Sunday, March 5, 2017

Twenty One Pilots, a Ministry?

When people hear the name Twenty One Pilots, they usually think of Tyler Joseph's unique lyrics and vocals, deeming their songs as either depressing or awesome. Many in the church don't understand TØP, therefore creating a stigma around their name. It's almost a taboo subject in my church, because no one will do the research necessary to understand what Tyler and Josh are all about. Their lyrics, songs, poetry, and their costumes on stage are very shocking to some because of the dark subjects they touch on. This is understandable, because most church-going Christians don't face what the outcasts in society live through everyday, such as depression, abuse, and suicidal thoughts. Or, maybe those church-going Christians just have a different way of dealing with it in their experiences--which is great, but just like Twenty One Pilot's lyrics, their coping mechanisms are not for everyone. 

Twenty One Pilots is not just a band--this is a whole ministry intended to reach the lost, depressed, fearful people of the world. The outcasts. All those who are shunned from the church because of their differences. They think differently, they feel differently, and therefore are misunderstood. Tyler and Josh take these people--their fans--under their wings and call them The Few, The Proud, The Emotional, or the Clique, and show them the hope that is found in life, guiding them to Christ. Tyler Joseph has written many a sad song, which confuses people when they hear that TØP is a ministry. Why would they be a ministry if they are not writing worship songs and loudly proclaiming the truth of the Gospel?

In Matthew 16:13-28, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” After they list several biblical figures such as John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah, Jesus asks his disciples who do they say He is. Peter speaks up and says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then tells Peter he is blessed for knowing this for himself, and states that He is going to build His church on this truth. Then, he charges His disciples to not tell anyone that He is the Christ. Not out of fear, but because He wants people to understand that He is the Christ for themselves. When people come to Jesus and accept salvation, knowing for themselves His truth, it is much more powerful to them than it would be if someone forced them to accept salvation.

The whole mission of Twenty One Pilots is based on this passage, and possibly others. But, specifically for this passage, Tyler is guiding the disciples he is making towards Christ. He wants them to see the hope that is still in life, fully acknowledging that life can be dark and depressing and it’s fully understandable that suicide seems like a option sometimes. But as their audience listens to their lyrics and follows their train of thought, Tyler makes it clear that we cannot live on our own without Christ. Although Twenty One Pilots does not directly mention Christ in any of their songs, they give their audience the chance to “fill in the blank” to the question: Where or in Whom are you going to find your hope?

Some may ask, “Well, why can’t Twenty One Pilots directly mention Christ and encourage these people to go to church?” It’s because their audience has done that already. They have heard the Gospel in some way, they have encountered Christians many times, and all they are faced with is disapproval. Disappointment. Misunderstanding. Judgement. Maybe this message was unintended by the Christians trying to help them, but it was nonetheless sent because they don't understand how to reach them for Christ or how to communicate to them. Most Christians don’t relate to the struggles the outcasts in society face. However, Twenty One Pilots understands what these people are going through. Their songs reach out to them, assuring them they are not alone facing these struggles in life, through their dark, depressing, yet hopeful songs. Through this, they guide them to the hope found only in Christ, the permanent Solution to our problems as mere, weak humans.

These are several of their songs that I want to write about, analyzing them and revealing their message that points to the Gospel. But, until then, here is a list of a few:

Holding Onto You

I have written an analysis of Car Radio that reveals how it guides people to Christ as the Solution to our stress in a previous blog post.

Monday, December 19, 2016

An Analysis of Car Radio by TOP

Tyler Joseph's lyrics are pure poetry put to music, often in rap.

In Car Radio, he thinks aloud in a monologue.

I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it's dire my time today
I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
'Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence

The first part of this stanza is ambiguous--it can be applied to different situations in meaning. From my perspective, the speaker longs to be completely and perfectly known and understood, but he knows he can't be. No one understands him, nor will they ever--and he feels the gravity of the despair from this realization. He longs for purpose and meaning, but feels hopeless. This is an allusion to the void in our souls that God has given to every person--only God truly knows and understands us. We innately desire communion with Him, and the speaker is describing his turmoil wrestling with these thoughts without God's help. He drags himself along, knowing his time is demanded of him. He must carry out his daily responsibilities. The problem he is facing is more than what we see on the surface--he didn't merely lose his car radio, he lost his distraction, symbolizing the very thing that gave him a break from the thoughts and questions he's afraid to answer. Now, he just sits in silence, afraid of what may come to mind next.

