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Musical Musing: Jonathan Coulton – “I’m Your Moon”

May 6, 2009

Jonathan Coulton is a musician. I like to call him a geek troubadour; I hope he’d approve of the moniker. He left a career in software programming to write music and now sings lots of songs on lots of topics, many of them near and dear to the hearts of geeks everywhere. It should be no surprise that this man struck a chord with my geeky little heart.

What is surprising is how deeply that chord is resonating. Sure, lots of his stuff is just silly fun (I’m not sure I can write anything of much depth based on Re: Your Brains, for instance, and if I ever do, I may just open the door and let the zombies in). But this man isn’t all fluff and nonsense, and if you dismiss him as such, you do him (and yourself) a disservice.

I will warn you, not all of his songs are “SFW”, or what the geeks call “Safe For Work”… there’s some, how did Star Trek put it, “colorful” language in there (though always in good fun, and I’ve never heard anything vicious). But the song I want to talk about today is completely clean, so you can follow all of my links without a shred of guilt. (It’s just if you continue to explore that you might find some of the more colorful material).

At his concerts, Coulton introduces “I’m Your Moon” with some backstory. You see, you and I grew up with nine planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. But in 2006, astronomers decided to officially define for the first time what it meant to be a “planet”… and in defining “planet”, they excluded Pluto. Pluto was redefined in a new category, called “dwarf planet”. There’s been an outcry and an uproar about the decision… but this isn’t about whether or not Pluto is a planet. There’s more science (stick with me). Pluto has three moons… two tiny little dust balls and Charon, which is nearly the size of Pluto. In fact, Charon’s “status” is up in the air… the same astronomers that labeled Pluto a dwarf planet may do the same to Charon, making Pluto and Charon a dual dwarf system. Neither one orbits the other, either… they orbit a point outside of them both. The two bodies dance around each other, orbiting one another. In a way, they are each the moon of the other. It’s in light of these facts that Coulton wrote the song “I’m Your Moon”; Charon is consoling Pluto after the declaration of Earth-bound scientists (who’ve never even had a satellite pass close enough to give them close pictures of the system), changing its identity.

At it’s heart, “I’m Your Moon”, the song about Pluto and Charon, isn’t about those two moons at all, though that’s the fun that makes me laugh. What makes me love this song, that makes me want to cry, and that made me write about it, is that it’s about being certain who YOU are. It’s about knowing not to define yourself by what others say about you, especially those who don’t truly know you. In the end, there is one voice who truly knows you… there is one voice who can truly define you… just as Pluto, orbiting out there in the expanse beyond what we are certain of, where light takes hours to reach, could, arguably, only be “known” by its moon, Charon.

I have this odd definition of existentialism: we are before we are anything else, and we are defined only by what can be observed by outsiders. It’s an odd pairing, and it comes into play in an odd way with the ideas in this song. We’ll start with the second idea first: as humans, we categorize. We tuck things into little boxes and folders and make order out of chaos. We even do this with people. We need to categorize things, or sort them out, or figure out the relationships so that everything fits. But the only way for you to do that with me is with what you can observe about me. There are physical descriptors that you can use to categorize me, and there are behavioral ones: I saw her clear the trash off the table in the restaurant. She goes to church. You can’t know why I do them, or don’t do them; that’s inside my head. I could tell you (ah, but how do you know I’m not lying?), but only what you can see for yourself is provable data. All of these things allow you to form some idea of who I am, what I am, and they let you categorize me for yourself. That’s basically all the scientists were doing with Pluto: based on the data they had, which box did Pluto fit best?

But there’s another side to my little definition of existentialism, the one that Charon reminds Pluto of in the song, the one we must all remember, even as we sort people into our boxes. Before we are any of the things we can be observed to be, we are. The essence of what we are, church goer, table clearer, tall, short, fat, thin, male, female… is all preceded by our existence. We exist. We are. There, Beloved, is the crux of the matter… and it is there that you and I must find our identity, and it is there that we must remember to love and respect others.

