Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Quit Jammin' Me!

You got me in a corner
You got me against a wall
I got nowhere to go
I got nowhere to fall
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Jammin' Me. Ahh, great song! (Co-written with Bob Dylan) (See video below). Brings me back to my late teenage years. :)

I've heard this song a couple of times on the radio in the past week and a half, after having not heard it for a long time. I love my local station that plays songs from the 70's and 80's!

Anyway, this song is kind of like an anti-'information overload' type of song. We're definitely in an age in which we're constantly bombarded with all kinds of information and happenings. From songfacts.com: "In the lyrics, Petty mentions various places and events that were in the news and getting constant media exposure." What I see as the original intent of the lyrics, is, in a nutshell, "Quit jamming me with all this stuff!" It's too much!

In one part Petty sings:
Take back Vanessa Redgrave
Take back Joe Piscopo
Take back Eddie Murphy
Give 'em all some place to go

I heard good ol' Casey Kasem talking about that verse last week. (Casey's Top 40 countdowns from the 70's and 80's are rebroadcast on the radio station I mentioned above). Casey said that it's not that Tom Petty has anything against those people. They simply are (were) a representation of what was big in the media. (By the way, we're talking 1987 here).

Well, the real reason I'm writing this post isn't so much about living in the information age, although it's certainly a legitimate concern. My reason has to do with how I see a parallel in this song to my previous experience in church.

Now, I've been in some pretty legalistic settings in my church life, in which law and rules are heavily mixed into the teachings. But I'm not necessarily talking about that. I'm talking about more of a subtle type of legalism that seems to get past the radar of a lot of my 'church peers.' What I'm talking about is the information overload of principles for Christian living.

I was under the spell for years! Every week I would go to church and put myself under what I thought was really good teaching about how to live the Christian life. I would listen to the pastor preach, and I would get all pumped up about how I was going to go out and begin putting all these wonderful principles to work in my life. Sunday afternoons were always an exciting time in my heart, as I couldn't wait till Monday, when I would be back in the real world applying all these principles.

But then Monday actually came.

Somehow I wasn't fired up anymore. Somehow all the wonderful things I'd heard on Sunday only seemed like pure fantasy now. And so I'd be so downhearted; I'd feel like such a failure.

But there was always NEXT Sunday! I couldn't wait! NEXT Sunday I knew I would hear some really powerful stuff and I knew I'd finally put it to good use!

And of course, the circle continued.

Well, finally I heard the good news of God's grace, and I got myself out of that performance treadmill that really was getting me nowhere. Or at least I thought I got out of it. What happened was I found out that it wasn't about what I could do, but what Christ could do through me. It wasn't about my performance, but what God performed in me.  But yet I found myself under a new kind of spell. New to me, anyway.

See, I became confident that indeed it wasn't about my works, but about God working in me. I was confident that without Christ I could do nothing, and I could do all things through Christ who gave me strength. Yeah! With God's grace I could overcome everything and finally have complete victory in all areas of life! But unfortunately all of this was being mixed together with a very fatal teaching. Oooh, is it a bad mixture! It was mixed together with the constant teaching of principles for Christian living.

Every week a new set of principles was taught. Yay, a new set of principles to apply to my grace life! Ok, not yay. One week it was 8 principles of giving. Then 5 principles for a godly marriage. Then 6 principles to use in the workplace. Then the 7 "R's" of Relationships. Then there were all the "how to's." "How to worship." "How to love your kids." "How to overcome anger." On and on it went. Every week, new Christian principles to live by.

And here's the thing. Just as Tom Petty had nothing against Joe Piscopo or Eddie Murphy - and probably even loved them! - it wasn't so much that all these "principles" were completely bad. It's not that some of these teachings of practical living weren't biblical. (Well, some of them I questioned). But the problem was that I was being JAMMED with principles! I sincerely wanted to be a good husband. I sincerely wanted to get my finances in order. I sincerely wanted to love God with all my being. It wouldn't be a bad thing if some of these "principles" were reflected in my daily living.

But man! Give me some room to breathe! Give me some time to grow! Quit Jammin' Me! Let's take one or two of these things, and let's sit down over coffee, and let's talk it out.  Let's take some time. What's the rush?

Am I the only one, or can anyone relate?


  1. I've gone through this stage too. Briefly. I quickly realized it wasn't working. It took me maybe a year to come to commit to the Grace of God. But there are some teachers and preachers who can really pump you up even under Grace and you gotta slow yourself down lol. Because by the time Monday hits, you go out all excited but then your energy quickly drains and you get fed up with people and eventually fall off the wagon. I never want to return to that stale existence of forcing up love for God and constant introspection to make sure I was saying all the right things, doing all the right things with the right motives and even feeling the right things. Oi...But it is necessary that we go through the Law before we come to Jesus or else we don't have that foundation of knowing the Law doesn't work.

  2. Matthew... what you've said reminds me that I had so much more in mind as I was thinking about writing this this but I left much of it out because I hadn't written it down!

