If your life were a movie, and you had to choose the soundtrack, what songs would you play?
Every meaningful movie has conflict, some beauty, some struggle, and, if you’ve persevered long enough, some climax. Here’s 20 that hit each of those, shaping my 20s with inspiration, motivation, encouragement, and peace.
What are your songs? What have they brought you through? What memories come to mind when you hear them play?
20. Chasing the Light -Mat Kearney
I remember playing this song right as I would leave work during the summer of 2011, ready to begin my bike ride home. Home at the time was a capricious neighborhood in inner city Baltimore that felt like anything but home at the time. I was in a season of feeling utterly confused about where I was going in life. I thought I moved there to be a part of community development… but was miserable. I wasn’t finding contentment in my career. I just felt lost but knew that there were still passions alive with in me, somewhere, waiting to come alive, if only I would give them permisson. This song helped me to take comfort in knowing that if I just kept trying to “chase the light,” I was bound to find my way, somehow.
“Every bridge that keep on burning
Every leaf that you keep on turning
Every road that you find uncertain
Pray for you now
Baby that you’ll figure it out
As you keep chasing the light…”
19. I and Love and You -The Avett Brothers
I came across this song after entering my first real world job and beginning my first serious relationship. This song reminds me of the process of growing up and maturing, with all of its vulnerability and beauty. I spent many a night driving home to this song, not minding if the light turned red, as to have one more moment to simmer in the beauty of life with the aid of such an alluring song.
18. Beautiful Things -Gungor
I first came across this song on Jennie Allen’s blog in which she posted about her family’s experience of adoption. The video deeply moved me, as international adoption has been on my heart ever since I was in high school. This video got me thinking about the beautiful things in this world, like family, and how within my own family, more and more beauty was arising out of brokenness. I played this song night after night finding renewed hope in that no matter how circuitous or confusing this life stage seems, God makes beautiful things out of chaos. I got teary-eyed the first time I sang it at the new church I attend, which makes an intentional effort to create a safe place for the LGBT community. I thought about all the Christian circles in which I didn’t feel this kind of openness and bridge-building and felt oh so thankful knowing that these places truly do exist, showing that God does redeem and create beauty in the midst of hurt and pain.
17. Can’t Let it Go -Goo Goo Dolls
“Some days I can’t believe
others I’m on my knees
Trying to be heard…”
I first heard this song on my iPod while on a run down a dirt road in Africa. I was trying to stay in shape for sophomore year of my collegiate swim season. All of a sudden, a young boy, maybe 10 years old, came up and ran along side me. I turned around and there were another 10 kids slowly running towards us with much curiosity. I stopped running, realizing the immediacy of this moment that I would perhaps never ever again have. We stopped on the side of the road and played “Duck Duck Goose” for an hour. It was one of the best hours of my life. I think about that memory often, especially alongside of my spiritual journey. Some days, if I’m honest, these lyrics are a better description of the precarious position I find myself in as a person of faith than many “worship” songs.
16. Every Tear Drop is a Waterfall -Coldplay
This was New Year’s Day 2012. It had been a difficult, challenging year living in inner city Baltimore, but when I looked up at the dawn of a new year and saw this, I think I knew what Chris Martin meant when he sings, “And Heaven Is in Sight.”
15. City of Blinding Lights -U2
Brain a bit fuzzy, I woke up on a window seat of a Boeing 747 to see the 6 AM July sunrise glistening off thousands of square homes in Dakar, Senegal in 2007. We had a brief layover, and right as we were about to take off, I hear Bono echo through my iPod, “And I’m getting ready to leave the ground…. (crash into feel-good choirs of “ooo-oooh–oooh–oooh—oooh–ooooh!”), whisking my heart into a sense of adventure and discovery about the world that I forever want to hold onto.
14. Study War No More -Moby
Sojourners created this video in September 2011 to call attention to the U.S.’ 10 year occupation in Afghanistan, at which point the U.S. spent $445 billion on the war. Conversely, this money could have been spent building 17,000 hospitals or 24,000 schools. Through advocacy and using your voice to contact congress to support the end of war, Sojourners has encouraged us to dream of a world in which “nation will no longer fight nation, neither will they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4). That’s been a big picture image of what I want my twenties to look like… actively taking steps to reflect Earth as it is in Heaven.
13. Cha Cha Slide -Mr. C The Slide Man
My 20s have been full of celebrating weddings. There’s something about this beat that will forever remind me of celebrating the joy of life with friends on the dance floor. I hope when I’m sixty I’ll remember my dear friend Katie Sutherland getting wild to “Apple Bottom Jeans” or how I knew the wedding would be ten times more fun if my friend Anastasia would be able to drive up from Virginia and catch a break from her grad program long enough to get funky on the dance floor to “O.M.G.”, showing me how to celebrate life and still have fun in the midst of overwhelming busyness. I’ll remember “Single ladies” playing at nearly every bouquet toss, and how, over the years, the friends I’d drag onto the dance floor with me for this song would slowly dwindle. But it didn’t matter. It was still fun every time. I’ll remember the time my friends and I drove nearly 6 hours to Virginia Beach for Lindsay’s wedding and piled into tiny stalls in a random Target bathroom to get into our dresses a half hour before the wedding ceremony began. I hope I’ll remember… and if I don’t, I’ll rely on some of these videos and pictures to help remind me… after all, we only capture the memories we love.