Now granted, the analogy falls apart: we’re assigning sentience to spatial bodies, and expecting scientists to love and respect them like living, breathing, knowing things? Not exactly. But if you take the same idea and apply it to your life… remember that who you really are, your own identity isn’t based on someone else’s conception of who you are… well, something strange happens. You begin to realize that no matter what someone thinks of you, says of you, there’s one thing they can’t change: who you are.

There is only one voice that has ever known you inside and out, who has ever seen your motivations and your actions. Pluto has Charon there to encourage it, to remind it who it really is, to affirm its identity when the definitions of others confuse. You and I have the same benefit… Someone who has been with us faithfully through all the ups and downs of life and doubt. When you find yourself confused by the definitions others have placed on you… when you aren’t sure who you are, and you’d really like to be the person you were born to be, the one He says you are… well, you only have to talk to Him. He’d be happy to lend an ear, to help you sort it out. Your Creator, the Intelligent Designer, wants to go ’round and round with you.

I’m not sure Jonathan Coulton found this in his song. I’m not sure he knew I’d find it in there. But down there, in the orbit of Pluto and Charon, as they go round and round, I found my God winking up at me. The Lover of your soul is waiting, arms wide, for you, and He’s asking you to remember who you are.


Musical Musing: Ben Harper- “When She Believes”

May 5, 2009

Early in my marriage to my husband, our church had a sunday school class for newlyweds. We covered a variety of materials, but one of the things we discussed was Gary Chapman’s study, The Five Love Languages. The ideas we learned in that book have gone farther than just our marriage, but the biggest thing it may have done for us was to teach us something about ourselves while giving us the vocabulary to communicate that information to our spouse.

The heart of Chapman’s book is that Love is “spoken” in five “languages”, and we all give and receive love in one (or at most two) primary languages. We demonstrate our love for others in the way we most want to receive love. The flaw with that model is that not everyone we encounter is wired the same way we are… so they may not want to receive love the way we do. It’s like trying to communicate, but neither of you speak the same language; you might occasionally luck out and do something right, but most of the time, it’s going to be an exercise in frustration if not futility.

Worse, as we are going through life and marriage, we are pouring ourselves out for our mate, giving of ourselves and putting ourselves on the line, hoping and trusting that it will be rewarded. If we go through this cycle of frustration and futile attempts at communication that seem to end in failure every time, or more often than not, eventually even the most patient among us grow weary, emptied of all our good nature and hope. Chapman calls this our “Love Tank” and compares it to an air tank for a diver; without a constant flow of fresh air in, the drain of what air there is will kill a diver. So too, in a relationship; without a fresh intake of love, the relationship dies.

This, though, is only the diagnosis. If you can learn to identify your love language, then your spouse has a fighting chance of knowing which language to use to love you. Likewise, if your spouse can identify theirs, then if you can learn to speak theirs (and yes, it’s a learning process), then you have a means of communicating the love that sparked your relationship in the first place. The other thing we learned to do, despite how silly it might seem, was to do a sort of systems check. We’d ask each other “How’s your love tank?” and then “what can I do to help fill that up for you?” It was a way of communicating our satisfaction with our marriage in particular, but also with life in general. There were days that our love tanks were low, but it had nothing to do with what either of us had done; work had just been awful that day, and neither of us knew of a way to refill the way work had drained the joy from our lives. I honestly think it helped the early days of our marriage immensely, building a foundation for us to work from for the years that have followed and those yet to come. (If you’re interested, I’ve linked Chapman’s site here, and his book is on here.)

As powerful a tool as the Five Love Languages is, and it’s amazing… as I said before, I’ve found that I use it outside of my marriage, in my relationships with other people… it’s not the only tool in our toolbox, nor is it the one that came to mind first when I first heard this song. Emerson Eggerichs added to the toolbox in another of our sunday school classes in 2007 when we studied his book “Love And Respect”.

If we could borrow Chapman’s language, then Eggerichs teaches that respect is a sort of 6th language… except, while we’re all taught that we should love one another unconditionally, we’ve missed the need of our men to be respected unconditionally.

I know that what I just said is radical. There are some horrible men out there. Trust me; I’ve put at least one of them in prison- I know there are BAD BAD men. But men aren’t pigs, they aren’t irredeemable, and when we treat them as the butt of every joke, as disposable and stupid, we destroy the one thing they need most. If they had one language they speak, it is respect. If there is one thing we are systematically robbing from our men, it is respect. Why?

