Friday, October 18, 2013

Song of the Week: 10/18/13

In keeping with the "border of twilight" theme and in anticipation of another post on the theme this weekend, I give you...

Thousand Foot Krutch/"Hurt"/The Art of Breaking

This is one of those songs that just came out of the blue.  Thousand Foot Krutch, though somewhat popular, was never (in my opinion at least) one of the greatest bands in the world; although they had some pretty good songs their overall career never exactly stood out.  Except, of course, from this absolute gem hidden right in the middle of The Art of Breaking (which is probably their best album as well).  I don't think anyone saw this one coming (maybe not even the band themselves) and I was certainly surprised (in a good way) when this Thousand Foot Krutch song that my brother kept insisting I had to hear became one of my favorite songs of all time.

Everything about the song is perfect.  The opening two-chord progression is simple but breathtakingly intense; the slightly dissonant minor 9th chord is perfect.  The contrast between the tense build-up of the verses and the mournful (but strangely major-key) piano-vocal stylings of the chorus is one of the best things about the song.  They shouldn't work together, but somehow they do.  Trevor McNevan covers the entire spectrum of his vocal range, reaching up into his falsetto for the high notes before going full-throttle in the final chorus (which has some tasteful and skillful lead guitar parts to boot).  The lyrics speak for themselves.

My brother is going to be thrilled that I posted this (even though he is still probably slightly annoyed that this is the only TFK song that I ever care to listen to).  Hope y'all enjoy it as well.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

God Talks Back

                When we pray, we speak to God.  And yet how does God speak back to us?  We often speak of prayer as a two-way conversation: we pray, and God "answers" our prayers.  Still, we are hard pressed to define what constitutes an "answer" from God.  Sometimes we speak of God answering us through everyday events.  Other times, we say that God has answered us through an insight he gave to our minds.  Still other times, we look back at our lives and see how God answered our prayers in ways we did not understand then.  And yet again, we speak of God's answers when they come in specific ways in which God grants our requests.
                But none of this helps the one who looks for an answer from God and does not receive it.  While other Christians speak of God responding to their petitions left and right as if He were audibly whispering in their ears, those smitten by the silence of God wait - and wait - and wait.  And still no answer comes.  His silence is unbearable, stifling, driving them to despair.  They call, and He does not answer.  They seek Him, and He is nowhere to be found.  But has He not promised to hear us?  Has He not told us that He would answer?  Has He not urged us to persist?  And yet His silence remains unbroken.
                Where do we search for an answer in a land barren of words?  How do we draw words from the well of silence?  God has promised to meet us.  Where then, is He?  Where is the fulfillment of His promise?  Where in this desert do His words of living water flow?  Where does His silence break?
                And we must lean on His promises, and search for Him where He has told us He would be found.
                He has not promised to answer us with visions from heaven.  He has not promised to answer us by planting thoughts in our minds.  He has not promised to answer us through the words of others.  He has not promised to answer us through "secular" or "Christian" music.  He has not promised to answer us with voices in our heads.  He has not promised to answer us by descending from heaven and meeting us at our coffee tables.  He has not promised to answer us through religious experience.  He has not promised to answer us with "the pull of the Spirit on our hearts."  He has not promised to answer us by not saying anything and letting us figure it out on our own.  He has not promised to answer us through the words of Confucian philosophers.  He has not promised to answer us in any sort of miraculous event, whisper in the ear, or coincidental discovery.
                Surely, it is possible for God to speak to us through any of these things (although some, admittedly, are a bit far-fetched).  But we should not seek to find Him in these places, for He has not promised to be there. 
                He has promised to meet us in His Word.
                Oh you who seek a message or a reply from God, look no further than His own Word!  It is in the divine words of Scripture that you will find your Lord, for it is breathed out by Him.  There He has promised to meet us, there He has promised to speak to us, there He has promised to instruct us, to reveal Himself to us, manifesting His whole counsel to us.  There He has promised to give us faith, for "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."  It is there that His Holy Spirit guides us, for His Spirit inspired the Word, is in the Word, and works through the Word.  Some claim prophecies, others personal divine guidance, others miracles, and certainly we should not diminish the value of these things, should God choose to reveal Himself by them.  But the one way in which He has actually promised - and His promise cannot be broken - to reveal Himself to us is in His Word, the Word of Holy Scripture.  Friend, should you seek an answer to prayer, do not grope in despair for a special revelation from God.  He already has revealed Himself specially, and when you talk to Him, look no further for His answer than in His Word.  For when Elijah sought Him, He was not in the great signs - the fire, the whirlwind, the earthquake - but in the still, small voice.  That still, small voice is His Word.  Seek Him there.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Border of Twilight

Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter is one of the seminal masterpieces of fantasy literature.  Rife with literary motifs, symbols and imagery, Dunsany tells his tale in a distant, almost mythological style, evoking powerful emotions and longings in his audience with the images he uses.

One of the most poignant of these images is that of "the "Border of Twilight."  In the novel, "the fields we know" are separated from the mysterious kingdom of Elfland by this border, upon which twilight rests perpetually.  It is this border that foxes and unicorns traverse in their journeys in and out of Elfland; and which all who seek to enter Elfland must cross.  There's something mystical and strange about this border, something that's frightening and incredibly beautiful at the same time, provoking awe in anyone who reads this book and has their heart invested in it.  It is a frightful and wonderful thing to cross this permeable but formidable border, and likewise to walk the border, to remain there for a while; for on the border one is beckoned by two worlds: Elfland on the one hand and the realm of humans on the other; lured by the charms of Elfland and the familiarities of the fields we know, one can sit in tension and indecision on the border for a great long while, gazing into one world or the other until suddenly pulled into one by either a certain call that outstrips all others or by the mere pull of time upon the human spirit.

There is a border of this kind in our lives also; while we all traverse the border many times in our lives, and while we all linger there from time to time, some of us remain there for longer, caught between two worlds, lured by both and unable to choose one over the other.  This Border of Twilight separates a world of darkness from a world of light, a world of suffering from a world of thriving, a world of sorrow from a world of joy.

Some of us dwell in the light.  No one, of course, escapes suffering during their lives, but some are able, by the grace of God, to experience long stretches of happiness and prosperity.  They seem to have their lives all together.  No serious harm seems to touch them.  If they experience loss, they recover quickly.

Some of us, likewise, dwell in the darkness.  Misfortunes befall them at every turn.  They seem to bend and break under the wrath of God or some wicked twist of fate.  Tragedy after tragedy, pain after pain comes into their lives, piling on like debris in a hurricane of travesty.  Or, perhaps, they are overwhelmed by a single but chronic pain, either physical, mental, or emotional, that will not let them go no matter how they struggle against it.

These, of course, are the two extremes; most of us have a mixture of these things in our lives, experiencing sorrow and joy in turn or even simultaneously, but each of us also goes through periods in their lives when we experience ourselves as more in the darkness or in the light, to varying degrees of extremity.

But besides these two and their various admixtures, there is a third state which humans can fall into.  It falls between the darkness and the light but is in fact neither.  Both lie on either side, but neither encroaches into the no-man's-land between.

This land is the Border of Twilight.

Those who wander this border live in perpetual dusk, neither in the darkness nor the light, but between the day and the night.  One one side of them they see the joys of human life, on the other the pains, and cannot fully take part in either of them.  From time to time, like the fox, they wander to and fro from day to night, tasting the pleasures and pains of each one, but always return to linger at the border, and there they wait - and wait - and wait.

For these people are those who are relatively free of trouble in their own lives; although they must experience good and bad like anyone else, on the whole they are mostly healthy physically and otherwise, having not enough misfortune to like a sorrowful existence, so that even though they may have times of sorrow they are able to bounce back quickly and to enjoy life, knowing that life is good despite occasional misfortunes.

However, these cannot enjoy the happiness that their own lives would seem to afford them, for close to them lies a darkness, a darkness they can neither disperse nor penetrate, which does not cover them but weighs upon their soul because of its closeness.  This darkness, the darkness which overtakes the lives of those close to our border-dwellers, evokes compassion, pity, empathy, and sorrow in them, so that they cannot freely enjoy their place in the light but feel compelled to assist their friends and neighbors in their struggling and stumbling in the dark.

