“I know who you are now, and I name you my enemy.”

For those who haven’t read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Wormwood is the demon the letters are addressed to. It’s Wormwood’s job to weaken faith and encourage sin in the human he’s assigned to, and the letters are from his uncle, a demon named Screwtape, who gives Wormwood advice on how to do this.

Yesterday while meandering through Spotify, I came across the song “Dear Wormwood” by the Oh Hellos.  From what I can tell, the song is about a demon who weakened the singer’s faith since childhood and how the (now adult) singer is recognizing and trying to overcome the demon’s influence.

I’m a secularist, and by that I mean I don’t practice a religion and don’t have faith in anything supernatural. But I’m a reluctant secularist, and by that I mean I had good experiences with the religion of my childhood, I miss it and wish it were true, but I don’t actually believe it is. From that context, the song kind of hits a nerve.

You can listen to it here:

Here are the lyrics, though I recommend listening to it first or concurrently rather than reading them on their own:

When I was a child, I didn’t hear a single word you said
The things I was afraid of, they were all confined beneath my bed
But the years have been long, and you have taught me well to hide away
The things that I believed in, you’ve taught me to call them all escapes

I know who you are now

There before the threshold, I saw a brighter world beyond myself
And in my hour of weakness, you were there to see my courage fail
For the years have been long, and you have taught me well to sit and wait
Planning without acting, steadily becoming what I hate

I know who you are now

I have always known you, you have always been there in my mind
But now I understand you, and I will not be part of your designs

I know who I am now
And all that you’ve made of me
I know who you are now
And I name you my enemy

I know who I am now
I know who I want to be
I want to be more than this devil inside of me

Broken Families and Broken Music

869 - Eminem

This is an older article, from way back in 2004, but I just discovered it recently and found it really powerful. In it, Mary Eberstadt does an admiral job of surveying the “bad” music of the late 90s and early 2000s (the kind of stuff parents wish their kids didn’t listen to) and drawing some interesting and poignant conclusions. She begins:

I would like to turn that logic about influence upside down and ask this question: What is it about today’s music, violent and disgusting though it may be, that resonates with so many American kids?

What follows is a haunting and well-documented account of how the music she surveys (Papa Roach, Everclear, Blink-182, Good Charlotte, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Eminem) all share a common them: rage at the pain they endured as children of broken homes. She cites not just song lyrics, but band interviews stating explicitly that the music is truly inspired by the real-world trauma of divorce and that this really is a source of deep–albeit tragic–connection with fans.

You should really read the article, but here’s the haunting conclusion:

And therein lies a painful truth about an advantage that many teenagers of yesterday enjoyed but their own children often do not. Baby boomers and their music rebelled against parents because they were parents — nurturing, attentive, and overly present (as those teenagers often saw it) authority figures. Today’s teenagers and their music rebel against parents because they are not parents — not nurturing, not attentive, and often not even there.

Couple of additional comments. First: yeah, there are a couple of silly statements in here that I can’t really take seriously. But overall I’m impressed with Eberstadt’s willingness to take the music at face value and learn from it.

Second: this piece was kind of hard for me to read. It hit home in a particular way. Not because my family was unstable. Far from it, my parents had a strong and happy marriage and our home life was stable and loving. I didn’t experience this kind of pain first-hand. But I saw an awful damn lot of it second-hand. I started doing the numbers after I read this article, and most of my closest friends came from broken homes. And in every case, I saw the grief and pain and hardship it caused them.

Divorce is one of those things we don’t think about a whole lot. We’ve been conditioned by society to accept it as normal or even healthy. Mostly, that’s a lie. It’s a lie included by Hollywood in family movies to assuage the guilt of parents, but–in too many cases–the guilt is there for a reason.

I know that sometimes divorce is necessary, and that sometimes a family is broken by the horrible decisions of one spouse. I’m not about blaming or judging here. But I think we’ve gone too far in the opposite direction. We’re so interested as a society in being non-judgmental about failed marriages and broken homes and single parents that we’ve whitewashed the tragic consequences for children.

Well, except for folks like Eminem. In this regard, at least, he tells it like it is. Which is why Eberstadt gave the article the headline: “Eminem is Right.”

A Ragged Chorus of Faith

A couple of weeks ago J. Max Wilson put out a request for popular music with Biblical references for a playlist he was building. Finding religious themes in popular music is a passion of mine, so I went a little nuts with some off-the-cuff recommendations on his Facebook wall. But I didn’t stop there. I went and dug up my old MS Word doc where I’d been collecting music for a variety of related playlists that–taken together–I like to call the Ragged Chorus of Faith. Since not all the songs qualify for Wilson’s criteria and since I thought it might be of general interest, I decided to turn it into a post.

