Most of the little I know about contemporary music I have learned from my teenage children. Recently, when I was driving my daughter, then aged 15, to a friend’s house (if I had $1 for every time, I had done that, I could send her in a taxi…or in chauffeur-driven limo), we were listening to an Ottawa radio station called The Bear rather than CBC stereo, my normal station of choice, and I caught the words of a song that grabbed my attention because it was so powerful, direct and poignant.
The album was one of most popular of recent albums: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins. And the song? Bullet with Butterfly Wings.
Here is a sample of what I heard:
The world is a vampire, sent to drain
secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames.
And what do I get for my pain?
Betrayed desires an a piece of the game.
Even though I know, I suppose I’ll show
All my cool and cold-like old job:
Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage.
Then someone will say, what is lost can never be saved.
Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage.
“Infinite sadness” seems like a good title. But as I listened, I was also dissatisfied. Is there no more to be said? nothing to be done? no response to be made to such depth of despair? As I thought about that powerful image of the rat in the cage, my mind flipped to a story about Jesus, a story of a man who could truly be said to be a rat in a cage. Here’s the story:
Jesus and his followers sailed on over to the territory of Gerasa, which is across the lake from Galilee. As Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a man from the town who had demons in him. For a long time this man had gone without clothes and would not stay at home, but spent his time in the burial caves.
When he saw Jesus he gave a loud cry, threw himself down at his feet, and shouted, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God! What do you want with me? I beg you, don’t punish me!” He said this because Jesus had ordered the evil spirit to go out of him. (Many times it had seized him, and even though he was kept a prisoner, his hands and feet tied with chains, he would break the chains and be driven by the demon out into the desert.)
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Mob,” he answered, because many demons had gone into him. The demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss. There was a large herd of pigs nearby, feeding on a hillside. So the demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he let them go. They went out of the man and into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the side of the cliff into the lake and was drowned. The men who had been taking care of the pigs saw what had happened, so they ran off and spread the news in the town and among the farms.
People went out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were all afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the man had been cured. Then all the people from that territory asked Jesus to go away, because they were terribly afraid. So Jesus got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged Jesus, “Let me go with you.” But Jesus sent him away, saying, “Go back home and tell what God has done for you.” The man went through the town, telling what Jesus had done for him.
In one sense this man is free. No one could restrain him. He broke and chains they put on him. Yet clearly on a deeper level he is a prisoner of forces beyond his control. For him, the real bars of his cage were his demons. And this demonic cage dehumanised him: his cage forced him to live among the dead, with no home and no clothes. His cage alienated him from every other human being. When they put the chains on him it must have intensified the sense of being trapped and desperately alone which he already knew on the inside. Inside there was a man trying to get out: longing for home, community, normality, dying to be in charge of his own life. He longed to break the cage, but he was powerless to do it.
I do not know what the cage is for Smashing Pumpkins. People in our society identify with that image of the cage in many ways. For instance, Smashing Pumpkins sing:
I’m naked, nothing but an animal but
Can you fake it for just one more show?
Many find themselves in cages created by the expectations of other people. Many feel they can’t really be themselves because of pressures from society and family, of university and friends. That is a very real and very common cage.
The song also says:
The world is a vampire.
Vampires suck blood. What is it that the world sucks out? It may be time or creativity, individuality or money. This generation is the first for over a century not to have a higher standard of living than their parents. If you are an X-er, you have prospect the of supporting aging baby boomers with a smaller population base and less money. If you are an X-er, you know you have great creativity and energy ó but few places to go with it. That’s a cage. The world has many ways to suck your blood.
Many people feel let down by other people, by a society that promised so much and has not been able to come through on its promises. Smashing Pumpkins asks:
What do I get for my pain? Betrayed desires.
For some it is the pain of wanting sexual intimacy but being afraid of AIDS; or the pain of unwanted sexual attention; or the pain of wanting commitment but fearing commitment. Betrayed desires.
The list goes on. Some experience a cage of guilt, or the pain of the past, or drugs or alcohol, of compulsive sex or consuming hatred. All these can make you feel caged, trapped, helpless. Some experience real demons like the man in the Jesus story, through getting involvement with the occult, or Satanism, or something as seemingly innocent as ouija boards.
I suspect this song resonates simply because there are so many cages in our world. But the man in the story finds:
A Liberator He meets someone who is more powerful than the demons who hold him. Jesus asks his name, and the man tells him. The man wants help, and he makes himself vulnerable to Jesus by telling his name. As in many cultures, to tell someone your name gives the power over you. Once Mob gives his name ó his power ó to Jesus, the demons no longer have power over him. The ownership of his life has been transferred to a new owner. And Jesus breaks open the cage, drives out the forces that have held the man bound all these years.
Smashing Pumpkins sing:
Someone will say what is lost cannot be saved.
It is true that we often cannot save ourselves, cannot break our own cages. Many times we cannot even save one another. Yet Smashing Pumpkins is wrong: even this man in the story, so desperately caged, was “saved”… by the only one who has that kind of supreme power over all other powers: the Jesus who is also the Creator.
