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).

All You Need is Love, But What is Love?


A recent survey said that only 9% of American adults have a “biblical worldview.”  I’m generally skeptical of polls unless I know how they were done.  After looking into this one, I wonder if I fall in to the 91% of American adults who don’t have a “biblical worldview.”  Why?  In their definition of “biblical worldview” the word “love” was nowhere to be found.  Maybe they thought “love” was too hard to define to base a survey on.  If so, I can understand because love is a complicated thing.

In this survey, “love” was not in the definition, but “absolute moral truth” is, which bothered me not because truth is a bad thing, but because moral law is what condemns us.  Moral law would still exist if Christ had not died for us.  The Gospel, or Good News, of Christianity is that we can be saved despite failing to follow the law. Truth without love is like describing Easter and leaving out the Resurrection.  If we have not love, we have nothing but condemnation.  Love is essential.

But what is love?  Love means many things to different people and is a word people like to leave undefined or use to mean whatever sounds good.  Often people agree that “we should all love each other” without knowing what exactly they’re agreeing on.

Confusion about what love is has been around for a long, long time.  The Bible itself talks about several different kinds of love, making a “biblical worldview” definition harder.  In English translations of the New Testament, the word “love” shows up over and over again, but the Bible wasn’t written in English.  I’m no Greek scholar, but what follows is how I personally understand “love,” and I hope it clarifies rather than confuses.

In Greek, there are at least 4 words for love, including these three:

  • Eros – sexual or passionate love
  • Phileo – this is a root of “Philadelphia”, literally the city of brotherly love.  Loosely, phileo means an affection for people who are “brothers,” who we like because we admire something about them, or because they are like us.
  • Stergo – This is a love toward kindred or family, typically between parents and children.  This love is like a loyalty to those we are related to by blood.

These words and ideas were part of the culture in which Jesus lived, died and rose again over 2,000 years ago.  However, the writers of the New Testament Bible couldn’t line the meaning of these words up with what they wanted to say about Jesus.  Therefore, they took a little-used word – agape – and poured new meaning into it.

A Better Love
Agape is epitomized by the act of Jesus dying on the cross, but also by His selfless love for others repeatedly demonstrated in the gospel records of His life.  Agape is putting the interests of others above the interests of yourself, even if there is no benefit to yourself, or even if there is a significant cost to yourself.  Even if those others don’t love you.  Agape motivates acts of benevolence or charity.

Why is love so important to a Christian worldview?  Not only because if God didn’t love the world, He wouldn’t have sent His only son, but also because if individual Christians leave love out of their worldview, they use “absolute truth” as a reason to judge.  Love that requires sacrifice may be less popular than love that doesn’t, but without it there is no cross.

As I see a Christian worldview, this kind of love is absolutely essential.  From it comes a framework of the entire history of God’s relations with man in three phases: love rejected, love redeemed, and love restored.

Love Rejected
While vague “love” is popular, true agape love is not.  When I took a college class on Interpersonal Psychology, one of the topics was the multiple meanings of love. The professor explained the multiple Greek words used for “love”, but when he got to “agape” he asked if anyone in the class could explain because he didn’t “understand” it (or so he said).  I raised my hand, answered by describing the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, and was snickered at by much of the class.  The professor smiled at me and moved on to the next topic.  He probably set up the same situation every semester.  So, yes, not only does the world often not know what “love” means in a Christian sense, but they actively ridicule it when it’s explained to them.

From Adam and Eve right to the modern day, agape love is the bonds that mankind seeks to break and find their own way.  In an earlier post, I wrote that the “bonds” and “cords” that the world tries to break free from in Psalm 2 are the laws of love for God and for our fellow man.  Jesus summarized all the commandments of the Bible as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]

I recently wrote that “the problem with every person individually is that they are unable, no matter how much external pressure is put on them, to treat other individuals the way they should be treated.”  People like to ask or demand that others practice agape love, but usually for the benefit of themselves.  It is not in our nature to demand it of ourselves first whether or not anyone else reciprocates.

Love Redeemed
People also usually like the idea that every person gets what they deserve – but we are less likely to talk about that for ourselves than for others.  The justice of God demands that anyone who refuses – at any time – to love Him and to love their neighbor should get what they deserve.  He does not miss anything but is perfect in His justice.  Jesus had to live the perfect life of agape love, under the loving guidance of Our Father, not so we won’t have to, but because we can’t.  Without Christianity and without love, the world would never be able to overcome the “Love Rejected” stage.

Christianity is not judgement, but the only way of escape from it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). If man had not rejected love, Christianity wouldn’t be necessary; but also, if Christianity does not restore mankind to agape love, it’s pointless.  Jesus, by willingly giving the ultimate sacrifice of Himself, satisfied God’s perfect justice and perfect love simultaneously.

