“Pretender” Mormons?

John DehlinMormon 27 Comments

(Hat tip to Antonio Parr at BCC)

To get this post, you’re either gonna have to spend 7 minutes listening to this song ..or be a Jackson Browne fan….but here’s my question:

How many of you out there have fallen prey…at one time or another….to being a “Pretender” Mormon?  And I don’t mean pretending to be Mormon.  I mean falling into the middle-class life of which Jackson Browne so eloquently (and slightly condescendingly) sings, after some youthful phase of idealism.  I know I have at times.  More importantly, have any of you found a way to successfully escape?  Or is the whole idea only a mirage?

(Click “Continue reading” below to read the lyrics while listening…my preferred method.)

Anyway….a moment of music-induced self-reflection for those willing to engage. 🙂

I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again
Say it again

I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again

Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender
Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring
And the junk man pounds his fender
Where the veterans dream of the fight
Fast asleep at the traffic light
And the children solemnly wait
For the ice cream vendor
Out into the cool of the evening
Strolls the Pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams
Begin and end there

Ah the laughter of the lovers
As they run through the night
Leaving nothing for the others
But to choose off and fight
And tear at the world with all their might
While the ships bearing their dreams
Sail out of sight

I’m going to find myself a girl
Who can show me what laughter means
And we’ll fill in the missing colors
In each other’s paint-by-number dreams
And then we’ll put out dark glasses on
And we’ll make love until our strength is gone
And when the morning light comes streaming in
We’ll get up and do it again
Get it up again

I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

Comments 27

  1. Beautiful song! Escape? Liberation happens at a much more subtle level. It doesn’t happen in a lifestyle or a person or something external necessarily. It comes from paying attention to the little moments. Realizing that life is not ruined when we don’t live out our big dreams, but that we (this middle class/suburban professional family-type) are actually already living in an intensely profound and beautiful life. We just have to see through our illusions to the reality of what stands in front of us. Perhaps this is part of the problem with Mormon living; we are taught to look outside of ourselves and to the future for peace and joy.

  2. Thanks for posting this Mr Dehlin

    I have been giving this a lot of thought lately and was listening to a Billy Joel song recently that drove it home some more called James which must he have written for me:)

    Everyone wants to fit in and have friends in their community. Especially when its based on a religous community people forget to search their hearts in what they really believe they see Good and Good equals TRUTH.

    You were so relied upon, everybody knows how hard you tried-
    Hey…just look at what a job you’ve done,
    Carrying the weight of family pride.
    James…you’ve been well behaved,
    You’ve been working so hard
    But will you always stay-
    Someone else’s dream of who you are.
    Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody…James.

    I went on the road-
    You pursued an education…James…
    How you gonna know for sure-everything was so well organized.
    Hey…now everything is so secure,
    and everybody else is satisfied.

    James…do you like your life,
    Can you find release
    And will you ever change,
    When will you write your masterpiece.
    Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody…James…

  3. P.S. Ben Folds sings a sister song too. “The Ascent of Stan”


    Pangs of silence
    From the room upstairs
    How’s the view there?
    Do you read what they’re saying about you?
    That you’re no fun
    Since the war was won
    In fact, you have become all of the things you’ve always run away from

    The ascent of Stan
    Textbook hippie man
    Get rest while you can

    So where’d the years go?
    All the time we had?
    Being poor was not such a drag in hindsight
    And you wonder why your father was so resigned
    Now you don’t wonder any more

    The ascent of Stan
    Textbook hippie man
    Textbook hippie man
    Get rest while you can

    Stan: Once you wanted revolution
    Stan: Now you’re the institution
    Stan: How’s it feel to be the man?
    It’s no fun to be the man

    And now, watch it all go down

    The ascent of Stan
    Textbook hippie man
    Textbook hippie man
    Get rest while you can

    Stan: Once you wanted revolution
    Stan: Now you’re the institution
    Stan: How’s it feel to be the man?

    It’s no fun to be the man

  4. There’s another song on the same Billy Joel album (“Turnstiles” – one of his best, it inludes “New York State of Mind” and “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”) that speaks a little to the opposite instinct:

    “Angry Young Man”

    “Give a moment or two to the angry young man,
    With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand.
    He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood,
    It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good.
    He sits in a room with a lock on the door,
    With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor
    And he likes to be known as the angry young man.
    I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness & righteous rage
    I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
    I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view,
    Life went on no matter who was wrong or right, ohhhhh”

    And who of us hasn’t felt that way, ever?

  5. Craig,

    Bravo! Yet another opposing truth made manifest!

    Life really is about navigating opposing paradoxes, isn’t it?

