Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tell Me a Story

I absolutely love this album. Love, love, love it. It is magic.

M83 is not a Christian band by any stretch, but there is one song on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming that reminds me of the Gospel every time I hear it. The track is called Raconte-moi une Histoire (Translation: "Tell me a story"), and it features a little girl fulfilling the title's request. The first time I heard it, I thought it was just nonsense. I thought it was a throwaway song - you know, one of those extra tracks between the "real" songs that pretends to be a novelty but is really just there to make potential buyers think the album has more substance than it really does.

But after hearing Raconte a couple times, I've completely changed my mind. Now it's one of my favorite songs on the album - and that's high praise, because this is a double album with a lot of great songs.

Over a happy, snappy, musical backdrop the little girl delivers the following words with naive enthusiasm and pitch-perfect inflection (if you want to read it while listening to the musical accompaniment, play the video below at the same time):

I heard about this frog
It's a very tiny frog
But it's also very special!
You can only find it in the jungle
So far away from here.
But if you find it,
And if you touch it
Your world...can change...forever.

If you touch its skin
You can feel your body changing
And your vision also

Blue becomes red
And red becomes blue

And your mommy suddenly becomes - your daddy!
And everything looks like a giant cupcake.

And you keep laughing and laughing and laughing
Nothing is ever quite the same, really.

And after you finish laughing,
It's time to turn into a frog yourself.
(It's very funny to be a frog!)

You can dive into the water
And cross the rivers (and the oceans)
And you can jump all the time and everywhere

Do you want to play with me?

We can be a whole group of friends
A whole group of frogs
Jumping into the streets
Jumping into the planet
Climbing the buildings
Swimming in the lakes AND in the bathtubs
We could be hundreds,

The biggest group of friends the world has ever seen.
Jumping and laughing forever.

It would be great, right?

As I said, the first time it sounded like nonsense. Cute - but nonsense. The second time I listened more closely and found it surprisingly moving. The third time I realized why.

The frog is like Jesus. A Middle-Eastern Jewish carpenter might not seem like a very big deal (it's a very tiny frog), but he's like nothing else you'll ever find (it's very special!). You have to step out in faith to find him (you can only find it in the jungle) and that might require you to adjust your entire worldview (so far away from here), but if you take that step of faith (if you find it) and receive His Spirit (if you touch it), you can become a new creation (your world can change forever).

When you become a new creation, your world is turned upside-down. Rather than valuing material wealth, power, and self-esteem you begin to value poverty of spirit, meekness, and the hunger for righteousness. Your natural state is completely disrupted (blue becomes red and red becomes blue). This disruption isn't necessarily comfortable and it completely changes your perspective (your mommy suddenly becomes your daddy!), but it helps you to see the beauty and wonder in the world (everything looks like a giant cupcake).

This change is accompanied by joy, particularly early on (and you keep laughing and laughing and laughing), and after the initial feeling of peace and freedom settles you begin the process of becoming more like Jesus (it's time to turn into a frog yourself). This process leads you to be counter-cultural and misunderstood by the world (it's very funny to be a frog!), but it's the best thing you can do.

Following Jesus enables you to face the challenges of life with a hope and confidence that nothing else can provide (you can dive into the water and cross the rivers and oceans and you can jump all the time and everywhere). Next thing you know, you're inviting other people to do the same (Do you want to play with me?).

As the church - the body of Christ - grows they are known by the love they exhibit for each other (we can be a whole group of friends, a whole group of frogs) and the love they spread throughout the world (jumping into the streets, jumping into the planet - climbing the buildings, swimming in the lakes and in the bathtubs). Although this Kingdom starts as a small seed, it grows into a huge tree (we could be hundreds, thousands, millions!), and everyone who takes shelter in its branches finds eternal rest and joy (the biggest group of friends the world has ever seen - jumping and laughing forever).

I'm not trying to suggest that M83 had any intention of allegorizing the Gospel. But I don't think these words were arbitrarily chosen either. If I had to guess, M83 was careful to write what felt right. Good art is an attempt to express truth through intuition rather than reason. The best artists know what feels right, even if they can't express why. We shouldn't be surprised when good art gives expression to spiritual longings and realities whether the artist is Christian or not.

I wish I could express the Gospel with the same sense of wonder and magic as this little girl talking about her frog.

Last week, our ministry hosted an event meant to engage the skeptical community on campus. We screened a debate between a Christian and a prominent atheist. When it was over, I heard the students in the row behind me mocking the Christian apologist: "Listening to him was like watching a child try to fit a square peg in a round hole," one said. I didn't think he was that bad, but I wasn't particularly impressed either.

Over the last five years I have been involved in more Christian-Atheist debates than I can count. The vast majority of the time, I feel like I'm pushing up against something that simply will not move. When last week's debate screening ended, refreshments were served and the Christians and atheists stood around eating cookies and trying to convince each other of the nature of ultimate reality. The arguments about morality, first causes, anthropic principles and the limits of reason all started to muddle into white noise in my mind, and I imagined the little girl from the song bouncing over and tugging my shirt to get my attention: "I heard about this frog!" she said to me, and taking my hand she led me out of the building into a place where people never use words like objectivity and epistemology and a priori.

I don't want to give up the rational fight, and I apologize if it sounds like I'm ready to concede. I just really want to touch that frog. Do you want to play with me?   

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