and greater heights. As I listen to this song, I remember feeling the way she does at the beginning… “I’ll never glow, the way that you glow…” and I’m relieved I don’t feel that way anymore. More than ever, I feel filled with light. But I believe that is because I have discovered the blessing, the hope, the love in my struggle. As I grow older, I feel like my emotions go deeper, but they are less turbulent. There is a nuance to life that the black and white vision of my youth did not allow. Anyways, I’ve listen to the Tidal album a few times this past week and it’s reminded me of all this and I wanted to log it somewhere.

 

Spoken Word: Propaganda – Demonstration of the Gospel

“Equality feels like oppression when all you’ve known is privilege.”   “Why you love your guns more than our sons…?”  “Angry, jealous… offspring of the broken…”  “Your unquestioned personhood…”

These are all lines I jotted down as I listened to Propaganda rock a room full of leaders in ministry. What an amazing opportunity to get to see him not only do spoken word but to add his voice and experience to a panel that discussed topics centered around race. While I couldn’t find the piece he performed with these quotes, I did find this one:

Things from Worship

I had a really great time at Bethel Worship in Lexington last night and I wanted to record some experiences or reflections from it.

First, this song. I’m going to be speaking on grace in a couple weeks and then bam! This song hits me like a brick wall: A quote from “Abba” is: “Grace is the collision on the way back home. With the arms of a Father who won’t let go.” And then, in case I wasn’t getting it, the conviction and the experience of remembering my return to God felt like a fire being set inside my chest: God ran to me. Abba threw his arms around me and I knew his love.

During the pitch for Compassion International, I was listening to this man talk about his family and his encounter with the kids while he was on a mission trip. It was a good story but I wasn’t hyper engaged; I was mostly just looking around at all the people there and feeling excited that my sister was going to get to have a night of worship. I looked back at the picture of this man and his beautiful family that was projected on the screen and for a moment there was silence as these words passed through my mind: “I will give this to you too.” And I was startled. So I prayed a bit, repented a bit, gave thanks for a bit. Those words felt mostly like comfort though, reassurance. As if I was being reminded of something I already knew.

Mid-way through the worship, I felt prompted to kneel. I have felt this often during corporate worship and I have always ignored it because how weird would that be? But I kept feeling the push, so much so that I was a bit distracted. Then I heard the lyrics, “every chain will break…” and it caught my attention. The super crazy thing I had heard during our church journey was that I was a chainbreaker. Then they start singing about every knee bowing. I told some of my friends and they were like, just sit. That’s basically the same thing, but something in me rose against that. “Did you hear sit? Or kneel?” So I knelt. And the words of Luke 16:10 came to me, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” Then, as I prayed, I recalled a verse I had been talking to God about earlier that week, Romans 8:31: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” I had written about this verse in the context of freedom in love, but I had also mentioned my love of the word hupernikao, or “more than conquerors.” And it was like an epiphany: be more faithful in these little things, because they are building the habits that will grow faith and bring freedom from fear. We are not only conquerors of death, we bring new life: we resurrect, we reconcile, we restore, we redeem. We don’t bind people in chains, we break them.

So that was… cool.

Music and Social Justice

I’ve been a big fan of System of a Down since Toxicity was released in 2001, and “Prison Song” was one of the songs on that album. Their lead vocalist, Serj Tankian, formed the band in the 90’s with several other Armenian-Americans. Passionate for social justice and having experienced discrimination personally, the band was very vocal regarding political and social justice issues. I was awakening to the fact that deep and systemic injustice was not part of our past but alive and thriving in the present. I was also starting to see that America was on a path of escalating tension, easily manipulated by fear, but I didn’t have the language or context to fully connect all of the dots. In 1999, the Columbine Massacres had occurred, changing the way we interacted with schools, our administration, the growing police presence, as well as how students even viewed each other. There had been a substantial number of bomb threats within my school and then this album, with this song, was released a week before the September 11th attack. The timing of these events and their effect on me personally forced me to really question what I knew about my country and the people in it, both with and without power. I started asking myself what I didn’t know.

