Sunday, October 24, 2010

You Don't Own Me

This is one of those blog posts that I’m really afraid to post, because I’m afraid of how it will be received. But then, for me to not post it out of fear would go against the whole point.

This summer I saw a movie that a lot of other people saw. It was a movie called Inception. I'm not giving away spoilers, but one of the characters in the movie struggles with and is held captive by something in his head, and the result is that he nearly loses everything. One of the major things I walked out of that movie with was the simple thought “what am I owned by?” And that question is the starting point of this post.

I have been very involved in various fan cultures for years now. That has had some good things come from it, and also some very, very hard things. One of the hard things has been that I have felt so much pressure so often to like certain bands and songs, to act a certain way at shows, and to be a certain person when it came to music in general. Recently, after years of this pressure, I cracked. In my desperate scramble to be the person I believed people in the music community wanted me to be, I lost myself. And so I stopped reading or posting in the fan communities I’d been involved in. For over a month, I didn’t listen to Skillet anymore, or Thousand Foot Krutch, or Flyleaf, or Disciple, or Relient K, or RED. Every time I tried, I hated myself because my head was screaming with everyone else’s opinions of the songs and the way they talked about the bands and the way I was supposed to feel about it.

As a note of clarification, this is not something I blame on my friends. I have met some pretty amazing people through music. Actually, all of the friends I have made over the past two years have been through music. The problem I’m addressing here is a mindset in me that caused me to react in the wrong way.

So it was a little weird to be going to a Thousand Foot Krutch and Disciple show, this past Friday. I hadn’t listened to either in nearly two months, even though there was a time when I would listen to both every day. We listened to their songs on the way to Dallas, and I found that I still remembered all the words. At least I could sing along at the show.

We got there after some fun times on the tight one way streets of downtown Dallas and stood in line, waiting for the doors to open. I was enjoying talking with my siblings and my friend who were there with me. I was texting with my good friend Liz. Then I got a text from twitter.

On a whim, before the show I’d synced the twitter accounts for all the bands I would be seeing that night to my phone. I usually don’t get anything from twitter to my phone, because I don’t have unlimited texting, but for whatever reason that night I thought it could be fun in case the bands said anything about the show as it progressed. Disciple had posted on their twitter that they really needed someone to work merch.

At first I wasn’t going to say yes because I was afraid I wouldn’t do a good job, but the hesitation was brief. I realized that if there was anything that could make the night go well, it would be serving... this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to give back, even in a small way, to a band that had made a huge impact on my life for the past few years. So I responded that I could volunteer, and was told to go to the merch table as soon as I got in.

It was so weird and random that I didn't tell my siblings about it for several minutes after the exchange. I had no idea how to feel about it. Usually I have weeks of warning before doing merch. This time I had 15 minutes.

When doors open, I went and found Amanda (who runs their merch and is married to Andrew, one of the guitarists). I got trained in about 2 minutes as people were already coming in and buying things. Then it was just jumping in and helping where I could.

It was insane, but it was amazingly fun. Amanda is possibly one of the nicest people I have met in my life, and that made it even better. I got to talk to dozens of people as they came up to buy stuff. Because it was a club show, merch was just at the back of the room, so I had a great view of the stage as Ivoryline played. After that, Amanda came back to the table and told me she would watch it so I could go out on the floor for Disciple.

I hurried out and found a spot that was as close to the stage as possible while still leaving a good escape route so I could get back to the table when Disciple finished up. And then the music started.

This blog post can’t really deal with everything that happened then. As it is, I am not mentioning some of the most major issues I was carrying, because this blog isn’t the place for them. But there are a few definite things that need to be said.

While Disciple played Worth the Pain, I closed my eyes and in the midst of the crowd I sank to my knees on the hard, grimy concrete. The crowd pressed all around me. I couldn’t see the stage. I could only hear the music, the words drifting over and around me. And as I talked to God, ignoring everyone else around me, it started to occur to me that I was letting myself be owned by some very odd things.

I am not owned by what bands I’m a fan of. I am not owned by music. I am not owned by the opinions of any other person. I am not owned by the person I have been. I am not owned by my school or my degree. These are not the things that define me. They are all things that are going to pass away, things that won’t last forever. They didn’t create me, so why would I trust them to tell me who I am?

Some day there will be no more CDs, no more iPods, no more shows, no more Skillet or Switchfoot or Disciple or TFK, no more drama, no more twitter, no more facebook. The layers of darkness will be peeled back, and the guns and blades and bottles will shatter. I won’t have paychecks or papers to write then, and I won’t be thinking about bands.

The only thing in the world that will matter then will be the fact that I am loved unconditionally by God, and that I love Him in return.

