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.