IVP - Strangely Dim - The Great Wrong Song

September 5, 2008

The Great Wrong Song

Last week several of us around Likewise Books participated in a little experiment, inspired by the fine folks at Word Made Flesh. Each of us would pick a song that we would listen to exclusively for an entire workday and then blog about the experience. Intriguing, right? Well, I should tell you first that I didn't pick the perfect song for our mini music marathon. But the imperfection of it might be the point.

The sweet sounds drifting out of my cubicle last Tuesday were Over the Rhine's "The Trumpet Child." I picked the song for two simple reasons: (1) I like it musically and (2) I needed a hopeful song.

Don't get me wrong--I love melancholy music. Especially when it's raining. Or when it's sunny and I'm tired. Or on cool fall days. Or in the winter, when I'm sitting in my living room with a steaming mug of chai. Or when I'm doing dishes in the summer. But I was afraid that listening to, say, "Rain" by Patty Griffin all day would seriously affect my long-term perspective on life or, at the very least, had me weeping all over my keyboard. And, again, I really like the people I work with and near, so why put them through that?

So I went with the hopeful song. That part of my choice was perfect. The combination of the lyrics and the music reminds us of the kind of hope we have as followers of Christ: not trite, paste-a-smile-on-your-face-because-you're-going-to-heaven hope, but the real, solid reality of full redemption of people and the earth. The song does have an almost mournful tune that seems to be acknowledging the sinfulness of this world, but it's converted into longing for the deliverance that's surely coming.

Unfortunately, though I listened to the song all day at work, I didn't actually hear much. There are two reasons for this. (1) Muscially, much of the song is, surprisingly, muted. The piano starts out softly, with lead singer Karin Detweiler's rich, soulful voice entering in a way that very much contradicts the opening verse: "The trumpet child will blow his horn / Will blast the sky till it's reborn." The gentle yet urgent piano notes and Karin's powerful, dripping vocals--which are so beautiful you do sometimes want to cry to express your gratitude that God gave someone that voice--continue somewhat subdued, until two verses where the music swells to an appropriately passionate level and drums join the piano as Karin belts out "The trumpet child will banquet here / . . . A thousand days, a thousand years / Nobody knows for sure how long" and "His final aim to fill with joy / The earth that man all but destroyed."

Those are the two parts I actually heard, over and over again. The song then ends quietly, with the trumpet finally making its entry into the music, but not at all with a blast. Rather, it tapers off into silence. I kept the volume low so that the louder parts wouldn't disturb those around me, but this meant that I mostly missed all the quieter parts. Which, of course, is most of the song.

Which leads to the second reason I didn't hear much: (2) I wasn't willing to do the work required to hear the quieter parts (turning up the volume, then turning it down where the music builds, then turning it up, then down, then up). Call me crazy and lazy, but I didn't need to hear it that badly. Oh--and I was at work to, well, work.

So, to be honest, after noticing that same small section of the song over and over for most of the day, I found myself eager to turn it off. A small sense of relief actually went through me when I did. And I didn't listen to any music on my drive home; I savored the silence.

Hear me out here: "The Trumpet Child" is a great song. Listen to it in your car. Turn it up loud when you're home alone and you can hear the rain drumming against the windows. Put it on repeat (although don't miss out on the rest of The Trumpet Child CD). But if you find yourself participating in an experiment that involves playing a song over and over in a cubicle next to busy neighbors, do yourself a favor and pick a different song. It was just the wrong song for the experiment. As I've reflected on it though, the incompleteness of my experience and my own flawed choosing has reinforced the point, because incompleteness is actually the point.

In this imperfect world, we see glimpses of the full redemption that's coming and long for it, but the glimpses we see are such a small piece, and the noise of the world is so loud and the sin is so messy and the work we have to put in to hear the music of redemption feels like too much some days. We get frustrated by how small that glimpse is. We get tired of not seeing the whole picture. The hope of Christ's banquet here becomes more like a song playing in the background that I don't notice most of the time, something that I can't grasp, can't wrap my hands around, can't feel around me when I cry.

Those glimpses we do see are impossible to ignore though. We have to notice. I have to notice. Because they're so much more passionate and beautiful and utterly different from the rest of what's here that we can't help but notice them, over and over again. And they keep telling me what a perfect world is like: "The rich forget about their gold / The meek and mild are strangely bold / A lion lies beside a lamb / And licks a murderer's outstretched hand." They keep reminding me what God is like: "The trumpet child will lift a glass / His bride now leaning in at last / His final aim to fill with joy."

So even the small taste that I got of the wistful lament and solid hope of "The Trumpet Child" was enough to remind me what's true about what's here and what's true about hope. It's a song I hope my life reflects: mourning over sin, but even more, noticeable, powerful glimpses of the kingdom that's coming in fullness and that's here in pieces now, for those who have ears to hear.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at September 5, 2008 11:43 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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