But they cannot.

Why can these men and women not penetrate the darkness?  The answers could be many.  One who dwells on the border may be a parent of a son or daughter who has rejected their upbringing and lives in evil and injustice.  Despite the pleas of mother and father, the child refuses to listen and continues in his evil ways.  Or he may have a friend who is struggling with any type of suffering, but shuts him out and will not allow him to help.  Alternately, for some reason this person of the border may feel incapable of helping or unqualified to do so, or may merely be afraid of rejection or of making the situation worse.  He may furthermore see a great injustice in the world but not know what he can do to stop it.  In each case, he dwells close to the darkness that covers others, but cannot enter it.

So in this way, the Border of Twilight houses those who will not dwell in either the darkness or the light.  They cannot dwell in the light because of their empathy for those in the darkness.  They cannot dwell in the darkness because it shuns those who it has not overcome.  So for these people, neither darkness or light will come, but instead twilight never ends.  They wander the border attempting to break into one or the other, oftentimes failing and occasionally succeeding - but success in penetrating the border does not guarantee success in endeavors on either side.  Oftentimes they limp back to the border in defeat, lingering there and unwilling to leave for many days because of the fear that failure will once again meet their penetration of the border.

They long sometimes for the darkness, sometimes for the light, but their longing for the light rebuffs that of the darkness, and their longing for the darkness rebuffs that for the light.  They do not feel at home in either place.  When in either place, they feel they belong on the other.  They do not feel at home on the border, but return their because they have no other place.

Everyone traverses the border at some point in their lives.  Everyone lingers there for a few minutes at the least.  But some wander for days, months, years.  Sometimes they wander by choice, sometimes by circumstance, but they wander nonetheless, feeling self-pity and ashamed of it, knowing they are fortunate but feeling unfortunate, torn between two worlds and lost in fear and indecisiveness.

I often walk the border.  I have lingered there many times in recent days.  It is a lonely place.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Song of the Week

Well, here goes.  My brand new blog already has its first weekly feature: Friday's song of the week.  Each Friday, I plan to post a different song; something that I've been listening to lately, or have been turned on to by a friend, or that I've found reflects my present state of mind or speaks to me, or that I think is relevant to current events.  So, without further ado, Ambient Hurricanes' first song of the week is...

Perfect songs aren't easy to come by.  In fact, you could probably make a case that they don't exist.  But even if they don't, Rush's "Distant Early Warning," from their 1984 masterpiece Grace Under Pressure, is about the closest anyone has ever come to writing one.  Complex yet concise, "Distant Early Warning" covers so much ground in about four and a half-minutes that it takes myriads of listens to even begin to understand it.  It's a masterpiece of good rock songwriting, mixing in all sorts of textures, developing themes in subtle ways, incorporating polyphonic lines, using simple ideas to create a wall of tension.  Not to mention that it's one of Geddy Lee's all-time best vocal performances.  The words, furthermore, perfectly demonstrate why Neil Peart, at his best, is a master lyricist; they're vague enough to leave room for ambiguity but specific enough to actually mean something, incorporating vibrant imagery that evokes powerful emotion, mixing musings on current events with observations on human nature to create a lyric that is both timely and timeless. 

The world weighs on my shoulders
But what am I to do?
You sometimes drive me crazy
But I worry about you
I know it makes no difference
To what you're going through
But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you

Finally, "Distant Early Warning" leads into my planned new series of blog posts.  My next post will elaborate upon some of the themes explored in the song, and others following will explore these themes in even greater detail.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Your Faith Has Made You Well

