The Doubter's Playlist: Horror

Sometimes doubt is debilitating, sometimes it packs a youthful, energetic punch, and sometimes, sometimes adrift on a cold, dark ocean, doubt is downright horrifying. Here's my not-so-definitive list of stuff that cause troublesome aches of doubt surreptitiously infused with terror.


Halloween
RCA Records Label

18) Halloween (song) by Dave Matthews Band

 

What better place to start than a song titled "Halloween"? Legend tells that this song, which I'm told has different lyrics depending on which performance you listen to, is about Dave Matthews' feelings after his long time girlfriend rejected his third marriage proposal. There's a certain fright to the idea of "I can't win --- no matter what". Doomed people are unpredictable, to the rest of us, and to themselves. The real horror though, is when you begin to see the scales, the deformities that being doomed, or being repetitive loser cause.


17) The Seventh Seal (film) directed by
Ingmar Bergman

The apocalyptic quote from Revelation causes us to think the film is about the end of the world... and it is. Every moment on this Earth, the world is ending for someone. The Seventh Seal epitomizes our ultimate fear of the unknown in death. Sooner or later, we all dance with the Reaper. Each of us tries in our own ways to delay the inevitable, to win a game of chess with death, but it's certainty is final, our fates are sealed. The only question is: what sort of dance does he have in mind for us.


16) Michael Jackson Versus Bill Cosby

Although I don't know the truth, both Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby have been accused in the people's court of heinous sexual crimes. That, in and of itself, doesn't really traumatize me. I can still watch a Cosby Show episode and find it hilarious without feeling compelled to judge the man behind the scenes. In the same way, I can just as easily jam out to Thriller without being burdened by the cryptically bizarre life that was Michael Jackson.

The problem lies in this: our culture is absolutely vilifying one of these icons, while more or less sainting the other. I don't get the zeitgeist. How can I? Why is Cosby being unceremoniously mocked high and low, but Michael Jackson (who one could argue committed himself to worse crimes than Cosby's) is given a free pass?

When culture and the media turn on someone, it turns cruel and remorseless. That's okay --- I don't expect the world to turn the other cheek and respond to criminal activity with grace. But what churns the blood, is how unpredictable the culture can be, how utterly indecipherable its moral compass proves to be.

At any moment, the Facebook obsessed world could dissect something I say, and bludgeon me to a pulpit. Or, again, seemingly indescriminately, the twitterverse could find me to be its new do-no-wrong savant, and subsequently, nothing I do would ever be scrutinized. My sins would forever be dismissed.

The wheel of fortune is unknowable.


15) The Day of the Locust (film) directed by
John Schlesinger

The power of prominent cultures and the media is in the numbers. One person's opinion isn't worth much, but 1,000 people's opinion, a million? Those aren't small potatoes anymore.

Once upon a time my sister bought me a bunch of movies she grabbed out of a $1 bin. Most of the films were pretty drecky, having a hard time living up to their $1 price tag. But "Day of the Locust" proved different. The film runs miserably slow, and for the first two thirds I found myself nearing death with boredom.

But then the mob comes. Want a real zombie film? Watch the last 15 minutes of "Day of the Locust." We don't need to be infected by some rage virus to go blood thirsty. That instinct is already in us.


Into The Fold
Saddle Creek

14) Into the Fold (song) by Cursive

For a spell of time, I was really into songs that featured guy/girl duets. I like the idea of a dialogue playing out in rhythm and beat. I found, over time, that there's much more than mere dialogue that can be played with by two dissonant voices. Cursive's dismissive ballad shows us both angles, as a sexual predator hunts out new flesh, while the innocent girl sees the picture much more dreamily.

The loss of innocence terrifies me. There's something heartbreaking about it --- because it seems so damn fragile and irreplaceable.


13) March of the Penguins
(documentary film)

directed by
Luc Jacquet

Hear me out! When the penguin egg slips out and breaks --- the open mouth scream the father/incubator makes --- how does that not ruin your world!

I live in a world where I eat animals everyday. If I have to reconcile myself with the idea that there are heartbroken animals everywhere on this broken Earth. That's just horrifying. Too much for a boy like me to handle.


