No Cheap Inspiration Here
A Look At The Lyrics Of Jon Foreman, Part 1
Back in my freshman year of college, I came across a “new artist sampler” CD in some magazine or another, and a few tracks in, these lyrics jumped out of the speakers of my college dorm room stereo and into my imagination:
“Nothing but a chemical in my head / It’s nothing but laziness / Cause I don’t wanna read the book / I’ll watch the movie” (From “Chem 6A” on The Legend Of Chin)
The song, a take on youth slacker-culture, was the first I’d heard on the subject, (well, first good one) from a songwriter of faith, and I was immediately taken with the way primary Switchfoot songwriter Jon Foreman put together heartfelt, inspirational and clever words.
I’ve been a Foreman fan since that day, and a few years ago, when I decided to take the plunge and try to become a full-time writer, one of Foreman’s lyrics inspired my first novel. In fact, his lyrics (from the song below) are the last sentence of the book, and I started with that scene, that image the lyrics conjured in my brain, and wrote the book “backwards” from that spot. His lyrics are intertwined in the sequel as well, and it’s safe to say I have a lot for which to thank Jon Foreman.
Switchfoot is currently busy recording their 10th album, and Foreman has been releasing a steady stream of great solo EP’s over the last few months, and to honor such a prolific and heartfelt songwriter, I’d like to examine the Jon Foreman songs and lyrics that mean the most to me. This is part one of a multi-essay (okay, “blog”) effort to wrestle with the life of the mind, with what happens when others’ art and your own heart collide.
“Needle and Haystack Life” (From Hello Hurricane)
“You are once in a lifetime alive / you are once in a lifetime”
This is the big one, the one that inspired the book. When my two daughters were very young, I was a stay-at-home Dad who was questioning his place in the order of things. My days were full of diapers and baby food, naps and temper-tantrums. But they were also filled with wonder, the privilege of being the first to see them walk and talk and sing. It was a wild ride that I found myself on. The day Hello Hurricane came out, I snuck out to the store for just five minutes when my wife got home from work, and I gave myself the treat of sitting in my mini-van in the parking lot and listening to the first few songs before getting back on the wild ride of parenting.
As Foreman sings about each person being “once in a lifetime,” it dawned on me that there would never be anyone like my two girls in this world again. They are unique in the history of our world; they have never been here before.
And neither have you or I. You are a mix of everything you’ve been through, every moment (good and bad), every meatball you’ve eaten and every movie you‘ve watched. There is no one like you. You are once in a lifetime. There’s a light in your eyes that is unique. You are irreplaceable.
Once this truth stuck in my heart, I came to see the girls I was tasked with caring for as a unique and wonderful opportunity. There would never be anyone like this again! I had a front row seat to the lives of India and Ireland Caldwell, and that’s a privilege that I almost wished away.
The book I wrote, India and the Eternals, is currently making its way around the desks of literary agents far and wide, and someday I have the hope and dream that, should there ever be a movie (this is a far out dream, I know) that Jon Foreman will write a song for the closing credits.
“Needle and Haystack Life” shows Foreman doing what he does best, wrapping inspirational ideas in uplifting melodies. When you think of inspirational messages, greeting cards and internet “inspirational” photos usually come to mind. But what Foreman does is something more. It’s beyond the cloying nature of most songs that seek to uplift. In other hands, the idea that each person is “once in lifetime” might make for an unbearably sappy song. But Foreman comes by the idea honestly, and “Needle and Haystack Life” transcends the cliché to something truly hopeful and inspiring.
“Dare You To Move” (From Beautiful Letdown)
“I dare you to move / like today never happened before”
Have you ever had one of those days that you wish had never happened? I have. I have regrets, things I wish I never did, words I wished I never said. We all have those dark closets we never want to be opened up. And those cumulative secrets weigh us down. Sometimes, they sink the ship.
