Posts Tagged ‘Music’

Fred StobaughMany of you saw in the news or spreading through social media this past week the touching story of 96-year-old Fred Stobaugh and the song lyrics he wrote for a contest in memory of Lorraine, his recently deceased wife of 72 years.  The inspiring story came as a result of a song contest held by Green Shoe Studio where they invited anyone to submit a video of an original song. Fred didn’t do a video, but he put the lyrics in a manila envelope and sent them off to the studio, not expecting to hear back.

The studio was so touched by the story that they decided to have his song professionally produced as a gift for Fred. Fast forward to this week and the video of that story has received millions of views while the song “Oh Sweet Lorraine” was in the top ten downloads for the past week on iTunes. If you haven’t seen the video yet, take nine minutes and watch it here, then continue reading. I promise it is worth your time.

Who could watch that video and not be touched by it? We walk away from it perhaps with a tear in our eye, but surely with a longing in our heart for more such stories. We long to be on the receiving and giving end of such experiences. Just as Fred was taken aback by the gift of the song, so were the people of the studio moved by Fred and their opportunity to show him kindness. We long to have a love story like Fred and Lorraine. We acknowledge the rarity of 70+ year marriages and feel blessed to witness them, encouraged that maybe the same is possible for us.

Why is it that such a story goes viral? When the national news headlines are more frequently stories of war and potential war, stories of violence and wrongdoing, why does a story like Fred’s get millions of views and make the top ten downloads on iTunes? I believe it is because we are tired of news about war and murder and all that is wrong with mankind. We grow weary of filing our minds and ears and eyes with yet more stories daily that discourage and depress.

Rather, we long for feel-good stories that give us at least a brief respite from the evil in the world. We need reasons for hope. We cling to stories like Fred’s because there are holes in our heart and our experiences in life that shout for something more meaningful, more purposeful, more worthwhile and eternal. We long to fill our minds with that which is healthy. We know that we need to realistically understand our world and its troubles; we just don’t want to dwell constantly on all that is wrong around us, nor should we. We need models of what is right and good, and we need to lift those stories high for all to see and hear. We need more than the constant reminders of what harms us.

It was a bit ironic that much of the other music-related news of this past week was around Miley Cyrus and her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Commenting on the contrast between Miley and the touching story of Fred Stobaugh, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee had this to say:

“Miley Cyrus took a lot of flak this week for her raunchy performance at the MTV Video Awards. But she was hardly alone. Most of the performers stripped down, cursed and gyrated in crude ways. They think that’s what it takes to sell a song. But they’re wrong… This week, among all the sex-drenched tunes by Lady Gaga and Robin Thicke, you’ll find “[Oh] Sweet Lorraine,” 96-year-old Fred Stobaugh’s song of undying love for his late wife, perched at #9 on iTunes’ top 10 chart. I hope it makes it to number one, as a reminder that all a song really needs to be popular is for it to touch our hearts.”

Nearly a year ago, a similar feel-good story and video made the rounds of singer Katy Perry performing a duet with Jodi DiPiazza, a young girl with autism.  That YouTube video now has over 7 million views. You can watch it below:

Our hunger for such stories won’t end, because the longing in our heart to be fully human demands them. I wonder what the collective attitude and mindset of society would be if we spent more time highlighting what is good and right with the world rather than dwelling on all that is wrong?

By the way, if you’d like to send a note of encouragement and thanks to Fred Stobaugh, here is his address:

Fred Stobaugh
P.O. Box 4063
Bartonville, IL 61607

My challenge to you this week is to share some positive, uplifting stories with others. What positive stories can you share?

The StruggleI’m going to gripe for a few minutes, so bear with me…

Normally, I prefer listening to Christian radio stations when I drive. I find it generally uplifting and better food for the soul than the alternative on other stations. Most of the pre-sets on my radio point to Christian stations and if one of them gets too yappy with talk, I switch to another one playing music. Of course, some of the songs are also reasons to switch stations, and that is the reason for this particular rant.