Let me explain the title really quick, however. I love me some conventional religious music. I have been a huge, huge fan of The Tallis Scholars ever since my parents took me one of their performances when I was a kid, and  their rendition of Miserere mei, Deus is (just as an example) breathtaking. But, in some ways, I almost feel unworthy of the harmony and the beauty of their music. It doesn’t feel broken. And, most of the time, I do. An additional consideration is that I worry listening to an exquisite piece like this rendition of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing on a daily basis might desensitize me to the beauty. I needed music that turned my thoughts to God, but that was more workmanlike. More durable. Closer to my lived experience today and not a hope for transcendence tomorrow.

That’s what first attracted me to screamo. Screaming is what human beings do when we’ve lost control, when we’re overwhelmed, and when we’re on the point of exhaustion. And all of that is also a part of the religious life. I would never say it’s a great part, but for me over the last decade or so it has certainly felt like the most relevant part. I feel weak and small and with my head barely above the waves. And so I take great comfort in music that expresses the raw, jagged edge of a broken and injured soul desperately aware of their need to be saved. Thus: ragged.

It’s ragged in another sense as well. You might notice as you go through the list that a lot of the songs embrace philosophies or theologies that contradict each other and contradict what I believe in. I know. And several of them are not religious at all and are (for all I know) written by people who would be irritated to find out their music was being included on a faithful playlist. I know that, too. I just happen to think that life isn’t a theology exam. I’m sure I don’t have it all right myself, and I’m not looking for that kind of perfection in anyone else either. This isn’t a harmonious playlist in terms of style, genre, ideology, religion, philosophy, or anything. That’s OK. I’m looking for beauty and encouragement and truth wherever I can find it, and–in that sense–I’m just not picky.

As for chorus? Well, I started out with a realization that in addition to the majestic control and talent of The Tallis Scholars, the raw pathos of Dusin Kensrue‘s screaming was another way of approaching spirituality. And, once I recognized two ways, I started to see more. I’ve got everything from bluegress to hip-hop and from obscure to world-famous bands in this line-up. More and more I like the idea of a symphonic approach to the Kingdom of God. We have different strengths and weaknesses, insights and perspectives. The best way to contribute to the Kingdom of God is to find out where we fit. An orchestra is powerful not just because of how many players it has, but because of the diversity. Strings and brass, percussion and woodwinds. It takes a chorus. And this is what mine sounds like. So far.

Give a listen to the ones that look interesting to you, and let me know in the comments of any suggestions you have to add. (I may make some edits myself from time to time when I remember old songs I love or find new ones to add.)

Faith and Belief

These songs are about faith in terms of belief and knowledge, which makes it different from the fidelity aspect of faith that I emphasize on my Discipleship playlist (a little further down).

“I Believe” by Dustin Kensrue on Please Come Home

And all the answers that I find,
only take me so far down the line.
The tracks always give out
yeah it’s a leap from the lions mouth.

“King Without a Crown” by Matisyahu on Youth

With these, demons surround all around to bring me down to negativity
But I believe, yes I believe, I said I believe
I’ll stand on my own two feet
Won’t be brought down on one knee
Fight with all of my might and get these demons to flee
Hashem’s rays fire blaze burn bright and I believe
Hashem’s rays fire blaze burn bright and I believe

“Bling (Confessions Of A King)” by The Killers on Sam’s Town

The lyrics to this song are not entirely clear, but from interviews you can learn that this is the story of Brandon Flower’s father’s conversion to Mormonism.

It ain’t hard to hold,
When it shines like gold,
You’ll remember me.

“Stare at the Sun” by Thrice on The Artist in the Ambulance

I’ll stare straight into the sun
And I won’t close my eyes
Till I understand or go blind

Love (as in Charity)

“For Miles” by Thrice on Vheissu

The opening lyrics of this song definitely make it a good contender for the Hope playlist, but once I realized that the title “For Miles” was a reference to Matthew 5:41 this song became my favorite song about love.

41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

As the song says, “one day, all our scars will disappear, like the stars at dawn,” but until then:

as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart
We must see that every scar is a bridge, and as long as we live
We must open up these wounds

There is a way to find meaning in our own suffering, and that way is love.

“Sigh No More” by Mumford and Sons on Sigh No More

Love that will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you.
It will set you free.
Be more like the man
you were made to be.

Tell the World by Lecrae featuring Mali Music on Gravity

I ain’t love you first, but you first loved me
In my heart I cursed you, but you set me free
I gave you no reason to give me new seasons, to give new life, new breathing
But you hung there bleedin’, and ya’ died for my lies and my cheatin’, my lust and my greed, (and Lord!)
What is a man that you mindful of him?

