Tag Archives: culture

airport blindness

I’m just reading Alain de Botton’s new book on work and in it he describes someone’s daily commute into London.  His words reminded me of the sad experience I have in Chicago’s O’Hare airport every time I’m there.  It has to do with two of the coolest things that no one (except children) ever notices.  In terminal one there is a huge Brachiosaurus skeleton dominating concourse B.  I have never seen an adult looking up at it.  And in the tunnel between terminals there are these brilliant neon lights that dance to music as you travel the moving sidewalk.  Again, for the most part unnoticed.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbsONsWGAUs 

On Sunday a friend shared this quote with me.  “The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.”  ~Eric Berne     So true.

the pace of change

Too often in recent months I’ve experienced stress over the pace of change in our church. It comes and goes, and often revolves around a question like this, “Why is it taking so long for this idea of God-revealing-Himself-everywhere to catch on?” I read something tonight that helped me understand…

In His book, Culture Making, Andy Crouch writes this (quoting another author; Stewart Brand) about cultural change,

“Brand’s most important insight is that there is an inverse relationship between a cultural layer’s speed of change and its longevity of impact. The faster a given layer of culture changes, the less long-term effect it has on the horizons of possibility and impossibility. My life as an American citizen is profoundly shaped by centuries of development in our political system, especially the ideals of governance ratified by the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and shaped by countless legislative and judicial decisions since. But my life is not at all affected by the fashions for men’s wigs in 1787. By the same token, any change that will profoundly move the horizons of possibility and impossibility will almost always, by definition, take lots of time. The bigger the change we hope for, the longer we must be willing to invest, work and wait for it.”

This is a huge change that we’ve embarked on as a church. So big that its easy to miss, misunderstand, or ignore. Patience and hard work are in order.

The God of All Travel

Sunday after church a highly motivated and energetic young woman came up to me and asked, “So now what? I’ve read the book and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do next.” Earlier this month I assigned some homework to our community; read The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton, and try to figure out where God is revealing himself in the text (in the book itself and in the phenomenon of travel)…

The whole idea of God speaking through creation (and the cultural products of creation like travel and good books on travel) was relatively new to this woman. She’d recently started attending our church, and came from a different Christian faith background. She was having a bit of trouble understanding her homework. I briefly explained the process again. There are three questions you need to ask yourself;

1. What makes travel so good? Try to identify the good human passions and desires that travel evokes. Be specific.
2. Why do you think God made you with those passions and desires? Can you imagine how these same yearnings might operate in relation to him?
3. Given the fact that we’re made in the image of God (in a way made like him), what do these yearnings teach us about what God is like?

She nodded as I went on about the process, and then said, “But where do you start?”

It was a good question; because the book is brilliantly written and filled with all kinds of good, godly truth in this regard. So much so that it would be a bit confusing. The day before our conversation I’d read just one chapter of the text and got so excited. I figured there were four sermons in those few pages alone.

I told her to pick the point that was most numinous to her and work with it. “If it really matters to you,” I said, “Then you’ll have the heart to read it right. I think part of your confusion comes from the fact that this book is really quite brilliant. There’s so much God-truth there that it’s hard to sift it all out and choose just one part.”

Then it hit me. The truly brilliant products of human culture – the best books, theories, entrepreneurial ideas, pieces of art, or sporting events – are like those ‘thin places’ the ancient Celts used to talk about. Certain monastic islands, church ruins or Irish causeways were understood to be places where the veil between our world and the other world was thin. Earth and heaven were understood to be very close in these holy locales. The legends of old affirmed their mystical provenance. The Spirit lingered there.

And it’s true. When I read the most eloquent literature, you are there God; the pages seem thin. During the height of an NHL hockey playoff run your presence seems so passionately close; my sense of being alive illumines your life. When that most brilliant idea comes to my mind I sense your mindfulness, your creativity, your immanent imagination. The best of what humanity has to offer – those times when we most fully live up to what you made us to be – becomes holy cultural ground. Thin places are not just geographical.

“Find that thin place for you,” I told the woman.

Coldplay and Viva la Vida

Ok, next Sunday my sermon text (among others) is gonna be Coldplay’s, Viva la Vida. The question I’m bringing to the text is this, “What might the Holy Spirit be saying to us through this song?” What truths might God be speaking/singing here? I’d like some help searching out the answers. If you want be part of the research team, then here’s your assignment…

Read the lyrics below and then listen to the song, and then listen again. Meditate on the text. Chew it over. Let it chew you over.


