Driving Toward the Morning Sun (Part 1)

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” – Isaiah 64:6
“And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD” – Ezekiel 37:13-14

In my first post, nearly 3 months ago, I footnoted that the name of this blog is taken from an old twenty øne piløts song and that I would explain later.  Well, here we are.  This one will focus on the song, and Part 2 will expand the idea behind the blog beyond the song.  Otherwise, this would have been a very long post.

The song, “Taxi Cab” is from the band’s first album, self-published in 2009.  Songwriter Tyler Joseph has called it something he just threw together to sell at the merchandise table at shows.  Several of the songs are brutally honest discussions of Tyler’s struggles to find meaning and to maintain faith in God.  There’s a brokenness there you can hear in Tyler’s voice and there are videos of him breaking down and crying during live performances of songs from the album like “Addict with a Pen”.

“Taxi Cab” is my favorite of these early songs, and when they performed it live, I nearly cried myself!  It was Halloween, 2018, at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC and fans came to the show in costume.  We saw Gandalf, Jesus, and even a Tyler doppelganger there!  In 2016, the band had achieved this honor: “Twenty One Pilots are just the third rock act with simultaneous top five Hot 100 hits in the chart’s 58-year history, following only The Beatles and Elvis Presley”[1]  But at this sold-out 2018 show, they chose to include “Taxi Cab”, a song about being saved from brokenness by God!

A Beautifully Plain Taxi Cab
Often in these posts, I’ll include a “Coda” at the end, but for this one, you might want to watch the lyric video, or just read the lyrics first.  I’ll wait.

While I haven’t decoded every reference and metaphor in the song (Tyler often embeds both a spiritual and secular meaning), the basic structure of the song is this: the verses describe Tyler’s faults and inability to please himself and God; the “rap” is a story of Tyler’s salvation; and the chorus is an encouragement to find strength in that salvation.

Verse 1 says:
“I wanna fall inside your ghost; And fill up every hole inside my mind
And I want everyone to know; That I am half a soul[2] divided”

Tyler confesses that he lacks knowledge, and even where he does have knowledge, his inner being is in conflict and unable to do the right thing with that knowledge.  It is a similar cry to that of the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:15-23, where even with the truth we have, we remain at war with ourselves and can’t act the way we want to.  On the positive side, he understands that the knowledge gaps need to be filled by “your ghost”, a reference to the Holy Spirit, and that confession is an essential first step to progress.  He is frustrated with what he doesn’t know and asks for help from the One who knows all.  More knowledge isn’t the answer to his moral failures, but faith is.

With verse 2, he adds to the confession and frustration:
“I wanna strip myself of breath; A breathless piece of death I’ve made for you
A mortal rotting piece of song; Will help me carry on but at least you heard”

Here Tyler is asking, “what’s the point?”  In other songs, he encourages others to find purpose in their creativity, but here he says his own efforts at creativity are “mortal” and “rotting” and he’s considering giving up on music.  As declared by Isaiah in the introductory verse, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”.  We cannot meet God’s standard.  But again, a slight note of hope: “at least you heard”.  There is value in the song as a prayer, as an honest expression, as a release.  It keeps him from jumping off the ledge of despair.  He awaits God’s response, and that response comes from the rap verse of the song.

Overcoming the Grave
“Taxi Cab” is the first song where Tyler included a rap, and while it’s more “spoken word”, it’s full of interesting images and symbols.  While there are multiple possible interpretations – some say it is about a failed suicide attempt – it’s clear one intended interpretation is as a story of Tyler’s salvation, and I’ll point out 3 key ideas:

First, Tyler finds himself dead and helpless.  As a result of his incomplete knowledge, his inability to do the right thing, and failure to create something of eternal value, he finds himself locked in a coffin packed in the rear of a hearse.  He’s tried everything but can’t change his fate.

Second, unable to save himself, God intervenes on his behalf in ways impossible for him.  He had tried to scratch his way out of the coffin!  But, “the hearse ran out of gas”, someone “picked the lock” of his coffin, and he “found the breath I was searching for”.

Finally, his destiny has changed from death to one where “all your blood is washed away and all you did will be undone”. He is out of the hearse and into the Taxi Cab, which will carry him to heaven.

Putting the rap in the context of the verses, you find that through clever songwriting, Tyler packaged much of the “Romans Road” tool of Christian evangelism into a song about overcoming depression and performed it to a packed house at Capital One Arena!  He may not have specifically used the Romans Road as a guide, but the key concepts are there.  For those not familiar, the Romans Road[3] is an easy to memorize and share summary of the Christian gospel using verses from the book of Romans.  It quickly describes the need for salvation and the way to salvation using these verses:

Romans 3:23 – All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 6:23(a) – The wages of sin is death
Romans 6:23(b) – The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord
Romans 10:9 – If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved

Saved to what?  Eternal life, where we become what we were created to be.

While works cannot earn us salvation, in Christ, Tyler “found the breath [he] was searching for” and so can we.  “Breath” here might be another reference to the Holy Spirit, as the words for “breath” and “spirit” are often the same in the Bible’s original languages.  If it is, then the Holy Spirit is the missing piece in Tyler’s creativity, the part that transforms it from mortal to eternally relevant.  Salvation brings meaning to our works, to our creativity.  As in the valley of dry bones vision in Ezekiel 37, God rescues us from certain death, gives us His Spirit, and a destiny (see verses 13-14 in the intro).

The final bit of the rap, where the blog title comes from, is a conversation between Tyler and “three men” who were driving the cab, and now in control of his destiny.  These men represent the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all of whom are involved in Tyler’s new story.  He asks, “Am I alive and well or am I dreaming dead?”, and one of them answers:

“We’re driving toward the morning sun
Where all your blood is washed away
And all you did will be undone”

This blog is called “Driving Toward the Morning Sun”[4] because Jesus, our forerunner (see last post) has purchased for us a destiny and a purpose.  Therefore, how do we bring the eternal into our present?  How does receiving the gospel empower us to live?  Unless we focus our eyes on the promise of God, we become mired in circumstances and ineffective.  We become entangled in attitudes, activities, and goals with no eternal value.  We grieve the Holy Spirit and don’t experience the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

I want every post to echo – in truth and in tone – the last lines of the “Taxi Cab” chorus:

“I said ‘don’t be afraid’.  I said ‘don’t be afraid’
We’re going home”

Part 2 coming soon.  With a new song.

[1] https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/7488038/chainsmokers-hot-100-halsey-closer-number-one-shawn-mendes
[2] The source of my “Author” profile on the blog
[3] This site has some more helpful detail on the Romans Road: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/salvation/what-is-the-romans-road-to-salvation.html
[4] Some sources say the lyric can also be read as “Morning Son”, more explicitly saying that our destiny is to have the character of Christ. 

3 thoughts on “Driving Toward the Morning Sun (Part 1)

  1. I listened to the song. If I had no hint that the writer is a Christian, I may not have known what “Taxi Cab” is about, but having that knowledge gave me some insight into the meaning of some of the lyrics. You gave a much fuller interpretation and a good explanation of the naming of your blog. I’m looking forward to Part II.

    Liked by 1 person

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