In August of 2012 the Christian band Tenth Avenue North released the album “The Struggle.” I like the band and their music. Unfortunately, though, I have an issue with the frequency with which Christian radio stations continue to play one song from that album, “Worn.”

Here are the lyrics to the song:

I’m tired, I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

My prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn
Even before the day begins
I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So Heaven come and flood my eyes

Yes, all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though, I’m worn
I’m worn

If you weren’t depressed before hearing that song, you probably will be by the time it’s over. Then have it played during every normal drive time to and from work for months and you may just want to drive the car off a bridge somewhere.

I understand the appropriateness of capturing life’s moments – good and bad – in songs. Where would country music be without that? But it bothers me when Christian songs focus so much on the negative aspects of life. Don’t we have a better message to share with the world than that?

Yes, we all struggle. That’s normal. Yes, we all get tired and weary. That’s normal, too. But for the Christian who understands that this life is a very short beginning to an incredible, unending eternity with no more crying, tears, or pain, it seems at best self-indulgent and at worst faithless to spend so much time filling our minds and airwaves droning on and on with “woe is me” lyrics that hint at a possible escape but never actually get around to shouting the good news from the rooftops.

If I hear the above song on a station while driving, you can bet I’m going to change the station. Sadly, there have been times when I’ve changed stations only to hear it also playing at the same time on a different station! Gee whiz, folks, get over it! So you felt down for a bit, fine. If you have a clue about Christian faith, you know there is One on whom your focus should rest that gives you hope daily. Find yourself down in the dumps on occasion? I understand, but get into the Word and take your eyes off yourself long enough to remember that your purpose in life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, and you’re doing neither when you’re camping out in a self-indulgent pity party.

I don’t fault the band for writing and releasing the song “Worn.” From their angle, it may represent a moment in time along the journey of faith that resonates with many others (although it seems that the lyrics of most songs on the album “The Struggle” are along this same line, hence the name “The Struggle”). I fault more the radio stations that give it and similar depressing songs much more air time than others that send a more helpful gospel message to the listening public.

As a rule, I enjoy contemporary Christian music. That wouldn’t be the genre of choice on my radio, downloads and CD collection if I didn’t. But I want songs with some depth and with some clear gospel teaching that points the listener in the right direction. I love, for example, the theological depth of the modern hymns written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Their songs like “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross” are so full of truth and depth and the gospel message that the hearer cannot help but feel the power of the message within.

You might want to click the links for the two Getty songs in the previous paragraph to watch them on video while following the lyrics that display to the side of the video. You’ll notice a big difference in the content of those two songs compared to the 31 uses of “I’m,” “me,” “my,” etc. in the song “Worn.” While the two Getty songs contain the personal pronoun as well, the context is in the role of Christ for the person and not in the individual’s personal feelings and self-absorption. Perhaps there’s a lesson in the pronoun use: when we focus on ourselves and take our eyes off Jesus, we suffer the negative consequences.

Christians, don’t produce or use Christian music just because it sounds appealing musically. If it is “Christian” music, then the message contained therein must be sound. It’s OK to acknowledge struggles we all face, but don’t stop there, and don’t even think about focusing a Christian song on yourself as opposed to our Lord. We have enough repetitive, lightweight drivel in contemporary Christian songs used in worship these days, and too many simplistic songs with predictable phrases of church speak. We need more solid spiritual food for the soul.

We can and should do better in what messages we send to the public through music.

What do you think?

Personal ResponsibilityMy wife and I went to see the Movie Lincoln yesterday.  After all, it would be a shame to have the Academy Awards come and go and not see any of the nominated movies prior to the Oscars being handed out.  We thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  The time passed much quicker than the 2.5 hour movie length would suggest.

As we sat at a restaurant immediately following the movie, I commented that I have no idea how much of what I just saw was actually true.  Of course, I know the history book big-picture facts of the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency and his death.  Unlike some of the Los Angeles Lakers who watched the movie together, I was not surprised when Lincoln died at the end.  But how much of what was before my eyes in that theater really happened as portrayed?  I don’t know.  Most of the exact dialogue had to be conjured up to fill in the blanks that still exist to this day.  The movie credited one particular book at the end as what the movie was in part based on, but other sources and surely much creative license were employed to supply the details.  There is no other option given the historical time frame in question and lack of detailed recording that is commonplace today.

