It Feels Good When You Sing a Song: My [Non-Partisan] Playlist for Election-Induced Anxiety

I know I’m far from the only person who is struggling with anxiety in the run up to this year’s presidential election. I’m prone to anxiety anyway, so between politics and a few busy weeks at work and home, life has felt a bit like a big vat of stress to drown in lately. This weekend I’ve been trying to stay off of social media (mostly) and focus on reading, writing, and hanging with my kids instead, and I’m hoping to continue that trend into next week to help keep the anxiety in check and the heartburn at bay.

A few weeks ago, my boys went on a random kick of watching Sesame Street videos that had been sitting around our house neglected for quite some time, and since then, I have found myself humming one of the songs–a number by John Legend and Hoots the owl–repeatedly. Here are a few of the lyrics:

“Sing a sing about new friends.

Sing about tomorrow and yesterday.

Sing a song about old friends.

Why not sing about having a sax to play?

It can’t be bad even if it’s sad.

Sing it loud, sing it strong.

It feels good when you sing a song.”

Sesame Street is a great place to learn things, or perhaps just be reminded of them. So as another strategy to stave off the election blues and nerves, I set out on a trip through Youtube to collect a few of my favorite calming, cathartic, and feel-good tunes. Some of these are hymns, but they all speak to my spirit when I’m stressed out. If you are struggling with anxiety these days, perhaps one of them will refresh your soul as well.


 

“Creation will be at Peace” – A lovely anthem of peace performed by the fantastic choir from Weatherly Heights Baptist Church (Huntsville, AL):


“Be Still My Soul” – Another lovely, peaceful, and encouraging anthem from the incomparable Mormon Tabernacle Choir:


“It’s So Heavy” A sad, cathartic tune to remind us to let go a little when things seem to be too much, from the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Like Hoots sings, “It can’t be bad, even if it’s sad.”


“Stormy Monday” – A truly excellent rendition from the Allman Brothers that I love to play when I’m feeling a little sorry for myself. Lord have mercy…


“People Get Ready” – Now, for the feel-good tunes! You can’t beat Susan Tedeschi having some church with the Blind Boys of Alabama here:


“Let Love Take Control” – A reminder from my favorite swampy bluesman that it’s all about love, not anxiety and fear:


“It Feels Good When You Sing a Song” – And of course, John Legend and Hoots reminding us of the power of music to alter our mood:


Feel free to add to my list by linking to your own favorites in the comments.  I don’t know about you, but I can always use another anxiety-busting tune! 

The Light Still Shines

It has been quite a while since I wrote a post, between the spring end-of-semester chaos, a summer of indulging in novel-writing, and a new semester with four courses to teach and a research deadline to meet. My last post was a reading and play list for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, which I created because I wanted to slow down in those two days before the triumphal celebration of Easter morning and contemplate the darkness–the real horror of the crucifixion, and the mourning and uncertainty that would have followed for the ones who followed Jesus.

So, perhaps it is fitting that this post follows that one, because since yesterday afternoon, I have also been grappling with darkness, with mournfulness, and with uncertainty. As I began my third class of the day yesterday, a student read details of the latest school shooting to us from her phone, but right then, the news didn’t quite have time to sink in.

After class, though, came a text from a friend, accompanied by a picture of two men clipped from a news article. Did I know this student, she asked, who had been arrested on suspicion of killing another student from my university? I looked at the picture in shock. I didn’t know the young man wearing correctional-facility orange, but I did know the other man, Antonio “Tony” Moore. He was a military veteran in his late thirties who had been in a class of mine a few semesters before, and had stopped by my office to chat on various occasions, saying that he needed to “escape” from the young engineering “geeks” in his classes and talk to someone who knew how to have a conversation. This always made me laugh and say that I was just a different breed of geek.

I hadn’t seen Tony recently, and I didn’t know that he had been missing for weeks. How had this tragedy unfolded practically right under my nose–the victim someone I knew, and liked, and had traded stories about parenting with–and I hadn’t known about it until my friend’s text?