And then ask yourself the questions. What’s going on here? What response does this tune evoke in me? When I close my eyes what do I see? Get your imagination going. Like you did when you were a little kid listening to someone reading you a story.

And try read up on the French Revolution a bit and see how that story influences this song. Check out the graphics on the album cover. Think about how the idea of revolution relates to the life and story of Jesus Christ.



And then post your thoughts as a comment to this blog.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can
fathom.” The prophet Isaiah 40:28

Viva La Vida

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sweep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own”

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me

And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand”

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
Once you go there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become
Revolutionaries Wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

(Ooooh Oooh Oooh)

Hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Calvary choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Full version via blip.tv

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 03 2008 @ 09:09 AM PST
Does he really sing “I know St. Peter WILL call my name” the second time? That’s intereisting. I thought it was “won’t”

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 03 2008 @ 02:08 PM PST
it sounds like “won’t” in the video on you tube, but some lyric sites do have it as “will”

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 03 2008 @ 07:04 PM PST
Good catch. As much as I would like to beleive that the lyrics are “I know St. Peter WILL call my name” in the second chorus, I think they are the same as in the first chorus: “”I know St. Peter WON’T call my name”. The reason I would like to beleive that the lyrics are “I know St. Peter WILL call my name” is becuase I think this song is fundamentally about change. Call it revolution, if you will, but it is still a derivative of change. In fact, the lyrics of the enitre album seem to transition from confusion/lostness to discovery, then to revolution, and ultimately to peace/nirvana/heaven. Check out the lyrics of the last song, “The Escapist”, a hidden track on the album. They are very short, but sweet and final: “And in the end/We lie awake/And we dream/We’ll make an escape” The imagery that comes to mind for me is a person that has declined from fame and fortune to a vast emptiness and loneliness, one that he now struggles to come to terms with on his deathbed. Maybe he was once a great leader, an entertainer, a wealthy businessman, a king…who knows. It seems that now, he has lost everything that once defined him as a person and “in the end” he ‘lies awake” and “dreams he’ll make an escape [from this Earth to a Heaven that will wash him of his sins and accept him with loving and open arms]. But I digress. We are not talking about the last song on the album, this thread is supposed to focus on Viva la Vida…

Viva la Vida. I think that translates from Spanish to something like “Live the Life”. Perhaps the message is to live life to it’s fullest potential, and that ‘full potential’ is not necessarily defined by fame, fortune, conquests or power. Instead of defining ourselves as by what we have GOTTEN from life/others/God, we may realize ‘in the end’ that we wish our eulogy to list what we have GIVEN to life/others/God. The song has many biblical references as well:

“I know Saint Peter won’t call my name” – he beleives St. Peter will not allow him into heaven after he dies, becomes of the sins he committed in his life. Or, maybe he beleives he is untouchable and only he will decide when he is ready to be ‘called to heaven’. Not sure.

“Revolutionaries wait/For my head on a silver plate/Just a puppet on a lonely string/Oh who would ever wanna be king?”-This could be a reference to John the Baptist. His head was brought to King Herod on a Silver Platter. Even though Herod regretted this decision, saving his pride and promise to his temptress got in the way.

In reference to revolution…

“I discovered that my castles stand/Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.” – during the FrenchRevolution, the entire rule of government was crumbling, becasue the foundations upon which it had been built (feudalism, aristocracy) were fundamentally flawed, unjust and unsustainable. And so it is with us: if we choose to build our lives with unstable ingredients, we will ultimately crumble into a pile of rubble.


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 04 2008 @ 08:41 AM PST
Hidden track!?! How did I miss hearing that?

Just listened to it… very cool. One commenter at youtube said, “I love this so much. It makes your mind wonder about things unknown.” I agree.

Reading your thoughts RA I found myself resonating at several points.

1. Where you speak of a, “person that has declined from fame and fortune to a vast emptiness and loneliness,” I envision the kenosis of Christ (Jesus putting aside his god-ness in coming to humanity… willfully doing this… out of love lowering himself)

2. Where you comment on revolution being a subset of change, I remember the words I scratched on a piece of paper yesterday in regard to the places where that change occurs; in those moments when we say to ourselves, ‘I’m not taking this any more’; or when we undergo a conversion experience; or when a person repents (changes direction); when we revolt and rise up against the status quo; or when we do something as simple as ‘realizing’ or ‘recognizing’ or even ‘seeing’ for the first time.

