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One song a month (hopefully) that moves me in a deep way and what goes on in my head when I hear it. 

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“Young at Heart” – Four Years Strong, Brain Pain

 

Listen to the song.
 

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Verse 1

I'm searching for you in the dark
Looking to find the calmer part
That keeps me young at heart

Verse 2

I'm showing you I can be brave
While staring down a tidal wave
That washes me away
Searching the base to try to find
A piece of you to save

Bridge

I'm trying to hold on to you
On to you

Bridge 2

I'm trying to hold on to you
I'm dying to hold on to you
I'm trying to hold on to you
I'm dying to hold on to you
So why can't I hold on to you? To you?

Verse 3

I'm searching for you in the dark
Looking to find the calmer part
That keeps me young at heart
Maybe just turning on the light
Is the perfect place to start

Hopefully you’ve played this song a few times by now.  Once to read the lyrics as you listened and at least once to crank it up, close your eyes and enter into what it might mean for you.  Go ahead…take another listen…I’ll wait.  Take your time………………….

 

Did you feel anything?  Any connection to the lyrics?  How about the soundscape?  Maybe it’s not your style…that’s okay…thanks for listening.

I have to be honest, this song grabbed me the first time I heard it for no other reason other than, I have daddy issues.  Not biological daddy issues, he was pretty cool and died much too soon.  Nope, these are Daddy issues with a capital “D”.  This Papa is the big Papa…the Abba.  I was raised to see him as a “he” so I apologize if this pronoun doesn’t fit your image of the big deity in the sky that is associated with the Christian religion.

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Generically he’s known as god (kind of lame name in English – his Hebrew names are way cooler – and of pagan origin – but that’s another story for another time).  To a huge portion of the population, he’s known as the creator, the sustainer, the end – and everything in between.  Just like seemingly every other people group that has ever lived, he exists to connect his followers to the unknown, and by the unknown I mean – the existential crisis’ of where did we come from and what happens to us when we die?

 

Throughout history people have made the mistake of trying to find god in the things they cannot explain.  The problem was/is that as knowledge grows and understanding of the natural world increases, the spaces for a mysterious god to hang out and work his magic seem to decrease.  This “god of the gaps” theology was critiqued as early as the 1800s.  Henry Drummond (1851 - 1897) was kicking around Scotland as an evolutionary biologist and Christian evangelist.  He wrote the following about his fellow believers in his book The Ascent of Man.

 

“There are reverent minds who ceaselessly scan the fields of Nature and the books of Science in search of gaps

—gaps which they will fill up with God. As if God lived in gaps?”

 

 

He’s got a point, and other theologians back him up on this.  Drummond was encouraging people to embrace god in the science that we did know (even evolution).  If you are looking for god in the gaps of your knowledge then your simplistic faith will find him everywhere and will be crushed as those spaces shrink.  News flash…you don’t know much compared to all the knowledge that is out there.  Once you learn how a seed germinates or how a supernova is formed, god disappears a bit more.  That’s why some people choose not to learn.  It’s the reason why people with mental illness were burned as witches in the Middle Ages and why even today some groups believe that homosexuals can go through therapy to be “cured.”  Ignorance is bliss…isn’t it?

 

I’m often amazed by how much pain and hurt is caused in this world because people insist that their version of god is the one that holds the truth.  Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or even the Atheist god, Skepticism, seems to cause schisms and fear wherever they are found (or not found).  Polarization of issues and ostracization of family members create worlds converse to the realities that are preached in the name of god.  A paradox that thousands of years of holy books and holy water haven’t been able to rectify.  Usually, the best answer we get to the question of why religion hurts so many is, “we’re just staying faithful to what the deity wants and we don’t understand its ways.”

 

Faith in a deity that acts in mysterious ways can be comforting.  Responsibility for actions don’t lie with the human worshipper, but with the sovereign god.  If someone is hurt, the god knows why and the human agent doesn’t need to figure it out, just be faithful.  Faithfulness leads to the action/reward cycle of “just obeying” in order to be blessed.  Did the deity command that you condemn an action done by someone else?  Sure.  I obey, he blesses.  But did he get you that parking space close to the store when it was pouring rain?  Well, maybe.  Did he decide to take that poor child who contracted cancer at age 3?  Well, he has a plan.  Did he not reveal himself to you when you asked because he was testing you?  No one can understand his ways (or so they say).  If god is an enigma that hides in the shadows then everything and nothing is god.  The scary thing about a ghost is not that it might be real, but that you might have imagined the whole thing.

