To Feel a Thought

Posted by on Apr 19, 2017
To Feel a Thought

You’ve heard of Yip Harburg, haven’t you? Probably not. But you know his words. He wrote the lyrics to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and all the other songs in The Wizard of Oz. In fact, he wrote the lyrics to hundreds of show tunes, such as “April in Paris,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and “Old Devil Moon.”

He thought a lot about the nature of music and, in particular, songs with words. Insightfully, he said, “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. But a song makes you feel a thought.”

Consider “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Has there ever been a song that better helps us “feel the thought” of longing for another world? We all long for someplace where “dreams that you dare to dream really do come true” and “troubles melt like lemon drops.” It’s one thing to think the thought, “there might be another place that’s better than this world.” But it’s another thing to long for that place with an ache and a prayer. A song can stimulate that longing.

I find it intriguing that Harburg came up with the image of a rainbow to help us feel that thought. There was no rainbow in L. Frank Baum’s book The Wizard of Oz. But Harburg certainly understood that the theme of longing for another and better world was woven into the heart of that book. So why not put a rainbow into the first song of the movie! In fact, a biography of Harburg is entitled, Who Put the Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz?

 (By the way, for those who understand music composition, isn’t it delightful that the first two notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” jump a perfect octave. It’s a musical statement of jumping from this world to the perfect other world that the song longs for. Right from the start, our hearts jump to where the lyrics point us and the notes lift us. By contrast, the first two notes of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from West Side Story are a minor seventh, an interval painfully short of the perfect octave. Thus, that song increases our feelings of tension and incompleteness and the pain of living in a world where we don’t all get along. These compositional decisions are not arbitrary or chosen merely for sound. They carry us to different places. They help us feel a thought).

Here’s what I want to suggest – something I suspect Yip Harburg, a rather unreligious man, might not appreciate. In our evangelism, we should try to help people “feel the thought” of the gospel, not just understand the arguments for the gospel. We should state facts but also paint pictures. We can define terms but also describe experiences. We can make a defense but also create a mood. We can build a case but also engage the imagination.

For example, when I tell people how I became a Christian, I include facts I learned by reading the gospel of Matthew. I did not know that Jesus claimed to be God, that he identified himself as the Messiah, and that he offered to forgive sins (something only God could offer). But I also tell people about the disappointment I felt at the end of every concert or the emptiness I felt at the end of movies like The Wizard of Oz. I describe feelings of longings. I want them to know and believe certain facts about Jesus. But I also want them to feel an emptiness without him so they hunger and thirst for the gospel, not just agree with it.

What images or illustrations or analogies can you weave into your evangelism? What feelings did you feel when you moved from darkness to light? What emotions do you want your unsaved friends to experience – before and after they believe? It’s worth contemplating and experimenting. It might even make them want – some day, somewhere – to sing a song.

1 Comment

  1. Don Knox
    April 19, 2017

    I really like this post! Very thoughtful and encouraging, both about music and evangelism.


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