If love is the very air we need to live, respect, Eggerichs says, is the air men need. The men in our class agreed heartily. But our society has taught us that men are buffoons and fools. They are good for sex, sports, and little else. Fathers are shown in movies and television as being clueless at best. Even Cliff Huxtable, who was a respectable role model for a man, a doctor who knew how to guide his children into adulthood and responsibility, was written as a bit of a fool who served cake for breakfast as an acceptable nutritional choice (it has eggs, flour and milk… it must be ok, hyuck). Granted, we’ve all laughed at the sitcoms… but where are the role models for our men to follow?

Have we forgotten the power in our words? Have we forgotten the power of our expectations? We tell cockamamie stories about how we dare not risk bruising the egos of our students by giving them failing grades or letting teams actually win or lose in sports… but we can destroy our men by mocking them endlessly? We tell our children “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” knowing the whole time that it’s a lie, that the first time they told us they loved us, it was life-giving, and the first time they told us they hated us, it wounded us to the core… and then turn around and bad-mouth their fathers.

In the book of James, we are told of the power of the tongue. It is likened to the rudder of a ship or the bit in a horse’s mouth. This tiny piece has the power to determine course for an entire transport! So too it is with the tongue. We know that verbal abuse has an enormous impact on a child’s life; why do we think that words are somehow powerless against our men? Because they’re bigger than we are, they can “take it?” What kind of thinking is that? If you could see the damage your careless words were doing, would you be so glib with them? James says that the tongue is full of deadly poison. Proverbs likens reckless words to a sword!

I warn you of these things because I’ve seen the damage of careless words. I was verbally abused growing up, and while the tools Chapman gave us were amazing, the damage done by the abuse was powerful, too. I repeated what had been done to me. There is no excuse for the verbal abuse I heaped on my loving husband.

I know, not all wives are verbally abusive to their husbands. I was an extreme… an unacceptable one. It is a miracle, and a testament to John’s love and our commitment that we’ve made it as far as we have… that we got to the class in 2007. By the time we got there, I knew what I’d done wrong… we were more than 2 years into the healing process. But I also know there’s a lot of careless, thoughtless, disrespect happening… and I know it’s destructive to our men. What I did may have been destructive by feet… but that doesn’t mean that the general attitude towards our men isn’t killing them by inches.

 And that brings me back around to the song I heard by Ben Harper tonight. “Nothing is as beautiful as when she believes in me.” I’ll be honest; I don’t know if he’s talking about his wife, his daughter, his mother, or someone else. But I do know this: John and I’s marriage is never better than when I build him up. When I show him respect, give him specific examples of reasons why I respect him, nothing makes him smile brighter. I’m not saying we have a perfect marriage; does anyone? But when I make a point to speak life into him, to use my words to build him up instead of tearing him down… I see a difference in my husband, a difference for the better. He’s a better man. People say we’re a cute couple. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’ve learned that nothing is as beautiful to him as when I believe in him.


The Metrics of faith…

January 31, 2009

I’ve been giving some thought to prayer lately, especially after what felt like rambling last night. I talked about intercessory prayer, and how if you pray that God will raise up someone to love those seemingly forgotten ones, someone to intercede for them, you are the answer to your own prayer. I really believe that, but I had a hard time expressing why I believe that, coming up with Biblical support for it. But as I lay in bed, talking it over with John, I think I found the answer I was looking for.

You see, being an answer to your own prayer is a matter of metrics, just as works are a matter of metrics. No, I’m not talking meters versus feet, here, but rather a means of measuring and quantifying your faith. I bet you didn’t think you could measure or quantify your faith, did you? We tend to think of measuring as belonging to the scientific world, and as faith as its own thing, completely separate and divorced from science. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I don’t think God wants it that way. Still… I’m in danger of going off on this whole faith versus science tangent, and that’s not what I want for today, so let me get back on track.

