Category Archives: Music

Finding Jesus In An Ed Sheeran Song

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“We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing*
Hearts are never broken
Time’s forever frozen still”

Ed Sheeran, Photograph

[*ok, technically our eyes are closed in the picture.  But everything else applies.]

I love that picture.  It was taken while Tyler and I were still dating– long before kids, household chores, and mortgage payments.  Back when we were just a couple of college kids listening to music and taking a goofy (if somewhat mushy) selfie.  It was snapped with an iPhone and stored in a “Pictures” folder, to be looked at countless times in the days, months, and years that followed.

“So you can keep me inside the pocket of your ripped jeans, holdin’ me closer ’til our eyes meet.  You won’t ever be alone.  Wait for me to come home”

Of course, when Ed Sheeran sings that his beloved can “keep him” in the form of a photograph until they meet again, it is only an analogy; and there is a bittersweetness to it. When Tyler and I were separated by a few states after we graduated from college, I probably looked at the above picture over a hundred times.  While it made me happy to see his face in the picture, it didn’t make me miss him any less—in fact it probably made me miss him even more.

At the end of the day we all know that a picture is only a picture.  And the memories a picture brings with it can only go so far.

You Won’t Ever Be Alone

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Well last week I happened to hear Photograph on the radio after leaving the adoration chapel, only this time it wasn’t so bittersweet.

As I listened to the now familiar melody, I reflected on the lyrics and on a lifetime of visits to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel— visiting Jesus present in the Eucharist in times of joy, in times of pain, and even just out of a desire to get out of the house with the kids—and the song suddenly took on a different meaning.

“The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.” (Fulton Sheen)

“Loving can hurt.”

All the times I visited the chapel and brought Jesus the pain my heart was feeling: through teenage heartbreaks, feelings of longing, feelings of loneliness.  “You know it can get hard sometimes.”  The Love contained in that tiny white host was there even in the midst of the hurt.

“Loving can heal.”

That tiny white host has brought my life such healing through the years.  I don’t expect to know the full extent I have been healed through Jesus’ Presence in the Eucharist until I behold Him face to face in Heaven, but on this side of things, I know that “Loving can heal,” because in my visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament I have truly seen how “loving can mend your soul.”

“Time’s forever frozen still.”

The Eucharist that I visit in the adoration chapel on a weekday with my two small children is the same Jesus who died for me on Calvary.  It is the same Jesus the Church’s greatest saints bowed before throughout history.  He is the same Jesus who was present in the tabernacles of the Churches in the Middle Ages, the same Jesus that faithful soldiers during WWII drew their strength from, and the same Jesus my great-great grandparents received throughout their lifetime.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

“You won’t ever be alone.”

Back when Tyler and I had to do the long-distance thing before we got married, the pictures we had from the times we were together were just as the song says: memories frozen in time that we could visit when we missed each other.  But a picture is just a picture.

In the Eucharist, Jesus gives us so much more.  He is able to actually deliver what the song can only dream about.  His Body, His Blood, His Soul, His Divinity–they are all actually contained in the tiny white host.  There we can keep Him closer until our eyes meet in Heaven.  And we won’t ever be alone.

“Good child: see how lovers on earth kiss the flowers, the letters, the mementos of those they love…Then you, how could you ever forget that you have him always at your side–yes, Him?”

– Saint Josemaria Escriva

“Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

-Jesus

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Has The Cross Made Me “Flawless”?

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I heard a song on the radio the other day making a pretty bold claim…

“No matter the hurt, or how deep the wound is, no matter the pain, still the truth is: The cross has made, the cross has made you flawless.”

(The song is called, Flawless, and it’s by the Christian band MercyMe)

It’s a bold claim sung to a catchy tune.  But is it true?

Has the cross made me flawless?

I think that any Christian–Catholic or otherwise–will be the first to admit we are not perfect.  We are all sinners!  That’s why we need a Savior.

The song isn’t disputing this.  As a Catholic, I believe that apart from Jesus and apart from the cross, I’m toast.  I believe when the Bible tells me that apart from Jesus, I can do nothing– NOTHING!  So when I “get it right,” it’s only by God’s grace.  And when I get it wrong, it’s God’s grace that calls me back.  I think the song and I are good on this front.  All is grace.

Where the song and I hit a rough patch is its explanation of what that grace actually looks like in daily life.

The song continues:

“Could it possibly be that we simply can’t believe that this unconditional kind of love would be enough to take a filthy wretch like this and wrap him up in righteousness? But that’s exactly what He did.”

