The First Orphans: Silent in the Trees

Have you ever wondered what life was like for Adam and Eve during Genesis 3:7?  This verse, which happens between the moment they fell to temptation and the moment they next meet God, says “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”  Since they were able to figure out how to make clothes for the first time, we can guess that the time frame within Genesis 3:7 was more than a few minutes.

The song “Trees” by the band twenty øne piløts may be a contemplation of that time, and if it is, the song imagines that Adam and Eve had some time to think about it.  Songwriter Tyler Joseph crafts lyrics that allow for religious and secular meanings, but also that sometimes also apply to multiple audiences.  In the song’s lyrics, “You” is sometimes capitalized, and sometimes not, and therefore I think the song has two intended audiences, God and the band’s fans.

Reading between the lines a bit, I’ll explain below what I get from this song, in each audience perspective.

You = the Father
The lyrics are relatively compact, with the repeated verse of:

I know where You stand, silent in the trees
And that’s where I am, silent in the trees
Why won’t You speak where I happen to be?
Silent in the trees, standing cowardly

Our first ancestors had lived a perfect life in fellowship with God in the garden of Eden, but the fall into temptation changed that relationship, and the verse imagines how.

  • First, the sense of togetherness was gone.  They were still in the garden, but the sense that God was also there was gone.
  • Second, although “the eyes of both were opened,” the voice of God guiding their activities had gone silent.  They had chosen to determine their own way but had not considered the consequences.  Wherever they were, He used to guide them, but now they were confused.
  • Third, instead of being comfortable in God’s presence, they were terribly afraid of Him.

And a repeated chorus of:

I can feel Your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know You, I want to see
I want to say
Hello, hello
Hello, oh, hello

In the original Hebrew Genesis was written in, the words for “breath” and “spirit” are sometimes the same word.  Therefore, the first two lines of this chorus mean that our ancestors could still feel God’s presence (His breath/spirit), but instead of it being a comfort, they now felt something they never felt before – their mortality.  This is a foreshadowing of their being cast away from access to the tree of life.

Also, instead of the constant conversation with God they had known their whole lives, now they wanted to speak with God and know Him again, but He was not responding.  In the context of the song, maybe it was then that “they knew that they were naked.”  They knew they had done wrong, were exposed, and thought judgement was what they should expect.  Adam and Eve went from perfectly hearing their Father’s and Master’s voice, to feeling like orphans and castaways from His family.

What came next?  Genesis 3:8 says, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”

You = The Fans
The “you” in the song is also the band’s fans – and Tyler sings out to them, in the trees.  Tyler says the song is also about a personal experience he had, which he doesn’t publicly explain, but He does publicly display tattoos of both the cross of Christ and of bands around his wrist, which likely represent rubber bands people wear to manage and prevent self-harm.  These tattoos are like permanent memorials – or Ebenezers – from his life, and his ongoing recovery from mental illness.  Many of the band’s fans are going through similar struggles and many feel left behind by the world.

Therefore, the “you” of the song is those who feel alone and silent in the trees, who feel ashamed before God, hiding themselves.  They expect God to show up in judgement, as Adam and Eve expected, and hid their nakedness.  Tyler could be calling out to them: God did not judge me, and neither will He judge you if you call out to Him.  God will speak to them, “where they happen to be.”  After all, Genesis 3:9 says: “But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”  It was God who desired and initiated reconciliation with His people.

The outro of the song has Tyler screaming HELLO over and over again, before the song ends with 12 seconds of intentional silence before the track ends.

What will be the answer?

When you find someone alone and silent in the trees, remember James 1:27 – “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

If you find yourself alone and silent in the trees, tell your Heavenly Father you want to say hello.  He wants to know you and He wants to see you.

Coda
For many years, “Trees” has been the last song played at every twenty øne piløts concert.  Why is this?  On the album “Vessel”, “Trees” was the next-to-last song and other parts of the album built to it.  The first song on “Vessel” describes demons and spiritual warfare, the second song is called “Holding On To You,” and the third song, “Migraine,” has the repeated line:

And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it
And keep it frozen and know that life has a hopeful undertone

It seems like from the beginning of the album, that moment to hold on to when you’re battling whatever demons you have was coming.  So, in each concert, the fans know that the moment to hold on to is coming.  The song is a moment you can remember when you’re down and know you’re not alone.  The song an Ebenezer in its own way, and a bold statement that the band is not going to ignore the problems of people left behind, the metaphorical widows and orphans of the world.  Also, if they pay close attention, those fans can find the message of Christ in the lyrics.  God doesn’t wait until our affliction is over and we make ourselves acceptable to come to us. He bridges the divide Himself.