When I listened to the Prison Song, the statements that they were making sounded so extreme and outlandish that, at first, I thought they were using hyperbole to get their point across. But as I started to do the research and pay attention to the headlines and stories I was hearing on the news, I began to see that System of a Down was actually trying warn people, to let them know what was really happening in our country. Much of what they sung about I’ve read about in books, articles or witnessed through my community. For example, they state in the song that, “They’re trying to build a prison, Following the rights movement, You clamped on with your iron fists, Drugs became conveniently, Available for all the kids.” Consider the graphic below from prisonpolicy.org. You can see, based on the years, the relationship between the civil rights movement and the response of an uptick in the prison population. Our readings clarify the how: “Convictions for drug offenses are the single most important cause of the incarceration rates in the United States. Drug offenses alone account for two-thirds of the rise in federal inmate population and more than half of the rise in state prisoners between 1985 and 2000.”[1]
fff

[2]

 

Later in the song they proclaim that, “Minor drug offenders fill your prisons, You don’t even flinch, All our taxes paying for your wars, Against the new non-rich…” From The New Jim Crow, we can understand what the statistic for minor drug offenders looks like a few years after the release of this song: “…four out of five drug arrests were for possession, and only one out of five was for sales. Moreover, most people in the state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity.” (Alexander, 60) Rather than be concerned with the increasing percentage of our population sitting behind bars and asking what we can do differently, our nation responded with fear and the mission to use our taxes to continue to build more prisons. It certainly was a war, but the language around new non-rich is important. I cannot be sure of the bands intention, but there was a rebranding of black and minority America occurring during this time that made a war against them acceptable as long as leaders and people didn’t refer to race. We’d refer to locations (where these demographics were generally the majority), a specific socio-economic status or even a symptom of the deeper disease in our nation (i.e. crack addicts). Rebranding race as the “new” non-rich changed how people could be targeted.

There is so much more that was said in this song that transformed the way I saw my country, the people in it, and understood my responsibility to participate in social justice. Once your eyes are opened you have to make a choice on how you’re going to respond to it. I have to choose whether I will be a mechanism of oppression and injustice or part of the voice and movement against those who would systemically disenfranchise large swaths of people permanently. I am thankful for all of the artists, actors, and creatives who use media like System of a Down did in order to awaken people to the social issues of our generation.

Prison Song (Lyrics)

By: System of a Down

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison

Following the rights movements You clamped on with your iron fists Drugs became conveniently Available for all the kids Following the rights movements You clamped on with your iron fists Drugs became conveniently Available for all the kids

I buy my crack, I smack my bitch Right here in Hollywood

Nearly two million Americans are incarcerated In the prison system, prison system Prison system of the U.S.

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison (For you and me to live in) Another prison system Another prison system Another prison system (For you and me)

Minor drug offenders fill your prisons You don’t even flinch All our taxes paying for your wars Against the new non-rich Minor drug offenders fill your prisons You don’t even flinch All our taxes paying for your wars Against the new non-rich

I buy my crack, I smack my bitch Right here in Hollywood

The percentage of Americans in the prison system Prison system, has doubled since 1985

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison (For you and me to live in) Another prison system Another prison system Another prison system (For you and me)

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison For you and me Oh baby, you and me

All research and successful drug policies show That treatment should be increased And law enforcement decreased While abolishing Mandatory minimum sentences All research and successful drug policies show That treatment should be increased And law enforcement decreased While abolishing Mandatory minimum sentences

Utilizing drugs to pay for Secret wars around the world Drugs are now your global policy Now you police the globe

I buy my crack, I smack my bitch Right here in Hollywood

Drug money is used to rig elections And train brutal corporate sponsored Dictators around the world

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison (For you and me to live in) Another prison system Another prison system Another prison system (For you and me)

They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison They’re trying to build a prison For you and me Oh baby, you and me

[1] Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow, pg. 60. It goes on to say that from 1980 to the present, there has been a 1,100% increase in drug-related imprisonment.

[2] Wagner, Peter. “Tracking Prison Growth in 50 States,” https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/overtime.html Written: May 28, 2014