Songs About Getting Better

A Liturgy of Resurrection for Easter Sunday 2020

Response of the People (text taken from “Came Out Swinging” by The Wonder Years):
I came out swinging from a South Philly basement
Caked in stale beer and sweat, under half-lit florescents
And I spent the winter writing songs about getting better
And if I’m being honest, I’m getting there

It has been a long winter
This season of Lent has taken us through trials and tribulation
We have gone from a time of contemplation to a time of exile
Far away from those we love and a place we might call home
This isn’t what we expected from this time
We’ve seen our friends, our neighbors, our families put through a ringer
We’ve seen them lose jobs or get sick or maybe just wonder what they’re going to do next
And through it all we’ve been isolated, left alone
Even on this holiest of days we are apart
And we can know it’s for the best
We can have all the knowledge in our hearts that we are doing what is right
For the health and well being of all we might encounter
And yet it’s still very easy for our houses to feel like tombs
But do you know what happens to tombs on days like today?

Response

We’ve spent this time of exile as ghosts
Floating through some semblance of routine
Trying to make the most of this time where things have changed
And it’s felt odd, hasn’t it?
But honestly this has been a pure expression of Lent
We looked around and saw a world in desperate need of resurrection
We saw a world in need of hope and new life
And we contemplated where we could fit into that new world
We looked at how we could bring about this age of renewal
We saw the tethers that run between us
We saw how we are bound together in ways we thought unimaginable
We saw how much we need one another
We spent this winter of our discontent bringing our dream and vision for this world onto paper
Pushing a brighter pallet of color from our minds out onto the page to replace the grays that surround us
We began to write these songs about getting better
Of what we know is possible because the worst thing is never the last thing
Whatever fear and anxiety we face we can overcome together
Because resurrection is promised
Because the tombs are empty
Because life and hope and grace are on the loose and there’s nothing to be done about that

Response

So today we celebrate resurrection
Not just that of Christ but our own as well
I don’t know when the stones will be rolled away from our front doors yet
When we will get to experience the fullness of this brave new dawn
But the stone has already been rolled away from the tomb
And we know that we can overcome
And so I hope as we celebrate the resurrection
We know that this is not a passive act
It is not something that happens to us
A magic spell cast from far away that we hope lands on our shoulders
But it is something we have a part in
We leave our tombs
We come out swinging
We look at the world as it is and know that we play a part in making all things new
We may still have the musk of the grave on us when we leave it
The stench of sweat caused by worry and contemplation
But if we’re really honest, we can do something with that
If we’re really honest, we can acknowledge the work done in the tomb
We can take these hymns of praise and renewal that we have written in our time in exile
And sing a new world into being
Each note and brilliant harmony reminding us of how much we need each other
How much more beautiful the world is when we are all in it together
Resurrection takes work
But we have seen that it’s possible
We have seen that nothing will ever be the same
And so we sing that new song together
Because if we’re being honest, we’re getting there.

 Response

“Socks and Underwear” Liturgy

Commissioned for New Hope United Methodist Church in Enid

Response of the People: What gift can we bring, what present, what token?
What words convey it, the joy of this day?
When grateful we come, remembering, rejoicing,
What song can we offer in honor and praise? (To the tune of Away In A Manger)

Leader: As we prepare for the coming of Christ we remember that this is a gift that no one expected The messiah shouldn’t look like this, shouldn’t act like this. We give thanks for the gifts that go beyond what we wanted.
Response

Leader: How do we respond to a gift we didn’t ask for? Do we reject it, ignore it, place it in some closet and hope to forget? How do we respond to the gift of Christ when we decide it doesn’t meet our desires? We give thanks for the gifts that challenge our hearts.
Response

Leader: Maybe it wasn’t about the gift itself and more what the gift would let us do. Maybe a tool chest isn’t exciting, but keeping our home from falling apart is important. Maybe socks aren’t the fashion statement we planned to make, but the warmth is irreplaceable. Maybe the gift of Christ and the gift of grace are one and the same, even when we don’t notice. We give thanks for the gifts that need a second look.
Response

(Add on Christmas Eve) Leader: But maybe the problem was not with the gift but with our hearts. The gift that we’ve been given is something better than we could ever imagine, something beyond price. We have been given a savior. We have been given hope, love, joy and peace and have been asked for nothing in return. We have been given new life that we find in this unlikely yet holy place. This is what we’ve been waiting for, what our hearts have longed for, and what Christ gives to us over and over. We give thanks for this good and perfect gift.
Response

 

Text of the response is Jane Marshall’s “What Gift Can We Bring”

Roses in Deserts, Flowers in Concrete

After José Olivarez and Isaiah 35

The call goes out that the desert will bloom
And it sounds hopeful
That this inhospitable wasteland will turn into something beautiful
Something lovely
These sands with the heat that chokes out all life
Will become soil that nourishes a new paradise
That’s what we’re told, that’s what we’ll see, eventually
But what if the desert blooms and it’s still a desert?
What if this miraculous event occurs and then these lush carpets of flowers shrivel and die
Just like everything that came before?
What if it needs more than hope and desire for love to bloom in a wasteland?

