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Beat Breaker: “Strength & Beauty” by Citizens

 

Song Title: Strength and Beauty
Artist: Citizens (formerly Citizens & Saints)
Album: Single
Release: 2018
Genre: Indie

 

Drawing from the same ecclesiastical roots as King’s Kaleidoscope and Ghost Ship, Citizens (formerly Citizens & Saints) has produced three theologically emotional albums since 2013.  Drawing predominantly on hymnal and Psalmist literature, Citizens brings home sound theology and beautifully-crafted musical scores.

Since joining Humble Beast in 2017, “Strength and Beauty” is the first original work to emerge from the Seattle-based group. Following in the musical style of their reconstructed 2017 In Part album, “Strength and Beaut”y quietly pierces the soul with grief-stained hope.

 

Musical Breakdown

Diverging from a common song progression, “Strength and Beauty” jumps between verses, progressively telling a story of brokenness and defiled grace. The sole remnant of a chorus – the imploration to listen to the song of the broken – permeates only intermittently throughout the track.

While the first two verses progress, the melody remains uneventful as the lyrics tell the tale of God-given providence and grace defiled by the artist’s rebellion. Only once the third verse arrives does the melody escalate as the lyrics echo a nurtured, but wounded, hope. The song ends on a crescendo with joy and rhetoric.

 

Lyrics & Meaning

Throughout the first two verses, the artist describes both the natural gifts of life as well as corporate responsibility for the pain and sin profaning these gifts. Gifts like justice, grace, strength, and beauty are all described alongside the lyricist’s defiance.

The lyrics are telling and speak of incredible spiritual and social injustices.

Hatred taken over our eyes,
And we defend it,
Reform repentance.

Sound familiar? We need only look around us in society to see behavior where hatred is not only defended, but repentance is reformed to conform to a hate-filled theology. While this is not as explicitly social as other contemporaries (Lecrae or Propaganda, for example), the injustice described is no stranger to us.

Yet, Citizens takes this an uncomfortable step further. Coupled with the injustices is a repeated refrain emphasizing corporate responsibility for these acts.

“Deep in our blood”; “Hatred taken over our eyes”; “Violence stealing love from our lips”

I’ll reflect on this further below, but for the moment, it’s worth noting the ramifications of this claim. The pain Citizens described is not only universal— it must be owned, and it cannot be left unanswered for.

Before stepping into the third verse, Citizens calls the listener to hear the ‘song of the broken,’ affected by the injustices described in the earlier verses. While the described ‘broken’ appear somewhat ambiguous, it is unmistakable that the corporate responsibility accepted earlier causes the personalized pain described here.

As the third verse develops, the pronoun ‘she’ repeats, reflecting a personalized tone different from the rest of the track. Insofar as describing her as ‘a child’, one could interpret the child as being a metaphor for the broken.

 

Practical Application

The noticeable shift between the corporate first-person (‘our’) to the third-person (‘her’) crafts a relatable track with clear personal undertones. Quoting lead vocalist Zach Bolen, the Humble Beast biography for Citizens states,

“You can share as much as you want about the Gospel on Biblical terms, but the true power of the Gospel comes from you telling your story.”

Anyone would be hard-pressed not to agree with the personalized tones of Citizens’ new single. The stark question lingering for any listener is: how we will weave our own story into the lyrics?

Like the artist, our own stories are riddled with pain, stemming from the effects of sin. We have witnessed the strife, agony, uncertainty, and hopelessness. And while we can easily (and often times truthfully) point the finger at some else, we must also bear some blame.

The moment we grasp the weight of defiant rebellion in the face of the Almighty, we see the blood our hands have spilled. We have no excuse. The book of Romans describes it well, when Paul states in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Do you see the trickle of sin? From one man, to all. The same pain resonates in the song, as the free God-given gifts of grace are defiled and trampled. The same chapter later describes death as ‘reigning’ and bringing condemnation through the one man’s sin. The language paints a canvas where one action has rippled throughout history.

