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phil collins and the psalms

August 12, 2011

A few years ago on This American Life, writer Starlee Kine did a piece on break-up songs after experiencing her own relational heartache. The story is funny and thoughtful. She and her boyfriend created what resembled a nice, healthy junior high-like romance full of “passing entire evenings just complimenting each other” and taking hand holding to “new heights.” But after a New Year’s Eve break up she was heartbroken. Her boyfriend broke up with her. On New Year’s Eve. Ouch. Her unlikely source of comfort was Phil Collins.

If thought I was in a Phil Collins phase before, it was nothing compared to what came next. I was no longer listening to his songs for pleasure but for pain. They were break-up songs and hearing them was the only thing that made me feel better. And by better, I mean worse. There’s something so satisfying about listening to sad songs. They’re like how you’d actually be spending your day if you were allowed to break down and sob and grab hold of everyone you met. They make you feel less alone with your crazy thoughts. They don’t judge you; in fact, they understand you. A break-up song will never suggest you start online dating or that you’re better off without him. They tell you that you’re worse without him, which is exactly what you want to hear because it’s how you feel. I didn’t want to be cheered up. I didn’t want to bounce back. I didn’t want to meet someone new. I wanted to wallow. Big-time, deeply and with the least amount of perspective possible. And the only way to do that was by turning off my phone and turning up the sad music.

My initial thought after hearing Starlee Kine’s talk about the role of break-up songs was that it was one of the better explanations of the Psalms. Especially lament Psalms. Like break-up songs, lament Psalms don’t give trite advice or encourage wishful thinking. They simply, with raw and expressive language, articulate the difficulty, joy and confusion of living in our world. Reading the Psalms can help us feel better by making us feel worse as they help us admit how vulnerable and weak and exposed we truly are. The Psalms don’t ask you to cheer up but actually give words to your cries and encourage you to long, even to the point of pain. And, like a Phil Collins song, the Psalms sometimes only connect in that deep, profound way if we to are find ourselves in place similar to the author.

I wish I could just make you turn around,

 turn around and see me cry

There’s so much I need to say to you,

so many reasons why

You’re the only one who really knew me at all

(Against All Odds, Phil Collins)

There is, however, one major difference between the Psalms and break-up songs. The Psalms, as a whole, give you a map to hope. Sure, some Psalms don’t, but again as a whole, they will take you to the depths and then like a hand from a good friend, guide you to God. That is a good thing, especially in the midst of difficulty.

To listen to the Starlee Kine’s whole piece, go to

3 Comments leave one →
  1. eileen permalink
    August 12, 2011 11:51 am

    This reminds me of a post I just read on how Facebook — and church — can make you sad. No wrestling with pain. Normalizing up and downs. Helping face those things and seeing we are all doing that at various times. Nice post!

    • August 12, 2011 12:46 pm

      Thanks Eileen for the comment and the link. Very interesting study regarding Facebook. I agree that social media allows us to present whatever version of ourselves we want and that can be funny, hurtful, maddening, or good to others’ sense of worth and belonging. But isn’t that the point? Proves why real relationship is necessary for flourishing because in face to face relationship we can’t be anyone other than who we are (assuming we authentic) and that, in my mind, if very refreshing.

  2. Chad permalink
    August 12, 2011 7:53 pm

    I don’t know if you saw this article recently

    but when I read it I thought two things. 1)Success can be totally meaningless and putting your faith in how people react to you is a recipe for disaster and 2) Phil Collins is weird and seems truly miserable.

    ‘Against All Odds’ was one of the first songs I sat by the radio for hours waiting to recorded when I was a little kid.

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