Last year I picked out a selection of Switchfoot songs that together map out how significant this band has been to me over the years in a whole range of ways.
But I tend to call myself a Jon Foreman fan, since my fandom extends beyond what he does with this one, amazing band, and into his solo work, his second band, his writing, art, and life example. He and his music fire my own creativity, give me the fight I need inside to keep pushing for a better world, have been one of the main influences on my faith journey (along with an eclectic mix of others!), and are developing me as a person.
Since I wrote about Switchfoot, he has released a second set of solo EPs, collectively titled The Wonderlands; 25(!) songs for 24 hours of the day, exploring the contrasts of light and dark in life and time. When he introduced the concept, speaking of creating a world, a planet, composed entirely out of these songs, it made sense to me; his music has built my inner world, been a place of adventure and discovery, shaped the person I am, and is, musically at the very least, where I find home. I am a Wonderlands native!
Now I’ve had time to live with the new songs and let them work on me I want to celebrate them by sharing a selection of his solo work here. I could pick pretty much any song of Jon’s and tell you stories of how it’s shaped me, but here’s a glimpse; one song per solo EP, plus two bonuses, taken from his compilation Limbs And Branches and from his second band Fiction Family*. You can listen to each track as you read; click on the title and it will open in a new tab:
1. The Cure For Pain (Fall)
We can’t shut ourselves off from pain: Prayer, and action, and change, and growth, and faith, all come through making ourselves vulnerable to it, wrestling through it. There’s no greater motivator or more authentic way to follow Jesus. I know I’ve come to this song so many times aching over the state of my life or the pain of the world, and it has led me through, allowed me both to hurt, and to admit that I do sometimes want to run, to shut the pain out, but to help me see through to recognise that Christ is found in the pain itself, and I need sometimes to walk the painful way to follow Him. To open myself up to feel the groan of creation, take it to heart, bring it to God and let God in turn move me to action.
2. Behind Your Eyes (Winter)
This sweet song is what’s driving this project. As I let this song work on me it became a real challenge to me: Breaking down the barriers that keep me from others, the things I hide, that stop people seeing who I really am inside, and becoming vulnerable, is deeply scary. But it’s what builds intimacy, and is what inspires others to become more fully themselves too. I admire open, vulnerable people who are honest about their struggles and who share the depths of their souls, and I want to become like that. I don’t want to shut people out with a false front on my life. I want to let you in.
3. Baptize My Mind (Spring)
This has to be a contender for one of the most musically lovely things he’s ever recorded 🙂 But it runs deep. I find his words, paraphrasing Jesus, playing over and over in my mind: ‘for these seeds to give birth to life, first they must die…’ It’s true in Jesus’ context, that His death has brought multitudes to life, but it’s true beyond that. So much is planted in us, the potential to transform the world and bring in God’s kingdom of restored relationships. But how much still has to die in us to allow that to happen? It’s certainly true in my own life; I’m so addicted to normality, comfort and convenience that most of the time, I feel I remain a seed. The times I let that die, die to my selfishness, are the times I find real life springing up in and around me.
4. Resurrect Me (Summer)
There’s a lot going on in this song, and I’ve found it’s taken on different meanings for me at different times over the years, but just recently it’s been resonating with me in a new way – ‘… but I’m still waking up with myself…’ A change of circumstances alone will not fix me, because I take myself with me. If the fundamental problem is not my circumstances but myself, no new job is going to fix that. Getting married didn’t fix me, neither did any of my previous jobs, moving to a new town, getting a house or anything else, so the answer will be no different this time round. I need a deeper heart change of the kind only God can bring about. The world’s resurrection begins within us.
5. Over The River (Limbs and Branches)
This is an eerie song; but at the same time it is overflowing with hope. Hope. Strong, firm hope, though it’s found only in Jesus and, so far, unseen. I attended a difficult funeral a couple of years ago, that raised so many questions and doubts for me. But I found this song stuck in my head the whole day, and the more I let the words sink in, the more I realised that all is uncertain beyond this life, even in this life, except one thing, my hope in Jesus. I don’t know what exactly happens after death, or what will happen to anyone else, but I do know that for me there is now, and always will be, Jesus. The only thing I can take with me, the only place I can hope, but the strongest hope possible; the very source of all our longings for life, and love, and a sense of home and belonging. I’ve never glimpsed it as clearly as I did that day.