But grace says “you are more than your darkest days, you are more than your lowest moment.” Grace says “I dare you to believe that you are forgiven. I dare you to ‘get up off the floor, like today never happened before.'” Because in God’s economy, the cross has made it “like today never happened before.”
And like most good art, the lyric “I dare you to move like today never happened before” can also be taken another way, as a challenge to “seize the moment”, to “number our days” as the Psalmist says; to not let a single second go by without living to our fullest. It’s all too easy to let the time slip away. Foreman dares us to move like this day is new, like it’s an adventure; like it’s “never happened before.”
The Shadow Proves The Sunshine (From Nothing Is Sound)
C.S. Lewis eloquently wrote a simple defense of the Christian world view in Mere Christianity, (a mandatory read for all believers, if such a requirement were possible) and one of his proofs cited of the existence of a designing higher power was the inherent knowledge in the human heart of right and wrong. Cultures may be widely different, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who felt good about betraying someone who loved them deeply.
“The Shadow Proves The Sunshine” is a melancholy song sung in a supremely bummed out manner, and finds Foreman examining the news and feeling the weight of the fall, the weight of every war and famine and act of cruelty he views on the screen or newspaper in front of him.
But what if the very fact that he’s bothered at all by the “shadows” of this present age is proof they there is a loving God who is above all things? What if the shadow we feel on the darkest days down here is evidence that there is a light? There would be no shadow without the light. And as Gandalf says in The Fellowship of the Ring, “that is an encouraging thought.”
God Badge (From Fiction Family’s Fiction Family Reunion)
“Put Your God badge down and go love someone.”
As I write this, the culture wars and political silly season are in full swing. On the side where there are a lot of folks who call themselves the same name as me, people are lining up at a court house in Kentucky and wearing t-shirts that say “Homo Sex Will Send You To Hell” and “No Homos In Heaven”. There might be equally inflammatory picket signs on the other side too, but who are the people that are claiming to follow the prince of peace? This behavior is about as far from Jesus’ mode of operation as the North Pole is from the south. In fact, those signs remind me of a certain religious sect that framed Jesus and put him to death.
Our “God Badge” is that piece of identification that gives us comfort, like a membership card that tells us “I belong to something.” But you can hold onto it too tightly and forget your mission. Jesus said that to love God and love your neighbor as yourself are the building blocks of every other bit of righteousness out there. It’s time to let people discover our faith by how we do the TWO THINGS Jesus asked us to do, and not by the shiny fish on our car or the sad, God-forsaken statement on our t-shirts.
Love Alone Is Worth The Fight (From Fading West)
“I’m trying to find where my place is / I’m looking for my own oasis / So close I can taste this / The fear that love alone erases”
This one takes the opposite tack from “God Badge”, instead of protesting and calling out bad religion, Foreman offers his vision of what the modus operandi should be for believers. I John 4:18 says that “perfect love (aka God’s love) drives out fear.” And really, isn’t that what drives bad religion? Fear? Fear causes people to say and do things that they might not have otherwise imagined they might do. Isn’t a large part of current day advertising (be it political or product driven) based on fear? The fear of the wrong kind of people taking over, the fear of missing out on the good life, the fear that somehow, someway you are being wronged and you might not even know it. Fear is common, fear is easy.
St. Paul writes in 2 Timothy that “the Lord has not given us the spirit of fear, but one of self control, love and a sound mind.” That’s worth fighting for. I’m so prone to fighting the wrong battles, to using my energy is so many daft ways, but Foreman reminds me that the battle to love well, to see the good in people, to love and forgive myself because I’m loved and forgiven by the Lord first and foremost. Love is the only thing that is worth my energy pursuing. Love is what changes hearts and minds. God is love and to receive that love well is the true battle.
Love alone is worth the fight.
Thanks for reading. Look for parts two and three in the next two weeks. Next up: Jon Foreman as a motivational speaker or “this is your life / are you who you want to be?”
Remember, love alone is worth the fight.
— Alex Caldwell, Jesusfreakhideout.com staff writer