The Shawshank Redemption
Starring Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, Bob Gunton, Clancy Brown, William Sadler

12) The Shawshank Redemption
(film) directed by
Frank Darabont

Okay, hear me out again! The suicide scene at the mid-way point is horrible. Old men shouldn't kill themselves. It's one thing for a drug-addled lightning rod artist to do it, but old people should be wizened, and mature enough to not hang themselves. The film pushes you to want something else --- something more out of life.

Most folks get to the end, and it's wonderful. I agree, the final lines of the film are beautifully poetic. But all this hope --- it still doesn't seem to amount to much.

A desperate fear seeps over me as I watch the closing scene. I whisper to myself: "Is that all there is to hope for?"


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Starring Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwonk, Geerasak Kulhong

11) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives
(film) directed by
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

I could put almost any psycho-historical Eastern film on here, but this one has monkey ghosts and shadows with creepy red eyes!

I like to think that there is a certain narrative the history of the world is taking. But frankly, that narrative leaves out the majority population of the world throughout the majority of history: specifically, Asian history. I don't understand Eastern culture and I don't understand how Chinese history (and the surrounding nations) fits into God's plan for mankind.

From a storytelling standpoint, the whole thing wigs me out if I think about it too long.


10) Rabbits directed by David Lynch

If you want to scare me, create a world that makes no sense. The New Testament says that God is not a God of confusion; I believe it! Crazy art films and movies where the laws of logic and thermodynamics are thrown out the window feel ungodly, and always either make me laugh or terrify me.

David Lynch is the master of the absurd. You can watch all of Rabbits on youtube right now.

But I dare you to watch it at night alone.


House of Leaves
By Mark Z. Danielewski

9) House of Leaves
(novel) by
Mark Z. Danielewski

The book is on lot of "scariest novels of all-time" lists. I am including it here not for the usual reasons. Wherein the main plot of the novel, an analysis of a house which has expanding dimensions in its interior whilst keeping its exterior dimensions the same, is utterly fascinating, I didn't find it particularly disturbing. However, lost in the middle of the book somewhere, is this little analogy to Henry Hudson. Hudson and his crew died in what would later donned Hudson's bay.

The takeaway is that discovery is always violent, either for you or the thing you're discovering. You can't find something new without irrevocably altering it, or being irrevocably changed yourself.


The Lost Symbol
By Dan Brown

8) The Lost Symbol
(novel) by Dan Brown

The novel, by famed author of "The DaVinci Code", is disappointing. I learned in its pages, though, that villains are more intriguing than protagonists. Think of the Batman films. Each movie is only as good as its prime villain. That's why The Dark Knight is the best.

In "The Lost Symbol" the villain is wholly devoted to his cause. He eats and drinks and sleeps ultimate determination for the cause. And even if his cause is rather stupid, he's still more interesting and trying for something more inspired than any of the good guys.

The Doubter's Fear: what if bad boys really do have all the fun (and all the story)?


Cache (Hidden)
Starring Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil, Annie Girardot

7) Cache
(film)

directed by
Michael Haneke

You don't need anything more than the premise of the movie. You receive video tapes of your front door. They come in the mail. You get crude drawings of your past sins. Somebody's watching you. Judging you. But you'll never know who. Never. Ever.

You're being watched. By someone you can't know. But they know you.


6) The White People
(short story)
by Arthur Machen

There are others.

Maybe they're good. Maybe they're bad.

I think to a certain extent, we're all xenophobic. Add to that, almost every culture has a myth of little people. And the little people are always magical. Isn't the universality of that just a little unnerving?


5) The Mystery of Consciousness
(magazine article)
published by Time Magazine

The Doubter thinks; at least I have myself, they can never take that away. Wrong!

When I was raising support to be a missionary, I spent a lot of time at Barnes & Noble. One of my favorite past-times was to get a Venti black coffee and peruse the weekly news publications (namely: Newsweek, Time, and the best in the biz, The Economist).

This article tore me up. It espouses the idea that self is a lie. We are just a conglomeration of billions of cells. Nuts to ethics. Nuts to individuality. Nuts to life.


The Colour Out of Space
By H P Lovecraft

4) The Color Out of Space
(short story)
by H.P. Lovecraft

We tend to think of aliens as these humaniodic individuals. Little green men. Large insects. But what if they're personality is indecipherable? What if they don't seem like individuals, sentient creatures at all?

