I once listened to a Taylor Swift song called “Love Story” on a flight all the way from the East Coast to the West Coast. I had the song on repeat on my iPod for some reason and as soon as it finished, it would automatically start once again. If you want to know how many times I heard that song, divide 3 minutes and 55 seconds by North America. Even though I had heard the words sung over and over, you know what? I can’t remember more than a few isolated lyrics.
I remember that it’s about a guy named Romeo and I’m not quite sure who the girl is. I’m guessing it’s Taylor; but that’s just a guess. I think that they had to overcome some adversity because the girls’ dad wasn’t keen on young Romeo. As a dad, I can respect that. But at the end of the day, I remember the song says something about “go get your white dress” … so I assume that they sorted it all out and the guy got the girl.
I don’t remember much about Taylor’s love story even though I’ve heard the song about it over a hundred times. I’ve wondered why, by contrast, we can each remember every nuance; every glance; and if we’ve fallen in love, our entire courtship story with such punishing detail. Forget the first kiss; just think about the first time you touched knees with someone you liked a lot. Yet I can hear Taylor Swift sing about her story all the way across North America, and it has no shelf life for me. It’s like her words are made of Teflon.
Not so with our own love story though. Every detail comes alive. I suppose that’s a reflection of the factory settings that we each have. Our own love stories are so poignant, so detailed, no nuanced, so unforgettable – at least to us. When it’s someone else’s love story however, we will be polite and listen, but usually it’s entirely forgettable. It’s kind of like looking at someone else’s vacation pictures in that way.
That’s how Taylor Swift’s song was to me. It wasn’t my movie, so I just settled in and listened to the banjo playing in the background as the words floated past unnoticed and unremarkable. When we can relate to a story in some way though, it becomes part of us; in other words, it matters to us. And I want more things to matter to me. Do you know why? Because things that matter to us, shape us; things that don’t matter to us as just more banjo music.
I have often wondered why the things that are talked about at Bible studies I’ve been at never really stuck with me. I used to spend a lot of time shaking my head in agreement on Wednesday nights, but just because I agreed didn’t mean that I remembered. In fact, most of the time, it seemed that the nod of agreement shook whatever was said right out. I wanted to remember; I wanted what was said to matter, but like Taylor’s song, it didn’t – at least not enough. But that all changed when I started engaging my faith; when I started doing stuff. It was then that I stopped humming along to someone else’s song and started writing my own.
What I found is that when something matters to me and I have skin in the game; then I become engaged. And when I’m engaged, I remember. Some people think of engagement as the time between proposing marriage to someone and getting married. I think of engagement as the time between when we stop just agreeing and being polite and when we do something about it.
Another byproduct of engagement is that all of the canned answers to complex questions seem to melt away. I think that’s because we see ourselves in the context of something larger that is unfolding; and the details aren’t distractions, they are ladder rungs that we can pull ourselves up on. We remember because we are no longer observers. I think that Jesus had in mind that we would not just be “believers”, but “participants”. Not because it’s hip, but because it’s accurate. He wanted people that got to the “do” part of faith; not because He wanted activity, but because He wanted our faith to matter to us.
One of the ways that I make things matter to me is to move from merely learning about something to finding a way to engage it on my own terms. For example, if someone asks what I think about capital punishment, instead of reciting the party line and parroting someone else’s thoughts, I think of a teenager named Kevin in a prison accused of a capital crime. If the topic is same sex attraction, I think of a dear friend who is gay. Now, instead of talking about an issue, I’m talking about a person; someone who matters to me. I think that Jesus wired us that way so that we’d remember. And it’s not about just being politically correct, it’s about being just plain correct. We need to make our faith; our love story; our very own.
Our own songs matter a great deal; each lyric and each refrain. But if we don’t get ours right, we can’t hear anyone else’s song. One of the things that can make us tone deaf to the lyrics of other people’s songs is having our own song either playing too loudly or skipping across the disk – not playing at all. This doesn’t mean that we should engage in endless and paralyzing personal introspection, but we need to settle down and figure out what our own song so that we can help others find thiers.
Maybe you can’t remember the words to Taylor’s song either, but what is it that helps you remember the things that are most important in your own faith?