Below is a video I took at last night’s concert in Philadelphia.  Apologies for the video quality, especially when they fired massive amounts of confetti into the air, which fans collect to remember the moment later.  My phone camera just couldn’t keep up, but I offer it as a 5-minute moment you can take and hold and know that life has a hopeful undertone.


And what’s all this about widows and orphans? This post continues a series on James 1:27, which began here. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

His Master’s Voice (aka This Blog Doesn’t Need Another Mascot)

You may not know him by his name, but you’ve probably seen Nipper the dog.  He’s quite famous, although he died in 1895.  Nipper, of course, is the dog from the painting “His Master’s Voice” where he is listening intently to a gramophone.  The picture became a popular logo for many companies, including RCA to sell record players, because the dog looks like it thinks his master is in there talking to him.  The RCA recording technology is so clear!

“His Master’s Voice”, an 1898 painting by Francis Barraud. From Wikipedia Commons.

“His Master’s Voice” is also a good introduction to some posts I’m working on about hearing our Master’s voice.  We might like to be like Nipper, and every now and then we might get a glimpse of what that’s like, but we’re unlike the painting a lot of the time.

For one thing, most dogs are naturally loyal and want to please their masters.  That’s why Nipper loves the gramophone so much.  A funny thing about dogs is that they don’t care what their masters believe.  They won’t discuss philosophy with them.  Not that their master’s philosophy doesn’t matter to the dog, because if their philosophy includes cruelty to animals, that’s very bad.  Dogs just don’t think at that level.  On the other hand, dogs are very, very excited and eager to hear you tell them to do something.  Cats of course are very different – I have two of them – and they’re too often a better picture of how I really relate to my Master in heaven than Nipper is.

The other point is that dogs have great hearing.  The painting has no sound, but you get the idea that, no matter how much noise was going on around him, Nipper would be right there, trying to find his master in the gramophone.  In contrast, people are bombarded with loud voices from all directions and usually aren’t as good at filtering the good from the bad.

Centered on the story of Gideon from the book of Judges, I’ll be sharing a few posts soon about how difficult and messy listening for God’s voice really is.  I’m trying to figure it out every day.

Ebenezer, looking concerned

Lastly, if you see Ebenezer (a squirrel and the blog’s mascot), tell him Nipper is only here for a short visit.  Also remind him that in heaven, even the dogs and squirrels will lie down together in peace.

Coda
One of my favorite song lyrics of all time is:
“I’m looking past the shadows of my mind into the truth; And I’m trying to identify the voices in my head; God, which one’s you?”

It’s from a 2000 song called “Breathing” by Lifehouse.  They probably didn’t have Nipper in mind when they wrote it, but it’s about us all wishing we could pay better attention to our Lord, to know His will, or sometimes just to be present with Him.

You can read the lyrics here, or if you have 4 ½ minutes, listen here.  Apologies for any ads on these sites.


The next post in the series is here

The King of Glory Shall Come In

Tradition suggests that Psalm 24 was used at the start of temple services in ancient Jerusalem, possibly commemorating the Ark of the Covenant moving from Obed-edom’s house to Jerusalem, an event recorded in 2 Samuel 6:10-12:

So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David. But David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.  And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.  And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing.

This was the second attempt to move the ark, the first attempt having ended in disaster, in 1 Samuel 6:6-8:

And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.  And David was angry because the LORD had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day.”

God gave detailed instructions for moving the ark in the book of Numbers 4:9-20.  It was supposed to be carried on the shoulders of Levites descended from Kohath.  Instead, they moved the ark as the Philistines did (1 Sam 6).  The judgment of Uzzah reminded Israel that God is not to be taken lightly or for granted.

Today’s post is a flashback to the 1989 song by Christian rock band Petra, “The King of Glory Shall Come In,” which is based on Psalm 24.  When Psalm 24:3, referenced in the song’s verse, says “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?”  David, the author, is asking who is worthy to be in God’s presence.  However, the chorus of the song is my favorite part.  Some believe verses 7 to 10 of Psalm 24 were a call-and-response between the priests and the people, who cried out for God to be among them.  Knowing they are unworthy; they still need and desire His presence among them.  The song imagines what that call-and-response might have been like, but in 80’s praise-rock style!