Thankfully, this is not where the song ends, nor where Paul finishes in Romans 5. For as “Strength and Beauty” struggles through the pain, it strives towards hope. Paul also describes this hope in the second Adam, through whom life and justification come. In Romans 5:20, Paul puts it poignantly, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

This is the cry of this song, of our hearts, and of redemption. The cry of enjoying a future glory where,” He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

As the song draws to a close, Zach asks the listener, ‘Do you see it?’ Take stock of this question.

It is far too simple to accept biblical truths about the Second Coming, but another to actually see how this truth gives us hope. Not just for the future, but for today. While we bear the responsibility for our sin, we do not bear the burden of making all things new. This is not an excuse for apathy, but a reason for seeking the kingdom today.

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Articles Christian Living

Restoration Came Down

I don’t go much for the dark, apocalyptic games – the post-disaster worlds where amorality rules, with parables on mankind’s fate to destroy itself. While the look at our fallen nature is certainly apropos, these typically secular games rarely see or acknowledge the redemption which is also afforded to the world.

I see enough discouragement in life as it is, thank you very much. Seeking it out in my entertainment is rarely cathartic, yet it seems to creep into our culture with more prevalence. Why is hope so unfashionable in this era? Why are the nihilists winning?

We live in a world marked by entropy. Fruit rots. Tools break. Buildings decay without maintenance. Have you ever seen a body work in reverse, Benjamin Button-style? Lose its wrinkles? Regain bone mass? Sport a new, full head of hair? As my pastor likes to say, “Even Lazarus eventually died again.”

In a post-modern era where we’ve striven for reason and come back just as human as before, what do we have left? There are many who are saying nothing. It’s the natural conclusion for a godless universe. We’re born, we age, we die – and in the middle of it all, maybe we aim to be good people. Yet in the end, “everything is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

In the absence of redemption, there is only one other option available for us: Destruction. If you don’t believe in an ultimate restorative power, what else could you expect of a world in decay? What could you even hope for your own heart? And so people worship their own despair.

But now, it is Christmas, and in the Christmas season, we remember to anticipate. From the secular to the sacred, everyone wishes for those “happy holidays.” Something clings from even the most cultural practice of Christian faith, I think. Santa brings material hope, sure, but even nativities have prevalence in front lawn displays. This baby Jesus in his plastic, glowing manger – Do we celebrate his birth because he became a “great man”? Because he said some smart things?

If you’re looking for a holiday with that level of fanfare, try President’s Day. Christmastime boasts decorations, foods, and its own musical repertoire. It prompts giving and kindness and excitement. It asks us to remember peace and to aim for selflessness. Why?

Because the Creator of every molecule which forms this universe – making kingdoms, wonders, and comforts possible – stepped into Earth by way of an unwed girl, into the basest home meant for animals. His very birth declared he would be for all people of all stations in life – not as a good teacher, but as a Redeemer bringing our one powerful source of restoration.

I may have understood it once, this desire to focus only on the entropy. When life doesn’t go your way and your desires go unmet, perhaps you want to believe there’s no hope in the world. It’s easier to be bitter at God. And yet…Christmas calls to us. We still sing the songs, ring the bells, and admire the lights.

Isn’t it interesting God commands us to joy (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)? Are we just drawn naturally to despair? I want to be better at keeping this sort of holiday spirit year round.

So still count me out on those post-apocalypse games. Merry Christmas, everyone.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

