Death Be Not Proud

Every once in awhile, I come across a song that speaks to me. This is one of those songs. This captures, what I think, is the central human predicament. 

"Death be not proud though men will fear you.
And think you grave when they draw near you.
You take us down.
We can't escape the fact.
But I've learned by now your rite is just an act.
So lay my bones inside the hearse.
Take me in and do your worst.
But tell me why you choose to boast.
You're just a shadow and a ghost.
I'll breathe again – you'll be surprised.
When you're the only one who dies.
Death be not proud.
You'll soon find out.

You're not the end.
You're just the start of me.
Beneath my skin is the real heart of me.
So don't pretend that you can keep me locked forever in your grasp.
You're just a ship sunk on the ocean floor.
Your flag was stripped when you hit heaven's shore.
So close your grip.
But the only thing you'll ever hold is dust and ash.
Death be not proud of that.

Dates on a stone – they're just an alibi.
A simple line cannot sum up my life.
Beneath the tears.
The wreathes. the letters. and the roses.
God composes a new life as the old one decomposes. 
So come on death I've got your dues.
Take them anyway you choose.
And shake the heavens with your smile if my bones are worth your while.
But this coffin's just a womb thanks to the cross and empty tomb.
God will get the final laugh.
Death here he comes – your epitaph.

I lay down my life to find it again.
Dust turns to dust but my heart and soul ascend.
God bless the path that leads me through life's shallow end.
I lay down my life to find it at last.
Dust turns to dust but I escape this shipwrecked mast.
God bless the calm that drowns the voices from my past.
I lay down my life and find it anew.
Joy turns to joy at the thought of breaking through.
God bless the pain that makes me desperate for the view.
Death be not proud.
What are you boasting for?
Thanks be to god your walls are just an open door.
God bless the place where you can't haunt me anymore.
You can't haunt me anymore."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnewo0estGU

Lorde’s Ribs And The Gospel

Back in May I discovered a guilty pleasure of mine when it comes to music: Lorde.

In April, I started reading some literature on postmodernism, a philosophical guilty pleasure of mine.

Listening to Lorde’s music in conjunction with literature on postmodernism has been both emotionally and intellectually stimulating. I’ve found a lot of postmodern themes in her music, but I’m not sure if that’s the nature of her music, the nature of postmodernism, or both.

That said, she seems well aware of herself, others, and the world around her – that which came before and after.

(She read 1,000 books by the time she was 12, and chose her stage name because of a fascination with aristocracy. I don’t mean to put my foot in my mouth, but I’m not entirely convinced many stereotypical musicians on Billboard 100 could define “aristocracy.”)

Anyway, in good and proper postmodern fashion, I am going to highlight just a fraction of one song.

Not only that, but it will entirely be lyrical.

I am not musically well-endowed enough to know about the technicalities of sound and whatnot.

So lyrics it is!

The song of choice is, obviously, “Ribs.”

I highly encourage you to listen to it before reading this. Get a feel for the sound.

[Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gurezhY7cCw ]

Then read all the lyrics.

Repeat.

Okay, all done?

No?

Seriously. Go do that.

Alright, here is the passage I will be looking at:

“You’re the only friend I need
Sharing beds like little kids
Laughing ’til our ribs are tough
But that will never be enough”

This passage, which is towards the end of the song(an important note, as whatever message this passage conveys is what the listener is left with…the conclusion. The “this. This is what’s true” of the song.), begins with “You’re the only friend I need.” Lorde seems to be assuming this friend of her’s will be enough – or at least, this person’s friendship will be enough. What exactly “enough” means could be looked at philosophically(ie: if she holds a philosophy that humans require connection to be fully alive versus the belief we can be completely alone and be quite fine), psychologically (ie: relationally), or even biologically (ie: are they compatible physically?).