"Your faith has made you well."
                                 - Luke 8:49
                This is not an instance of "faith healing," as the false prophets term their scam miracle orgies.  "If only you have enough faith, if only your faith is strong enough," they say, "You will be healed."  The prosperity preachers and televangelists, similarly, claim, "If you only have enough faith, God will grant you riches" or "He will mend your marriage."  This foolishness has taken hold in America, where our individualistic, self-centered, consumeristic culture has taught us to view religion as a commodity, faith as a self-made virtue; "only make yourself believe harder," these false prophets say, "and your desires will be fulfilled."  How easy to take passages like these and use them in support of this heresy!  How simple to deceive the people by twisting the Word of God!
                A closer look at this passage shatters the illusion of this interpretation.  Luke does not tell the reader how strong of a faith this woman possessed.  In fact, by noting that she had gone from doctor to doctor, spending all her living to no avail, Luke suggests that this may have merely been a last resort, a shot in the dark, a last hope for some miracle to bestow salvation.  And what a miracle came!  Though she merely touched the hem of Jesus' cloak, this woman was healed fully and immediately.  Was this the expected result?  Did she have unshakable faith that Christ could heal her, or was her faith flawed, desperate, broken, despairing?  Though Luke does not specify, the latter seems more likely for this woman, driven by desperation to the only possible source of healing left known to her.  Would this be another of the quack physicians who would take advantage of her, demanding her money and then failing to assist her?  How could she know?  And yet, her desperation drove her to Jesus.
                We also must be like this woman, flying to Christ for aid in all trouble, begging merely to touch the hem of his cloak in the faith that He can make us well.  Do not wait until you believe your faith to be strong enough before you seek the Lord.  Do not wait to be free from sin before you beg forgiveness.  For the strength of God is revealed in weakness; He soothes our fears and calms our doubts.  Will Christ cast away the weak when they come to Him?  Will He begrudge healing for the one who is not sure whether healing is possible?  Surely not, for this is not merely the Savior who tested the Syrophoenician woman and declared her faith greater than that of any in Israel, but also the Savior who healed the son of the man who cried "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"  He will not cast away the tortured, despairing, weak, doubting, sinful, sorrowful, flawed soul that comes to Him, for "a bruised weed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out."
                Indeed, this woman's faith did make her well, as our faith makes us well, but we must not be deceived as to believe that its efficacy is derived from its potency.  Both the strong and the weak, the firm and the wavering, are justified through faith.  Christ speaks "your faith has made you well" both to the certain and the uncertain.  For faith is not a work of our doing, but a gift of God.  Our faith does not depend on how strongly we cling to God, but upon how strongly He clings to us.  That, truly, is faith: when Christ clings to His child as a mother clings to hers; our faith is in His hands, not in ours.  For what faith has a child in the mother who abandons him?  But if the mother clings to her child and holds him in her arms, he has faith in her, not as a work of his own, but because of the love that his mother gives him.   So it is with the believer and Christ, for "we are weak but He is strong," and his strength shows itself in weakness.
                The faith of the woman in this passage made her well because it drove her to Jesus.  And is that not what faith does?  Just as the child cries for His mother, so we cry to Christ in the day of trouble.  It matters not whether we are certain concerning His aid, whether we have learned to fully trust Him (and have any of us?) or whether our trust is faltering, doubting, often bitter and angry, asking "why, Lord?" and finding no answer.  It does not matter how we feel.  Faith drives us to Christ, desperate and full of longing, doubting and complaining.  We doubt whether He can save us.  We doubt whether He is really there.  And yet faith drives us to Him all the same, for He will not let us go.  Though we feel distant from Him, though we pray to Him feeling as if we only address a projection of our own desire, He listens and answers nonetheless.  Faith is not about how much we are able to trust God.  It is not about how close we feel to Him.  It is not about how little doubt we have.  Faith drives us to Christ.  Weary, torn, and helpless we come to Him, and He will give us rest.

Greetings From the Border of Twilight


Jacob Frost here.  After several months of wondering what in the world I was going to do with all the random stuff I write, I have decided to put it on a blog.  I write about music, theology, politics, ethics, sports, philosophy, literature, the arts, death, language, beauty, and the hopefully I'll find a few like-minded souls out there interested in what I have to say.  Anyway, welcome to my blog...and for anyone who is reading, just want to let you know that I appreciate it, and hopefully I'll be able to post often enough to make it worthwhile.

My commenting policy is as follows:

1.  Don't be a jerk.

Thus endeth my commenting policy.

So welcome everyone, thanks for reading.  By the way, the enigmatic title of this post is a reference to Lord Dunsany's fantasy masterpiece The King of Elfland's Daughter.  It's my name for a specific concept; one that I may begin blogging about in the near future...