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Articles Christian Living

The Prodigal’s Brother

Everyone knows the story of Superman.
If we put aside for the moment any alternate-universe or new-continuum changes, his origin is simple: Two scientists send their infant son Kal-El away in a rocket ship to avoid the catastrophic end to their planet. The ship crash-lands in the middle of Kansas. The Kents, a childless couple with love overflowing, take in the orphan alien boy and raise him as their own…and later discover he has awesome abilities.
From Clark Kent’s perspective, this is arguably not a terrible burden to bear.
Sure, he was originally an orphan, but he couldn’t remember any of that directly. After that, he was brought up as an only child, showered in love—not an uncomfortable life. Even his choice to conceal his power from the world isn’t that bad, since those powers—super strength, invulnerability, flight, and, depending on which universe you’re following, many more—are so cool!
But really, when you compare Superman’s origins with those of other A-list heroes, his story isn’t all that tragic. Batman watched his parents get gunned down in front of him. Spider-Man has the weight of his Uncle Ben’s death on his shoulders. The real alien orphan tragedy is Martian the Manhunter, who lived through the destruction of his home world.
Often, this distinction between characters wrought by tragedy and those who simply choose to be heroic feels like my story.
I was raised in a solid Christian home. I went to church every Wednesday and Sunday at the very least. I served my congregation diligently ever since I was young. I was baptized at the ripe age of 10, and have devoted my heart to seeking Jesus ever since.
Mine is not a tear-jerker testimony. This is great for me, of course, since I have been able to mature as a Christian over most of my life, and I’ve come far. But when I hear other people’s tales of faith, dotted with calamity and life-changing experiences, I feel rather small. After all, what is my weak testimony worth next to someone who overcame deep loss, terminal disease, deadly addiction, and abuse to come to God?
Let me be clear: I’m not saying I wish my life was harder, or that I encourage indulging in the flesh in order to craft a better spiritual resume. I’m just saying if my faith were a comic book, it would be something more along the lines of Squirrel Girl than the hearty, gut-wrenching tale of Magneto who lived through the Holocaust.
This feeling of inadequacy reminds me of a few Biblical passages.
The first, of course, is that of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). We all know the story—the younger brother takes his half of the inheritance, runs off to waste it on meaningless debauchery, and then comes home full of regret to be greeted by the open arms of his loving father.
In my low, petty moments, I feel like the prodigal’s brother—the dutiful son who stayed loyal and responsible, and feels the need to ask why he never got a feast like that in his honor.
But that’s not the point of the story, because I’m also reminded of other passages.
Jesus said, “Come to Me like little children” (Matthew 19:14). Proverbs 22:6 says, “Raise them up in the way they should go, and when they are grown, they will not turn from Your ways.” Best of all, in Hebrews 6:10 it says, “For God is not unjust! He will not forget your work and the love you showed for His name when you served the saints – and you continue to serve them!”
The testimonies of those who are mature in the faith, even from very young ages, are not worthless. In fact, we are the fulfilled promise of those who came before us—those who chose the Lord and trained their children in the way they should go.
What greatness is this! It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about. After all, God has designed each of us with our own testimonies in mind for a specific purpose—actually, many specific purposes—and we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t seek after Him in whatever ways He has directed us to go, regardless of how our lives compare with others. We are not them, and they are not us.
Just because Superman was raised in a cozy home in Kansas doesn’t make him any less of a hero than Batman.
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Articles Beat Breakers Christian Music

Beat Breaker: “Dare You To Move” by Switchfoot

Song Title: Dare You To Move
Artist: Switchfoot
Album: The Beautiful Letdown
Released: 2003
Genre: Rock
The band that began its debut in 1996 as “Chin Up” would later take on the name we all know and love today: Switchfoot. I was only 5 years old when they appeared on the scene, and didn’t discover this band until I was a ripe young age of about 12. By that time, “Dare You To Move,” my absolute favorite Switchfoot song, was already nearly 3 years old and re-recorded on The Beautiful Letdown. Now, it’s almost reached adulthood, at 17 years. Feeling old yet? Yeah, me too.
When I got to thinking about what song I wanted to write about for my next Beat Breaker article, I knew it had to be this song purely because of the love I have for this band. These guys were – and still are – a huge inspiration for me as a musician. I still do what I can to emulate their style in my music, and I love learning to play their songs. Not just because the songs are fun to play, but because Switchfoot writes material with a deeper meaning.

Feel of the Song

This song is almost instantly recognizable by anyone who is a fan of Christian rock music. It starts with that famous acoustic guitar riff, and builds into the electric guitar driven style that is all too familiar from Switchfoot.
I love the diversity in this track. There’s quite a bit going on throughout; different things to listen for as you play it multiple times. The fact that the second and first verses are so different is one of my personal favorite things about this song. The first is introductory, led by an acoustic guitar while the second brings a bit more electric guitar, giving it a solid mix for the song to seamlessly flow. The level of skill displayed by the different members of the band is especially on display during this song; it’s part of the reason I suspect they still play it live at their shows.