Lorde builds on this trust that this friend of her’s will be enough with the next two lines:
“Sharing beds like little kids, Laughing ’til our ribs are tough.”
Both of these lines give the listener this idea of joy. Laying on a bed with a friend, reflecting on nostalgic inside jokes, or perhaps even creating them in the moment.
The language of “little kids” suggests an innocence, a blind trust or faith – not just on one end of the relationship – but both. Both of them are putting “all in.”
They’re causing each other to laugh so hard, their ribs are getting tough (ie: building muscle/endurance/strength). The language here suggests they are helping each other get stronger physically, and, more metaphorically, emotionally, relationally, and mentally.
And then reality hits – “But that will never be enough.”
The language of “will” is striking.
You are left thinking that the friendship is in the NOW “sharing, laughing.” But the language of the final line, “will” is future tense, and Lorde seems to be suggesting these things haven’t happened, and even if they do happen, it won’t matter – they simply won’t satisfy. Any strength/support these two people offer each other – it won’t be enough.
It’s as if she suggests relationships and community, despite the allure of satisfaction, simply just “won’t do,” which is rather fitting, when you look at the next track on the album, Buzzcut Season, where Lorde sings, “Favorite friend, nothing’s wrong when nothing’s true, I live in a hologram with you..” Everything is fake to her.
From this point, the interpretation can go two ways:

1. Relationships and human connection simply won’t satisfy, so there’s no point. This could easily be the takeaway message if one doesn’t have hope in something greater.

2. Relationships and human connection simply won’t satisfy, but there is a point. There is a relationship, a connection, that can and will satisfy, if you let it. This is where I see the gospel, or part of it at least, in this song. Although Lorde does not offer an ending to the song that is optimistic (“That will never be enough” is repeated five times), this song is highly critical of the artificial, “single-serve” (to use language from Fight Club) relationships of the postmodern society. It also shows that even the most intimate bonds between humans are obviously fragile, broken messes, and that something needs to be done. One cannot have hope until one needs something to hope for – and given that the message of Jesus is one of hope – this song does quite a good job of setting up the listener for some of the relational aspects of the broad, all-encompassing loving message of Jesus:

satisfying, trinitarian, shalom-centered relationships between the three parts of self, the three sentient relations [God, other, self], and the three relations [God, humans, non-sentient creation], which leads to a harmonious satisfying existence among all of creation).

Oh, dear! Oh, my! Oh – screw it.

“Are we all punished for sins of fathers.
It seems so pointless to have an existence
In a world misused.

It seems so pointless to have an opinion
When yours is never true.”
The Color Morale – The Dying Hymn

Dear Ambiguity,

I thought I was over you.

Okay, so maybe I was only trying to fool myself.

But I thought I made progress.

Really, I did.

Lately, though, I’ve been doubting my doubts.

Am I really doubting for truth’s sake, or doubting because I’m too afraid to clamp onto something?

I realize I’ll never be certain,

but is that really an excuse to throw my convictions overboard?

I think that’s a little overboard.

I may muster a smile during the day,

my teeth grind at night.

Processing has become a process not for the sake of progress but simply for the sake of the process.

Freeze frame – rewind.

I thought you and I were past this.

But you’ve cornered me again,

raped me of my lunch money,

and my integrity.

You know, it’s funny, though.

I laughed, at least.

That moment you spooked me the most.

When I thought I lost my faith.

I went to Him for comfort.

Here’s how it went down:

“Oh, God, I don’t believe in You…”

“Oh shit, life is meaningless..”

“Jesus, I trust you to bring me through.”

Dear Ambiguity,

I used to think you the enemy.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Unity In Diversity

Lamin Sanneh says that “disagreement is not a barrier to dialogue. On  the contrary, it is a test of the willingness to presume on each other’s goodwill and to covet the best for each other. To be charitable is to be deserving of charity oneself.  Without difference dialogue would be moot. If you feel the need to conceal what you believe for fear of difference, then dialogue becomes just a show, and agreement an illusion. Indeed agreement by concealment is intolerance by another name, if truth be told.”

Mirror, mirror on the wall..

Merton knew only too well that the sin, evil, and violence he found in the world were the same sin, the same evil, and the same violence he had discovered in his own heart through solitude, silence, and prayer. The impurity in the world was a mirror of the impurity in his own heart. – Henri Nouwen