Posts Tagged ‘Joni Mitchell’

“Meaning of Marriage” reflection questions, Week 3

March 9, 2014


The following questions are to be completed before the March 9 meeting of HUMC’s “Meaning of Marriage” Bible study. They cover Chapter 3. (Click here to download questions as a separate Word file.)

Chapter 3

What does Keller mean when he refers to the marriage vow as a “test”?

Why is sex is different outside of marriage, and how does that shape our expectations of sex within marriage? Do you agree with him? Why does Keller say it’s important for married couples to have sex even when one (or both) partners is not in the mood?

What are the differences between a “consumer” relationship and a “covenantal” relationship? How does the consumer model apply even to couples who live together before marriage? What makes marriage, by contrast, covenantal? How does the wedding ceremony itself reflect this covenantal view?

Under what circumstances do you believe divorce is permissible? Is this consistent with scripture?

What is the relationship between our identity and the promises we make? Can you relate to this Lewis Smedes quote: “My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me.” What does Smedes means when he says that his promises enable him to rise above “all the conditioning that limits me.”

What does Wendy Plump say about her affair and divorce as contrasted with her parents’ 50-year marriage?

What does Keller have against falling in love? Do you agree with him?

Keller discusses the relationship between authentic love and emotion. Jesus commands us to love, and you can’t command a feeling. How is love possible when you’re not feeling it? Do you agree with him that love is sometimes more difficult when our affection interferes?

Do you believe that feelings of love (“likings”) often follow loving actions? How has Keller’s pastoral experience confirmed this for him? How does this principle relate to marriage?

Keller says that he can guarantee that all married couples will sometimes “fall out of like” with one another. Is this true in your experience? How do you sustain a marriage during those times?

Re-read Keller’s words at the end of the chapter about the love that parents have for children. What would happen if we applied this same biblical pattern of love to our marriages?

Re-read the last two paragraphs of this chapter. What does Keller say we ought to speak to our hearts when we’re not feeling love for our spouses?

Marriage Link

Watch this Joni Mitchell performance of her song “My Old Man” from the Johnny Cash Show in 1970. Click here to read the lyrics. What would Tim Keller likely say in response to the sentiments she expresses here?

My Christmas playlist

December 26, 2013

Music plays an important role in all seasons of my life. This Advent/Christmas season has been no different. One highlight, for example, was singing and playing (on guitar) Christmas hymns and carols with a clergy colleague for our churches’ combined Men’s Club last week. Then, on Sunday, I played and sang when a few of us went caroling for my church’s shut-ins.

Thanks to YouTube, I’ll share with you a few unusual Christmas-themed songs that have been on my playlist this year.

The first is a traditional song that I fell in love with when I heard it on a Bob Dylan album. Since Dylan’s people at Sony are Scrooges about sharing his music for free online, I’ll link to this version by Paul Brady. It’s not really a Christmas song, except that it takes place on Christmas morning. Some British army officers are trying to recruit the Irish narrator and his cousin Arthur McBride.

To say the least, their efforts are unsuccessful.

The cousins refuse, politely at first. But Sgt. Napper persists. His sales pitch includes telling them that soldiers have fine clothes, beautiful wives, and money—including the signing bonus he’ll give the two right now if they’ll enlist.

Arthur, the spokesman, declines with this witty riposte.

“But,” says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes
For you’ve only the lend of them, as I suppose
But you’re dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do, you’ll be flogged in the morning…

“And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you’d have no scruples for to send us to France
Where we could get shot without warning”

As you’ll hear, violence ensues. But don’t worry: David beats Goliath.

This next song might be, as one YouTube commenter calls it, the “most depressing Christmas song ever,” but I’m not so sure. At least at Denny’s the narrator isn’t alone on Christmas—and, as he sings, the refills on coffee are always free. The song, “Christmas at Denny’s,” was written by a first-generation Christian-rocker named Randy Stonehill (from 1989, if memory serves). Sadly, no video exists of Stonehill’s performing it, but this is a good one.

When I was a boy I believed in Christmas
Miracle season to make a new start
I don’t need no miracle, sweet baby Jesus
Just help me find some kind of hope in my heart

Another melancholy song, this one from Joni Mitchell. “River” is about a break-up for which the narrator feels responsible. Listen to the tenderness in her voice when she sings, “I made my baby cry.” Christmas is a lousy time to be heartbroken, as everyone knows. She quotes “Jingle Bells” on her piano in a couple places, except in a plaintive minor key. No happy Christmas bells here.