Call for the King of Glory to come into you today!  By the sacrifice of Jesus you can “stand in his holy place” with “clean hands and a pure heart.”

For just the lyrics, go here, but for the audio of the full song, click below:

Finding Port for the Good Ship Ambivalent

From yesterday’s post, you’ll know I am reading King’s X: The Oral History, a book chronicling the history of the rock band King’s X, by Greg Prato.  Yesterday, I dove into one of their more bizarre and unknown songs, but today is about the band’s biggest hit.  “It’s Love” got to “#6 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock charts and #1 on the FM Radio Airplay charts. It was our highest-ranking single, ever,”[1] according to Ty Tabor, the band’s guitarist and sometimes lead singer, who wrote the song.

I knew both Christianity and King’s X by reputation before becoming a true fan of either, but both were growing at the same time in me during college.  Having heard of King’s X but never actually heard their music, I once saw one of their CDs in a friend’s dorm room.  My friend said it was his roommate’s but that he wasn’t much of a fan.  Before leaving I picked up the CD and looked at it.  The album, called “Faith, Hope, Love” had a cool cover, and included the song “It’s Love.”

Album cover of “Faith Hope Love” by King’s X

Later, the memory of that album cover made the triad of faith, hope, and love jump out at me whenever I saw it in the Bible, including 1 Corinthians 13:13, which says: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  This triad is all over the place and there are many verses explaining the relationships between them.  Seeing these references also made me come back to the band and give them a listen. The rest, as they say, is history.

Before getting into “It’s Love”, you can find the lyrics here, or listen to the song here.  I promise it’s an easier one to listen to than “Six Broken Soldiers” and also that this post will be shorter than yesterdays.

Overall, the message is fairly simple: Ty says he doesn’t know everything, but the thing he wants to share from his experience is that love is the most important thing in life.  Love both keeps the world from falling apart (“holding back the weather”), but also eventually love is what requires a loving God to bring about a plan to fix what’s wrong with the world (“the same will let it go”).

But there’s one line in the song I didn’t really get until reading about it recently: “There’s a ship on the ocean, and I can’t decide if I like it.”

There Ty is, enjoying good company, the beach, and the ocean, but he wasn’t sure about the ship on the ocean.  There’s an ambivalence about the ship, and a suggestion that maybe it’s an exception to the overall message of “love,” but I couldn’t figure out more than that.  I wasn’t alone in not getting it.

In the book, Ty says his brother didn’t understand the line, so he explained: “my point was, man’s progress is wonderful and everything, but when the ship turns over and poisons all the fish, that’s not so wonderful. So, it was me contemplating all that we do and all that I’m happy with about it, but how much destruction it causes. It’s yet again one of those socially conscious songs. I just had to say it.”[2]  It was almost that Ty was struggling with whether love applied when someone does something that “poisons all the fish.”  In tricky, real-life situations, does love still rule?  Ty doesn’t seem sure.

Contemplating What is Crooked
Yesterday I quoted Romans about Paul’s inner conflict, but later in the same chapter, Paul wrote: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (Romans 7:21). This idea that even our best efforts at goodness in this world are tainted is not a new one.  Solomon referred to something similar twice in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, in 1:15 – “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.”  And also in 7:13 – “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?

What Paul and Solomon are getting at is that there are things in this world, including us, that will remain crooked and unfixed until God’s plan is completed in eternity.  The Bible tells us that all of creation is cursed by God because of our sin.  Some things are wrong because God has made them so.  Until a person establishes this in their own heart and mind, they will chase the wind of worldly utopia until they become hopelessly ambivalent, or continue on, highly motivated but frustrated and angry.  The phrase “under the sun” comes up 28 times in the book of Ecclesiastes (by my quick count) and refers generally to the actions of mankind done without consideration of God’s wisdom or eternal consequences.  Everything done “under the sun” is lacking, and none of it can provide the satisfaction and meaning true wisdom can deliver.

It’s Still Love
Since “under the sun”, even good things come with a cost, what do we do?  We can’t be ambivalent to those costs to the point of not caring, but we also can’t be so committed to removing these costs that our efforts become another cost.  The world is broken, but also people are broken, and how we treat them matters.

