On Sia’s “Chandelier” with the Rest of the World

6585460jpgIf it’s possible for our culture to sift through the bin of radio flash hits and other current pop-pourri to find the glorious anthem for the millennial generation, we should not be surprised to find Sia’s “Chandelier” in everyone’s hands. With its club-appropriate rhythm and soaring melody line, the song seals itself into the current trend like a wax impress. Yet, it is not for its depiction of the carefree, YOLO-drunk culture that endures the via dolorosa of the work week for the olympic burn of the weekend that makes “Chandelier” such a manifesto. I contend that it is Sia’s painfully bleak and somber delivery of the song’s keynote theme – that, to quote Millay, when the candle burns at both ends, it tends not to last the night – which makes the song such a puncturing truth in the already scabbing wounds of a fallen world.

Sia begins her lyric with a declaration of attempted anhedonia (“Party girls don’t get hurt / Can’t feel anything”), a brandishing of makeshift shields to combat the fierce intensity of loneliness, vulnerability, and pain that tend to accompany the frenetic worldly life. No, Sia says, party girls don’t get hurt; they are too tough for that. Yet, the underlying caution that sits beneath the “tough-girl” image is the temptation to become so tough you become scaly. Like the boy Eustace who has been dragoned in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a toughness that is fearfully impenetrable; the bars of a prison door are tough and the bricks of Helm’s Deep are tough, but they are tough in such a way as to cage and to enclose. The human frame was not built for such safeguarding. Sia’s party girl tries to claim a toughness that is unfit for human living. Typically, when nothing can get in, nothing can get out. When a party girl “can’t feel anything,” she may be saving herself from false hope, rejection, or emotional distress, but the odds are that she is equally hiding herself from the sacrificial nature of true love, trust, joy, and other pleasures that require a deal of risk. As C.S. Lewis remarked concerning the nature of love:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

And yet, when faced with trial, fear, rejection, abuse, we “push it down.”

This tale of the “good time” girl is further poured over in irony as Sia claims to “feel the love” of all those committed Christian knights of chivalry who noticed her cries of need and distress inked on the tile of a restroom wall. What a sadness when the damsel appropriately located at a great height (a dual image meant to highlight the lady’s dignity, worthiness, and elevated status of respect and courtship on the one hand along with the gentleman’s need to prove his worth in bridging the distance through strength, perseverance, and courage) has taken the elevator to the basement to scrape out any breathing male with the right jeans and beard to go home with.

The countdown (“1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink”) intensifies the frantic blur of our culture’s worldview, namely that our lives are ceaseless shot clocks, and the only way to beat the buzzer is to get buzzed. We all drink, on three. Then, press repeat. Drink, sleep, repeat. I am reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s warning: “First, you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

As a lead into the chorus, we are collectively baptized into the river of wine, begging for it to be changed into Lethean waters (“Throw ’em back ’til I lose count”). Perhaps forgetfulness and oblivion are the answers to our struggles, we believe. It would seem our culture wishes to counteract the crystal clear Word of the Lord with an indiscriminate blare of a trumpet in which no one is called to arms (I Cor. 14:8). Be gone with the precision of orbiting planets, the order of the stars, we raise high the banner of Haze and Ambiguity (kind of…I think…I don’t really remember, you know?)!

In the crescendo, we are called to swing on the chandeliers, to adventure ourselves to death. While there is certainly an allure to wildness and celebrations of life (carpe diem), this Gatsby-ing is halted by the second line: “I want to live like tomorrow doesn’t exist.” While the sentiment of living-this-day-like-it’s-your-last is not new by any means, this statement hearkens back to the drink-til-I-fade-out of the pre-chorus. If tomorrow doesn’t exist, neither will I. Yet, such a reality does not lend a heavy emphasis to making today count (without a tomorrow, whatever is done today doesn’t really count. I’ve seen Groundhog Day, too.). If tomorrow doesn’t exist, we cease to exist, which may be the point. If this is life – the numb, lonely party girl – maybe cessation is a blessing…

However, Sia clings to the promise of glory and hope, picturing the inebriated chandelier-swinger releasing her grip and becoming a bird in flight (“I’m gonna fly like a bird in the night, feel my tears as they dry”). Here we have the mythic phoenix, rising from ashes. Perhaps if I burn out, I can be reborn. Yet, the chorus concludes with our bird-in-flight re-caged and re-perched on her glowing pendulum, clipped wings and all. “Here comes the shame, here comes the shame…”

The mantra of the song is Sia’s devastatingly desperate “holding on for dear life,” a powerful phrase to describe the plight of our current generation. We are not living for dear life; we are just trying to hold on as it soars along.

Holding on to a glass of vodka like your frail fingers are pinched around the rubber grip of a handlebar as the motorcycle of your weekends rockets at a hundred down the freeway.

Holding on to your high school years like sleeping in pajamas and a letter jacket.

Holding on to an unrequited love like a businessman jabbering away on a call that was dropped three tunnels ago.

This is the sad reality and potency of “Chandelier.” Our culture is longing for meaning, purpose, wild beauty, and eternally-secure and satisfying truth, only to howl in one accord of dismay when the places they look seem only to offer cigarette butts, drops of gin, and phone numbers in Sharpie.

Making the Bed

I wrote this poem after a futile attempt I made to try to change the sheets on our bed while my wife was out of town. I worked diligently to fit the elastic sheet on our queen-size mattress for quite some time only to realize I was holding a twin-size sheet. I began to wonder how widowers make their beds without wives to guide them…

Our fingertips danced once

As we walked them along the edges of our mattress,

Calling out to each other with the strength

Of smiling eyes, crossing

The queen-sized canyon to hold each other’s glances.