The spirit of revolution includes all of these things.

3. “I know St. Peter won’t call my name.” Obviously this image connotes that pearly gates scene, but for me I also envision St. Peter’s denial of Christ. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, “I don’t know the man… I don’t know the man.” Matthew 26:70ff

One more comment… what about that other huge biblical connection in the lyrics, the one that ties into Matthew 28:18-20?


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 04 2008 @ 11:51 AM PST
John – I love that. Jesus and Peter’s denial. I NEVER thought of thinking of
it that way, but it puts a whole new spin on it. That’s what I adore about
music – it means something different to everyone and only by sharing do we
gain a deeper understanding. Okay here’s a bit more than my two-bits:

I will start by saying I first closed my eyes and imagined. Then I watched the
video. So the first bit is what I saw, the next bit is about the video, and then
I go off on some thoughts. It’s long.

The whole song seems to be looking over a life lived.

I see a man sweeping and looking about him with a light in his eyes –
shining as he remembers how he used to be on top. I picture him lonely and
watching, almost with longing, the people who are now in his place.

He had power, and enjoyed his ability to control other people. I see the
same man at a table in Vegas rolling the dice and brining in the big payouts
and enjoying the defeat of his enemies. He laughed and had a wicked glint
in his eyes. But even then he had a taste of the fleeting position he was in –
“now the old king is dead, long live the king!”

Next I see him sitting alone, possibly in a hotel room in that same Vegas
casino just desolate and lost. He has discovered that though he could win
approval on an earthly level, it doesn’t last. The “kingdom” he built crashed
down because it stood “on pillars of sand”. He is weeping and wondering
why this has happened to him.
(This also brings to mind that story of the men building their houses on the
rock or on the sand, but it brings it alive to me in a new way – in a very
vibrant and feeling way)

I see the man looking up and seeing some idea of a better way, hearing the
call to live for God. Perhaps he remembers being taught as a boy the true
way to a worthwhile life, but he can’t yet accept that. He feels that it is all
wasted, that he won’t be included. He has gone too far and the world is too
corrupt and lost. “There was never an honest word, that was when I ruled
the world.” He has been to the top; he knows how fake it is, so he can’t
believe in anything better.

The next verse has me seeing this “wicked and wild wind” as the Holy Spirit –
forceful and commanding in its entrance – just taking over the scene. An
almost Pentecostal vision. If the man is still in his hotel the windows are
smashed and he hears the great beating of the drums from on high
convicting him. “People couldn’t believe what I’d become” I take two ways:
one – the fact that someone so powerful in human terms could sink to the
bottom or two – the fact that this man made a turn around in his life.

Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate – every time I hear this line
I am reminded of John’s head being brought to the king. A way to silence
those we do not want to hear.

Just a puppet on a lonely string oh who would ever want to be king? – This
makes me thing that the man may be looking back and seeing through the
false idea of being on top being the best and realizing really you have no
control, you are alone, you are used – like a puppet on a string. Who would
want this, when there is so much better?

The next chorus sounds to me as a calling. A calling to the man – he can
hear the choirs, he can hear the bells, but somehow he is still unsure if he
can claim it for his own – if he can really be called into glory. For some
reason I can’t explain I know St. Peter won’t call my name – a place perhaps
we’ve all been where we can not seem to believe that any love could save us.
We just know we aren’t good enough.
The string component really makes this song sound holy – angelic. It’s
gorgeous and has a driving urgency to it. The whole song is urgent and full
of soul. The strings alone, without the lyrics bring a bittersweet feeling and
cause my soul to soar at times and at others fall with extreme sorrow.

The whole section with the slow, melodic “oohs” makes me picture a church
choir in a great cathedral, giving the whole song a new perspective. It is
almost as if this whole song is really a song of worship about life itself. It
has mystery and it is personal, but it is a truthful picture given up to God.

The fact that it transitions seamlessly into Violet Hill makes me wonder. I
can’t be sure, but to me these two songs are intertwined and related in a way
that makes each song hold more meaning. “If you love me, won’t you let me
know” is a plea we all have, and it seems to almost echo the cry of “I know
St. Peter won’t call my name.”