Despite any ambivalence about the ship on the ocean, it’s still “love that holds it all together.”  Therefore, the priority is always to focus on obedience and thankfulness to God, who tells us to love, not on utopian alternatives to God that tell us something is more important than loving every one of our fellow humans.  The proverbial ship on the ocean and its problems are seen by God and are part of His plan.  He cares about our conflicts and paradoxes, but still tells us to have faith, hope, and love.

However, rejection of love means prioritizing our own, temporary, interests and decide who we should love and who we should hate based on that.  One side will defend the necessity of the ship – and more ships – at all costs, because it’s good for the economy.  They can make money and enjoy what little time on earth they have.  The other side will condemn those who poison the fish, or might possibly poison fish in the future, because this earth is all they have, and they want to protect it.  “Under the sun” there is no nuance or ambivalence about the ship, but our opinion of the ship determines everything, including whether we can enjoy the beach and the ocean that we do have.

The answer lies not in some abstract move to the center politically, but in knowing that there is more than what exists “under the sun.”  Regardless of the conflicts inherent in living with broken people in a broken world, faith in God to save us, hope in His provision of a perfect future, and the priority of love for God and others, is always the right answer.  We can be a little ambivalent about the ship on the ocean, but we should have no ambivalence about love, nor about its partners, faith and hope.  We should pursue them with everything God has gifted us with and give Him the glory.  We can’t fix all the world’s problems, but we can show the world the character of its Creator and show it the way to a better world.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  Always.


[1] Prato, Greg. King’s X: The Oral History (2019).  P. 105.
[2] Prato, Greg. King’s X: The Oral History (2019).  P. 95.

Do You Have a Caged-Up Gorilla in Your Trunk?

I’ve been a fan of the rock band King’s X for many years and am currently reading King’s X: The Oral History, a book by Greg Prato that chronicles the history of the band entirely through quotes from the band, those who have worked with the band, music journalists, and other musicians.  They have a musical style all their own, combining heavy rock influences with complicated arrangements and Beatle-esque vocal harmonies.  Some even credit them with inventing the “grunge” genre, not just by often tuning their instruments to a lower, heavier tone, but also through their gritty lyrics as a contrast to the “hair metal” that dominated rock in the early and mid 1980s.  On top of the musical style, I also liked that in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were a lot of Christian themes in their lyrics but written around the reality of their struggles with their faith and with aspects of Christian culture and the music industry.  Unfortunately, these struggles continue for them, and only one of the three members seems to still be a Christian.

One of the reasons I bought the book was that it promised to cover “every song” in their catalog, and since some of their lyrics are enigmatic, I wanted more of the story.  The rest of this post is about one of those songs, how the book (understandably) didn’t explain it, and what I was able to get from it anyway.

When I unwrapped the book, the first thing I did was to find the hoped-for explanation of the lyrics for “Six Broken Soldiers.”  Written by the band’s drummer, Jerry Gaskill, it’s a different style than other songs and the lyrics seem intriguingly random.  Flipping through pages, I quickly found Jerry’s only comment on the song:

“It’s always hard for me to talk about lyrics, because I don’t like to say exactly what I’m thinking, because then that takes away from anything that you may get from it. When I write, I put everything I feel and think into each line, so it comes off very ambiguous sometimes, and even unintelligible sometimes. But I have specific things I’m thinking when I wrote that. Basically, it’s just me talking about me.”[1]

Jerry Gaskill

Bummer.  Although I was hoping for more specifics, I definitely understand an artist’s desire to let the audience interpret the work in their own way.  So, if “it’s just me talking about me,” what do I see knowing that, and re-reading the lyrics?  Below I’ll go into some of the lines and my take-aways, but it might be handy to have the lyrics, which you can find here, or if you want to hear the song, click here.  There are parts of it I don’t get, and will skip in my comments, but which meant something to the author and that might mean something to you.

Us Talking About Us
In general, I think the song describes the complexity of human personality, not just Jerry’s, but everyone’s, and how little we understand it.  First, the title of the song says a lot.  Brokenness is right there, but also “six” says we are broken in many ways.  We can all identify with having problems, and more than one of them.  With “soldiers” I think of our struggle against our problems, and that even the “soldiers” we have to fight them with have their own problems.  Our brokenness affects our ability to combat it and there’s no easy fix.