Her album Blue, by the way, is perfect and beautiful—simply one of the greatest things ever committed to vinyl. I love it so intensely that I’m apt to pull an Arthur McBride if anyone says otherwise. Accept no version of the song other than Mitchell’s. When she sings, “I wish I had a river so long/ I would teach my feet to fly-y-y-y-y-y-y,” listen to her voice take off into the stratosphere. Are there actually people who don’t love her voice?

I’m so hard to handle
I’m selfish and I’m sad
Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on

Finally, here’s a song that isn’t a Christmas song, but I dug it out of my collection of 45 RPM records last night and listened to it—I kid you not—14 times in a row. It’s from Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s self-titled solo album from 1988. (Click here to listen to this version.) Everybody hates the production of this album, which tries way too hard to make Wilson sound relevant to MTV audiences, but if you can hear past that, you’ll hear the man doing some of his best songwriting and vocal-arranging.

There isn’t much to the song, lyrically: three couplets, a refrain, with a “la-la-la” bridge. The world is broken, Wilson says in his typically child-like way, and it can only be healed by love and mercy. He and I both know where that kind of healing comes from.

He sells the sentiment with a gorgeous descending chord progression that reminds me of brother Dennis’s song “Forever.” As with some of his other great songs—”In My Room,” “Don’t Worry, Baby,” and “Time to Get Alone,” to name a few—he melts my heart.

I love this live version with a boy’s choir. By the way, how does Wilson’s voice sound better today than it did back in the ’70s? How did he reverse the years of damage? Getting off drugs helped, I’m sure… But still.

The comfort of marriage’s “no escape” clause

April 24, 2013

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller puts his finger on one of the fatal modern myths of marriage: that marriage shouldn’t be based at all on “a piece of paper”—the law, the contract. Law stifles true love. Marriage should always be voluntary, never coerced—or else it cheapens love. As Joni Mitchell sang back in 1971, “We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall/ Keeping us tied and true.”

One guest on the most recent Valentine’s Day episode of This American Life, Kurt Braunohler, certainly endorsed this viewpoint. He and his girlfriend, his high school sweetheart, had been together for 13 years, but they had never gotten married. One thing was holding them back, they came to believe: they had never been with anyone else romantically or sexually. What if there was someone better out there for them?

So they decided that they would take a month-long break from their relationship—the secular New York City equivalent of the Amish Rumspringa. And during that month, they would allow themselves to sleep with other people—which they did. One month turned into many months. The couple finally decided to break up entirely.

Read what Kurt took away from this experience. Then read what Ira Glass, the married host of the show, says in response.

KURT: I do have a theory now that if I do get married in the future, what I think I would want to do is have an agreement that at the end of seven years we have to get remarried in order for the marriage to continue. But at the end of seven years it ends, and we can agree to get remarried or not get remarried.

IRA: Why?

KURT: Because you get to choose, and I think it would make the relationship stronger.

IRA: I don’t know what I think of that, because I think that one of the things that’s a comfort in marriage is that there isn’t a door at seven years. And if something is messed up in the short-term, there’s the comfort of knowing, like, we made this commitment, and so we’re going to work this out. And, like, even tonight if we’re not getting along, or there’s something between us that doesn’t feel right, you have the comfort of knowing, like, you’ve got time to figure this out. And that makes it so much easier! Because you do go through times when you hate each other’s guts. And the “no escape” clause is a bigger comfort to being married than I ever would have thought before I got married.

Guess whose side I’m on?

Keller contrasts the stick-to-itiveness of marriage that Glass describes (not to mention the Bible) with the consumer mentality that Kurt describes. If Kurt had his way (and I suspect he’ll outgrow this particular conviction), he and his future wife would have to keep selling themselves. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

There is another way in which the legality of marriage augments its personal nature. When dating or living together, you have to prove your value daily by impressing and enticing. You have to show that the chemistry is there and the relationship is fun and fulfilling or it will be over. We are still basically in a consumer relationship, and that means constant promotion and marketing. The legal bond of marriage, however, creates a space of security where we can open up and reveal our true selves. We can be vulnerable, no longer having to keep up facades. We don’t have to keep selling ourselves. We can lay the last layer of our defenses down and be completely naked, both physically and in every other way.[†]

While I’m not endorsing the singer’s viewpoint, here’s the beautiful young Joni Mitchell singing what will become the second track on one of my favorite albums, Blue.

Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 85.