Five songs to change your life

Caleb Mathis

9 mins

Some of my most transcendent experiences with God have involved sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Well, actually, scratch the drugs. The closest I got to that was a misguided weekend in college when I started smoking Clove cigarettes. I thought it would make me “look cooler.” Instead, they just made me cough a lot. And girls don’t like coughing. So I quit. But sex and rock ‘n’ roll? For sure.

Sex is one of God’s greatest gifts. I’m for it. And so is God. But we’ve already talked about that, so on to rock ‘n’ roll. For me, music has been a consistent way I’ve heard from God. Bob Dylan. Sufjan Stevens. Old-school Kanye. The Hold Steady. You could call those artists my prophets.

In the Bible, prophets were the mouthpiece of God. They were sent especially at times of crisis—when God’s people were drifting away from him, using and abusing each other, or facing annihilation from their enemies—to get the people’s attention. The prophets had the heavy task of reminding God’s people that he’s present, he’s not OK with how they’re living, and consequences will follow if behavior doesn’t change.

I hate being told I’m wrong. And God’s people were just like me. So the prophets got very mixed reviews. A few were accepted and listened to. Many were ignored and reviled. And a handful were even murdered.

When you have to give a dog medicine, wrap it up in hamburger meat, and they’re none the wiser. When you have to give people medicine, wrap it up in a strong bass line and a synth-backed chorus, and they’re none the wiser. Basically, if the prophets would have formed a band, things might have gone a little better for them.

Enter Arcade Fire. The Canadian-based art-rock band has been creating original, deeply meaningful, and downright danceable music for over a decade. And while you’ve probably come across their music in movies like “Her” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” or during major sporting events like The Super Bowl and The World Cup, the band has done much more than fill a slot on Spotify. They’ve used their art to more-than-subtly poke and prod our modern standards of living, especially around technology and the changing definition of what it means to be human. In a nutshell, prophets with guitars.

I regularly fall into patterns that I know aren’t good for me. But, somehow, they suck me in anyway. Oftentimes, I need a strong push (or a great song) to remind me there’s a better way. I need prophets. And, lately, Arcade Fire has been ringing my bell.

If you’re like me and find yourself let down by the unkept promises of technology, if you wish you scrolled less and strolled more, if you are open to having your standard American-way of life questioned, here are five songs that have given me plenty of hamburger meat to chew on. And I didn’t even notice the medicine going down.

Everything Now
The lead single and title of their newest record, “Everything Now,” calls to trial our on-demand, everything-at-your-fingertips way of living. Psychologists and clinical studies have long called out the “paradox of choice”: the idea that the more choices we have, the less fulfilled we are with any decision we make. Case in point: When I go out for ice cream, I always ask for a sample. But I never order that flavor. Why? Because I believe there’s a better ice cream cone waiting for me. And when I sit down to enjoy the cone I decided on, I inevitably regret not getting the first flavor. That’s the paradox of choice. We live in an era of unprecedented choices; nearly every movie, song, book, and TV show is at our fingertips. Barriers like language and distance and time don’t stop us any more. We can choose a date from more than 50 million people on Tinder. But we’re not happy. FOMO wins every time.

Standout Lyrics:
I need it / Everything now! / I want it / Everything now! / I can’t live without / Everything now! / Till every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without.

Remember the excitement when you created your first social media profile? When you composed your first tweet, uploaded your first photo, or checked in to that location? Social media is touted by its creators to be the great connector of humanity, capable of erasing dividing lines of language, distance, and economic inequality. It brings people together from all over the globe and emphasizes our similarities. But let’s be honest—that promise has been far from kept. Our world is more divided than ever. Instead of promoting inclusivity, social media has made us hyper-focused on ourselves. It isn’t about the wider us. It’s about me. My likes. My shares. My retweets. My perfectly edited life. As the song so eloquently puts it, social media has become nothing more than a place for us to reflect the most important person in our lives: me.