There is also a bit of reference to revolution in Violet Hill itself which fits in
with the reference to revolution in Viva La Vida “Priests clutched onto bibles,
hollowed out to fit their rifles and the cross was held aloft.”

I think someone else here said that Viva La Vida meant, “live the life” – and
on reflection as I said this song seems to be a remembrance of a life lived.
But it is also a reflection on how to really live the life.

Watching the video I noticed distinctly the colour of red. And it struck me
that if this is about revolution that revolution normally involves blood. Red.
The background uses images from the cover of the CD and each band
member has an armband or some sort of form of red on them. The French
Revolution certainly was bloody, and their armbands do have a sort of
military feel to them, but I must confess that I see that reference to be more
symbolical than really about the song (the beauty of the music is that others
will see it in there clearly where I don’t.)

But if you are asking about the Revolution of Christ in our lives it certainly
was bloody, and that is what I think of when I see the video. Red. Blood.
Pointing to change, to a better way. There was violence in the revolution of
Christ, the shedding of blood and there is certainly violence in this song with
the crashes of drums and the striking of bells. The lyrics talk of beating
drums and broken glass and waiting for a head on a silver plate. Violence.
Blood. Red. I find it fascinating.

In the video I also see a change toward the middle – the wind picks up, the
clouds swirl, and the Holy Spirit moves for a change. I can’t really describe it
because it was more of a feeling – watching those clouds swirl it was like
watching the winds of change. Revolution. That Christ can move in a life –
the wild and wicked wind. Wicked here not meaning evil, but forceful,

The beginning of the song starts with the opening of the flower, and at the
end each band member is blown away into flower petals. I am not sure
exactly what this is supposed to symbolize, but I did like it a lot. Flowers are
a symbol of beauty, but also a way to mark the graves of those we love. Red
flowers. Perhaps a beauty within the violence? The ending sequence is
uplifting – it almost seems as if the band members are being whisked away to
something better as they float away against the soothing melodies. Freedom
is what I think. Freedom gained through the blood of another.

This is long, I realize, and I could probably blab on and on because every
time I listen or watch I hear/feel/realize something new. Which is the beauty
of music – it meets us where we are and it opens the doors. Whatever this
song was intended for, I think it is clear that it resonates something bigger to
everyone – it is a top hit – and its not because it speaks of sex or money or
having it all. It speaks of what truly matters in the end. It directs us towards
a change, and it makes us think. That is really beautiful to me, the ability
that this song has to make people think and evaluate their lives. It’s a call,
gentle, probing, and yet as urgent as the throbbing strings pulsing and
pushing the song along. Almost a whisper of the urgency of Revelations –
the time is coming, the end is nearing – or of Christ who will return like a
thief in the night. An urgent call to Revolution.

Okay, before I go off on ANOTHER direction I’ll stop.

Kayleigh S

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 04 2008 @ 01:24 PM PST
OK Kayleigh… aren’t you just a holy imaginative soul!

Great thoughts, and well articulated!

Reading them I had many aha moments… I’m gonna wait for a day or so before responding though… let someone else talk first!


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 04 2008 @ 01:41 PM PST
As a P.S. to my last note –

It suddenly hit me, as I am still thinking of this, that this song is a story – a
parable. And that Jesus still uses parables to reach us. I’m done now! Honest!


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, November 05 2008 @ 06:31 AM PST
Kayleigh, what John means is he doesn’t have time to respond because he has to watch his man, Barack, win the presidency.


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, November 05 2008 @ 08:19 AM PST
(Chuckles to herself) Good point.

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 06 2008 @ 07:38 PM PST
OK, I just reread your words K… and again, they’re very insightful. Not a lot to add except that I really resonate with the pentecostal feel of that ‘wicked and wild wind.’ As for the phrase, ‘people couldn’t believe what I’d become,’ I imagine this kind of incredulous reaction happening in Christ’s disciples, who knew him in a (sort of) limited way when he was incarnate among them, but then got re-introduced to this totally mind blowing Spirit reality at Pentecost. I can just see their awestruck faces!

