Car Radio

  • 1
  • April 29, 2019

“Can we have a dance party?” has become one of the most frequently asked questions in our house recently. It’s usually followed by a very specific list of requests: song title, lighting preference, which speaker to play it on, closed door in his room. Such is a day with a 3-year old boy obsessed with music.

His tastes change from time to time and songs fall in and out of rotation. Top of the list recently is Car Radio by 21 Pilots. With its slow piano intro, steady drumbeat that builds to a deafening crescendo and catchy earworm of a hook, it’s a perfect recipe for a toddler rave. And it’s played 3-4 times a day, every day.

The song has long been a favorite of mine and is in fact one of the reasons I got into the band in the first place. But hearing it as many times as I have recently has really made me think of the lyrics. The singer finds himself in a state of “pondering” of things “great” and “terrifying”. The singer, a professing Christian but not a “Christian” artist, is questioning, doubting. He finds himself in a place not unlike many, Christian and non-Christian alike, find themselves. In fact, he states throughout the one thing that links all humankind together is that “we’re all battling fear”. Fear of the unknown, fear of unanswered questions, fear of uncertainty. What will the doctor say? Will I have a job next week? Why did I lose my parent so young? Why is my spouse unfaithful? They even escalate to existential questions. “I don’t know if we know why we’re here”, he asks at a certain point.

What the singer laments here is the loss of a “car radio” when these questions begin to pile up. On a long trip, it’s so easy to crank up the volume on the stereo and get lost in the music. How easy is it for all of us to do that same thing every day? When we’re forced to face our own insecurities we grab our phones and scroll our feed. When the questions get too difficult we pull up Netflix and watch The Office. But if  that option is gone and all we have is our thoughts, we’re forced “to deal with what is real” because there is “no distraction to mask what [we] feel”.

The singer finds silence in the absence of distraction and silence that follows the hard questions directed at God. It overwhelms him, scares him. At a certain point, he tells himself to “please stop thinking”. During the bridge, he repeats constantly “Now I just sit in silence”. Only he doesn’t sing it, he screams it.

Another singer/songwriter, this one from millennia ago, shared some of this singer’s sentiments. David in Psalm 13 finds himself feeling alone and abandoned by God. “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?…How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart….” (Ps 13:1-2). David pens this from a cave, distraction-free.

Distraction is easy, but not the answer. While I don’t profess to know the answer to all, or any, of life’s questions, I know when they arise I have a choice to make. Like David at the end of Psalm 13, I can choose to “trust in [His] unfailing love”. Or, like the singer, I can “sit in silence”.

The hook picks up, the beat drops, the lights flash and 3½ minutes after it begins, the frenzied song ends. And it’s just me and my son – in the darkness of his room, out of breath from jumping up and down – silent. He looks up at me and with all the earnestness and sweetness he can muster he asks, simply, “Again?”. Because, after all, “sometimes, quiet is violent.”




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