Standout Lyrics:
We’re still connected, but are we even friends? / We fell in love when I was nineteen / And I was staring at a screen / I thought I found the connector / It’s just a reflektor / Just a reflection, of a reflection, of a reflection, of a reflection, of a reflection / Will I see you on the other side?

Our current technological age didn’t invent sexual exploitation, but it has certainly normalized it. Pornography is as easy as a point and click. You don’t even have to pay for it. Opinions on the societal effects of pornography run wide. Say what you will about it, my personal experience found it addictive, wreaking havoc on intimacy in my close relationships, setting unrealistic standards for my future wife, and seeding a exploitative mindset across all my relationships with women. In other words, it destroyed everything in its path. A hurricane without hyperbole. And, refreshingly, the band seems to agree.

Standout Lyrics:
I thought I knew you / You thought you knew me / But now that you do / It’s not so easy now … Little boys with their porno / Oh, I know they hurt you so / They don’t know that we know / Never know what we know … I know I hurt you / I won’t deny it / Yeah, something’s wrong / Little boys with their porno / Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me.

We Used To Wait
Another prophet of our times said, “The waiting is the hardest part.” If modern technology has taught me anything, it’s that Tom Petty might have undersold it. Waiting’s not only hard, it’s downright grueling. As I write this, my internet connection is cutting in and out. And it’s pissing me off. Why? Because I don’t feel like I have 15 seconds to spare to wait for it to reconnect. And yet, there was a time when waiting was a natural part of life. In this song, the band recounts a childhood romance before instant messaging, texts, or FaceTime. How did they stay in touch? Writing letters. And over it all settled an air of freedom, creativity, and anticipation that came from simply having to wait in a world with Insta-nothing.

Standout Lyrics: I used to write / I used to write letters / I used to sign my name / I used to sleep at night / Before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain / We used to wait / We used to waste hours just walkin’ around / We used to wait / Now our lives are changing fast / Hope that something pure can last.

Black Mirror
Black mirrors—or screens—are all around us. Phones. Tablets. Television. Computers. Even the self-check line at Kroger. In many ways, I find myself choosing interaction with screens much more than I do actual, flesh-and-bone, people. And when I step back and question that, I find it a bit disconcerting. Technology can certainly be used for incredible good. But I mostly find myself using it to avoid people. It’s faster. Easier. Less messy. But in choosing technology over people, I sacrifice a piece of my humanity. It’s our shared experiences that bring us together. It’s in picking up a conversation with a stranger that we find an unexpected joy. It’s in looking another person in the eye that I get glimpses of the fingerprint of the divine. Our black mirrors will only reflect the same back to us—empty, meaningless, blackness.

Standout Lyrics: The black mirror knows no reflection / It knows not pride or vanity / It cares not about your dreams / It cares not for your pyramid schemes

Here’s the deal: I’m more than happy to share some sweet tunes with you. But I hope these songs prompt you to do more than just listen. I hope they drive you to try something new. When I get home from work, I’ve been putting my phone on a desk in the back office. Why? Because if it’s in my pocket, I’ll inevitably ignore my wife and kids. When I’m in the car, waiting for my wife to finish some shopping, I’m trying hard not to pick up my phone and scroll. Why? Because I want to be comfortable enough with myself to be alone with my thoughts. I’ve been going to bed earlier and skipping a little Netflix binging. Why? Because rest is more important than my desire to be endlessly entertained.

I’m no superstar. Just a normal guy, trying to pay attention to the prophets. And if you’re up for a challenge, I invite you to join me.

Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

Discussion Questions

  1. Which song hits a topic that resonates with you most (FOMO from too many choices, having a perfect Instagram, porn addiction, inability to wait, or preferring screens to people)?

  2. What do you think is the cause or motivation behind it?

  3. Pick one way you can cut that out this week. Commit to texting each other in a few days to keep it up and hear how it’s going.

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Caleb Mathis
Meet the author

Caleb Mathis

Dad of three, husband of one, pastor at Crossroads, and at the moment would rather be reading Tolkien, watching British TV, or in a pub with a pint of Guinness.

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