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It's on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I'm driving
There's no hiding for me
I'm forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel

The silence soon becomes almost deafening with his rapid-fire thoughts. He remembers his past, his dreams, his thoughts, and all the anxiety that comes along with it. He feels exposed, paranoid thinking everyone around him can see something is wrong with him. He just wants to get to his destination in his usual routine, but he can't. The pattern is broken--his car radio is stolen, and now he has to improvise, trying to suppress his anxiety. He finds it nearly impossible to quiet the chaos in his mind, so pulling the steering wheel (or committing suicide) is an appealing alternative.
To many new listeners, this line may be shocking; however, to many with anxiety and depression, it is very relatable. It’s comforting to know they aren’t the only ones fighting to find a solution to their anxiety and chaotic thoughts.

I ponder of something terrifying
'Cause this time there's no sound to hide behind
I find over the course of our human existence
One thing consists of consistence
And it's that we're all battling fear
Oh dear, I don't know if we know why we're here
Oh my, too deep, please stop thinking
I liked it better when my car had sound

The speaker can no longer suppress his thoughts--they are all out in the open. He realizes that throughout the history of mankind, the consistency is that we're all dealing with fear, and no one knows why we exist. Once that thought occurs, he soon tries to stop it, although it's in vain.

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win and fear will lose
It is faith and there's sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

Tyler Joseph nearly breaks character in this stanza--He is now giving advice to his audience. There are ways to cope with anxiety, and from what he's observed, only two methods work. From the two options that we choose to do, Tyler says peace wins and fear loses. One is faith, and the other is sleep--we must pick one or the other. Tyler implores his audience to pick faith because, to have faith, you are awake, and to be awake is to think. Thinking means that we are alive--we must stay alive and fight through our anxiety and depression. Throughout the song, the speaker is fighting his thoughts, but Tyler says to not be afraid of them. These thoughts are normal and must be answered--he encourages his listeners to think for themselves. In one line, Tyler says, "And I will try with every rhyme/To come across like I am dying/To let you know you need to try to think" meaning that he's trying to become like his mission field. Just as Jesus came as a man to save mankind from Hell, Tyler is becoming like the hopeless to spread the hope and light of Christ. Tyler is not shoving the gospel down anyone's throats, instead he is giving options to his audience, telling them to think and answer these questions for themselves.

The audience Twenty One Pilots acquired for themselves are those who are considered to be outsiders in society--the ones no one understands, the ones who suffer in silence, much like the speaker in this song. These people often don't go to church or associate with Christians because they're afraid they will get condemned again, and shunned. Tyler Joseph, a Christian himself, is applying Jesus' teachings and example in his music. He is gently leading the hopeless to the Hope he has found, and befriending them. It's true that Tyler hasn't mentioned Christ at all, but he is encouraging them to think for themselves. He can't force anyone to believe in Christ. Tyler knows that everyone has heard the gospel in some way, so with this knowledge, he is able to lead them along the right path--or, at least, hope they choose to follow along his train of thought towards Christ. 

And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit in silence
And now I just sit

Tyler Joseph screams out this last bit with pure emotion, alternating between screaming and melodically singing (or crying) out. The speaker is desperately crying out for a solution to his pain, he is searching for peace, which is only found in Christ. Twenty One Pilots is trying to get their nonChristian audience to search for an answer, relating to these lyrics of turmoil and anxiety. If the listeners follow along with their lyrics and message of each song, it will become clear that Christ is the answer. Jesus may or may not heal us of our depression, anxiety, or mental illnesses, but he will give us salvation and hope.

Hope is what helps us cope.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why Do You Like Twenty One Pilots?

Have you ever heard music that really spoke to you? Like, one time, you heard a particular band or artist for the first time, and you had to immediately research their every song and interview? Have you ever discovered songs of theirs that truly whispered comfort and understanding to your soul, letting you know that you are not alone? And in doing so, you discover a community of people, online or in person, who love the band as much as you do, and are perhaps there for you to comfort you during hard times?

I have. For me, the community I have found is called the Clique, the fanbase of Twenty One Pilots.

I have recently, like within the past year, discovered Twenty One Pilots. The first song I ever heard of theirs was Car Radio on a camping trip. I was in a bus with my team, and we were listening to someone’s playlist on their phone. The song played, and it sounded so absurd to me it was hilarious. Like, obviously you’re going to sit in silence if your car radio is stolen! The rap sounded very dramatic, and I was curious as to what this band was. I had never heard such a unique sound before. I turned to my friend and asked, “Who is this?” “Oh. It’s Twenty One Pilots…They’re too depressing to me, I don’t really like them.” She responded, which is totally fine—but this sparked my interest even more.

Once I got home, I looked them up, and never turned back. I fell in love with their mission, their purpose, their art, everything. I am now passionate about this band, even though not everyone understands why.

That is what this blog entry, and perhaps future ones in greater detail, is for.