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So, what does any of this have to do with this song by Four Years Strong?

 

Well, a few years ago (January 15, 2015 to be exact) I suffered a major mental breakdown.  If you’d like to hear the story, just ask, I’ll tell you, but for now you’ll just have to trust me.  It was major (like don’t leave the house for six months major).  I had my mind ripped from my skull and came up against a blackness thicker and emptier than anything I’ve ever faced.  For a long time, there was comfort in nothing.  Food, sleep, family, friends, medication and sadly god didn’t seem to help.

 

I had been raised a conservative Christian in a Baptist setting and god was taught to be a part of everything.  He was the reason everything existed and everything was headed back to him in a cataclysmic blood bath at the end of time.  Those who had prayed a “sinners’ prayer” would be whisked away to heaven while everyone else went through a hell-like tribulation, only be thrown into a literal hell afterwards to be burned alive for eternity.  Yeah, fun stuff.

 

Over the years I had moved away from the fundamental theology of the Baptists into the warmer and fuzzier theology of the liberal side of the Mennonite church.  These Mennonites were cozy and safe.  Jesus was all love and rainbows and hell was hardly ever spoken of.  It was a safe place to land after being scared to death of God, heaven, hell and second guessing everything I did because the judge was watching.  In fact, I liked it so much I went to seminary and got my Masters of Divinity from a Mennonite institution.

 

So, when this mental breakdown hit, my fundamental and liberal faith communities came to help me with their scripture, prayers and words of godly comfort.  I don’t want to be a complete jerk about this.  These people meant the best and they were practicing an ancient tradition that for centuries had helped so many people.  The problem was, it didn’t help me at all.  I remember in the middle of a dark time simply screaming at god, “Where the fuck are you!  What the fuck are you doing!  You say you love us, so why the fuck don’t you answer me!”

 

As I vented my anger to the heavens my Baptist upbring was whispering in the back of my mind, “Don’t test god!  Who are you to question him?  Shut up before something worse happens to you!”  Yet, in a different part of my mind was a quiet voice that has grown louder over time.  That voice simply asked the question, “Is there really a god even listening to me?”  I simply wanted peace.  Peace in my mind and life.  A peace that was supposedly offered by the god I was screaming at but had thus far refused to answer me.

 

Okay, so again, what does this have to do with the song?!?

 

I’m getting there.

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As time went by, I began to realize that since I was a child I had been scared of god and by extension Jesus.  They weren’t friends or a personal savior, they were behind a curtain, pulling levers and strings like the “wizard” of Oz.  The deity saw everything and with a yank of the silver cord could bestow ruby slippers for going home or belch fire and yell for supplication.  Later in life, especially as I studied in seminary and afterwards, I realized that the god I had always feared might be a god that never really existed.  Maybe, just maybe there was a god that really did want a relationship, a god who could be “closer than a brother”.

 

So at a point in the last eight years I began a quest for this personal god.  It began with the decision that corporate religion was getting in the way.  Instead of attending a church and going through the motions I would be part of an intimate house church and have deeper conversations and experiences with other seekers.  Together we would find this intimate god who, although still hidden, would reveal himself to us if we were humble and patient enough.

 

It was then that I started saying, “God, if you are there you need to show yourself to me in a way that I understand, because up to this point, I just don’t get you and why you do what you do.”  I decided to stop with religion and simply be myself in a world full of other people who were also searching.  I found others who felt the same way and were asking the same questions.  In fact, there are a bunch of us – a loose rag tag community who are looking for a genuine god who wasn’t just bookends to reality but a real thing, in a real place, with a real voice.

 

I had traded in the “god of the gaps” for the “god of the here and now.”  And you know what?  I heard and experienced confusion and nothing.  No insights, no message, no closeness.  This god was being pretty silent.  I even started recording every coincidence that happened to me in a journal.  If god was trying to communicate I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t missing the signs.  But even that proved not to work (that journal is pretty cool though and I hope to share more about it at another point).

 

Eventually, after years of disappointment, the house church faded I stopped asking god to show up.  Instead, my mantra became, “God if you’re there but aren’t going to show up, then the way I’m living is going to have to be good enough.”  That’s not to say I immediately went out and robbed a bank, cheated on my wife and started using heavy drugs.  I had always loved the teachings of Jesus and truly believed that his words on peace, love, suffering and giving were spot on.  So, I vowed that Jesus’ teachings on these things (and others) would be my guideposts on the journey of life.

 

At this point, you’re probably getting tiered of this long whining story about a boy and his god.  Have patience.

