The King of Anything

Sara Bareilles on Walmart Soundcheck

Have you heard the Sara Bareilles song, ” King Of Anything?”

After I got past the infectious melody, I was pulled into the lyrics.  They remind me of some of Suzanne Vega’s, a bit.  A really compelling potrait of a moment just snipped out of somebody’s life.

As I pondered those lyrics,  it occured to me that the whole thing can be a metaphor about the best and worst ways to talk about Jesus.  I’m pretty confident that this was unintended.  I don’t know anything about Sara Bareilles’ spirituality.  But looking at this song is the best way I can think of to get at a point.

It seems that the intended meaning of the song is to play a conversation between two people.  Perhaps they were in some sort-of romantic relationship.  That doesn’t seem to matter though.

Here’s the first few lines of the song:

Keep drinking coffee, stare me down across the table
While I look outside
So many things I’d say if only I were able
But I just keep quiet and count the cars that pass by

We have this don’t-ask/don’t tell policy about spirituality in our society.  And it is deadly.  On the surface we might be greatful for it.  It might seem like the fact that most people are too uncomfortable to talk back to us is a good thing.  But it isn’t. 

When we talk about Jesus, I think lots of people wish that they were able– or atleast comfortable– speaking about these things.  But many people are not.  And so we don’t know where they disagree, or why they disagree.  And this does not help. 

The song continues:

You’ve got opinions, man
We’re all entitled to ‘em, but I never asked
So let me thank you for your time, and try not to waste anymore of mine
And get out of here fast

I hate to break it to you babe, but I’m not drowning
There’s no one here to save

Those next couple lines demonstrate one of the reasons why it’s so bad when people don’t feel comfortable to disagree with us.  Who wants to be part of a one way conversation?  The natural reaction is to want to leave the conversation entirely.

The last couple lines quoted above really get at the root of a problem.  Because as Christians, we believe that we’re all drowning.  And it’s a complicated thing, expressing this idea; convincing people that they are drowning when mostly they have convinced themselves that they are not.

Who cares if you disagree?
You are not me
Who made you king of anything?
So you dare tell me who to be?
Who died and made you king of anything?

I think these were the lines that helped me make the connection to Jesus in the first place.  Jesus was king.  But we are not.  And more importantly, Jesus was the most bizarre king in all of history.  His kingship is entirely upside down.  And so often we forget this.

We often act like the world’s kind of king.  When we do we look rather ridiculous because of that.  We hold ourselves, sometimes, with this air of pompousity.  We can act like we’re bestowing our favors on the court.  This of course is a problem.

You sound so innocent, all full of good intent
Swear you know best
But you expect me to jump up on board with you
And ride off into your delusional sunset

I’m not the one who’s lost with no direction
But you’ll never see

A criticism that is true about evangelizing: some portion of it is about our own insecurities.  Sometimes, it only looks like we are trying to convince others.  It is really about convincing ourselves.  We act like we care for the other person, but it is really about putting these mental notches in our belt.

There is this understated aspect that permeates the whole song.  There’s this feminist streak to it.  Put simply, there’s this idea that is basically “I don’t need some stupid man to tell me what to do.”

(Just for the record, I’m in full agreement with that mentality.  Women don’t need some stupid man to tell them what to do.)

The relevance is that when there is a legacy of opression between two groups, anything the (formerly?) dominant group says will be suspect.  It will be viewed with understandable suspicion.  This is the reality that we live in.

Opression casts a long shadow.  And I get so frustrated when history tells us that something had gone on for centuries and people think that the opressed group ought to have gotten over this in just a few years.  (Never mind the fact that it is often still going on in subtle and countless ways, anyway.)  This is one of the worst things about opression: it makes it hard for the opressed group to recognize the truth when we offer it to them.

But, I suppose I digress.

The thing I’m trying to say is that it’s a complicated thing, trying to change somebody’s world view.  We have a bewildering medly of motivations of attitudes about this act; and so does the person we’re trying to change.  It’s not enough to have the truth.  The way we hold this truth in our heart is at least as important as what that truth is.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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