Reading your words I was reminded of what I said last Sunday re: God’s truth coming to us through music as being like light hitting a prism and then heading off in all kinds of different directions in all sorts of unique colours. When first contemplating this weeks message I thought I’d re-interpret the song visually for the end of the sermon… but now I’ve changed my mind. Maybe I’ll just play it… without any visuals… and let the Spirit do its wicked and wild work.


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 06 2008 @ 07:52 PM PST
Sounds awesome. I love this idea of yours John. I love the prism idea too –
and it really is amazing the way God created so many minds and imaginations.
This is a great way to see a little part of that – having everyone just throw in a
thought or two. Very cool.

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 06 2008 @ 09:13 PM PST
what i love about this song is the way the lamenting tone of the lyrics is juxtaposed against the hopeful, redemptive tone of the music itself. even though the words are despairing, the music moves you beyond that. read only the lyrics and it sounds like a voice of despair, listen only to the music and one would never guess the dark nature of the lyrics, but together…amazing!

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 07 2008 @ 07:47 AM PST
I hear you on this point.

Makes me wonder what “God moving in redemption” sounds like. A lamenting heart – grieved at the brokeness of it all, crying over creation lost, wanting so much more for us – along with a joyful love driving the act of making it all new. Strings over top of tears. Bells ringing hope even as he encounters our suffering.


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 07 2008 @ 09:09 AM PST
Great way of wording that. I love that point as well – the music/lyric combo. It
is what I often find in music and what I love. Thanks for putting it down in
such plain language!

Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, November 09 2008 @ 11:59 AM PST
I have actually done our homework this week! WOW.

Our family purchased the new Coldplay album a couple of weeks ago, which has given us some time to “marinade”.

For me; I was see sawing between the poignant words in “Viva La Vida” and Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”, written of course about the French revolution.

I love the description a critique gave Hugo, on his book:

“a narrator who can best be described as God masquerading as a law-abiding bourgeois….”

The book is one of my all time favourites. On each page the reader is faced with decisions which haunt, “Good vs. Bad” ~ “right vs. wrong”, “moral vs. immoral” and on and on.

(Below a brief backdrop to the book.. borrowed from the net*)

The title itself is a moral test…. Originally, a miserable was simply a pauper (misere means ‘destitution’ as well as ‘misfortune’). Since the Revolution, and especially since the advent of Napoleon III, a miserable had become a ‘dreg’, a sore on the shining face of the Second Empire. The new sense would dictate a translation like Scum of the Earth. Hugo’s sense would dictate The Wretched.

In overlaying these two powerful means of communication; I sensed such polarity ~ and found parallel struggles.

“It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become
Revolutionaries Wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?”

The same struggle occurred daily for Jean Valjean. He eventually had means, money, friendships even a child.. yet he felt it wasn’t enough ~ he just wanted peace. He was desperate for contentment.

“Does Jesus not toil for the same? He offers us Grace, peace, eternal life, yet more often than not ~ He is thrown to the proverbial curb. He still waits, loves and hopes.”


Coldplay and Viva la Vida
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 11 2008 @ 10:04 AM PST

Once last observation from me (JVS).

When I got home on Sunday and talked with my wife Fran about the service, she said she really was moved by the message, but didn’t hear the words of the song as the direct voice of the Spirit (as I had inferred in the sermon).

At first I was a bit taken aback by her words. “How could those words not be, the whole message was premised on this assumption?” I asked. She responded by saying, “I heard the lyrics as being those of some past revolutionary… as opposed to the words of Christ.” What she meant was that Christ’s revolutionary vision and experience was far greater and more authoritative that the lyricists. The song lyrics reminded her of the greater revolutionary vision; the greatest. I sensed she had this kind of, “Yeah, but in Christ there’s more” lens through which she looked/listened.

I, of course agree with that, and yet still hold onto the idea of the Holy Spirit speaking truth, in part, through the song itself. (Which doesn’t make the the whole song truth, but it does claim it’s truthful components as Gods).

Anyway, what hit me in processing this matter was the old idea of thesis and anti-thesis. Abraham Kuyper was an old Dutch theologian who first coined the dichotomy. Yes God speaks through common grace, authoring truth in the world, even through those outside of the faith, but right along side this reality is sin’s evil presence distorting, limiting, polutting and muting that truth. Both thesis and anti-thesis present in the same reality… in the same song… at the same time.

Need to process this a bit more. 🙂