By rising from the grave, He is able to share with us the power of agape love, which governs and redeems the other loves:

  • Eros – So many of the personal and societal problems in the world are driven by unconstrained eros.  In agape, God provides boundaries within which eros benefits, rather than harms, humanity.  See an earlier post on Godly Offspring for how God prevails over unconstrained eros even when we fail.
  • Phileo – Unconstrained phileo, which can become what we call tribalism, is behind a lot of the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other group conflicts in the world.  This also is nothing new – God through His Son will redeem us.  I wrote about agape overcoming tribalism in an old post about Jesus reaching out to Zacchaeus the tax collector.
  • Stergo – Families might be expected to be the easiest places to love each other, but they are often where passions run hottest.  James 4:1 says “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”  Only agape provides what is needed to bridge the divide, a love to govern stergo.

A Christian in our world has a restored relationship with God but is only able to practice agape love imperfectly while awaiting a new body in a new heaven and a new earth.

Love Restored
The Bible does not contain a lot of specifics about the eternal life that Christians inherit and it is often misunderstood.  For example, those who think of Christianity as a set of rules that make us “perfect” think they are right to ignore the hope of heaven.  C.S. Lewis says sometimes “our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.”[2]

But thinking of heaven as love restored helps understand it better.  Elsewhere Lewis reframes heaven as: “When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.”[3]  By obedience he means obedience to loving God and man, and in heaven every person’s ability to love will be as the laws of nature, as reliable and predictable as the rising of the sun every morning or the return of leaves to the trees in the spring.

Also, we will not become something entirely other than what we are now, like an angel, but will be transformed and perfected, while retaining our individuality.  Pastor Tim Keller explains that “Our future, glorified selves will be continuous with who we are now, but the growth into wisdom, goodness, and power will be infinitely greater.”[4]

This is a future worth having.

How to Have This Love
For those who agree that the agape love we lost is the love we need back, Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He offers a world where every individual person uses their individual talents, gifts and creativity in the best interests of others.  All you have to do is agree to do the same, redeemed by His sacrifice and empowered by His Spirit to do the will of the Father.

How do we accept this offer?
“…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.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” – Romans 10:9-10

If you haven’t already, ask Him to be your Lord and Savior.

Nobody is more or less Christian than Jesus makes them.  No doctrine or experience can replace a loving, personal relationship with our Maker and Lord, who guides and empowers us to love as He does.  If we have not love, we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Fortunately, in Christianity we have His agape love if we will accept it above all other, lesser loves.  Christianity is not Christianity, and we are not fully ourselves, without it.


[1] From Matthew 22:37 and 39
[2] Lewis, C.S.  The Weight of Glory (1941).  P. 107
[3] Ibid.  P. 43
[4] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 170

Driving Toward the Morning Sun (Part 2)


Part 1 focused on “Taxi Cab”, a song by twenty øne piløts, which provided the name of this blog and helps explain its purpose.  “Driving Toward the Morning Sun” reminds us of our destiny in Christ and builds on the “forerunner” metaphor that anchors our “full assurance of hope”.  Part 2 adds the importance of our origin in Christ, which gives our works meaning, in contrast to secular views.

Introductory Verses
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” – John 13:3-5
“Praise the LORD!  Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!” – Psalm 149:1-2

Why Do the Right Thing?
While in college, I was in a group study of the Gospel of John, came across John 13:3-5 and got stuck on the phrase: “he had come from God and was going back to God”.  In the middle of a story about God washing the feet of men, why does John intentionally point this out?  What’s the connection with this and service?  But this was not just a random phrase thrown in by John, it was perhaps the key to the whole story: that being anchored to our origin and destiny in Christ is what enables Christians to love others.  If Christ Himself served knowing these things, how can we not also serve?  Jesus willingly gets His hands dirty, so we might do the same.

However, a rejection of God as origin and destiny, as Alpha and Omega[1], has implications for individuals, families, congregations, cultures, and nations.  Hebrews 12:15 warns: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  The Apostle Paul outlines the consequences in Romans 1:18-32, after arguing for a gospel of grace, which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).  Paul writes this as “a servant of Christ Jesus” (Rom 1:1), and we also are servants, who need to answer our call to be set apart for God’s purpose, to be holy.  We are made to love God and to love others – empowered by life-changing grace to give grace.

Without Christ, humanity is smart enough to know that a 100% selfish race would be the end of us, but not wise and humble enough to acknowledge their Creator and King.  Therefore, we seek substitute alphas and omegas, but they just won’t do.