The opening verse suggests that our surrounding culture and heritage are not enough to solve these problems, and often don’t even care about them.  Is all we have an “American library” to deal with our sickness?  How often do you hear something on the news, or something a politician promises, and think – that’s exactly the answer to my specific situation?  Probably rarely, and even rarer if you consider whether they can actually do it, and on time for it to help you.  A lot of what is available to us is too vague and too ineffective to be what we really need.

The next part is series of seemingly random short phrases that are metaphorically part of our personality.  For me the lyrics include these parts:

  • Among the “Six broken soldiers in the trunk of my car”, there are parts of us we share with others (“Two of them speak”) and parts we’d rather not (“four go to bars”).  If this is what it means, then it also implies the parts we hide are much larger than the parts we let others know about.  All of it is baggage we carry with us everywhere we go, as in the trunk of our car.
  • “A caged up gorilla” – There are parts of us we don’t like, that might be harmful, and that we can barely control.
  • “three local bands” – There are parts of us that are experiences that led to where we are now, for good or ill.  King’s X had multiple, earlier versions before the current one, and so do we all.

Lastly, Jerry mentions an internal parrot that speaks multiple languages, all of them unintelligible, while “the audience he scans.”  Parrots repeat what they hear without understanding it so this line could mean there’s a lot that goes on inside ourselves that we don’t understand.  This echoes Paul’s frustration with himself in Romans 7:15 where he says: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  Our internal thoughts and motivations aren’t always reliable, and we don’t always know where they come from.

The parrot scanning the audience means he is looking for confirmation from outside that he is doing the right thing.  The irony is that when we don’t understand ourselves, why would we expect others to consistently understand us better and be able to guide us?  Do other people’s internal parrots speak more intelligibly than ours?  If they don’t, is popularity or majority rule a good guide for our decisions?  He has “sixpence and a quarter,” but doesn’t know what to do with it.

Not a very hopeful song, so what to take away from it?

First, that there is far, far more diversity inside of any one individual for even that individual to understand.  How can any society, armed with only an “American library,” hope to truly deal with people as actual individuals?  We can claim to respect the individual and stand for diversity and inclusion, but are such things even possible without vastly oversimplifying the situation?

Second, that there is far, far more brokenness in each individual for anyone other than God to fully diagnose and treat.  From what vantage point can we actually see the truth we each need, know the answers to our problems, and effectively apply them?

Before moving to the last section, I must clarify that I’m not saying human efforts at solving our problems are totally wrong and useless.  Many people manage their problems well enough alone and others manage with a lot of help from different sources.  Good friends, family, and in some cases therapy and medication, are very helpful.  We know a lot more about human psychology and other related topics than we used to.  The “American library” is not a static thing, but grows and changes over time, sometimes improving and becoming more effective, but not always.  Sometimes “progress” creates more, newer, problems before the old ones are solved.   Therefore, when honestly looking at the human condition with eyes wide open, we seem doomed to always fall short of a full solution with the resources we have.  What we have is not sufficient, but we have hope.

Where Does Hope Come From?
While our Six Broken Soldiers seem hopeless, there is an answer from outside our inner confusion and from beyond our material existence.  Members of King’s X are (or were) fans of C.S. Lewis[2], who wrote this description of mankind from Aslan, the fictional kingly lion who represents Jesus, in Prince Caspian, part of the Chronicles of Narnia series:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve. And that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth.  Be content.”[3]

Against our problems, we have far, far more dignity and nobility and talent than could possibly come by some cosmic accident.  We are each individual creatures of a loving God, and we have far more than an “American library” at our disposal.  We have Someone who knows us fully as the complex people we are, who loves us completely, and who was broken so that we might be delivered from our brokenness.

Therefore, come to Jesus, bring your Six Broken Soldiers, and ask Him to heal all of them.  He is an infinite resource.  There’s nothing about you He doesn’t already know and understand, and nothing He does not have a solution for.


If you don’t know how to do that or what that means, read this earlier post about what it means to have a loving, personal relationship with our Maker and Lord Jesus, who guides and empowers us to love as He does.


[1] Prato, Greg. King’s X: The Oral History (2019).  P. 97.
[2] Their first album was titled “Out of the Silent Planet,” and they later released a song referencing a chapter in “That Hideous Strength,” two books written by Lewis.
[3] Lewis, C.S.  Prince Caspian (1951).