Lovecraft tells a horrific story of alien lifeforms that aren't really forms at all. But they have a will, nonetheless.


3) The Dummy
episode of The Twilight Zone
 

I missed the blatant analogy of the transmorphing power of alcoholism as a kid, but this Twilight Zone episode wherein a ventriloquist doll begins to control his ventriloquist was beyond scary to my seven year old brain.


2) The Wicker Man
(film)
by Robin Hardy

Question: What's the most terrifying thing for a Christian who suffers from doubt?

Answer: God not showing up when you need him most.


Frailty
Starring Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Luke Askew, Jeremy Sumpter

1) Frailty
(film)
by Bill Paxton

We end the list with this film, not because it's the best flick, but because it hits closest to home.

What if God asked you to do something horrible?

We're all comfortable knowing he never would ask such a thing, but once upon a time he asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son to him. Yes, God didn't let Abe follow through with it, but what must have gone through Abraham's mind during those three days?

The Doubter's Playlist: Music

I am in no way a music expert, nor could I honestly claim to be even a music enthusiast.

I am however, human. And with that humanity, I find myself subject to strong emotions. Music brings out raw emotion like nothing else on Earth.

This is a list of songs I've listened to at various times in my life, sometimes with tears in my eyes, sometimes with unholy anger burning in my heart.

I started the 365 Honest Questions podcast as a way to wrestle with God, and worship him in that process. This list is a humble extension of that wrestling. Think of it like a soundtrack for your spiritual cage fights.


1) Help Me by Johnny Cash

One Summer I biked to work every morning. It was only a seven mile, flat journey, but it came to be the most cherished part of my day. As I hopped on the bike, I'd press play on my CD player (yes, even eight years ago, it was old school), and start anew Cash's American V album. Cash recorded the album in the months proceeding his wife's death. And it shows. Every song bleeds with helplessness. Johnny Cash himself would die before the album made it to store fronts. This first track on the album features old Johnny's broken voice repeating the melodic line, "I'm beggin' you please for help."


2) Worship You by Vampire Weekend

 

If you can actually manage to understand the lyrics, you'll hear perhaps the highest energy 'Where are you now, God?' possible.

The song has maybe the most potency if viewed with a Judaistic lens wherein a Messiah is still desperately being waited for.


3) Ya Hey by Vampire Weekend

This track plays right after "Worship You" on Vampire Weekend's newest album, and it works strikingly well as a 1, 2 punch. Ya Hey, an obvious flip of the unspoken name of God Yahweh, focuses on the lack of faith in the world. Adding to that, it points the finger right back at God for the crummy state of affairs by repeating,

You won't even say your name
Only "I am that I am"

I feel like there should be another verse that follows,

To the unknown god, do you
Say, "you are that you are?"

 


4) Eh Hee by Dave Matthews Band

This is anger spewed vitriol at God and faith in its most refined form. Watch the video along with it. It adds to the sense of chaos.


5) Oh My God by Ida Maria
6) Oh My God by Jars of Clay

Both songs have the same title. Both songs focus on the theme of being overwhelmed. That's about where the similarities end.

Ida Maria's sonnet is an ode to the patron saint of manic-ness. It's a wholly internal monologue. At no point does the song think about the outside world. Even the lyric, "Is this fun for you?" is a rhetorical rant. I've experienced many-a night and day where I can't get out of myself. I'm stuck in hyper, melodramatic narcissism.

The Jars of Clay ballad brutalizes from the other extreme. The song methodically contemplates all the mass of humanity the world has to offer, and then, slowly, poundingly, crescendos. The climax then bursts through with these final lines:

Sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven
All the times I thought to reach up
All the times I had to give
Babies underneath their beds
Hospitals that cannot treat all the wounds that money causes,
All the comforts of cathedrals
All the cries of thirsty children - this is our inheritance

 


7) The Things that Devils Bring by Richard McGraw

Richard McGraw is fantastic. He's the quintessential, guilt ridden Catholic. In this song, the first of many McGraw songs that I've come to love, he bitterly cries to God, asking for the freedom to be with the girl he yearns for.