Twenty One Pilots’s music is absolutely unique. Tyler Joseph knows how to convey emotion through his vocals, and he’s not afraid to dig deep into the depths of his soul for his lyrics. This is refreshing—not many artists these days are brave enough to be transparent and vulnerable with their fans. However, this is exactly what their fans are attracted to—deep, truthful authenticity. And hope.

Many are shocked when they find out that Twenty One Pilots are a Christian band, another reason why I love TP. Well, it is not technically. Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun are Christians, however, the band is not—or is it? It depends on what you consider to be a “Christian band”. If Tyler and Josh are both devoted, practicing Christians, then chances are that their faith will indeed influence their lyrics, resulting in their music reflecting their values. This is not a good or bad thing—it is just a thing that happens for all artists everywhere, not just Christians. 

—> Random tangent: Are Tyler and Josh using this for their religious advantage?
Wait—let me rephrase that. Maybe Tyler and Josh, as born again Christians, are trying to reach out to their audience and give them hope. Hope is good, right? Hope is what many artists try to give their audiences. They are not using this platform for their selfish gain. No, not at all. Their mission is to get their audience, Christian and nonChristian alike, to think for themselves. Think. Then fill in the blank themselves, finding in whom or what they will place their hope. TP assures us that we are not alone in the struggle of anxiety, depression, or the wars we wage in our minds. I love this.

Joseph and Dun have videos of themselves on YouTube and Vine, accessible to anyone, that reveals their silliness and personalities. They are regular people—they are talented, but they are just like their fans. Normal, average people. This is so beautiful to me—they are super famous, yet they’re not afraid to show their ridiculous sides. In doing this, their fans feel closer to them and feel like they know them as their friends. 

Tyler and Josh, if you guys are reading this, I just want to thank you. Thank you so much for your beautiful art, what you stand for, and for simply being wonderful guys. Keep doing what you are doing. You are a great inspiration to me and many others, and your music truly saves lives. Thank you so much.

In future blogs, I am hoping to delve deeper into their song lyrics, revealing the Biblical parallels and allusions, and meanings behind each symbol and metaphor.

This should be fun!

Do you want to join me? Stay tuned!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Identity Crisis

Lately, I have been going through a very difficult time in my life.

I don't mean to ask for pity--I'm just reaching out to see if anyone has ever felt like this too. Have you? This is something that needs to be talked about more often. The more this is discussed, the more comfort and healing we can bring to others.

I have never felt quite as depressed, confused, or anxious as I have been in the past two years. The anxiety I feel gives me anxiety about the anxiety itself—Why am I so scared? What am I upset about? Through some deep introspection, over time I discovered the root cause of my turmoil: I am missing the fundamental priority in my life. I have seriously been slipping and backsliding in my walk with Christ, both unknowingly and knowingly. I didn’t quite know I was backsliding until I knew it. And even when I knew it, I was too scared to do anything about it.

Cue the depression. Anxiety, stage right. Existential and Identity crises, take the center stage.

When I became aware of my spiritual condition, I still didn’t improve at all. Instead of taking care of my own walk with Christ, I would look to my bothers and sisters in Christ—not for help, but to try to be like them. I was jealous of their walk with Christ. I envied their artistic abilities, their talent, their style, their passion, and their ability to be so close to Christ. Hearing stories about certain people’s walks would discourage me because I may never be able to reach the standard they have set.

Time and time again I stumble into this trap of feeling inadequate. This time is not my first, nor will it probably be my last. Hopefully with God’s help and my own experience of trial and error, I may gain the wisdom necessary to navigate through the wilderness of this identity crisis. 

One thing I learned in my AP Psychology course last year is the eight psychosocial life stages theorized by Erik Erikson. In a nutshell, in every stage of life there is a crisis that one goes through, from birth to old age. In my current stage of life, I am going through what is called the Identity vs. Role Confusion, which sets in during the teenage years. Teens search for their purpose, who they are, what they believe in, and what they value and hope to achieve in life. I have personally felt this struggle my entire teenage life, though it fluctuated in severity. However, since I am about to graduate and enter the world of college and work, this crisis has truly hit me hard in the last two years.