Reflecting on the movie, then, I am challenged by the fact that I cannot take many particulars for granted as historical truth.  I know, however, that there will be untold millions who watch the movie and who then have that picture and that dialogue in mind as historical fact.  They may never read any book on the events or the time period.  They aren’t even likely to read the book that the movie was based on to see how closely it followed what was written there, much less what is written elsewhere.

That means that if I really want to be able to separate fact from fiction, it is up to me to do more research.  It is my responsibility to learn what historical documents exist and what they tell us, and then to be able to know what is fact and what is surmised and what is merely good cinema.  This is true not only for a movie about some past historical figure, but also for documentaries that may very well be created with a philosophical or political slant intent on leading the viewer to a certain point of view.  In the end, the content of what I watch – even a movie like Lincoln – may be created in a way to lead me to certain conclusions.  Still, it is my duty to pursue truth diligently so that I come to my own best conclusions of what is factual.

With that in mind, let’s shift the discussion to something that is far more controversial, but, I believe, closely related to the above.  In the wake of mass shootings such as the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut recently, the topic resurfaces about whether and how violence in media such as video games, movies, television and music plays a part in the eventual actions of those who carry out such atrocities.  Debates rage on with people firmly entrenched on both sides.  Studies are occasionally done that yield results (most likely inconclusive) eagerly latched onto by one side or the other.  Be careful, of course, about such studies; always check who paid for them in order to sniff out potential bias.

I am not an expert in the subject of the impact of media and game violence on personal behavior.  I do know, however, that companies spending untold billions of dollars annually on media advertising sure do assume that media have an influence on behavior.  If not, then every marketing campaign from every company that ever claimed a positive return on investment is fictional, and we know that’s not the case.

Advertising works because it creates a desire or fulfills some perceived need.  How can this impact not also be true when a violent action or way of life glamorized in some medium – movie, TV, game, music or otherwise – nurtures in someone a desire to live out that fantasy?  What if that media experience contributes to one’s perception that a personal need will be met by acting out that behavior?  Is that any different than the desired goal of corporate advertising, to influence behavior?  I will only believe such violent media have no influence on behavior when all advertisers unanimously and adamantly agree that all of their media advertising yields no results.

But that isn’t where the analysis ends for me.  I don’t blame the Newtown shootings on video games or any media.  The above comments only address the media influence part of this post’s title.  The other part is about personal responsibility.

Coming back to the movie Lincoln, I can walk away from it believing and claiming that those exact words were exchanged between key characters.  I can believe that Lincoln and others looked exactly like they did on the big screen.  I can believe that household furnishings, battle scenes and street scenes were exactly as shown in the movie.  I would be ignorant to believe any of these, but it is still my option to absolve myself of any personal responsibility for separating fact from fiction, and to take the easy route by assuming the movie is entirely factual.

Fast forward to the dreaded day of the Newtown shootings, and opportunities abound to place blame in several directions.  Some may focus on any of the following:

  • The killer’s mother should not have had those weapons and trained her son in how to use them.
  • The killer was mentally ill and never received the help that he needed.
  • The school should have had better security.
  • The laws should have been more stringent.
  • School personnel should have been armed so they could stop him.
  • He was obsessed with playing video games.

You may have seen fingers of blame pointing at additional people or circumstances.  What all of the above bullet points ignore, though, is that the killer chose to do what he did.  His mother did not make him murder 27 people (including her) and then commit suicide.  He chose to do that.  Different laws in place would not have stopped him; he chose to break numerous laws that day – stealing, carrying a weapon into a gun-free zone, breaking and entering, murder, and suicide.  People intent on breaking laws don’t give a damn about any laws intended to stop them from doing what they are determined to do.  Different security in place in the school would not have stopped him from attempting his chosen path; the school was exemplary in its security and preparedness within the confines of the law.  No video game he ever played made him pull the triggers that day; he did it of his own free will.  The gun manufacturer met a legal consumer need as perceived by the killer’s mother who legally purchased the guns, and neither the gun manufacturer nor the NRA pulled those triggers; the killer alone did that by choice.  He is personally responsible for his actions, even if other factors may have influenced his life to some degree in harmful ways.