Maybe it’s like the rose that blooms from the crack in the sidewalk
It’s once again the metaphor for hope, for persevering in the face of adversity, for overcoming the odds
And yet beneath the foot of the ruler walking by, it’s the same as the concrete around it
The flower and the stone feel the same beneath a boot
It’s easily ignored
Or worse, after all the work it takes to grow in such a harsh environment
Someone decides that the rose doesn’t belong
And plucks it up before it can be anything at all

Maybe we need to realize that it’s not enough to plant orchids in the sand and call it a miracle
Maybe we need to stop celebrating small signs and wonders as if they’re the end of the story
When really they’re a call to renewal, to a new order of all things
Maybe what we need to do is transform the sidewalk into a garden
To terraform the desert, rearranging it entirely so that it might hold paradise instead
That it might provide a home for those who have none
instead of drying out the hope of anyone stranded there
Maybe that’s what this season of preparation is for
Not that we might be ready to see something unlikely
But that we transform ourselves so that we might make the unlikely the ordinary
So that the desert blooms for more than a fleeting moment
So that the rose doesn’t just fight its way out of a crack in the sidewalk
So that we don’t just wait for God to show up
But we make the path that God takes through that wasteland that was once so imposing to get here
Lined on either side with roses in full bloom

Treasured

After the Annunciation
Did anyone believe you?
It’s hard to assume they did.
When you told anyone who would listen that the child growing in your womb was the Messiah.
You, an unmarried teenager, on the precipice of shame
“Does she really expect us to buy this?” they might have thought
“Yeah, sure. God did it.”
Did you feel lonely?
Even with God closer and more intimate to you than anyone else in history?
Did it feel like a burden to be the favored one of God?
Knowing that you were not just carrying God but the salvation of the world?
Was the weight of it too much?
I mean, even the one to whom you were engaged needed an act of God to stay.
Even as he had the best intentions in mind.
And yet you persisted.
Despite the stares, the whispers, the rumors, you continued on in anticipation of what you had accepted.
We might never know what happened if you didn’t
You held all of this in your heart, like a dragon hoarding treasure
Wrapping yourself in the warmth of what was to come
It was worth it.
We know now it had to have been.

And yet.
Despite the weight of all we know we see those who might remind us of you
And we don’t use that hindsight
We are the skeptics that we mock after the annunciation
Making calls about who deserves what
Leaving them alone, just as you might have been
We are content to let you carry God into the world
But we can just as easily make it more difficult for the world to continue to see what you have done
Maybe we’re waiting for the angel that tells us what to do
Maybe we’re hoping for the angel that says we’re doing the right thing
I don’t know if that angel is coming
I don’t know if that angel exists

So help us open our eyes
Help our memories
Heal our doubt
Restore our compassion
So that we might provide the warmth for those who feel the cold closing in around them
So that we might see the ones who remind us of the one who brings God into the world
So that we too might hold these as treasures in our heart
These stories of the unlikely that lead us to find the warmth of God

 

On Cliffdiver’s “At Your Own Risk” and Finding Time to Get It Right

 

A few weeks ago I trekked out to whatever they’re calling The Conservatory now to see the first Fossil Youth showin a long time and relive my college memories of being packed in tight and screaming along with whoever was around me. I might be aggressively thirty now and don’t bounce back from concerts like I used to, but when these opportunities come up you don’t exactly say no. I’m there early of course, because a show like this is bound to have some opening act that I’m ready to devote my life to and I can’t risk missing out on it. So standing in the middle of this hot, sweaty crowd I hear Cliffdiver’s “Cameron Diaz” for the first time and it almost brings me to tears. Joey Duffy’s song about getting into therapy and getting the help he needed was what I needed in that moment. The hope in the chorus, “I feel like there’s still time to get it right,” was everything to me. The honesty in the lyrics, the upbeat chords, huge hook and the added treat of some phenomenal saxophone combined to be an anthem for those who needed to hear that it didn’t have to always be like this. We can, with help, turn the tide and live into a better version of ourselves. I had spent the night squeezed into this crowd of people but it was “Cameron Diaz” that helped me to see I wasn’t alone. Continue reading “On Cliffdiver’s “At Your Own Risk” and Finding Time to Get It Right”

The frail beauty of curiosities without context

I wish I could regularly walk like I’m lost. I want to look up at the sky, meandering without purpose, instinctively slipping past the other people on the sidewalk – people who walk, like I do in actuality, like they had somewhere to be five minutes ago, especially if they didn’t. Walking like that deflects attention and precludes conversation. It’s practical, it’s easy, and it creates moments that are no sooner experienced than forgotten. Aware of the people around you, the storefront canopies overhead, and the incessant sounds of cars just a few feet away, nothing else registers. The noise is the experience.