Probably because I only pay minimal attention to the news. I’m a high anxiety type, and I try to hold events that are out of my control or out of my sphere at a distance for the sake of my sanity. But when my afternoon is twice interrupted with tragic news, there’s no way to escape the fact that I work on a campus where there has already been one shooting and where Tony Moore will not be stopping by my office again.

The darkness is not at a distance. It’s right here. All around.

So with tears in my eyes I came home yesterday and engaged in what I sadly joked to friends via Facebook was “Triple B” therapy: beer, bacon, and boys. After all what could be more comforting than a rich brown ale, salty saturated fat, and long cuddly hugs from the sweetest little fellas around? Not much, right?

But once dinner was over and the boys were read to and kissed and tucked away in bed, all I really wanted to do was curl up in bed and with my laptop and something escapist on Netflix. Or, in other words, squeeze my eyes shut and bury my head in the sand so that I could, in an illusion of safety, ignore everything horrible and awful and dark in the world around me.

But that’s the irony. If you close your eyes and stick your head in the sand, there’s nothing down there but darkness.

As this occurred to me and I thought again about the victims of the most recent shooting, about Tony, and about all of the darkness in this world, a particular Bible verse came to mind, perhaps because I had seen it go by on Facebook recently, posted by another former student of mine on a hand-crafted Christmas card.

“The light shines in the darkness and the dark has not overcome it.” John 1:5

And so I write this post in part to remind myself that this is true.

No matter how much darkness there is, the light still shines among us.

And the “us” is key. 

If we withdraw, disengage, succumb to fear and stick our heads in the sand, then the light is obscured from view.

The light shines when we love each other, when we reach out to one another, empathize with one another, and serve one another.

So let’s love each other, y’all, and keep looking toward the light.  

It hasn’t gone out. 

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Narnia Christmas Card by Kelly Maust at

Spare Room Stationery

And the Angels Sang, “Let it Go!”

Sometimes I learn profound lessons from unexpected sources, like when my preschoolers decided that they absolutely must watch Frozen about twenty-seven times in a row, and suddenly, after plopping onto the couch in resignation to watch it yet again, I had a Disney-princess-induced spiritual epiphany.Featured image

As a mom of boys, I never expected to have the princess craze hit our house, and seeing as how I’m a feminist scholar who isn’t precisely thrilled with the gender ideology behind most of those animated gals and their beaux, I certainly never thought that I would learn (or perhaps remember something I had forgotten) from watching a pair of princesses.

If you are one of the lucky adults who has not been subjected to Frozen enough times to have it memorized, the key detail here is that Princess Elsa is terrified of her icy magical powers, and in the end, what conquers that fear and saves the day is not a charming prince, but rather the love of her sister, Anna.

Here is what I learned from Frozen: Fear, like hate, is an opposite of love. Anxiety is the opposite of peace. And as a high-anxiety type, I often need to “Let it go!” First John 4.18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . . and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

God is love, and during Advent we take time to reflect on how Jesus came to reveal that love to us. We celebrate Emmanuel. God with us. Love with us.

As we strive to be Jesus-followers, we should participate in that perfect love that conquers fear, even when a thousand voices on the TV and the radio and the internet tell us that there is some BIG NEW THING to be terrified about today.

Fear makes us withdraw and disengage in order to protect ourselves. It makes us fort up and then lash out when our defenses feel threatened. Fear turns our focus inward, but God calls us outward, to the love of family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies. God calls us out to compassion, involvement, and vulnerability. To love, not its opposites.

Fear and love do not easily coexist; we must let go of one to make room for its opposite.

Some days, I am rather terrible about remembering this. So during this Advent season, I have challenged myself to listen to the angel proclaiming in Luke 2.10, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!” This is the marvelous news of God’s love abiding with us, of God becoming a participant in the human condition, of God choosing to be vulnerable, involved, and known to us.

In these last few days of Advent, I challenge you to read the Christmas story and hear the angel’s words again. If you are holding onto fear, listen to the angel, and let it go.

Let it go and see what it leaves room for in your soul.