    As Bonner Ritchie always says….”The opposite of one great truth is not a lie, but another great truth.”

    Faith and knowledge.
    Mercy and justice.
    Activism and security.
    Intellect and emotion.

  6. Huey Lewis seems to sum the demise of youthful ideals this way –

    You go to work, work hard all day
    At the end of the week, you collect your pay
    That’s just where it’s at
    It’s as simple as that

    You pay your bills the best that you can
    But the rising cost sure hurts a family man
    While the rich man gets fat
    it’s as simple as that

    And the money goes so fast it ain’t funny

    Your mind’s made up to get that house on the hill
    But you just don’t know if you ever will
    Because you can’t get the cash
    It’s as simple as that

    Cause the man from the bank, he
    won’t give you a loan
    Without putting a mortgage on all that you own
    A tit for a tat
    It’s a simple as that

    And the money goes so fast it ain’t funny
    Before you know it the kids are all grown
    And married off with kids of their own
    And it’s all in the past
    It’s as simple as that

    You’ve reached the autumn of your life
    And all that’s left is you and your wife
    And a dog and a cat
    It’s as simple as that

    And the money goes so fast it ain’t funny
    It’s as simple as that

  7. Ben Folds’ “Fred Jones, Part 2” seems, at least to me, a followup to “Ascent of Stan”:

    Fred sits alone at his desk in the dark
    There’s an awkward young shadow that waits in the hall
    He’s cleared all his things and he’s put them in boxes
    Things that remind him: ‘Life has been good’
    Twenty-five years
    He’s worked at the paper
    A man’s here to take him downstairs
    And I’m sorry, Mr. Jones
    It’s time
    There was no party, there were no songs
    ‘Cause today’s just a day like the day that he started
    No one is left here that knows his first name
    And life barrels on like a runaway train
    Where the passengers change
    They don’t change anything
    You get off; someone else can get on
    And I’m sorry, Mr. Jones
    It’s time
    Streetlight shines through the shades
    Casting lines on the floor, and lines on his face
    He reflects on the day
    Fred gets his paints out and goes to the basement
    Projecting some slides onto a plain white
    Canvas and traces it
    Fills in the spaces
    He turns off the slides, and it doesn’t look right
    Yeah, and all of these bastards
    Have taken his place
    He’s forgotten but not yet gone
    And I’m sorry, Mr. Jones
    And I’m sorry, Mr. Jones
    And I’m sorry, Mr. Jones
    It’s time

    I worry sometimes that I’m setting myself for the “forgotten but not yet gone” in my professional, personal, and religious life. I think there are times, whether long or short, when we end up blinding ourselves to what’s really going on in the game. We settle in and “life barrels on like a runaway train,” and then we finally “wonder when will [we] write our masterpiece” and “want to know what became of the changes” we dreamed of. And then once again perhaps we realize that in all of it we’ve slipped a bit away from what it is to be LDS (or at least what it should be). How many mid-life crises do you think are allowed?

  8. John — Something I wrote elsewhere today that kinda fits your question: I think a huge problem in the Church is unrealistic expectations on spiritual matters: first, unrealistically high and naive, and then unrealistically low and cynical. People experiencing the first kind will be inevitably mugged by reality, with some choosing to ignore that reality, others freaking out and leaving, and the third remaining, but with the second kind of expectations. It takes a bit of intellectual and spiritual maturity to understand that God, the Spirit and the Priesthood all have real and useful power in this world, but that the ways in which those powers work are not immediately evident without significant investment of effort, thought and patience. To some degree, we are all Oliver, trying to translate from the plates, but unwilling to take any thought other than to just ask for it. I see in this manifesto an encouragement of making more effort, and I agree with this part quite a lot. We also need to have faith that God will teach us through the Spirit as we seek answers and understanding.

    I could include some song lyrics, but nothing comes to mind that fits this.

  9. Jackson’s song reminds me of a song written by Alan Sparhawk called “Death of a Salesman.”

    So I took my guitar
    And I threw down some chords
    And some words I could sing without shame

    And I soon had a song
    I played it around
    For some friends but they all said the same

    They said music’s for fools
    You should go back to school
    The future is prisms and math

    So I did what they said
    Now my children are fed
    ‘Cause they pay me to do what I’m asked

    I forgot all my songs
    The words now are wrong
    And I burned my guitar in a rage

    But the fire came to rest
    In your white velvet breast
    So somehow I just know that it’s safe

    In an interview for Linescratchers, I asked Alan about this. I have pretty much given up my childish dreams of being a “rock star” when I grow up, but his song almost made me feel guilty in a way. However, he answered somewhat evasively, because music isn’t something you really “give up” just because you don’t want to do it for a career:

    “People dream, put their heart into something, and eventually have to justify it with reality. It’s a fluke to be able to make a living on just music. I have many friends who are more deserving of a career in music, but for one reason or another, life has taken them elsewhere. “Salesman” is definitely about that, but also about the fact that no matter what, nothing can touch that relationship with music – not even time. Music is an eternal gift. I imagine that any celestial or millennial state will be filled with more musical opportunity than we can possibly imagine, and everyone will be glad for every moment they had with it on Earth – even just 5 minutes of nostalgic strumming by yourself.”