With daily life often overflowing with nothing but background noise, I think about how constant awareness is not all it’s cracked up to be. Just be present, the internet told us a couple years ago, and your quality of life will improve. It certainly depends on what you’re present for, but I think in a lot of cases increased presence just means your head is filled with more debris than it would be otherwise. More context for a subject that has yet to reveal itself.

Because of the deafening level of white noise provided by 1) office life and 2) the internet, I’ve become fascinated by the idea of compelling things free of context (even ones designed to be that way). Iceland provided one such curiosity. In the gift shop of Reykjavik’s Harpa concert hall, I came across this beautiful boy, hilariously named “Fred.” There was nothing else – no indication of who Fred was or what intellectual property he was attached to. I knew nothing other than that I loved Fred. I was ready to believe that Fred was a standalone character that just existed to grace the three stickers in that gift shop, and nothing else. And the strange part is that the truth wasn’t that far off. Continue reading “The frail beauty of curiosities without context”

You have to live somewhere

“Semantic satiation” is the idle tendency to repeat one word or phrase over and over until you perceive it only as a collection of meaningless sounds. I do this enough that it stopped feeling foreign a long time ago; the thing I now find odd is how quickly I assign a name to it. As a word disintegrates into its constituent parts, immediately the sounds are replaced by words that still have meaning: semantic satiation.

I’m not sure if there’s a term for when this happens with thoughts, but that process still feels strange to me in a way semantic satiation hasn’t in a while. I recently went to Iceland for my honeymoon, and as my wife (!) and I traveled through disparate landscapes and stopped at one natural wonder after another, a single question kept bubbling to the surface. Why here? Continue reading “You have to live somewhere”

“Basking in the Glow” with Oso Oso

Here at Irrational Confidence, our love of opening acts is well documented. Part of the reason I’ve had an almost obsessive devotion to being at shows as early as possible is that I can point to so many bands that I’ve grown to love because they played before the band I showed up to see. That’s how I fell head over heels for Long Island’s Oso Oso. Digging through the announced supporting acts for a Wonder Years show Chase and I were attending, I found 2017’s The Yunahon Mixtape. I was immediately taken in by Jade Lilitri’s lyrics, detailing a group of people falling in and out of love across the album. The album sounds like pop-punk growing up, still with big guitar riffs and decadent choruses (particularly on “reindeer games” and “shoes (the sneaker song)”) but adding in a layer of maturity in the songwriting itself.

Yunahon feels lived in, laying out these sets of doomed lovers in a way that feels like home, like it’s something I’ve done. There’s a section on “the bearer of the truths” where the couple in question trade lines, the character Mariah laying out what they both know, that what they have is good but won’t be forever and the narrator acknowledging that she’s right, but she doesn’t have to explain it. There is a familiarity to knowing the end is coming and choosing to ignore it because the now is good, or at least good enough. Small sections like this are what drew me to Oso Oso and what keep me coming back for more.

Yunahon is an album about darkness. Even the bright spots in the lives of these characters are surrounded by the acknowledgement of the big wave that is to come. In that respect, Oso Oso’s upcoming album Basking in the Glow feels like the response, if not the complete opposite. If Yunahon Mixtape is about knowing the darkness is always coming, Basking in the Glow is about fighting desperately to hold on to the light. Lilitri writes that desperation into being on “One Sick Plan,” (I see my demise, I feel it coming/I’ve got one sick plan to save me from it) showing that he knows that staying in the light is a constant battle, maybe even needing some tactics if we’re going to survive. (As a sidebar, that line reminds me of a brighter version of one of my favorite lines from The Wonder Years’ “Passing Through A Screen Door,” “The first thing that I do when I walk in/ is find a way out for when shit gets bad.” While Dan Campbell sees an ejection as inevitable, Lilitri chooses to fight to stay.) The title track is another example of this cautious optimism. Lilitri sings about only knowing the place that he’s currently in, but still choosing to believe, or at least hope, that this is the glow in which he can warm himself. The album seems to be facing up to the idea that even these moments of joy are potentially fleeting, if not illusory altogether, and while Yunahon Mixtape‘s narrators would have seen this as a depressing yet unavoidable feature of the world we live in, on Basking in the Glow we find something worth celebrating and holding on to for however long it lasts. It asks for us to bask in that joy for the amount of time we have it and to maybe go down swinging in order to keep it a little longer. As Lilitri says on “Impossible Game,” “I got a glimpse of that feeling, I’m trying to stay in that lane.”