 

I think the music video for this song does a good job of illustrating this point further.  In it, the band begins covered in gooey-gunk, and as the song progresses the gunk flies off of them until their suits are as white as the wall against which they are performing.

This is interspersed with images of Christians juxtaposed with phrases describing their “flaws.” Examples of these flaws include:

 “prone to selfishness”

“Lives with guilt from reckless living”

“often puts work as priority over family”

etc…

Towards the end of the song, as the band gets cleaner and cleaner, these “flaws” are covered, one by one with, the word, “Flawless,” as the people smile from ear to ear.

The cross has made them “flawless.”

Is Jesus “Enough”?

The song’s claim is that what Jesus did on the cross was “enough to take a filthy wretch like [me] and wrap him up in righteousness.”

It’s a really nice thought, and I mean that wholeheartedly.  The idea that Jesus loves us so much that He died for us, and that His love for us is so great that He doesn’t even care about all of the horrible ways in which we hurt Him, ourselves, and others.  He just wants to wrap us— filthy and wretched us— up in His righteousness and welcome us into His Kingdom.

It really is a nice thought.

But it actually stops short of what I, as a Catholic, believe Jesus did—and continues to do— for me through dying the cross.

Not There Yet

“But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name”

(John 1:12)

I’m prone to selfishness.  I can be a little judgmental.  I often have trouble trusting wholeheartedly in where God is leading me.  These are just some examples of my own flaws.

Because of the cross, I know that I am not defined by these flaws.  However, I also know through personal experience that these flaws didn’t suddenly go away the day I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.  I love Jesus and I want to be like Him, but I still find myself struggling with selfishness.  I still find myself struggling to trust.

That’s what I believe the cross did, and what the cross continues to do in my life.  The cross gives me the grace for the struggle.  The cross gives meaning to the struggle.  It gives me the grace to unite my struggle to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus doesn’t need for me to pretend my struggle doesn’t exist simply because I believe that He died for me.  He actually wants me to struggle with Him, so that I may one day be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17)

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

I believe that the cross is still in the process of making me flawless.  I pray that one day I will be able to sing along with the joyful refrain of this song as I behold my God face to face in Heaven.

Until then, I’m still a work in progress.

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Some Thoughts on the “Blank Space” Dating Mentality (A Song Review…Kind Of)

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I am not at all ashamed to admit that there is a soft spot in my heart for Taylor Swift. Many a drive has been spent rocking out to her albums, and more than one of my teenage heartaches once found a balm in her lyrics.

These days, my appreciation for Miss Swift has less to do with my personally being able to relate to her lyrics about heartache, and more to do with the joyful confidence that exudes from my nieces when I get to see them rocking out to Shake It Off.

However, every time I hear the song Blank Space on the radio, my heart breaks a little. The lyrics are so relatable for so many in that stage in life when they are searching for “the one,” so in a sense I get it. In fact maybe my heart breaks partially because I’ve been there. I know that longing, I know that heartache. I know it can feel like a never-ending cycle.

But I also know now that it doesn’t have to.

The song is all about that willingness to put yourself out there despite past heartache. Swift sings in the song’s refrain:

“I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane/
But I’ve got a blank space, Baby, and I’ll write your name.”

Apart from the rest of the lyrics and outside of the melancholic melody of the song, these words almost sound like a dare coming from someone who treats love and dating as if it were just a game. In fact, at another point early in the song she actually says, “Love’s a game, wanna play?” However, anyone who has actually listened to the whole song can tell you, Blank Space isn’t meant to be the happy refrain of someone who is content playing the field. Rather, it’s the jaded defense mechanism of all of us who have ever bought into the false promises associated with chasing “the one.”

“You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain”

I’m not picking on Taylor Swift. I actually like the song and am glad she wrote it. And its popularity attests to the fact that so many of us can relate—and so many of us are sick of it.

The problem with the Blank Space mindset is that it has a false premise. It assumes that your only two options in soul mate-searching are “forever” or “down in flames.” When faced with the latter, we are presented with the choice to become closed off and bitter, or to continue to be open in the hopes that the next one who comes along may actually be “the one.”  We justify putting ourselves on this merry-go-round by hoping desperately that any and all heartache or pain will be worth it once we finally find our happily ever after.