“Loyal to No One” by Dropkick Murphys on The Meanest of Times

This one, on the other hand, is the story of what happens in a life without love.

You said we die alone.
In this case you were right.

“I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie on Plans

A lot of the bands that I choose are overtly religious. Others, like the very Irish Dropkick Murphys, at least have that as part of their culture. Death Cab for Cutie? Not so much, as far as I can tell, but I still like this song. It lacks hope, but it’s got a great sense of love; a love that is greater than self.

If there’s no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I’ll follow you into the dark

“Forgiveness” by Collective Soul on Disciplined Breakdown

I believe that the album title, “Disciplined Breakdown” is about the process of having our heart broken in the sense of Psalm 51:

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

If I’m right, then this is a great and very Biblical concept album.

So I wash away stains of yesterday
Then tempt myself with love’s display

“Believe” by Yellowcard on Ocean Avenue

This was Yellowcard’s tribute song for the 9/11 attack. I was serving my mission in Hungary in September 2001, and so I missed out on the spirit of national grief and unity that everyone at home felt. For me, listening to this song after I got home was one of the first times I understood some of the significance of what had happened. It’s a terrific tribute to the first responders who died that day, and a testament to the love they had and the love we have for them.

Let it all go, the life that you know,
just to bring it down alive
And you still came back for me

“Life of a Salesman” by Yellowcard on Ocean Avenue

The title of this track is not subtle but, just in case anyone misses it, it’s a rejection / riff on the famous Arthur Miller play about a clueless and inept father: Death of a Salesman. I don’t mean to knock the play, but a main plot point in the play is that the father cheats on his wife and thereby completely obliterates his son’s faith in him. “Life of a Salesman” goes the other way, and it’s a great song about the love between father and son. That’s a love I feel towards my dad and towards my kids, and one I hope that they can always feel towards me.

Father I will always be (always be)
That same boy that stood by the sea
And watched you tower over me (over me)
Now I’m older I want to be the same as you

“Just Like You” by Lecrae on Rehab

This is a really, really powerful follow up to Yellowcard’s “Life of a Salesman.” It’s that autobiographical story of Lecrae’s life without a father and, in his absence, the longing for an ultimate father figure. It takes the idea of love between fathers and sons and makes it about love between us and God.

I wanna be like you in every way,
So if I gotta die every day
Unworthy sacrifice
But the least I can do is give the most of me
‘Cause being just like you is what I’m supposed to be

“Snow” by Ryan Shupe & The Rubberband on Simplify

I can’t find a video for this song, unfortunately. It’s a great song about God sending a blanket of snow on the day that one of his prophets died. It’s a poignant song about God’s love for His servants. You can find it on Spotify, however, on their 2011 album Simplify. (I originally heard it, and found out about the band for the first time, on the God’s Army soundtrack.)

No, it wasn’t a lightning storm
ripping leaves and limbs off of trees.
And it wasn’t a massive earthquake,
the earth buckling from beneath.
Because he wasn’t quite that sad,
and he wasn’t quite that mad,
but his messenger died yesterday
and he wanted us to know.

“Beggars” by Thrice on Beggars

This song makes me think irresistibly of King Benjamin’s sermon in Mosiah 2:

25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. 26 And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth.

King Benjamin’s point is that we depend utterly on the grace of God and therefore ought to show the same grace to our brothers and sisters. As He loves us, we should them.

Can you see now that everything’s grace after all?
If there’s one thing I know in this life: we are beggars all.


It is easy for me to believe in ideals like kindness, forgiveness, and sacrifice for others. That is obviously not to say it is easy for me to live according to those ideals, but their goodness and the beauty seems self-evident even when I fall short. What it much less obvious and easy to believe, however, is that somehow God will actually one day reconcile this world and its pain and injustice and hatred with those ideals. I do not see how it can be done. And so there’s always a temptation to reduce the Gospel to symbolism. To nice stories that embellish good principles but that, in the end, are just wishful thinking or gestures towards a promise we will never see fulfilled. This is why hope matters to me so much. Because hope is what gets me from a tragic view of a world eternally and miserably short of the beauty and peace to the idea that one day we’ll actually see beauty and peace realized on Earth. What I hope for is that it’s all real, and so the songs here are just the songs that speak most unabashedly of God’s existence and the message of Jesus. That makes it a bluegrass-heavy portion of the playlist.

