Friday, February 22, 2008

True Blue: Bible/Song Meld, part 5

"Strip it down to what you can believe in
Pass it on, what is right and true blue."
--Gary Louris

So I picked up the new album by Gary Louris when it was released just this past Tuesday. I love it! Gary Louris was the frontman, lead singer and amazing songwriter (not to mention a heck of a guitar player) for one of my all-time favorite bands, The Jayhawks. Gary's new album is called VAGABONDS and it's quite lovely. It really stirs things in the depths of my soul.

Right now, just four days into it, the song that is at the forefront of killing me in a good way is the song that opens the record. "True Blue" is the title and every time I listen to it, I find that spiritual concepts are twirling around in my head and I find myself focused on various aspects of God's word. As the song plays or, when I sing it to myself in my head throughout the day, many chunks of scripture come to my mind.

First, the song totally makes me think of what Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." --Philippians 4:8-9

Now, here is a sample from the Louris song:

"Today's the day
My branches bear their fruit
And all my labor will be rewarded
Then I awake, it's like starting over

Riches and their thorns
Rumble where they lay
Revealing sparkling secrets . . . .

Strip it down to what you can believe in
Pass it on, what is right and true blue."

The message here is to strip away everything that isn't important, to "strip it down to what you can believe in." That's an amazing premise isn't it? Think about it, the idea is that we should throw away all physical things and hold on only to something that is so intangible that it can only be a belief. That's why the line "riches and their thorns" must be in there. It's not that riches are bad in-and-of-themselves. They are not an inherent evil; rather, the pursuit of happiness through riches brings misery. That is why, in Matthew 19:23, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." He did not say it's impossible, only difficult. The reason? I believe it's because those with great material wealth have a more difficult time stripping it down to what they can believe in.

Later in the song Louris sings, "Feel fulfillment in this small corner with no possessions to create sorrow." Again, the theme of possessions vs. happiness is there. I go back to Paul's message in Philippians to think about whatever is pure. "Thinking" and "believing" are so closely linked for me that, when I hear this song, I ask myself: "Where are my thoughts today?" "Is my mind on what is right and true or is it occupied with the pursuit of things?" Possessions are empty, they bring sorrow, only that which is true (belief/faith) can bring joy.

I like how Louris writes about finding fulfillment in a small corner with no possessions.  And, it's not simply that the narrator will attempt to find fulfillment without possessions; instead, he sings that the possessions would take away from the fulfillment.  This makes me think of Paul's words in Philippians 4:11, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances," or as another translation puts it, "I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little."  That is an attitude I want to have.  I like how the album cover depicts the line "Feel fulfillment in this small corner with no possessions to create sorrow."  True happiness comes from within and thus can be found among the rusted lawn chair and dirty patio just as much as it could be found in a prison cell.

Another passage this song makes me think of is John 15:5-8.  In that verse Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches . . . . My true disciples produce much fruit."  That's what I think of when Gary's sweet voice sings, "Today's the day my branches bear their fruit and all my labor will be rewarded."

I could go on and on about this song and I could add so much more if I got into other songs on the albums.  I know Gary Louris is a "secular artist" and my interpretation of this song is probably a long way off from his original intentions when he penned it. However, good art allows people of all different walks and in many different circumstances to make it their own. That's what I've done here. I am very thankful for this terrific new album by a fantastic artist.

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