Taylor Swift

Last Monday I took advantage of a friend’s spare ticket and went to see Taylor Swift at the O2 in London.

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I normally take myself pretty seriously. I’m not keen on wilfully making a fool of myself, e.g. by dancing, or drinking lots of alcohol. I guess I’m scared of losing people’s respect.

But for some reason that I can’t fully explain, I enjoy the feeling of my own ridiculousness that I sense when I, a 26-year old man, listen to Taylor’s music.

Maybe it’s because it’s hard work maintaining a respectable persona, and it feels good to actively separate myself from that for a while.

I guess it’s what many people would call a “guilty pleasure”, but I also genuinely think she’s a really talented songwriter, and even if the content of some of her songs doesn’t exactly speak deeply to my soul, I still appreciate the talent that’s on display.

There is, however, one particular aspect of the actual content of some of Taylor’s songs that I really do enjoy. I like the way she conveys a feeling of unrestrained happiness.

My favourite example at the moment is Stay Stay Stay.

Perhaps things are changing, but it seems like, at least for most of the time I’ve been aware of popular culture, it’s not been considered cool to express happiness. Cool people are cynical about everything. (Perhaps this is just a British thing?). The cool movies are the ones that don’t have happy endings. The cool musicians are the ones that sing about their dissatisfaction with life.

Don’t get me wrong, I often tend to take a pessimistic view of things too, but I believe God created the universe with the intention that we experience unrestrained joy, and that this would lead us to see God himself (as the creator of such a joy-inducing universe) as indescribably glorious. So while I also love a lot of songs that express angst because the world is broken and we don’t experience that joy perfectly yet, I enjoy songs that express something like the kind of joy that I think God designed us for, and I find that in some of Taylor’s songs. (I like Owl City for the same reason, and he also seems to have a similar relationship with God.)

I also appreciate how Taylor seems to still be genuinely amazed by the fact that so many people want to see her perform. I think this sets a good humble example to her fans. Some other famous musicians seem to think they have the right to expect everyone to pay attention to them and do whatever they ask to make them happy, but Taylor seems to be there to serve her fans. She seems to genuinely value other people’s happiness more than her own. I wish I was more like that.

Having said that, I don’t think her example is perfect. For example, she seems to idolise romance. In fairness, I imagine the men she’s dated have to take a significant share of the blame for her numerous break-ups, but if, as some of her songs seem to suggest, she’s pinning her hopes for lasting happiness on a man, she’s always going to be disappointed, because no man (or woman) can live up to that.

The only one who can bear the weight of that kind of expectation is the God who created you, who designed you with that desire for love, and wants you to find satisfaction for that desire in a relationship with Himself.

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Money On My Mind

According to the BBC, this guy is going to be the Sound of 2014:

Some interesting lyrics there.

“I wanna see heaven”

“I’m not foolish”

“I don’t have money on my mind”

I’m reminded of a parable Jesus told, which is recorded in the Bible in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 16, verses 1-13.

Sam Smith says he wants to see heaven, and he’s not foolish.

Jesus tells a story about a man who is commended for his shrewdness because he made sure he would be looked after when he lost his job. This is an illustration of the wisdom of ensuring you’re going to go to heaven when your current life ends.

And some might find this surprising, but Jesus says that your attitude to money is very significant in determining whether you will “see heaven”.

He says that if you’re unfaithful with the material wealth you have in this life, God’s not going to entrust you with eternal wealth in heaven (v11).

And being faithful with your money means you use it to honour God and serve others, rather than being controlled by the desire to gain money for yourself.

I like that Sam says he doesn’t have money on his mind, because pretty much our whole society seems to be built around greed. We’re surrounded by adverts trying to convince us we need posh new gadgets, and our MPs and media are obsessed with perpetual economic growth (if we’re not constantly spending more and more money and consuming more and more stuff, then apparently our country is failing). We make material wealth into what the Bible calls an idol, and the effort we put into earning the money for new gadgets and ever-increasing consumption is our service to that idol. If we’re not careful we find ourselves spending most of our time working to get more money; money becomes our master.

Jesus tells us in Luke 16v13 that we can’t worship God if we’re mastered by money. We have to choose one master.

Either we can serve God, who promises to show “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us” for eternity (that’s from Ephesians 2v7), or we can serve money, which will never really satisfy us in this life, and which we can’t take with us when we die. Which master do you serve?

Sam goes on to say:

“I do it for the love”.

This reminds me of what the apostle Paul said about our motivation for doing good deeds in 1 Corinthians 13v3.

I said above that we should use our money to serve others, but Paul says “If I give away all I have… but have not love, I gain nothing.”

So we can do things that look good from the outside, but if we’re not “doing them for the love”, they’re not really good.

God sets us the ultimate example of “doing it for the love”.

In 1 John 4v8-9, we’re told that “God is love”, and that one of the ways God manifested this love toward us was that he “sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him”.

We’re also told in Hebrews 12v2 that Jesus’ motivation for “enduring the cross” (so that we might live through him) was “for the joy that was set before him”.

God the Father, and Jesus, his Son, demonstrated love by giving up something themselves because they considered it a joy to do something for the good of others.