    You know he has an interesting point. Someday we will see time as it really is: eternal. The odd nature of time and causality leads me to believe that time as we experience it now is an illusion. Then, we will see every moment in our lives as ever-present, not as something in the distant past. It actually just increases our responsibility to make every second count.

  10. I think John’s post isn’t so much about music. He used music and lyrics to ask a question about faith. He asked in a round about way if the idealistic faith of youth now appears unrealistic (a mirage)—now that your an adult and look back over the years.

    He then asked: Have you found a way to successfully escape.

    Escape what? The disappointment of the flickering candle of faith as an adult that was once so full and bright as a youth.

    The escape came for me when in a crisis I found the Lord. My experience with the Lord was, and is, far more than I ever thought possible as a youth. When I was up against the wall of my faith I turned to the Lord with enough of what is required that I was given a Book of Mormon kind of experience that changed me forever.

    What I didn’t understand as a youth was the price I would have to pay to know the Lord.

  11. Can you, Jared? If so, why not just state it? If not, why would you expect someone else to? Oh, wait a minute, I get it — it is a musical thread, so you have adapted your usual charge that we are EEEEvil for talking about something without using the scriptures!

  12. Legacy–

    I suppose you’re referring to #17 regarding a hymn. I don’t know the hymns very well so I asked a question of those who might have an answer.

    I enjoyed the thread. It seems you got a head full of whatever, and feel like running off at the mouth. I didn’t accuse anyone, but you did.

  13. Legacy, #19 was out of line. There was nothing in Jared’s comment to warrant a personal attack.

    Jared, I understand your reaction, but it also wasn’t necessary.

    Let’s try to be civil, folks – especially on such a great thread.

  14. What a touching song. I love it. I feel pretty beat down by the realities of life, but I see it as a sort of forced Buddhism, and there is some freedom in letting go of desires and ambitions and just being.

    I’m also comforted by the teaching of a Rabbi that says that the Sabbath isn’t meant to be an obligation. It’s meant to be something that we look forward to as our reward for toiling for the other six days. We toil SO THAT we can experience the Sabbath.

    When it does begin to seem that this land of contrasts and the experience of having a body is more toil than joy, it comforts me to think that the joys and spiritual rewards are worth it all.

  15. 12 — On the third installment of “Everything that’s wrong with Gospel Teaching” on BCC. That comes from comment 48.

    14 — Thanks. Glad to contribute.

    18 — This reminds me a lot of C.S. Lewis’ “Pilgrim’s Regress,” an allegorical work about his spiritual journey. The main character has a vision of a beautiful place, and spends much of his life either trying to find it, pretending he’s already there, or rejecting the idea of the beautiful place as a delusion of his youth.

    I think our spiritual lives have highs and lows, like the tides, but we expect that the highs will just get higher, or that the lows will just get lower. When we have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, we want that to be forever, but it’s not. We cool down again. The Brother of Jared saw God, and then got chewed out by God for not praying enough — it happens to everybody. And then, when we find our paradigms impoverished, and our expectations aren’t lived up to, we get frustrated and sulky and want to give God the finger and pretend we don’t need him. We are sure we don’t need him, or the Church, and that it’s over with, but, then, we find our way back again — not always, but often. We want to be hot or cold, but we do some lukewarm along the way also.

    I think a bit of cooling off is okay, but we need to repent, renew our faith, and build toward new levels, rather than coasting along the plateaus, and we need to do this fairly often.

  16. I wonder if this concept would turn on itself if it were sung about Haight Ashbury or Soho, the Harvard faculty or others who pretend on the other side of the fence for acceptance when deep inside they sense something is awry.

  17. wow…I think I am a bit too young to comment on this one guysn with all you old fogies pining for your ideal revolutionary days!!

    Great post John. I LOVE Jackson Brown. He wrote some of his best and most mature material at the age of 16!! I like what he stood for in his early career with the likes of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell…counter cultural in a positive, peaceful and non-confrontational way. Their music really represents to me the soul of an idealist who is battling with his or her place in a world where they don’t belong.

    No matter our age we can still make small positive changes, love others and choose the what is right in our heart. The battle of life is within us.

    Great Post John!

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