Sometimes sin sounds so desirable. We'd knock down heaven and earth for just a taste of it.


8) The Angel of Death Came to David's Room by mewithoutyou

Lyrics:

The Angel of Death came to David's room
He said, "Friend, it's time to go"'

Angel, no, I think you've come too soon
It's not my time to go

Sorry friend, now put your hand in mine
I'm sorry friend, now put your hand in mine

But good Angel, don't I get a warning sign
Before it's my time to go?

Come now David, where's your Grandma gone?
Their time came to go

But I slew Goliath with the sling and stone
It's not my time to go

He'll be waiting for you when we get back home
It's time, it's time to go

Come now David, where's your Momma gone?
Come now David, where've your Uncles gone?
Come now David, where've your Aunts all gone?
Their time came to go

Can I tell Solomon the things I've learned?

I'm sorry, friend, that's none of my concern
It's time, it's time to go

Come now David where's Uriah gone?
Stranded on the battlefield, the troops withdrawn
Come now David, where's Uriah gone?
His time came to go

Come now David, where's Bathsheba gone?
And where've your binoculars and rooftops gone?
And the unexpected Baby-from-the-bath-night gone?
Their time came to go

Come now David, where is everybody goin'?


9) Millstone by Brand New

Jesus said in Matthew 18:5-7:

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!


10) Bad Things to Such Good People by Pedro the Lion

Lead singer David Bazan's story is one of slow de-conversion from Christianity. His tale mirrors many that I've witnessed. Sigh...

I chose this song, rather than some of Bazan's others that are perhaps more fraught with doubt and trouble, because the little narrative here in this song represents the slipping slope of doubt turning to rage. It's a captured moment brought out-0f-time ripe with existential suffering.


11) Wake Up Dead Man by U2

It's been 2000 years.

When will Jesus return?

How long will it be?

How far will he let things go?

How far must we fall?


12) God Said No by Dan Bern

When looking at all the suffering in the world, when tasting even the smallest piece of its misery, it's hard not to ask God why? It's so easy to think that if one of us were in charge, we could make the world so much better. We could free the world of its pain. Or, if not all of Earth's moaning, we could at least fix one thing or two.

Here, we're reminded of our utter dependency on God's choices, for good or for ill.

We hold no cards.


13) Silence by Matisyahu

When we pray, why is it so hard to hear God's answer?

He is our Father, and yet, when I call upon my father by birth, my Dad, he picks up the phone and talks back to me. Why does my true father, my God, leave so much mystery in our relationship? Why can't I call him on the phone? Wait... I think that's another song #WhatIfGodWasOneOfUs


14) The Friendly Beasts by Sufjan Stevens

There are so many great Sufjan songs that could fit this playlist, but here, I choose the animals.

When it's profoundly hard to see God in the world, I often find solace in gazing on the animal kingdom. There's so many. And each of them, in their own way (except of course, snakes), have the spark of creation in them. They worship God unaware. They are the innocents.

Wretched man knows the weight of his own sin. But the animals, are they not still unstained by our taint?


15) Deuteronomy 2:10 by The Mountain Goats

Watch that video of the last Tasmanian Tiger. They are all dead. Extinct. No more. God's creation, gone baby gone. Look at how beautiful that beast was.

It's for this that Paul's words, "Oh Death, where is your sting?" have such deep resonance.

We need Jesus to return. We need him to make all things new.

I hope to God he brings the Tasmanian Tiger back.

And the Dodo.


16) Times by Tenth Avenue North

The times that you doubt me
When you can't feel
The times that you question
Is this for real

 

God still knows me.

He loves me even as I doubt.


17) Porcelain by Sleeping at Last

When I read "The Wizard of Oz" as a child I had to stop when Dorothy and friends reach the porcelain city. In that city, all the people are made out of porcelain. Anyone who's of any distinguished age, has been glued back together hundreds of times, and therefore, their faces are full of cracks. Dorothy's gang accidentally trips a young maiden, a beautiful, unbroken girl. She falls. She breaks. She cries, for she'll never be beautiful again.

Life is so fragile.


18) Spiritual by Johnny Cash

As we began, so must we end.

Take us out, Johnny.