    The whole introspective thing and so much more. I've analyzed my grace life to death and it's only led to feelings of guilt and despair. Wondering why I wasn't seeing all the fruit, etc.

    The guilt was only magnified through all the 'good' principles that I was constantly hearing taught, along with all the millions of points and sub-points in each sermon/radio program/teaching/etc. It really was jamming me and I just had to get out of that whole program in life!

    It's kind of like we were talking about in the comments elsewhere lately. There's a reason I'm cynical when it comes to what I hear on Christian radio. I think I've grown, but I still very much deal with it. It still jams me to an extent, so I have to be careful how much I listen to.

  3. Joel--

    I can relate to going from the 'performance treadmill' to the 'principles trap'. It sounds so good, learning these tips to 'help us live the Christian life'. But it's still grace + works = worthy.

    I think our problem lies in distorting what we're even here for. We know that we were created for God's glory, but that has somehow been defined as 'living to make God look good', which somehow works out practically to 'living to make ME look good'. So I need a bunch of priciples (rules) to help me keep my finances in order, have a perfect marriage, have perfect children, and have a valuable ministry in a local church, etc. Failure or weakness in any area means I look bad, which means God looks bad, which means I am not glorifying Him, which means I am not even fulfilling my purpose on earth. YIKES!! So I either better get these priciples down, or fake it as much as possible. The choice seems to be living in pride or shame. And if it's a whole church's job to make God look good by looking good as a chruch, there can't be room for weak, tired, failing people there.

    The 'dream' of being a 'good Christian' dies hard. In my own life, it's meant losing some things I really wanted. In the past year, we've lost our church, our home, my opportunities to teach Bible study, which I loved, relationships with people we trusted, the notion that we could control our childrens' spiritual, emotional, or even physical well-being, and even a temporary loss of contact with the 'outside world' via internet (so glad that's back!!). None of those losses makes me look good at all.
    But where did we get this idea that God only looks good in our successes? Why then does he call the weak and heavy burdened to Himself, or why does Paul proclaim that God's grace is made perfect in his weakness? Does He really need me to be His PR agent, or can I just be me, and let Him work in and through me, weaknesses and all?

    As hard as it is to let go of the 'good Chrsitian dream', I am excited at the new dream he is giving me: the dream of seeing Him, knowing Him, experiencing Him in all His glorious grace and love, and living in a dependence on Him that alllows him to shine out of my life. That can only happen as I get to know a Person, not a principle.

    Kathy J

  4. "But where did we get this idea that God only looks good in our successes? Why then does he call the weak and heavy burdened to Himself, or why does Paul proclaim that God's grace is made perfect in his weakness? Does He really need me to be His PR agent, or can I just be me, and let Him work in and through me, weaknesses and all?"

    Whoa! You said a mouthful, Kathryn! Thats that simple wisdom of God that makes my brain hurt! lol

  5. Kathy,

    Like Matthew said, there's a lot of wisdom in what you said!

    Somehow the church has turned the Bible, and the Christian life, into a matter of a bunch of rules and principles to live by, and the weekly meeting is the place to go hear about it.

    Even in small group settings (which I've been a part of in various ways), which are generally more relational in nature, it's almost always come down to talking about "how to do" the Christian life. I was in a Vineyard church for over 7 years, where one of the mottos is "Doin' the Stuff." It's all about finding out what to DO.

    I have no problem doing stuff. :) Well, ok, that all depends on many, many factors. But I mean, in my life in Christ, I surely don't want to just sit around and wait do die or for Jesus to come back. But somewhere along the line the church has made life in Christ all about doing, doing, doing, and I don't think most people even have a clue who they really are, never mind who God really is.

    Again, "doing" is a natural fruit of who we are in Christ. But just as sin takes opportunity through the Law, and produces all manner of evil desire (Romans 7), I think that all of this constant teaching of principles really has the opposite effect of what is intended.

    I'm going long here. I really should write another post. :)

  6. I personally think God gets a BIG kick out of all our "how to " principles. Like His kingdom can be reduced to such poverty! I believe we (the human race) are SO missin' it, any time we get into "principles for better living". It seems we always just use it as a very poor substitute for relationship.

  7. I might add, that the whole "christian principles" thing also keeps the focus almost entirely on us. Any time we do that, WE LOSE!!!

  8. Free Spirit,

    I like how you put it... and I've never thought of it this way: the "poverty" of Christian principles. We have such greater riches in our relationship with Jesus!

  9. Great post and comments!!

  10. I can definitely relate :). For years I tried putting certain things in practice but now I'll just take Jesus please.

  11. I love it, and I love that song. Great read! God bless!

  12. I was looking for information about Tom Petty's song and came across this post. Wow! What a great job you did connecting Christianity's most egregious error to this song! I've had a similar experience and can relate well to yours. Grace changes everything. Thank you for this!

    1. I'm glad you found this post, Patti, and I'm glad you relate to what I'm saying here. It's true what you say... grace changes everything!