I’ll give two quick examples.  I took a Child Psychology class in college, where they taught that babies are “cute” because of evolution.  They said if babies weren’t “cute” then parents wouldn’t go through the effort of taking care of them.  Therefore, only “cute” genes survived the natural selection process.  Other babies were left to die.  Somehow, most of the class just nodded along and thought this was quite an insight!  I thought it was not only pure speculation, but barbaric.  What’s the evidence, other than saying that there must be a reason babies are “cute”?  Are there a ton of “ugly” babies in the fossil record?  What is “cute” anyway?  Under this logic, mankind might get to define what’s “cute” (and therefore worthy of love) and eliminate what’s not “cute”, for the betterment of future generations.  No.  I’ll look elsewhere because I’ve seen this movie before.

Second is the concept of karma.  If there’s an impersonal cosmic record-keeper that makes sure “what goes around, comes around”, then we need to send goodness around and we will be fine, right?  But this simply doesn’t match real-life experience and is bound to disappoint.  The idea is lampooned in the 2019 song “Karma” by AJR, where the singer asks his therapist whether he should be good, since karma doesn’t seem to be working: “I’ve been working my ass off; I’ve been so good; Still, I’m lonely and stressed out”.  There is too much unknown and seemingly random in the world for “karma” to consistently motivate good works.  If we don’t see the return, in exactly the way we expect, then we lose motivation.  I prefer to side with Samuel Johnson, who said “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”[2]  Unless you have an immovable reference point for the “goodness” you need to send around, it’s all up to the individual to decide what’s on the “good” and “bad” side of the ledger, even if they think neglecting “ugly” babies isn’t so bad.

The Ultimate Cause
The question of altruism – or concern for others even at a cost to self – has puzzled secular and religious philosophers and ethicists for centuries.  Instead, I recommend the ethic of Psalm 149:2-4:

“Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
                        let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
                        making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people;
                        he adorns the humble with salvation.

In other words, be glad!  We are not random accidents with no creator and no purpose.  We have a loving Creator and King who died that we might live.  In response, we offer our creativity and energy to God as worship, in all forms available to us (including but not limited to dancing and music!) and within our area of influence.  Accepting us in Christ as we are, the Lord takes pleasure as we humbly offer what we have to His service and rewards us with His blessings.

If we acknowledge our Maker and King as the protagonist of our story, we know that we have an origin, a purpose, and a destiny, and that our works can have eternal value, beyond any “random act of kindness”.  Whether our community and culture are crumbling or thriving, the call of God is our ultimate priority.

However, if we insist on being the protagonist and following the idols we create, our incomplete thoughts of altruism and karma will never be enough, and our works will always be mortal and rotting.  We don’t move beyond the verses of “Taxi Cab”.  Our works might help us “carry on”, but that’s not a very good place to be.  God has better in store for us.

Verse 1 of Psalm 149, skipped above, says:

“Praise the LORD!  Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!”

“A new song” suggests something that’s creative, offered in praise.  It’s an invitation from God to think expansively under the Spirit’s guidance, not restrictively under laws and regulations.  Don’t misunderstand – it’s not about “put yourself out there” and be an extrovert.  Perhaps you are not a “creative” person.  You might be a tax collector or a soldier[3].  You might be a clerk, accountant, lawyer, politician, engineer, housewife or anything else.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s about knowing who you are and dedicating that to the Lord and to others.  Turning some of this world’s “tohu va’bohu”[4] into something eternally rewarding.  But also, for some it means living in a hostile country and wondering whether and how to love your enemy when they come for you.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:23-24

Coda
Fast forward to 2021 and Tyler Joseph of twenty øne piløts is still encouraging people to create amid a pandemic.  “Shy Away”, off their latest album, was one of the final encouragements for me to start publishing this blog.  The song started when Tyler’s brother asked him how to record and produce music.  Tyler started writing the music as an example, but he ended up with a completed song.  The lyrics are encouragement for his brother to do the same.  After all, if Tyler hadn’t long ago created “Taxi Cab”, that “mortal, rotting piece of song” for the merch table, he might still be lost in despair.

Listen to or read the lyrics to “Shy Away”, and ask God and yourself: What is your new song?  Is it your song, or is it someone else’s?  Will your song be heard?  Is it an “I love you”?

Keep Driving Toward Morning.  Don’t be afraid.  After all, humility is not false modesty, but “the virtue that allows us to get out of our own sinful way and thereby embrace God’s redemptive work in us.”[5]  Your Maker and King will rejoice, for “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” – Luke 15:7.  Lay aside your outer garments, or leave your skin on the floor if you prefer that metaphor, and pick up a towel.

This is His mission, should we choose to accept it.


[1] Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet; Omega is the last.  God declares that He is both in Revelation 1:8 and elsewhere.
[2] See also Luke 14:12-14
[3] See Luke 3:12-14
[4] The Hebrew phrase translated as “without form and void” in Genesis 1:2. See prior post.
[5] Gibson, Richard H..; Beitler, James E. III.  Charitable Writing (2020).

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