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Eight years have passed since that massive breakdown where my faith was crushed and my life reborn.  And you know what?  I do feel at peace.  Truly, for the first time in my life I feel more peace than I ever felt.  By letting go of my expectations of what god is and where god might be I’ve been able to rest.  I’ve come to a point where I honestly don’t care if there is a god or not.  If there is, he’s decided to stay silent for his own reasons.  If he is a god of grace, then hopefully my longing to truly know him and how I chose to live my life counts for something.  If he is a god that only lets people in who pray a certain prayer and then burns the rest…well that’s a bit disconcerting but I choose love over fear.

 

If there isn’t a god, I feel that I’ve found a beautiful way to live and I don’t worry about what’s after death (after all I don’t remember anything before I was born).  Lights out at the end is okay with me. 

 

More and more I refuse to get into debates about god that lead down paths of anger and fear.  Discussions for understanding are fine, but pitched battles for truth are a bit suspect.  I have peace, which is what I wanted all along.  In some mysterious ironic twist did god grant me the peace I was looking for by having me walk further away from him?  I can’t say, because he isn’t saying.  But I will keep the light on and the windows of possibility open.  Religion and god have hurt enough people to fill the ocean with tears.  I’m interested in throwing out lifelines, not watching more people drown.

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So, God, if you are listening, a lot of us are trying to “be brave, while staring down a tidal wave, that washes us away.”

And the more people I meet, and the more honest conversations I have, I find people who are “searching the base, to try to find a piece of you to save.”

It feels like we are “searching for you in the dark, looking to find the calmer part that keeps us young at heart.”

God, so many people are “trying to hold on to you”, some are “dying to hold on to you”, but you don’t answer.  There is darkness when it comes to you and your ways.

So, please take some advice from us mere mortals who are trying to keep an open mind, “maybe just turning on the light is the perfect place to start”.

~ ~ ~

 

See, I told you I’d get back to the song.  Now it’s your turn.  Is there a song that you can point to that gives insight into your thoughts on the divine?

Commets
Comments (2)

Convidado:
17 de mai. de 2023

Nate- thank you so much for your honesty and your courage in relating this story of your wrestling with the concept of God. You're not alone in your wrestlings, as all of us who walk the earth will do so for the rest of our lives, regardless of our beliefs. In our struggle to understand that which seems so far beyond our understanding it does seem much easier to just choose to not believe in anything, as we have seen the effects of religious violence and extremism play out in horrific ways that make us wonder: Who is God, is there even a god or how can we reconcile a god of all goodness with the miseries of the world? These are very real, completely understandable questions. But in reality, regardless of our bitterness or discomfort at the idea, belief is unavoidable. To believe in something beyond ourselves or the concept of understanding truth itself is inherent to our very natures. Many theologians throughout the centuries have described our individual lives as a constant wrestling match with God, a struggle not only to understand our maker but ultimately to understand ourselves, as we who are Christian have been raised to believe we are made in the image of God (a very daunting yet at the same time beautiful, misunderstood concept, I must say!). Sometimes I almost think we have come into this world as amnesiacs, spiritual amnesiacs to be exact. Like all amnesiacs, we have forgotten much about our true selves but not everything. The question for all of us is undoubtedly this: Who are we? This question leads me to consider that perhaps the capacity to believe isn't a curse or an obstacle but rather a mirror through which we might once again come to truly know ourselves. I personally have found great consolation in this idea. Thanks again for another thought-provoking piece!

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Nate Barker
Admin
18 de mai. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thanks for the feedback and sharing some of your thoughts. As I engage people on this topic I find that each one of us has a unique lens we look through at who/what/if god is. Most, if not all of those lenses are shaped by our experiences which are each as unique as the person whom they have happened to. The concept of god has been with us for a very long time, and most likely a long time yet to come.


You use the word wrestling in your response...the ancients had this same idea. That's how Israel (changed from Jacob) got his name. It means "wrestles with god". The story in Genesis 32 is fascinating. Jacob wrestles all night with "a man", who he later finds out was god. In the account the man realizes that he will not win against Jacob in this wrestling match so he touches Jacob's hip and dislocates it. Even after this Jacob doesn't let go until the man reveals who he is. Jacob, a mere moral, is not overpowered. Jacob later realizes that he was wrestling god and is amazed that god he "saw the face of god and lived".


Whether this story really happened or not, it is an interesting allegory for the millilumens that followed where people still wrestle with this man/god. For me personally, I'm tired of wrestling. If that what god is in to, more power to him (pun intended). I'd settle for a nice friendly chat over coffee.

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