Why are we as a society so eager to absolve ourselves and others of personal responsibility?  Why do we think that the chosen actions of others are preventable by additional actions on our part or by the government?  We see it in the nanny state where many think it is the responsibility of the government to take care of them more than it is their own responsibility to do so.  We see it in the irresponsible, live-for-the-moment lifestyles of those who fail to plan, fail to save for a rainy day, fail to work hard, fail to take out insurance and then expect the government (which means those of us who work and pay taxes) to swoop in and bail them out whenever things get tough.

For the record, folks, it’s nobody’s job to take care of me except me, myself, when it comes to having food, clothing, shelter and basic security.  If I hit a rough patch, it’s up to me to do something about it.  If a tornado takes my house, that’s why I have insurance.  My taxes help pay for basic public services and protections shared by all, not as a piggy bank to open if I think I need it during hard times.

The idea of personal responsibility is as old as our most ancient texts.  Part of that responsibility involves the environments in which we choose to live, what media we choose to fill our minds with day in and day out, the people with whom we choose to associate, and the inevitable outcomes of such decisions.  Personal responsibility means we take seriously the sage advice from long ago, such as:

  • “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” – Philippians 4:8;
  • “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” – Proverbs 13:20;
  • “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” – Romans 12:9;
  • “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” – Matthew 12:34.

To try to capture in a simple table the three very different scenarios mentioned above, here is a summary:

Medium Potential Influence Role of Personal Responsibility
movies such as Lincoln beyond entertainment, details taken as historical fact do research to be able to separate fact from fiction
advertising create or nurture a perceived need determine if ads are true, if you really need such a product or service, and if this particular one will best meet that need
violent games, movies, TV, music, etc. beyond entertainment, create or nurture a perceived need do not surround yourself and fill your mind with media that has this focus; remember that you control your actions, but you have no control over the consequences of those actions

Actions have consequences.  Environments have influence.  Ultimately, though, we and we alone are responsible for our actions.  The sooner individuals, society at large and our government realize this, the better off we will be.

While listening to songs on my phone today, there were some that I just had to stop and focus on completely, sometimes with eyes closed.

Music has a way of taking you someplace else in an instant.  One minute you may be typing away at a keyboard with a lot of things on your mind and then the next you are transported to a scene from high school, a moment with someone special years ago, the occasion of some spiritual high, or some memory you would rather forget.  I don’t know how the brain is wired, but it is remarkable that such an impact is possible.

In recent years as the parents of friends have suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, I have marveled with others when names of spouse and family members might be forgotten day after day, but hymns and songs they’ve known for years remain with them.  There is something about music and the brain that survives the damage of this and some other diseases.

We have different musical tastes.  That’s expected.  Swapping playlists with other family members, friends or coworkers would probably drive us all bonkers in no time.  We like what we like in part, I think, because there is an emotional or experiential connection with it.  It isn’t just the mere sounds, rhythm, instruments or lyrics.  It’s the whole experience and the meaning wrapped up in it.

Most of us have our preferred decades of music with artists and favorite songs that never get old even if the artists still occasionally performing them are quite old (and covered with more wrinkles than a Chinese Shar-pei puppy).  I like hearing some of their old songs, but I can frankly do without the visual of such artists today or their attempts to reach notes more easily reached decades ago.

In light of the possibility that music may be what I retain one of these years more than other memories, perhaps I’d better fill my head with more wholesome things than not.  I’d hate to have my children come visit me in “the home” only to hear me singing “I’m about to whip somebody’s a**.

Leap year lesson #305: Music resonates with the soul.