Outside the cage Once Mob is released, what does he do? He is found sitting at the feet of Jesus, in the traditional posture of the disciple, listening and learning. It is a simple but telling picture: Mob is dressed and in his right mind: wearing decent clothes and making sense. What does he turn into now jesus has touched his life? A religious weirdo? A Jesus freak? No: he becomes normal ó a human being no longer tortured, no longer at the mercy of outside forces, free to know his Creator, free to learn God’s way for his life. It is an awesome picture.
Then, when he asks to stay with Jesus, a strange thing happens. Jesus says, No, you have to go home. Home! Mob hasn’t had anywhere to call home for years ó except the graveyard. Jesus is asking a very difficult thing, and yet he knows that Mob he can be a powerful influence for Jesus and for good in his hometown like no-one else on earth.
In any case, you can be sure that if Jesus commands anything, it is for our good. For Mob, the world will be different now he is a disciple of Jesus. In fact, the whole world is different once you are in touch with the One who made it. And so Mob goes, and he does it.
A Choice Let me be practical. If you feel like Smashing Pumpkins–that:
Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage
I want to tell you what you can do to get in touch with Jesus the Liberator.
Things can change. Frankly, the last line of the song, “I still believe that I cannot be saved” is wrong. Mind you, I understand why people say that. Many people seem to think that faith ó trusting Jesus to break the cage ó is something mystical and uncontrollable. You have to be the religious type, or you have to have the ability to believe in your genes. But in Christian tradition, faith is not like that: it is a choice ó not an arbitrary, mindless choice, but rather, a choice based on good evidence ó but still a choice.
This choice comprises three steps:
1. Submit yourself to the one who can break the cage. Tell Jesus your name! Remember: the name describes the reality: Mob. To tell Jesus your name means to tell Jesus your reality, to make yourself vulnerable to him. What is the reality of your life, your cage? Name it: give Jesus access to it. Be willing for Jesus to break it: sometimes that can be hard because the cage has become familiar even though it is awful. Try saying something like, “Lord Jesus, the name of my cage is…and I want to be free.”
2. Like Mob, commit yourself to being a learner from Jesus. You cannot let Jesus break the cage then just go your own way… otherwise you are simply vulnerable to another cage. No, once your cage is broken, you need to become his follower, his student.
What does it mean to be a student of Jesus? At the very simplest level, it means read from the teaching of Jesus every day, do everything it says, and leave the consequences to him. Is that a cage? It may look that way from outside, but in fact it is the way to freedom, because in following the teaching of Jesus you are following your Maker’s instructions. For Mob, it was expressed in being clothed and in his right mind: as a follower of Jesus, you too will come to feel more whole, more healthy, more together, more free. For some the change happens suddenly and dramatically, for others (and for me it was more like this) it comes about gradually, over a period of time.
Then 3. Go home and tell others. There is a cost to following Jesus. Mob really didn’t want to do this! I don’t know what the cost will be for you. It may mean a change of career plans, or of lifestyle patterns, of relationships or habits. You never know. But you need to be prepared. Keep your life on open palm before God, not grasping it to yourself. For many of us (as here in this story) the hardest thing is to go back where we came from and to live differently. It is tough but not impossible: Jesus in fact gives us unlimited resources: his Spirit and (in most circumstances) a community of God’s people to become our family, our support group.
What is Jesus saying? On the basis of this story, he seems to say:
I understand your feeling of being a rat in a cage. But (and he says this tenderly) you are wrong when you say you cannot be saved. You can be saved…if you will let me.
I can replace infinite sadness with infinite (not happiness, which depends on what happens…but) joy ó oy which depends on knowing your Creator and being loved by your Creator.
How do you express that choice? By talking to Jesus, telling him what you feel and think, what you need; by saying something like this:
I do feel trapped in a cage. I believe that you can set me free, and that you want to do it.
I open myself to you. I invite you to enter my experience, and to begin to break my cage.
Give me strength to be your follower from this day on–to learn from you and to obey you in all things.
Thank you for your love. Amen
If you said something of that kind to Jesus, you may feel different immediately or you may not. The important thing is to know that change will begin, that nobody calls out to Jesus without him hearing and taking action.
Three things to help Three things will help you as you begin this new life:
Find other people who are learning to follow Jesus’ way, in a church or a Christian fellowship group. Tell them how you have opened your life to Jesus. Let them welcome you, love you and help you with the next steps in your new life.
Begin to pray, to talk to God as your closest friend. Share everything: your joys, your worries, your thoughts, your feelings. At first it may seem strange, as if you are just talking to the walls. But gradually it will become more natural and you will enjoy it and grow stronger because of it.
Begin to read the Bible, specially the stories of Jesus, like the one above. Think how they might apply to your situation. Take Jesus’ promises as if they were made personally to you. Take his commands seriously, and think how you might obey them in your life.
If you need help, you can send us an email. We would be delighted to help you.