6. Terminal (Sunlight)
I’ve heard so often that when someone is told they only have a short time left to live that it sharpens their focus and determination to make the most of the time they have left, to think about what they want to achieve before they die. This song is that kind of perspective shift for me– after all, I too am mortal; why should I wait till my final diagnosis to recognise this, wake up and think about how to make the most of this short time I’m given? To say we’re terminal is true from the day we’re born whether we have days or decades left. Time is counting down as our bodies slowly age, even whilst we remain healthy. One day all of us must die, and what matters is whether or not we learn to live before that day comes, or just let it slip by. I want to learn to live well whilst I have time! I find this incredibly energising when I let it sink in; it makes me want to make the most of every moment and give more of myself to the things that really matter. The other aspect of the song that’s made a difference to my outlook is its emphasis on being patient with others, recognising that we’re all the same, and all so finite. Why shouldn’t I try and help others live well and enjoy each precious moment they’re given too?
7. My Coffin / Fake Your Own Death (Shadows)
I have to group these two together as they are two halves of the same thought process for me, considering the interplay between fear, and the process of death and resurrection, both in the here-and-now and ultimately. Can I let go of myself, let what I have been die for bigger things? Am I afraid? What if I wasn’t – what would I do then? Can I let the fear die, so I can step out in faith more and more into the life maybe I was made for? Am I trying too hard to be a ‘somebody’, and missing the goal as a result? I’m finding it’s the small, daily deaths to self I am afraid of, much more so than actually giving my life for something. But continually having these songs ask me the uncomfortable questions is already moving me out of my comfort zone and raising my ambition for following Christ more self-sacrificially.
8. Inner Peace (Darkness)
I seek peace; shalom peace, relationships restored between God, and us, and the earth, and ourselves. I ache for it. But I am so mired in the mess of my soul and this world it’s hard to even begin to set the relationship right within myself, let alone work for that greater Peace. This is a song that expresses that ache, that I come back to again and again to vent the hurt, but that as with so many of Jon’s other songs leads me through to a bigger perspective: I am never going to be able to find ‘inner peace’ in my broken self; I need to be remade by the One who made me. And as with Resurrect Me, I can’t blame my insecurities on external circumstances; I will only find myself secure in my God. Only He can release that shalom peace in and through us. So; I get on with working towards what I can change, and seek to depend more and more on God for wholeness.
9. Mercy’s War (Dawn)
This song was released the day before I celebrated being alive for half my life, the sixteenth anniversary of my very first encounter with the grace of God. And the juxtaposition of these powerful words with those intense memories levelled me to the floor, left me completely undone, and put me back together again a little better than before. In so many ways this really is my story; I felt like I was at the end, felt like giving up on life, I went looking for ways out… and You showed me the Way in. Every move I’ve made against God has been met with a counter move of undeserved kindness that disarms my rebelliousness, allowing me to do my worst to Him and His ‘revenge’ is simply to bleed forgiveness. Instead of punishing me, responding with unimaginable, proactive love. Then, when I accept it and expect an easy life, He reminds me we have a battle to fight to put this world right. And every time I get it wrong, or fall away, there is that same great Love seeking me out to pull me back again. Amazing grace.
10. God Badge (Fiction Family Reunion)
There’s a story I hope to tell on this blog some day when I’ve processed it through a little more (and figured out how to tell it concisely!) involving my discovery of this song shortly after taking part in a protest that turned into an insult-flinging match, and reading about how Jon himself handled a crowd protesting one of Switchfoot’s shows. This isn’t the time for the full story. But the combination of events was a real learning experience for me as an activist. ‘There is no us or them, there’s only folks that you do or you don’t understand…’ The words, and Jon’s example, hit home, and since then I’ve been determined to work hard to make sure I begin with the common ground and work for dialogue and understanding, even when protesting something. It’s too easy to jump in with the blame, and start hurling insults, and before long both sides have shouted each other into pigeon holes that neither fit. I want to do something different, own the blame myself, but challenge both parties to work to bring change. I don’t think I’ve arrived there yet, but this is wisdom to build on.
If you like the music and want to explore some more (it’s worth it!), you can buy it and find out more here – he’s definitely an artist worth supporting! 🙂
*I imagine I may come to regret this: On the whole, though I love their music as much as anything else Jon has done, due to their different approach to lyrics, more often telling stories than soul-baring, there are many fewer Fiction Family songs that have a real, strong resonance for me personally, so I don’t, yet, see myself writing them a similar article, hence sneaking this song in here. That said… there are still a lot of important songs, and I certainly wouldn’t put it past them to make more! 🙂