Lyrics and Meaning

The song starts with the statement that we are all at the same place– we’re all here and we all have sins in our lives. “Welcome to the planet, welcome to existence.”
This first verse confesses the condition of the human race. We’re fallen people, and to some degree we’re all looking for somebody else to move first; nobody wants to be the first to move when you’re sure to fall again at some point in the future… but somebody has got to do it. Why not you?
A challenge is issued in the following chorus: “I dare you to move.” These words, the title of the song, charge us to pick ourselves back up after we fall. The hardest thing about that is that we are bound to fall again, but he dares us time and again to “pick ourselves up off the floor.”
The second verse reinforces how the human race is fallen as the first did, yet brings a contrasting realization– now that we realize the errors in our actions, we need to turn to a new way of life. “Between who you are and how you could be. Between how it is and how it should be.”
I love the conclusion offered in the bridge, for multiple reasons. Up until now, the song has shown us where we are as humans, issuing a challenge to pick ourselves up off the floor… but it hasn’t given any practical ways to do that. The bridge shows that maybe redemption is right at the place we fall and telling a beautiful story; that “salvation is here,” even though you can’t escape who you are as a sinful being. The fact that Jesus meets us right where we are is huge, because the fact of the matter is that we can’t escape sin on our own– He is the one who picks us up again.

Life application

This song is meant for encouragement. Sure, it begins with the harsh reality that we are a fallen race… but that’s where grace comes in and shines as good news. If you feel like your life isn’t worth living, that you’ve fallen so many times that you wonder if there’s a point in picking yourself up again… it’s because God has called us to repentance. He dares us to move from where we are, to where He wants us to be.
We can be reminded time and again that “forgiveness is right where we fell”. Here’s the reality of it all, God has forgiven our sins. We are called to live our lives aggressively for Him, not curled up on the floor in the fetal position. The Bible is full of stories of God using fallen people to do great things; He dared them to move and they moved.
Now it’s your turn.
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Anime Articles

