I know every word to Taylor Swift’s album 1989. It’s sad, but true. My one-year-old daughter hates being in her car seat (a veritable prison for an adept crawler), but for some reason unbeknownst and begrudged by everyone else in our family, 1989 soothes her. Needless to say: we’ve heard a lot of Taylor Swift’s chipper music.
That’s why when I first saw that Ryan Adams had covered 1989, I laughed at the clear irony. Anyone who has heard Adams can understand that his melancholic music hardly shares anything in common with Swift’s upbeat tunes. But when I listened, I realized that underneath her cheery veneer is buried a deeply hurt girl whose life is replete with longing and broken relationships. Adams’ take on 1989 revealed Swift’s music for what it is.
As (bad) luck would have it, when I was writing this, I stumbled across Jamie Smith’s interpretation of this reality here. I will leave the liturgical reflections to him, but my experience with Adams and Swift left me realizing that while I was listening to her, I hadn’t really heard her.
Even though Taylor Swift has been pumping through my car’s speakers for the last 7 months, and while I could sing along with every song, I got lost in the major keys and general feel of her music. So I missed her. I missed the sadness, the heartbreak, the loneliness.
There’s something about hearing Ryan Adams sing “Shake It Off” that makes it finally appear in all its lyrical potency. As he sings, “I’m dancing on my own, I’ll make the moves up as I go, and that’s what they don’t know...that’s what they don’t know…” one can finally see that Swift’s resolve to shake off the haters is more of a pep talk than an embodied reality.
Surely we all know how it is to work up the courage to bounce back after disgrace. It takes lots of self-talk, lots of vulnerability in the face of others who are waiting for another failure. This led me to wonder: if I were Taylor Swift’s friend, would I have caught on to the truth stirring in her heart, striving to rise again? Or would I have bought the lie that she already believed that “it’s gonna be alright?”
Indeed, this causes me to wonder how often my own friends use smiles to stifle the screams welling up inside. While I may hear them saying that everything is okay, am I really listening to hear the deeper truth of their hearts? Perhaps I want their responses to be more in line with Taylor’s 1989 than Adams’.
In the Church, perhaps we run into the same problem. Perhaps we actually even prefer the Taylor Swift version of people’s lives. And perhaps we like this version because it doesn’t demand all that much from us. Listening to Swift, we might think that her pain is a cleaned up product that we can dance to, but Adams demands that we sink into the pit, that we hear the sorrow for what it is. Perhaps we don’t actually want to hear people share the Adams version of their lives.
What would it be like if the people in our communities felt that they could tell the truth of their lives? What would our parishes be like if we actually all heard each other? What if the Church was more like a community of people who could open the sadness? The hurt? The longing?
If we truly believe in a God who draws near to us in the Cross, then we need not be afraid of the darkness that bites at the heels of us all. We can, instead, enter it fearlessly, knowing that it is through the Cross that joy enters the world, bringing Resurrection to all.
So the next time we are tempted to overlook someone's pain by taking "I'm fine" at face value, let’s lower the volume on the Taylor Swift we hear, and try to tune into their inner Ryan Adams. We may be delightfully surprised to find that as we share in one another's loneliness, we suddenly have company inside the pit. As darkness flees from the light, so, too, does loneliness flee from connection with others.
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
Sad Girl: Depositphotos
Sad Guy: Depositphotos
Check out Ryan Adams' cover of T-Swfit's "Blank Space":
Check out Ryan Adams' cover of T-Swizzle's "Shake It Off":