There’s this entire discussion of faith versus works, as if the two are diametrically opposed, as if they are polar opposites. I think instead one is the measure of the other. That faith is proved by works. I don’t do good things in a desperate attempt to earn my way into heaven, or as a means of proving that I’m somehow adequate to receive what I’ve been given. That’s the “works” philosophy of salvation. Instead, we are given an extravagant gift, something so exceedingly beyond anything we could ever possibly earn. Faith says that we accept that somehow, the God who created the universe, condescended to His creation. Faith says that we accept that God wants a relationship with His creation, and that He wants it enough that He would condescend to provide the way to make it happen Himself.

OK, so if God does all the work of salvation, then how do our works come back into it? How can our works prove our faith if faith gives us a gift far beyond anything we could earn? Works are a measurement of our faith. Our gratitude for what we’ve been given is demonstrated by the good things we do. We don’t do them to earn our way into heaven or to prove our merit… rather, they are a demonstration, a measurement of our faith in God and what He’s provided for us.

Have you wrapped your brain around that? Great. (If not, chew on it for a bit, and then try this next bit out). If works serve as a measurement of our faith, then the same could be said of being the answer to our own prayers and praying in the will of God. (Stay with me here, folks. I promise, I’ll make sense in a minute). You see, prayer is just a discussion between us and God. Any discussion… whether that’s a rant in anger at Him, a desperate plea for help, a wordless cry of pain, or a long involved discussion. Those are all prayers. And just as in discussions between people on earth, folks you can see and touch more easily than you can God, some conversations make more sense than others… they go more “smoothly” than others. Have you ever thought of measuring the success of a conversation? How would you do that? Maybe… maybe you could know that a conversation had been successful if the other person did something you were asking of them. That might be a good measurement. For instance, if I asked someone to raise their arm, and they didn’t, I might judge the conversation as a failure. If they did raise their arm, I’d know I’d succeeded in communicating what I was trying to say. Makes sense, right?

OK, so prayer is a conversation. So what about the times it seems we get no answer? Does that mean that the prayer wasn’t heard? Does that mean that my prayers were ignored? Not necessarily.  For instance, going back to examples we can hear and see and touch, a four year old can ask for an ice-cream sundae before supper, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get it. His mother understood the request, the conversation was a success, even though the child doesn’t think so. But Mom knows something the child doesn’t, and is over-ruling the child for the greater good of the child. The child wasn’t asking for something in the will of the parent, and in this case, the will of the parent is going to win. So maybe it’s a case of bad timing. What if the child’s younger sibling sees something shiny and pretty and wants it now? He asks his mother, but Mom says no. Again, the child might view the conversation a failure (assuming the child were capable of such rationalizations)… but because he doesn’t know what a knife is, or that it can hurt him, he doesn’t know that Mom was just protecting him. Sometimes, God says no to our requests because there’s something He knows that we don’t, and if we knew what He did, it would all make sense. I also know that not all unanswered prayers fit into these simple illustrations… but they’re a good starting point, and it’s enough to lead me to the next point I want to make. Prayer is a discussion, and part of judging the success of the conversation is if what you ask for is in the will of the one who can grant it.

Which brings me to this last point: when I pray and I ask for God to do things that He desires to do, He’s more likely to do them. My prayers are more likely to be successful when I’m praying His will. So how do I know I’m praying His will? Well, I can make it a point to build a relationship with Him, with His word, and learn about Him that way, and that will help. There’s another way, though: when you can see your prayers being answered AS YOU PRAY THEM, you know your prayer is successful. You must have been praying into the will of God. You must have been asking Him to do something He wanted to do anyway. Just as doing good things become a measure of your faith in God, being an answer to your own prayer becomes a measure of your ability to abide and pray in His will.

Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. It’s easy for Him to give you the desires of your heart… when what your heart desires is what He desires for you.