For what it’s worth, to anyone still caught on the merry-go-round, I’d like to offer another way. “Putting yourself out there” does not have to be synonymous with “giving yourself away.”  And not giving yourself away to everyone you date doesn’t have to mean becoming closed off and bitter.

I’m not promising that you’ll escape all heartbreak, nor that you won’t encounter pain.  But there is a way to avoid those feelings of emptiness, being utterly lost, or broken.  It’s called chastity, and it’s more than just not having sex.

2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Chastity means admitting that love isn’t a game and dating isn’t merely for fun.  (Dating can and should be fun, but “fun” isn’t the end goal.)  The chaste person agrees with the Blank Space mentality insofar as admitting that real love must involve an utterly terrifying, and completely vulnerable, total gift of self.  The difference is that the chaste person waits to do so until forever is promised— not with empty words, but with a lifelong commitment.

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote explains the way that I wish I had approached dating in my Blank Space days.  It’s still among my most visited posts on this site, so check it out if you’re looking for tips on how to get off that merry-go-round.  😉

I’ll be praying for you!

6 Things_Pinterest

 

 

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In Defense of “Christian Music”

A few weeks back, Marc over at Bad Catholic wrote a great little piece about so-called “Christian Music” (in typical Bad Catholic form, the post is entitled, “5 Reasons to Kill Christian Music,” I certainly recommend a read).

In it, he made the point that labeling a music genre “Christian” reduces Christianity into a modifying adjective, when in fact Christianity is reality. Amen to that.

Marc’s post made a lot of good points (and I am certainly happy that more and more Christians are standing up and saying that a Gospel-themed message is no excuse for poor art).  Still…I was raised on Christian music. I grew up listening to radio stations like K-Love. So I feel somewhat compelled to write a defense of the music that so defined my adolescence, and the music I still often enjoy listening to.

It seems to me that a lot of people view the “Christian music” genre as some sort of sneaky attempt to fool people into thinking that we Christians can be just as cool as the rest of the “rock ‘n roll” scene. But this was never the way it was presented to me; or at least it was never the way that I viewed Christian music. Growing up, I listened to music that was specifically about my faith because I enjoyed celebrating my faith. I like Jesus! And goshdarnit, sometimes I enjoy singing about that fact. Specifically.

I also like eternal truths that transcend music genres. I like the theme of longing for something greater than ourselves. I like the theme of recognizing our fallen state and confessing our faults in humility. I like the theme of unconditional love. All of these are undeniably Christian themes and all of these are undeniably found in so-called “secular” music.

My point is that this doesn’t have to be a question of either Christian music or mainstream-music-with-Christian-themes. Embrace the wisdom and beauty of “both/and.” As a child, I mostly listened to music that fell within the “Christian” genre. As I grew up, I still listened to that music, but like any young adult I branched out a little as well. What I love is that I’ve often found truth and beauty in both (even though both sides have definitely had their share of awful music).

So let’s not destroy Christian music. Let’s just destroy bad music. If it’s not promoting the truth and/or it’s not beautiful, it’s not befitting of our dignity as children of God.

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I Just Need Somebody to LOOOOOVVEE

Maybe it sounds cheesy to us when Justin Bieber is singing about it.  It certainly sounded much more rock ‘n roll when Queen was talking about it back in the 70s, but it’s a theme that has stood the test of time:

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

This should really come as no surprise, since—the educated Catholics we are—we know that it’s Christian theology 101 that God created us out of love for us, in order that we would love.  Thus, the goal of our life—what we are created for— is to give of ourselves completely in love.  Our life’s fulfillment, true happiness, can only be found in this love.

Of course, life-giving love can express itself in this life in a myriad of ways, but the basic principles are the same.  See 1 Corinthians 13 (hint: it applies to lots more than just romantic love):

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

We’re all created for this kind of love.  Priests, religious, married people, single people, young people and old people: love is the call of the Christian life.

Scratch that.  Love is the call of the human being.  Christianity simply presents you with the reality of it: The Cross.

This is kind of a big deal.  We spend so much of our energy trying to come up with a way to package the Gospel in a way that’s appealing to this generation or to that demographic, but when it comes right down to it, there’s a reason why St. Paul says, “We proclaim Christ crucified.”  We proclaim love: the subject of every artist’s work, the answer to every heart’s longing.  No need to convince people they want it, because it’s the one thing we can’t stop talking, singing, or writing about.

If people don’t recognize love in what we’re offering them with our evangelization efforts, then it might be time to revisit our own understanding of what it is we have in the first place.