You carefully studied the measured lines

(and I carefully studied yours) as

We fitted the sheets to our new bed,

Working to weave our souls into the cool linen.

Our laughs soared as we

Ballooned the top sheet into space

And hushed to join the quiet whisper as it

Exhaled into bed like a cloud drifting in the water.


We collapsed in symmetry

Like stars,

Gliding into a forever of sleep and wakefulness,

Circling the clock.

And, next to you, I prayed, only

For more clocks.

For now I can taste the stale grime of

Central heat

Breathing through the ribcage of rusted vents

And stretch my cracked knuckles across the

Bare-boned cold of our bed,

Pulling a twin sheet with all my heart

You would know why it doesn’t fit

And how I am afraid

To join the quiet whisper as I

Exhale into bed,

A cloud without its water.

Longing for Eden. Living in Babel.

So, here we go.

As Eden.Babel has been revamped and reorganized from its previous blog-manifestation, I’d like the inaugural post to throw back to an article I wrote over a year ago in which I first discuss our cultural and corporate depravity as a new Babel, institutionalized and broadly congratulated by its citizens. For Christians living in this age, however, we must have our eyes fixed on the glimpses and shadows of a new-and-greater Eden, the promised land where the lion will lie with the lamb and the Lord will rule the nations. We must remember that every knee will bow. As Mark Lowry once quipped, “The question is not whether or not you will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but when will you.”

We must engage wholeheartedly with this world; we must read its literature, hear its songs, observe its trends. We must be cultural reformers. We must live in Babel, but long for Eden…

God gave us Eden; we built Babel.

So begins the story of human history. In Genesis 2 and 3 we read of God’s creation of Eden, and our hearts weep for the loss. Though many of us rarely (I would imagine) consciously mourn our lost home, nothing informs our existences more. Our daily struggles, our joys, our griefs, our pains, our pleasures are all viewed through the cracked lenses of our exiled state.

In Genesis 2 God created man, and man needed a place to call home:

“Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

Notice that God breathed through dust to make man and, upon breath one, went to work to build a home for us. God designed Eden for man. We must not miss the intentionality and the purpose of this grand garden. All good art (and yes, there is “good” art and “bad” art) reveals a deliberateness, an intentionality. God so loved man, on purpose, as to create an ideal, beautiful paradise for him, and therein “to put the man whom he had formed.” No ruse, no gimmick, no tricks. God laid Adam in the center of Eden as if to say, “I love you and want you to have all of this.” Eden was God’s first surprise gift for mankind. God crafted a masterpiece for undeserving, unlearned man seconds after his making and gave it over unreservedly. Our debt of gratitude to a loving God has gone strong ever since.

God lavished Eden upon man:

And out of the ground, the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”

Eden was a brilliant display, an art form itself, the epicenter of loveliness and virtue. In Eden God surrounded Adam with an abundance of both aesthetic value (“pleasant to the sight”) and practical value (“good for food”). And, if that were not enough, God caused all this value, all this beauty, to spring up from the ground, a geyser of brilliant trees and fruits in a dazzling, miraculous kaleidoscope of creation. Wherever Adam looked, he saw God’s grandeur shooting up from the same dirt which formed his own bones and skin, blood and lungs.

At the heart of this wonder stands God’s first words to Adam:

“You may surely eat […]”

Adam, showered in God’s unbelievable abundance and joining God in unbroken companionship for all eternity, knew the intention of Eden. But God wasn’t through. Atop all of God’s unknowable love in Eden, God fashioned Eve, the “helper suitable for man,” and Adam was finally home. The beauty of Eden’s acreage, the love of a kind woman, all needs afforded, all hungers satisfied, all desires met in full, and all of God all the time. All of life was meant to be all-lived in all of Eden.

But man was a prideful beast, longing for the minds of gods, and he fell. Selling Eden for pretty words from a silver tongue, man traded God’s gift for the stuff of earth. From dust to Eden, Eden back to dust.

Generations pass, and man is steeped in sin. Evil is the order of the day. In Genesis 11 the full gulf between God and man is imaged in the colossus of Babel:

And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves […]”
Notice the Creation language borrowed from Gen. 1:26 “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” The parallel is distressing; as God’s display of His own image is man, man’s display of his own image is a tower of brick and tar. God builds a tower of dirt and calls it man; man builds a tower of dirt and calls himself god.

Nowhere in Genesis 11 does the Bible mention any attempt of man’s to “reach God” through the building of Babel. They simply built for themselves a great city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” Their intention is unmistakable: “let us make a name for ourselves.” Let us build our own Eden, exchanging the breath of God for the smell of tar, the coolness of the day for the hot clay of a thousand bricks. Let us exist not in humility to God but in the pride of our own hands.

If I could summarize all of human history in one statement, I would say, “God gave us Eden; we built Babel.” God gave us all things richly to enjoy, and we threw (and continue to throw) everything away. With one hand we stack our pile of bricks to the sky, with the other we shake a fist at the sky. We sell God and Eden for the trifles of Earth and are angry at God for the suffering in the world?

Every corner of this world echoes the hallowed ground of Eden. All of this world, whether it knows or not, is a reaching back. All of this world is a longing for homecoming. All of this world, though feeding at the prodigal trough, yearns to come home to Eden and the Father. Any height of pleasure, any happiness, any beauty the world hands us is a warped, corrupted photograph of Eden. The world knows the language of Eden but only the words and no meanings. When Hollywood undresses and beckons us to the bedroom, it speaks the words but with no substance. One may know every word in English, but without meaning, he knows nothing; it is merely gibberish. When we gaze at stars, rock peacefully in oceans, stare into the greatness of Grand Canyons, we hear the language of God, but the meaning is lost. It is no wonder Babel became the confusion of languages; when we exchanged God’s garden for our own towers, we gave back the definitions but kept the words.