Musical Musing “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”

January 26, 2009

Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher & Higher) (As covered by Audio Adrenaline, orig. Jackie Wilson)

Your love keeps liftin’ me higher
Than I’ve ever been lifted before
So keep it up, yeah, quench my desire
And I’ll be at your side forevermore

You know your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
It keeps on liftin’ (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Higher (liftin’ me, higher and higher)
Yeah, yeah your love (your love keeps liftin’ me)
It keeps on liftin’ (your love keeps liftin’ me)
Higher (Liftin’ me higher and higher)

Now, once I was downhearted
Disappointment was my closest friend
But then you came and he soon departed
And you know he never showed his face again

I’m so glad I finally found you
Yes, that one, the one in a million, yeah
And I wish my lovin’ arms around you
‘Cause I can stand up and face the world

Come on, lift me up (your love keeps liftin’ me)

In case you didn’t know it, I’m a little odd. For instance, this morning as I write this, we’re speeding down the highway (not literally speeding, as in going over the speed limit, but my husband is driving as I type away in the passenger seat). But that’s part of how I am… when one of these things hit, I have to get it out of me before I lose it, even if I get up out of bed to do that (which is what it usually means) or type while we drive to visit his family (which is what it means now).

I did a musing on a choir song we’re doing next week (no, really, come join us at Rejoice North next week to hear it… I’m SO loving this song, even more now!), followed by “Learning to Walk“, about coming out of the cave of fear I’ve been in for so long. That song, “Draw Me Nearer” really hasn’t left me alone, because there was still so much that the Lord was trying to speak to me through it, but I had to have the courage to leave my little cleft in the rock first.

You see, Beloved, in that first verse, when we sing “I long to rise in the arms of faith”… it’s incredibly difficult to rise very far when you’ve buried yourself in a cleft at the base of a mountain for fear of a boulder. All the weight of your fears and insecurities form very effective weights. But the writer of Hebrews told us to throw off everything that might hold us back or hinder us that we might run this race with perseverance… and the Lord patiently called me to creep out of my cave of depression, out of the darkness into light.

In the second verse, when I was praying “Let my soul look up with a steady hope…” I was so afraid to look up. All I could see was the boulder waiting to crush me, all I could see were all the problems that I might still face (and yes, even as I write this, I am in discomfort, and I might still face them, so it’s not my circumstances that are changing this morning, but my position to Christ, and thus my outlook on them). I couldn’t look up with a steady hope until I could bear to look up at all. I couldn’t have a steady hope until I could hope at all… and though I said I was hoping in the Lord, there trembling in my cave, I’d actually lost sight of Him, and clung to the cave of despair instead. But now, Beloved, now as I creep slowly out, I find myself looking up, and instead of seeing that fearsome boulder, all I see is His face, filling my view, blotting out any fears. His perfect love for me drives away any fears I’ve had, because all I can see when I look up is love shining from Him.

Which brings us back to that third verse… and to the song that started this post. “There are heights of joy that I may not reach ’till I rest in peace with Thee.” Oh, Beloved! Until I crept out, I was buried under a mountain of fears and uncertainties. My reach was limited to my own height… and if you’ve ever met me, you know that my height is pretty small. Add to that my fear of heights, and well, on my own, I’m not going very far. But Beloved, He calls us out of ourselves, out of our own limitations, out of our fears, to a place where we rest in Him, where we find peace that surpasses all comprehension in Him and Him alone. And resting in His Peace, resting in His embrace… well, Beloved, when you’re in the arms of the One who created the universe, what heights could you not reach? And if He created them, how could you be anything but safe and secure in His arms as He carries you there? I asked God to “Draw Me Nearer,” and Beloved, how He has, and now, His love is lifting me higher!

This song was written by Jackie Wilson, and even The Ghostbusters recognized the infectious joy it captures (OK, OK, so The Ghostbusters are a fictional group)! Audio Adrenaline covered it, and finally we see whose love is capable of delivering this kind of powerful high, this joy that captures you and lifts you and everyone around you: God.

Oh, Beloved, He is so good. He is so faithful. He is answering my prayers even as I breathe them out, in ways I couldn’t have imagined them being answered. The Great Physician came to where I am, found me quavering and quaking in fear and loss, and He lifted me into His arms. He hasn’t healed my body, not yet… and maybe not in my lifetime. But more than that, He’s giving me back my hope, He’s giving me back my joy… Beloved, He gave me back my LIFE. He came to give us LIFE, abundant life, overflowing. His love is extravagant, overflowing the bounds of reason. He’s the God who throws parties for just ONE soul who is found. Beloved, He is SO faithful.

God is good ALL the time. And all the time, God is good!