“Shouting on the Hills of Glory” by Ralph Stanley on Clinch Mountain Country Music

Oh what a blessed reunion
When we’re together over yonder
There’ll be shouting on the hills of God

“When I Wake To Sleep No More” by Ralph Stanley on Clinch Mountain Country Music

Leaving behind all troubles and trials
Bound for the city up on high
When I wake up (when I wake up)
To sleep no more (to sleep no more)

“Weary Saints” by Dustin Kensrue on Please Come Home

Time will cease to stalk us
Death will be undone
We’ll shine with the light of
A thousand blazing suns.

“Do You Want To Live In Glory” by The Lonesome River Band on Talkin’ To Myself

From this world of pain and sorrow
To that golden promised land
There are goals for tomorrow
I know God can hold my hand


This playlist includes songs about faith in the sense of fidelity. It’s about trying to follow God instead of the world, about being on the outside, and about sacrifice. It’s very heavy on Thrice, but if that’s not your thing there’s some Pink Floyd and Mumford and Sons as well. These are the songs that I actually listen to the most, by the way, because it’s what I usually feel the most need for: encouragement to keep pushing as hard as I can every day to try harder than the day before to do and to be the things that I want to be as a follower of Christ.

“Divine Intervention” by Lecrae (featuring J.R.) on Rehab

The inversion of the meaning of the phrase “this is my moment”  is profound. Instead of meaning “this is about me,” in this song the phrase means “this is my sacrifice to you.” It’s incredible. No one can preach it like Lecrae and his crew preach it.

Here is my moment, here is my lifetime
All that I have I will give to You
In this moment, ’cause nothing really matters at all
Everything that this heart longs for other than You I will let die
Take all that I am ’cause nothing really matters right now
This is my moment

“Image of the Invisible” by Thrice on Vheissu

Though all the world may hate us, we are named
Though shadow overtake us, we are known

“Children of the Light” by Lecrae (featuring Sonny Sandoval and Dillavou) on Rehab

We are children of the light
Royal rulers of the day
Saints, no prisoners of the night
Trust and love will lead the way
We are free

“The Artist in the Ambulance” by Thrice on The Artist in the Ambulance

…I know that there’s
a difference between sleight of hand, and giving everything you have.
There’s a line drawn in the sand, I’m working up the will to cross it.

I still wonder, at the end of this song, if the artist in the ambulance is a reference to the singer or the one who saved the singer.

Fuego by Lecrae featuring KB and Suzy Rock on Gravity

I’m on and this little light I got
Imma let it shine til the day I drop
Heart quit pumping only way I stop
Til then I’m a light post on your block

“Identity Crisis” by Thrice on Identity Crisis

I’ll walk into the flame
A calculated risk to further bless your name
So strike me deep and true
And in your strength I will live and die, both unto you

“Like Moths to Flame” by Thrice on Vheissu

This video is based on footage from Passion of the Christ. It may not be easy to watch.

and then I met your eyes, and I remember everything
and something in me dies, the night that I betrayed my king

“Paul” by Haun’s Mill on Haun’s Mill

This song was written and is performed by my mission buddy Nord Anderson and his band Haun’s Mill. Yes, that Haun’s Mill. They are rocking a Decemberists vibe, and it is clearly working for them. They are running a Kickstarter at the moment. You should check it out and listen to more of their songs (with better recording quality!).

Today I was awakened, was lost but now am found

“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd on Wish You Were Here

And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

If that doesn’t resonate immediately, consider Isaiah 5:20-25, and especially just verse 20:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

I use this song every time I teach that chapter of Isaiah in Sunday School.

“The Cave” by Mumford and Sons on Sigh No More

The video here is a bit silly, but I still love the lyrics.

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

Yearning for Home

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a sense that this world is not my home. That I came from somewhere else, and that I’m headed somewhere else. It turns out that’s not an uncommon feeling: the yearning for a home we cannot remember. The songs on this playlist all share that yearning: a painful flipside to the Hope playlist from earlier on. After Discipleship, these are the songs that I listen to the most.

“In Exile” by Thrice on Beggars

I am a pilgrim – a voyager; I won’t rest until my lips touch the shore –
Of the land that I’ve been longing for as long as I’ve lived,
Where there’ll be no pain or tears anymore.

“Come All You Weary” by Thrice on The Alchemy Index: Volume 4 (Earth)

This one, because it depicts the ministry of Jesus, could fit in the Hope playlist, but the emphasis is clearly on the weariness and longing of His followers both in the lyrics and in the music.

Come all you weary
Come gather round near me
Find rest for your souls

“The Melting Point of Wax” by Thrice on The Artist in the Ambulance

Since there’es a lot of Thrice on these playlists, I went with an acoustic version this time.

“There’s no promise of safety with these secondhand wings.”

“Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” by Underoath on They’re Only Chasing Safety

Although most of the screamo on this playlist come from Thrice, the best single example of the genre as it relates to Christianity actually comes from the band Underoath. It won’t sound like screamo at first. It starts very soft and gentle, but the sense of pain and loss and disappointment builds and builds quietly until the screaming crescendo of yearning. If there’s any one song where a scream makes sense, it is this song. It’s one of the most powerful songs on the entire playlist. I know not everyone will enjoy the song, but I don’t think there’s a single one of us alive on this planet who haven’t felt this way at some point.

Hey unloving, I will love you.

“Please Come Home” by Dustin Kensrue on Please Come Home

This song doesn’t really need a clarification: it’s a retelling or the story of the Prodigal Son.

Don’t you know son that I love you
And I don’t care where you’ve been
Yes and i’ll be right here waiting, ’til you come around the bend

“God of Wine” by Third Eye Blind on Third Eye Blind

This is another one of those songs that isn’t really overtly religious, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that it fits on the list playlist.

The God of wine comes crashing
Through the headlights of a car
That took you farther than
You thought you’d ever want to go
We can’t get back again
You can’t get back again

“Go Back” by SweetHaven on SweetHaven

This is a song that was featured on The RM, a ridiculous Mormon comedy about a return missionary that I had the misfortune of watching right after my (rather traumatic) mission where the humor mostly passed me by and the whole thing just triggered flashbacks. This song was good, though.

You’ve been runnin’ hard
You can’t find your place
And the memories won’t erase

“There is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths on The Queen is Dead

This is another one that might not seem obvious at first, but the sense of longing and theme of death (which means my wife refuses to let me listen to this song in the car) definitely fit.

And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure – the privilege is mine
Oh, there is a light and it never goes out

“Roll Away Your Stone” by Mumford and Sons on Sigh No More

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say, “That’s exactly how this grace thing works”
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

“Wayfaring Stranger” by Eva Cassidy on Songbird

This is an 19th century folk/gospel song with a lot of variations. I really like Eva Cassidy’s.

I’m going there to see my father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

“Blanket of Ghosts” by Dustin Kensrue on Please Come Home

Wake me when it’s spring time in heaven
and the tears are all wiped from my face.
Wake me when it’s spring time in heaven
When I’m strong enough to walk in that place

“Setting Sail, Coming Home” by Darren Korb on Bastion Soundtrack

This track comes from the soundtrack to one of my favorite video games of all time, Bastion.

Lie on my back,
Clouds are making way for me
I’m coming home, sweet home
I see your star,
You left it burning for me;
Mother, I’m here

I Put a Spell on You: Remembering Screamin’ Jay Hawkins


Since Halloween is almost here, it is worth remembering one of the truly original weirdos- Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

Possibly the only person to be equally detested by civil rights groups and the American Casket Association, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins would make his entrance onstage as a witch doctor springing out of a casket. His demented laughter and howls even sent some of his audience running for the doors!

Still, there (sometimes) was more to Hawkins’ music than macabre gimmickry. If you don’t believe me, have another listen to CCR or Nina Simone performing I Put a Spell on You.

Head over to Biography and check out the fun post on Hawkins’ life.

Why I Listen to Screamo

One of my favorite movies ever.

At this point in my life I really should know better than to play the music and  movies that I like for other people: I have a terrible track record. Starting with playing a Bloodhound Gang song for a girlfriend in high school (I still think Asleep at the Wheel is sort of catchy, but I’m deliberately not linking to it out of shame) and going up through playing Voices of a Distant Star for my parents a couple of years ago. At the conclusion my mother–my own mother–responded with “That was supposed to be good?” For the record: it is very, very good and I highly recommend it. See? I know better, but I still can’t stop.

In that vein, I wrote a long piece that I’m inordinately proud of called “Why I Listen to Screamo” and posted it at Times and Seasons last night. I had misgivings about posting it, but I thought that the piece was interesting even if you didn’t listen to the music. Then again, with several YouTube videos embedded of Thrice, Underoath, and Emery, folks probably will listen to the music. And if you haven’t listened to that kind of music before, it can sound a bit like sonic assault and battery. (The fact that I drew a direct parallel between “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and “The Artist in the Ambulance” probably didn’t win me any new friends either!)

I know that, in a sense, I should stop. But I’m not sure if I really want to or not. Playing eclectic music and movies for people backfires more often than not, but I’m sort of hoping it’s like a high-risk / high-reward activity. Maybe the “hits” will be fewer, but the connections formed will be all the sweeter for it? Who knows, but if any of this has drawn your interest, go read my original piece and let me know (there) what you think.