I’m not sure that’s what Sam Smith had in mind by “doing it for the love”. He probably just meant he enjoys making music, but when we’ve been on the receiving end of God’s love, we want to share it with others, because we want to honour the God who gave so much for us, and because we want to experience the joy of serving others ourselves. We want to “do it for the love”.

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If you liked this post, you’ll probably like my friend’s blog: Redeeming Sound.

Happiness Loves Company

“Never again will Johnny C, A Love Supreme be found.”

I’ve just started reading Tim Keller’s new book Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work To God’s Plan For The World.

It starts off with the following quote from John Coltrane’s liner notes to A Love Supreme:

During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through his grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD….

This album is a humble offering to him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavour.

5 Songs of 2012

10 years since they became my favourite band, plus a change of guitarist, but they’re still making great tunes like this:

Brilliant lyrics about the good life:

Probably not their “coolest” track (get it? get it?), but I love when Muse go over the top with power ballads like this:

My favourite song right now:

And finally, this is just a simply great song:

And as a bonus track, I dare you not to feel all warm and fuzzy inside by the end of this:

Honourable mentions to Call Me Maybe, Gangnam Style, and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

The Song That Changed My Life

That title may be a bit over-dramatic. I mean, I’m not aware that this song has directly affected any major decisions I’ve made in life. It’s never come into my consideration of what jobs to apply for. It hasn’t changed my fundamental beliefs about the meaning of the universe. A typical “song that changed my life”-type story would probably be something along the lines of “I was going through a really tough illness/break-up/bereavement/other and the lyrics of [song] taught me that life is still worth living/no matter what other people think, I’m beautiful in my own way/etc…” That’s not the case with this song for me. In fact the lyrics are pretty much irrelevant.

On the other hand, in a sense you could say every song we’ve ever heard has changed our lives in some way. Even Rebecca Black’s Friday was life-changing in the sense that that’s 5 minutes of our lives that we could’ve spent doing something else but didn’t because we watched that video.

This song ranks somewhere in between the two in terms of significance, but closer to the first, because our lives don’t mainly consist of the few really big decisions we make like career, spouse, emigration…, but by all the little decisions we make each day about what to spend this £10 on and what to do for the next five minutes, and this song has had a significant effect on the amounts of time and money I’ve spent on listening to music and learning to play, and it’s affected where that time and money has been spent. Who knows what CDs might be on my shelf, or what instrument(s) might be standing in the corner of my bedroom if I’d never heard this song?

In 2002 I bought my first portable CD player, and if my memory serves me correctly, on the same day, it was my mum that spotted the CD single of that song I liked by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, By The Way, in a bargain bucket in Woolworths. At that point that was the only song of theirs that I knew. Looking back, it’s funny to remember that once upon a time I didn’t know which band member was which (“Is Flea the one with the long hair?”).

Obviously By The Way is a classic, but it’s not the song this post is about. Track 2 of that CD single was their live cover of Iggy & The Stooges’ Search And Destroy, which is also available to watch on the Chilis’ Off The Map DVD:

It was this song that introduced me to the idea that good music is not just about catchy choruses, but talented musicians doing amazing, beautiful things with their instruments, especially what Mr Frusciante did with his guitar. In 12 minutes they cover pretty much everything I’ve learned to love about the Red Hot Chili Peppers, from high energy rock, to laid-back funk, to their softer melodic side. 10 years and thousands of other songs by countless different artists later, some of which have lasted through my changing tastes, many of which have not, this particular performance of this song still stands as a masterpiece and makes me want to go pick up my guitar again.

You Showed Love

I re-wrote the lyrics to We Found Love by Rihanna & Calvin Harris.

I did record an acoustic version and post a lyric video on YouTube, but later decided my vocal performance was not good enough for public listening and took it down.

Here are the lyrics… (If by any chance anyone with a decent voice fancies recording their own version, I would love to hear it)

Out of darkness into light
I was dead ’til you gave me life
For my sins you were crucified
Now I’m yours and you are mine

As I rest in you my soul is satisfied
And you’ll never let me go

You showed love to a hopeless race
On the cross all our sin erased
We will never cease to praise
The beauty of your redeeming grace

Now my soul has been restored
In your house I will abide
You give yourself I could want no more
Perfect peace in you I find

As I rest in you my soul is satisfied
And you’ll never let me go

You showed love to a hopeless race
On the cross all our sin erased
We will never cease to praise
The beauty of your redeeming grace

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Exiled Preacher did a similar thing with Adele’s version of Make You Feel My Love last year.

Bliss

I don’t think this is what Mr Bellamy had in mind when he wrote this song, but here’s what I’m thinking about as I listen to it:

Everything about you is how I’d want to be…

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” – Philippians 1:23

“we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” – 1 John 3:2

Everything about you resonates happiness, now I won’t settle for less.

“in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” – Psalm 16:11

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” – Psalm 73:25

Everything about you is so easy to love…

“My beloved… is altogether lovely” – Song of Solomon 5:10-16

Give me all the peace and joy in your mind.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you” – Isaiah 26:3

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation” – Psalm 51:12