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).

Love is the Dance of Eternity

Tonight I’ll be at the Warner Theatre to see the progressive metal band Dream Theater! I like lots of music that might be called “rock”, from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Imagine Dragons and even twenty one pilots, but this is the only band in this genre I like.

Why am I posting this? Only one of my friends likes this band, and I’m going to the show with him! This post might get 0 “likes.” As much as I want to get “likes” on my social media posts, life is more than that. Everyone reading this is a Creation of a Benevolent Creator, and an individual work of craftsmanship. None of us are an accident. Therefore, like what you like, but also be encouraged to put more craft into your daily life, at work and home. Because you yourself are a craft, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). Seek to be what you were made to be. Don’t just “play it safe.” Define success differently.

So, what does Dream Theater sound like?

I considered posting the most “accessible” song by them I could find, but that wouldn’t fit the point. Instead, here is their instrumental “Dance of Eternity” which changes time signatures 108 times in just over 6 minutes. Oddly, the original drummer (and co-writer) on this song was in a Beatles cover band for a while.

Nearly all of you will hate this song, but this band does what they do and inspire some to also pursue their idea of “excellence” in spite of the outcome for their Facebook “likes”.

If this song is too much, the video for “Pull Me Under,” their only song that got any radio play is linked here. Tonight I’m wearing the T-shirt from that tour in 1992. The show was at Pier 6 in Baltimore during a heavy thunderstorm. For those that haven’t been to Pier 6, it’s basically a stage in front of seating under a big tent, open on 3 sides. It was a great show.

There’s a Place for Us – Psalms of Ascent #3

Fellow travelers,

Today we come back to a weekly series on the Psalms of Ascent, a group of 15 Psalms used as a liturgy for Jews in ancient Israel traveling to Jerusalem for feasts.  Last week I wrote: “To today’s Christian, the Psalms of Ascent remind us not only of our need for salvation apart from law, but they prepare us to regularly contemplate His provision to accomplish that salvation.”  Psalm 119 praises God’s law, but the following Psalms let us know that the law cannot deliver salvation.

The first Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 120, picks up from verse 136 of Psalm 119: “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law,” but it also starts where the pilgrimage starts geographically.  The full Psalm 120 is:

“A Song of Ascents.

In my distress I called to the LORD,
            and he answered me.
Deliver me, O LORD,
            from lying lips,
            from a deceitful tongue.

What shall be given to you,
            and what more shall be done to you,
            you deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows,
            with glowing coals of the broom tree!

Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
            that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I had my dwelling
            among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
            but when I speak, they are for war!”

Each person traveling to Jerusalem came from a different place.  Meshech was in the far north; Kedar in the far southeast.  The Psalmist does not live in both places, but picture is that the same problems exist everywhere.  Everyone lives among people with lying lips, a deceitful tongue, and who hate peace.  Each of us in our own way are such people.  In verse 3 the Psalmist is frustrated about what to do about this: “what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?”  The next verse says that force or coercion won’t solve the problem.  It must be solved internally because mankind is fundamentally broken.  Society isn’t the cause of the problem, but an outcome of the problem, and we are frustrated with it.

However, those following the familiar liturgy of these Psalms would know that this frustration is only the beginning of their preparation to worship in Jerusalem.  The place we all live – this entire creation – is groaning for a solution, a way out, and struggling to find it.  All of mankind is in this boat together, but we’re “gonna need a bigger boat.”  The pilgrimage begins with knowing we have a need that we can’t satisfy ourselves.

On their days- or weeks-long journeys to Jerusalem these pilgrims had to bring the baggage from their home lives with them – literally and figuratively.  They certainly lied to and fought with each other on the way.  The trip lasted too long for them to pretend.  Their baggage was visible to all, and they couldn’t make the trip without it.  But they went.  In today’s church, do we go to a place that is full of “good” people, however we define that?  No, we go to a place with people just like us.  We begin as sinners among sinners, from Meshech to Kedar, but we long for a better place.

If you are in distress, call out to the LORD for a place of peace, not just for eternity but for your journey to it.  The church is “called out” to both places.  The journey is worth it.

The title of this post, if you haven’t already guessed, comes from the musical West Side Story.  The song is about the love between Tony and Maria, members of rival ethnic groups that insist on fighting even though they aren’t sure why.  Therefore, Tony and Maria long for a place where the world’s hate doesn’t tear them apart.

In more ways than one, the sentiments of the song echo the last verses of today’s Psalm:

“Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!”

Here is the song from the 1961 West Side Story film:

This post continues a series on the Psalms of Ascent. To start at the beginning, click here, and for the next post click here.

Somehow He Really Loves Who You Really Are

I love this song. I first heard it at a year-end event for my son’s Christian Service Brigade and thought this is what not only teenagers, but everyone, should hear!

“While I’m on this road you take my hand
Somehow you really love who I really am
I push you away, still you won’t let go
You grow your roses on my barren soul”

Thank God we do not get what we deserve!

Letting God Be Your Vision

Photo by Jenna Day on Unsplash

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.” – Ecclesiastes 5:1

When recently reading Ecclesiastes I was initially put off by the seeming harshness of this verse. What sort of sacrifice to God is foolish, or even evil? What is this verse of the Bible I believe in telling me to do, or not to do, and how does it point to Christ?

Then I was reminded of Micah 6:6-8:
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

When Jesus said “it is finished” on the cross, He was saying His sacrifice is enough and it is all we need. We don’t go to church to negotiate with or bargain with God. We cannot impress God. We can offer nothing He does not already have and has not already provided. This is good news!

We only offer ourselves in worship. We “draw near to listen”, to know Him, and to follow Him. Take a listen to one of my favorite hymns today and just be available for whatever He has in store for you. He is enough for you, and for the world.