The Moment Digimon Forgot it was a Kid’s Show

Around the time Geeks Under Grace launched its website, I set out to review the first three seasons of Digimon.
I did not succeed.
While I managed to write up reviews for Season 1 and Season 2, clocking in an exhaustive 5,000+ words each, I was too winded to carry my enthusiasm into a review of the third season; but there is one moment in the final act of the series that I at least wanted to share, because it struck me harder as an adult viewer than it did back in elementary school:
The moment Beelzemon tries to free Jeri using the Fist of the Beast King.
Now, for some context (understanding and appreciating this scene to its fullest is difficult, even if you have watched the series), I will try to keep this explanation simple, because it’s surprisingly complex considering the target audience.
Jeri and Leomon
Unlike its more child-friendly competitor, Pokémon, Digimon characters regularly die in the franchise (Digimon mostly, but humans are not excluded). The most notorious death in season 3 (also known as Digimon Tamers) is the destruction of tamer Jeri’s Digimon, the brave and kind Leomon. There’s an incarnation of Leomon in every season of the show (for the layman, each season is self-contained), and so he’s always a fan-favorite. Leomon is, as his name suggests, a proud and mighty partner with a heart of gold and the fury of a lion.
Beelzemon and his weapon of choice, the Corona Destroyer.
When Jeri and the other tamers leave the real world to travel into the Digital World, they do so knowing they’re going to have their hands full fighting against some powerful enemies. Among these adversaries is Beelzemon, a Mega-level Digimon and former friend, now drunk on power which does not belong to him. (Yes, his name does stem from Beelzebub, lord of demons.) He’s a force to be reckoned with, and a condition of keeping his newfound power is that he must eliminate his old friends.
In his frenzy, Beelzemon tries to strike down one of the protagonists, but is prevented by Leomon, who holds him back and tries to talk some sense into the berserker Mega. Unwilling to bend to logic, Beelzemon turns his wrath upon Leomon, running the benevolent creature through with his bare hands. This forces Leomon’s body to break down into raw data (Digital death) and be absorbed into Beelzemon, adding to his strength.
Leomon breaking apart.
This scene causes a lot of major developments, but I’m only going to focus on one: the subsequent trauma Jeri endures and how it influences the human heart. You see, Beelzemon is not the Big Bad of Digimon Tamers. That position is held by a rogue defense program known as the D-Reaper, which was originally a complex digital life form meant to hold the population of the Digital World in check, but eventually evolved beyond its intended functions. Wanting to analyze human thoughts and feelings, and sensing a compromise in the distraught Jeri, the D-Reaper takes her captive and uses her as a catalyst for further transformation. It locks Jeri in a prison of its own design and perpetuates her sorrow by feeding it back to her with sounds and images, which then gives her even more twisted thoughts (and so on, in a vicious cycle).
Jeri in despair, unresponsive to the encouraging words of her friends.
By the time the D-Reaper is in full-swing and laying siege upon the real world, Beelzemon has tasted humble pie a couple of times. The other tamers have tried and failed to rescue Jeri and, now vindicated by his earlier actions, Beelzemon sets out to right his wrongs by saving her from captivity in the heart of the D-Reaper. However, at this point the program has mutated so far that it is beyond even the abilities of Mega-level Digimon to destroy, and its protective shell around the girl does not falter against Beelzemon’s many attempts to crack it open.
The unfocused essence of the D-Reaper as it swallows Shinjuku.
Fortunately, while he can’t break the prison cell, Beelzemon does throttle Jeri out of her traumatic stupor, allowing her to vaguely understand that he is trying to save her. Realizing he has reached the limit of his own strength, Beelzemon raises his fist to the sky and screams “Give me the strength I need!” It is a posture which emulates that of Jeri’s late partner, Leomon, and Beelzemon cocks his body back, preparing to deliver one more blow to the D-Reaper’s defense. Drawing on the strength he absorbed when he killed Leomon, he unleashes the Fist of the Beast King, Leomon’s signature technique, and finally succeeds in blowing a hole in the prison cell. By Leomon’s power and will, Beelzemon is given a chance to do what Leomon would have wanted and save his human partner. He reaches in to save Jeri, even as the D-Reaper starts to repair the small hole from Beelzemon’s blast.
Jeri freezes. Beelzemon calls to her, begging her to hurry and allow him to complete his rescue, but she does not. Seeing Beelzemon, the monster responsible for murdering and assimilating her partner, use that partner’s very ability to set her free, jars Jeri into a panic. The dark irony of it is too much for the psychologically damaged girl to endure, and she falls back, unable to let Beelzemon help. Before long Beelzemon is forced away by the shell’s self-repair, and the D-Reaper deals a lethal blow, taking him out of the fight and denying him from ever finding the redemption he desperately desires.
Revisiting the series, I was blown away at the emotional and narrative implications of this scene. This is a children’s show.  While Ash is having an existential crisis about releasing his Butterfree into the wild, Digimon is exploring the disrepair of traumatic loss, how it manipulates our psyche into pushing people away, and the fundamental need to redeem ourselves from the horrors of untamed pride and anger.
This is not an isolated moment, either. There are many times throughout Digimon where it seems the creators forgot they were developing a show intended for a twelve-year-old audience. Refer to my review of Season 2, and Ken’s intense struggle to forgive himself after literally enslaving, torturing, and slaughtering innocent Digimon for his own amusement; or Season 1, where the characters deal with everything from divorce, to learning to accept that they are lovable, to forgiving people they don’t like.
Digimon was not the end-all-be-all children’s show of its time, but I admire its willingness to explore deeper things than cool transformations, explosions, and goofball humor–an approach I wish Digimon‘s contemporaries would have emulated when they were in their prime. Digimon not only respects the intelligence of its viewers, but also works to promote deeper thoughts and feelings, and thus open the doors for understanding more complex media in the future.
Don’t misunderstand: Pokémon and many other shows hold their own special place in my heart. I simply feel like Digimon, particularly the anime, endures much more hate than it deserves, especially considering its willingness to confront hard, relatable topics. There’s plenty of complaints to be lobbied against this franchise, but Digimon can’t simply be categorized as a shounen break-in series for beginners when its narrative so obviously points to higher goals than critics suggest.