That’s it. That is the only thing in this whole world that’s going to last. And if that is the case, then why in the world would I think that all that other stuff matters? It’s all going to burn away. The message of the music will remain, but the music itself will not, at least not as I hear it now. The music only has as much value as God breathes into it anyway. And the bottom line is that even if all these bands I love had never been formed, and even if I had never connected in the relationships I have, and even if I had never written a poem or a story or taken a photograph... God would still be the same God. He is not defined by something as insignificant as human opinion. We can’t define Him, but His love can define us. And I am so prone to forget that.

I went back to the merch table after Disciple finished playing. My eyes were tear stained and my hair was messy from headbanging, but I felt peaceful. And that in itself was a miracle. It was enough that I could totally enjoy TFK’s set as I watched from behind the merch table. Another volunteer had joined me by now, and I had a wonderful time chatting with her and enjoying the music with her.

After the bands got off the stage, there was the usual extreme flurry of activity as people hurried to buy merch. It was particularly fast because the bands were running a very tight schedule. TFK started signing in the corner. Initially Disciple wasn’t going to sign, but they ended up doing a very informal signing outside. Amanda had already gone to get something signed for me, but I asked if I could run quickly to say hi to the guys. She very graciously said yes.

I ran (literally) outside and waited for a few minutes. Then when I got a chance I stepped up and said hi to the guys. They were all incredibly kind, as always, and they made me smile. I chatted with them for a few minutes before running back inside. TFK was done signing for other people then, so I got to go and get something signed and talk to them for a few minutes before going to help Amanda pack up Disciple’s merch.

Here’s the weird thing: I actually talked to the guys. I am usually awful at talking to bands (see my last post for a great example... though admittedly, that was a special case). Maybe it’s because I’d met both of these bands before. Maybe it’s because I had the automatic connection due to the fact that they knew I was working the tables. But I think the greatest factor was that I didn’t feel anymore like what I said and did would somehow forever own me. It was amazing to get to talk to Kevin, Micah, Israel, Andrew, Trent, Ty, Joel, Steve, and Trevor, and they were incredibly kind and accepting of me, which meant so much. But even if they hadn't been kind, it would have been alright... I am owned by something so much greater. And that was something I learned that night-- not necessarily because of the music, but because of Someone else singing through it, bringing words to life.

And the aftermath of this has been interesting. I can listen to the bands I love again... it’s been so amazing to finally be able to enjoy Skillet again. But it’s almost like I’m hearing it all for the first time. I look at bands differently now, and for the first time I don't feel like I'm somehow unworthy to talk to bands. I honestly can’t say anymore that I have a favorite band... instead, there are truths (the truth of love, of hope, of redemption) that I love. I seek to live those truths, whether that means hearing them in songs at a show, or hearing them in the quiet moments by myself in some back corner of the library where I work, or echoing them when I take a moment to love someone who most people would walk past. All these moments are equally valuable. And all this isn't about loving music less-- it's about loving the God who makes it beautiful more.

Ultimately, truth is the focus. It’s the truth in the music that I need to love, not the music itself (which, while wonderful, is hollow if it is devoid of truth). My relationships are beautiful because (and only if) they echo truth. The things I learn are only valuable if they echo truth.

In the words of Jon Foreman, “Maybe truth is not something that I can possess. Maybe truth is something which possesses me."

And everything else? The opinions, the statistics, the standards, the countless ghosts of mistakes I’ve made? Kevin Young sings these words about all that... “go ahead, you’re never going to take me. You can bend, but you’re never going to break me. I was yours, I’m not yours anymore-- you don’t own me.”

Yes... I am owned by the truth of redemption. And in light of that, I can let go of everything else. May that truth be real in my life. May others see it shine.

- Elraen -

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miruialiel.eternalprincess said...

*high fives*

Great post. I don't hate you. ;)

Liz said...

tears of joy roll down my cheeks as i read this. it all makes so much sense now...all of the God things... love you very much ♥

MementoMorrie said...

I usually don't comment on blogs...but I had to this time.

I've gone through something very, very, VERY similair to this. The difference is that you weren't afraid to tell people. Well...I'm sure you were. But you still did.
I've probably listened to Skillet a grand total of 5 times since June, due to things I've been shown by people and by God. I honestly don't think they're my favorite band anymore...which kind of left me puzzled. If the band that has spoken to me more than any other band isn't my favorite, who is?
That's just it. No one is. Partly because I've lost some of my faith in Christian music acts. I've heard terrible things about certain bands from friends of mine that are in the music business, and the ones that I haven't heard anything about...well, thier music doesn't connect with me. I love it for the music itself, but not the lyrics.
So if the lyrics mean nothing, why am I still listening to my iPod 5 hours in a day and following and 'liking' so many bands on Facebook and Twitter? Why spend so much time on something that doesn't mean anything?

Well, because I don't have to have a favorite band anymore. I can listen to music purely for the doesn't HAVE to mean anything because it really doesn't mean anything. God can still use it to tell me things, but it doesn't have to be my life anymore. yeah, I might write a post about this myself. Because I still have things to say. :P