12. Oh my God– Jars of Clay
Do you remember May 2, 2011? I listened to this song non-stop on this day; the day Osama Bin Laden was killed. I was crushed by the juxtaposition of death and peace and felt a sickness in my heart as I watched images of Americans gathering in the streets of D.C. celebrating the death of another human being. My heart hurt for the world and to see love overcome evil- all evil— all killing– and grew ever longing for the God of Heaven.
When we wake we hate our brother, we still move to hurt each other,
Sometimes I can close my eyes and all the fear the keeps me silent,
Falls below my heavy breathing, what makes me so badly bent?
We all have a chance to murder; we all have the need for wonder.
We still want to be reminded that the pain is worth the plunder.
Sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven,
All the times I thought to reach up, all the times I had to give up.
Babies underneath their beds, in hospitals that cannot treat them.
All the wounds that money causes, all the comforts of cathedrals,
All the cries of thirsty children, this is our inheritance,
All the rage of watching mothers, this is our greatest offense.
11. Under African Skies -Paul Simon
My dad and I have long bonded to Paul Simon, from “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” where I enjoyed the song’s rhymes as a kid, to “Under African Skies.” Paul Simon will always remind me of my dad, forever. This song reminds me of the fabrics that weave us together as humans and the power of love.
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein…
For more on this song, check out Cathleen Falsani’s article: “Graceland, Apartheid, and the Truth That Artists Speak”
10. Poison and Wine -The Civil Wars
This song gave me a more beautiful and realistic understanding of love:
“Poison & Wine is a musical snapshot about the dichotomy of love – that while it can be the thing that destroys you, it can also be the very same thing that beckons and builds you. This song was our attempt at being as brutally honest about the dangerous and beautiful process of knowing and being known.” (-Joy Williams, The Civil Wars)
9. Maybe There’s a Loving God -Sara Groves
Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back in the middle of a field
Maybe that’s a selfish thought
Or maybe there’s a loving God
Maybe I was made this way
To think and to reason and to question and to pray
And I have never prayed a lot
But maybe there’s a loving God
This song helps me to rediscover the beauty and artistry of life and how God created us with an inquisition for wonder.
8. Hallowed -Jennifer Knapp
This song has helped me to wind down many a night to find inner peace.
7. Get on Your Boots -U2
For a couple months, until I broke my phone, this was my alarm ringtone. What would it look like if everyday we got on our boots ready to change the world?
6. Hush -Usher
Complains about the gas prices but still supports the war
He complains about his 6 figure salary tax to feed the poor
He doesn’t understand the homeless, doesn’t think its genocide
That millions die from three lethal letters
He does sh*t to make it better and I’m thinking
Everyone wants to touch the sky
Nobody wants to reach back
For the ones who are scared to fly
Everybody wants heaven
If you don’t want to sacrifice
Don’t say nothing
This song, released around the time of the 2008 election, encouraged young voters to get involved in social activism. According to Usher, “‘Hush’ is about my awakening over the past 10 years to the social issues in our country and realizing that I have a voice.” The striking lyrics got me thinking about the distribution of wealth in our country and wondering how we can make society more equitable and just.
5. What Matters More -Derek Webb
You say always treat people like you’d like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality
You love when people put words in your mouth
About what you believe
Make you sound like a freak
‘Cause if you really believed
What you say you believe
You wouldn’t be so damned reckless
With the words you speak
You wouldn’t silently consent
When the liars speak
Tell me, brother what matters more to you?
Tell me, sister what matters more to you?
I love Derek’s audacious courage specifically asking Christians, what matters more— laws, rules, doctrine, telling people what you’re against—- or loving people well and showing them the love of God?
4. Words I Never Said -Lupe Fiasco and Skylar Grey
I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence
Fear is such a weak emotion that’s why I despise it
We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth
So scared of what you think of me, I’m scared of even telling you
It’s so loud inside my head
With words that I should have said
Bound to offend someone, Lupe sings about his honest feelings about the world, politics, injustice, oppression and inspired me to be less afraid to speak up with the words I haven’t yet said.
To learn more about Lupe’s Islamic faith and his album LASERS (backronym for Love Always Shines Everytime, Remember 2 Smile), check out Relevant’s article “The Incisive Lupe Fiasco.”
3. Breathing Air Again -Robbie Seay Band
I discovered this song sometime around 20. I spent spring break that year with friends driving to New Orleans for Katrina relief. We took our time driving home, getting our car stuck in the sand of Pensacola, doing cartwheels in the parks of Savannah, GA and sleeping at a rest stop in NC before heading home. This trip reminded me that while there is much depravity, as witnessed in the abandoned homes in New Orleans, there is also so much beauty in the world if we stop to admire it long enough.
Take the time to be okay and laugh a bit along the way
You could take me for a ride; We could just drive all day…
And we could breathe again; Step outside our front door
And gaze upon the stars, And know we’re not alone
So run into the fields; Scream louder than you can
It’s good to be alive And breathing air again…
So if in the future I might need myself a savior
I’ll remember what was written on that wall
That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table
We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust
Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love
So if I were you, I’d have a little trust
This song fills me up with hope.
Every church on every street
Even when we disagree
Every part it’s all unique
God under you I pray we’ll be…
This song reminds me that at the end of the day, our diviciveness lies null, along with our arguing and disagreement, as we gather around the table as ONE.
All pictures copyright MO