Basking in the Glow carries over Oso Oso’s incredible knack for crafting melodies, both vocal and instrumental, and uses that craftsmanship to make it seem easy and obvious for the lyrics to do the heavy lifting. Lead single “dig (ii)” begins with this short, bursting guitar melody that feels like it’s dragging you down the path to see what the band has uncovered. The chorus begins like it would fit in on past albums, speaking of a hole in the very core of the narrator’s soul, but it shifts to invite another in. “So, how far do you want to go?” If The Yunahon Mixtape was about falling apart, together, I see Basking in the Glow as an album about putting it back together. Sometimes that’s something you have to do alone, but it helps to have someone else with you. Oso Oso creates something beautiful on this album, bringing everything that kept me coming back after a chance discovery and giving it a new direction, pointing towards that glow.

You can check out “dig (ii)” below and get Basking in the Glow when it releases on Triple Crown Records on August 16th.

A Second Helping

Written for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Refrain: (Joey Purp, “24k Gold/Sanctified”)

If I walk in your steps, then I may see clear
As long as you’re near, I’ll have nothing to fear
If I walk in your steps, I can see clear
If I’ve lost my way, I’ve got nothing to fear

We began at the table
Not because we must but because we may
And yet what else could we do?
How else could this start
if not us gathered together around this table
to be nourished by grace
to see God made manifest in bread and cup
And yet we do not remain here.
The point of the table is to be bread for the journey,
Filled with the spirit to be Christ for the world
To strengthen us and send us out into a world filled with increasing uncertainty
But in this meal there is hope.
There is hope that with faith we will have another meal
That we will gather to share in the work of Christ once more
God, help us follow you to the table

Refrain

Just as we came to set this table
Bringing pieces of ourselves as we gathered together
Making this table a place where we share not just with each other
But with our creator and redeemer
So we take from this table pieces so that we might set our own
And invite those who are not here to share in this mystery with us
Take the bread, take the cup
But do not stop there.
Take a chair
Because the road that brings someone to this place may be long and fraught
Offer them a place to rest
Take a plate
So you can show them what we’re serving
Put grace and hope on display
Take a knife and fork
Because we know that sometimes
Just sometimes
Things need to be taken apart before we can take them in
Take this cloth
Because even the crumbs left behind
Contain the whole of who we are
Do not let them fall
Take this font
So that we might remember
The ones who taught us to make this meal
May they be with Christ a centerpiece of our being
God, help us set the table for others

Refrain

Take all of these things and make a place
For those you love
For those you’ve never met
For those who are crying out
For those who are in need of liberation
For those who would be a part of this story
For those who wonder if they could be welcome
Make a place where they can be nourished
Where they can be lifted up
Where they can see something they’ve never seen before
Or find something they thought long lost
And above all
Remember that we we re-set our tables
We do not set our own
We set THIS table
In our various communities
Different as they may seem
This one table is set before all of us
Drawing us together
Knitting together the body of Christ
Healing wounds
Bridging divides
We experience it all together
In this place where hope is found over and over again
Because no matter what we face
There will always be another meal
There will always be enough for a second helping
God, help us come back to this table

Refrain

“Let’s Go” for the Pokemon RPG purist: Novelty as a vessel for nostalgia

This is not a video game review; this is a meditation about the nature of our temporal experience. This is about coming to terms with the fact that you can’t enjoy something for the first time more than once, and appreciating the circumstances under which you actually can.

I played Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu recently. I’ll get the mundane out of the way first: I chose Pikachu version over Eevee version because I knew in advance that you couldn’t evolve your starter in these games (I understand this game design choice, but I disagree with it). If I’d known about all the special moves your starter can attain throughout the course of the game, I’d have chosen Eevee. As it was, I ditched my starter Pikachu for an Alolan Raichu mid-game. The inclusion of Alolan forms in this game is representative of what I liked about it. There were enough deviations from the original Yellow version to keep the game from feeling stale, but it was also very, very familiar to me, a person who wore out Pokemon Blue on Game Boy Color and loved Leaf Green on the Game Boy Advance. Continue reading ““Let’s Go” for the Pokemon RPG purist: Novelty as a vessel for nostalgia”