So, how do we as teenagers and young adults cope? There are different ways of coping, both of the healthy and the unhealthy varieties. We must search and discover the best healthy ways we can cope through this time--we must take care of ourselves. I have found a few things that are quite helpful:
  1. Participate in a likeminded community of believers to glean from their wisdom and companionship. Those who are currently going through similar situations as you will be there to listen and empathize with you, while others who have already gone through it will give you wisdom and advice.
  2. Listen to music that speaks to your current situation and how you feel. There is no shame if you need to listen to deep, dark Twenty One Pilots songs. Believe me, I find it quite therapeutic—so it’s ok. Or, if that’s not your preference musically, that’s perfectly fine as well. Music therapy is real, so if you find songs that really help you express yourself, then continue listening to them. Don't let the opinions of others discourage you from liking what you like.
  3. Discover who God is, and He will let you know your identity. He has created you with a need for Him—He wouldn't put a need in you that He would not fulfill, especially if that need is Him Himself. Once you accept His offer of becoming your Teacher, He will lovingly reveal to you His mysteries, and His will for your life will become clear with time. Through getting to know Him, you will know yourself. In knowing yourself as a result, you will be able to glorify God through the gifts, talents, and tools He has provided for you during your study sessions with Him.
So, know this friends, if any of you can identify with what I'm going through: You do you, for God's glory. Don't let yourself envy other believers. You are not them. You can only be yourself, and that does not take away your value. You are just as valuable to God's kingdom as they are. Just because you are different, just because you like different things, just because you are an artist or mechanic or scientist or plumber, doesn't mean that you are of any less importance, value, or worth. The attention they get, the reputation they uphold, the style and talents they weave together, or the poetry they're able to write has nothing to do with your worth. The quality of their art does not diminish the quality of yours. Embrace the person God has created you to be, and focus on glorifying Him in all you do.

This is not a quick fix to depression/anxiety--trust me, if it was, I would say so. However, when we express ourselves for God's glory, we do eventually feel better because this is therapeutic. We must learn to lean on God when our mental illnesses or struggles wage war on us. You are not alone. I am here to listen if anyone needs a friend to talk to. =)

Kitchen Sink by Twenty One Pilots has become the anthem of this season of my life. One excerpt from the first stanza in particular truly conveys what I mean in this blog entry:

“Are you searching for purpose?
Then write something, yeah it might be worthless
Then paint something then, it might be wordless
Pointless curses, nonsense verses
You'll see purpose start to surface
No one else is dealing with your demons
Meaning maybe defeating them
Could be the beginning of your meaning, friend.”


Who Am I? Spoken Word piece by David Bowden, equally as echoing of this message:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Divide - A Soliloquy

What’s next? Is there life beyond high school?
Day by day, year by year, I get closer
To the deadlines, to the graduation.
Will I survive, or will I not; that is the question.
Those who have gone before us
Passed the divide between high school
And the school finale—graduation.
Pursuing their passions and living
Beyond the grades of high school life.
A cliff approaches me, or is it the converse?
The more deadlines I meet, the closer I get,
Unknowingly being pushed to the edge.
Is there a bridge between the divide?
To college, or not to college; that is the question
I must answer, wherefore I shall go,
When everything I know is gone anon.
Ne’er would I have thought I come this far!
The time is nigh, the time is now—
I must go forth and decide my route.
Like Gideon, I present my fleece, needing a sign.
O God, I prithee, lead me--I shall follow thee. 
To major, or not to major; that is the question.
Choosing a path--O how confusing!
How uncertain am I of my passions!
Careful thought and research must be done—
I must discover my calling. 
To the moans of melancholy maladies,
Methinks I am meant to listen and mend.
Counseling countless clients 
And considering their concerns,
I shall teach them to tell and talk
Relieving their terrible troubles,
Engaging them as they express their agonies.
The end is nigh, the end is now
I have finally discovered my route.
O future clients, I shall arrive anon!
I prithee, wait for me, I shall pass the divide
Between high school and the afterlife—
That is, the long awaited graduation.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Dust -- Part 2 of the Cathedral Story

-- Part 2 of the Cathedral Story --

The creak of the big, heavy doors echoes throughout the entire building, ringing in my ears, and thunders down below my feet. A big cloud of dust stirs around me with each step I take, in each wave of my hand. Dust. Occupying each crevice, each note, each line. Specks that represent every soul that once roamed the halls in years past.

Who are you? Each begins to seemingly inquire me, simultaneously unaware of their own existence. Are we aware of our own existence? Swarming around ceaselessly, lives are lived unconsciously. With each breath, in each step, we are too in tune to others rather than taking time to care for ourselves, unknowingly drinking a falsely advertised sedative.

Who are you?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Magnetic Pull

- A fictional short story type poem -

The thing about curiosity is that it can kill the cat and the mouse it ate too. A great risk of sacrifice is at hand when one notices something peculiar, debating investigation. Not everyone will yield to His magnetic pull.

We are born with a natural desire to know, to learn, to seek, to be. We all want to know and be known. To have our every sense captivated and enhanced by something bigger than ourselves. This requires the demolishing of our established reputations, the continuous uprooting of our false foundations in order to see the truth.

Will you find Him?

Your destined quest is at hand.

Is it worth it?