Twenty-Four Frames

I am a big fan of Jason Isbell’s music. He hails from my hometown, and I find his music, both when he was the lead singer for Drive By Truckers, and now that he has a thriving solo career, gives voice to a sense of place and home.

I was at first disturbed by a new single from Isbell getting lots of play on independent radio here in Nashville. It is called “Twenty-Four Frames,” which is a reference to the number of frames in a 35 millimeter film comprising one second. He wrote the song after he and his wife divorced due to his substance abuse and his reflections following time in a treatment program.

The refrain is a theological reflection:

You thought God was an architect,

Now you know

He’s something like a pipe bomb

Ready to blow,

And everything you’ve built

That’s all for show

Goes up in flames

In twenty-four frames.

I bristled at the image of God as a pipe bomb, especially in this day of terrorism, and the inherent violence in it. I voiced theological assertions that God was no destroyer, that God is indeed a Creator, an architect, the source of all that is.

The song has been playing quite a bit this Advent, and for the first time I heard something in the refrain I had not heard before, something that made me re-evaluate my misgivings.

“And everything you’ve built, that’s all for show, goes up in flames.”

In these last days of Advent, with many of us gathering in candle-lit sanctuaries tomorrow night to tell the story of God’s in-breaking through the Holy Child of Bethlehem, perhaps we should take a moment to consider that for which we pray in Advent. We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We pray for the dawning of God’s new day.

When that day comes – and we believe its light breaks forth even now – everything we’ve built that’s all for show will cease. Paul said it best, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Throughout Advent, we have gathered around the wreath in our home, lit the candles, and shared in a time of reflection and prayer. The first night, Chandler’s dear friend Maggie was with us and joined us in that circle. Last night, my brother Rory was in the circle. Both nights, we felt bound together by faith, hope, and love.

It is humbling to know that all the trappings surrounding us on those nights around the wreath – the home we live in a nice neighborhood, the gifts scattered under the tree, all the things we’ve accumulated, all the things in which I take so much pride – all of it will cease. It will go, like we ourselves, to the dust. But what we shared around the wreath, together, will remain, and will remain throughout eternity.

Things can change quickly, in as little as twenty-four frames. Our family knows that this year in a more profound way than ever before. In those moments, what remains are the things born in faith, hope, and love. And, as we discovered, they are more than enough. They are all we need.

Isbell sings,

This is how you make yourself call your mother,

And this is how you make yourself closer to your brother.

His reflections lead him to consider what remains and, though he doesn’t use these words, they seem to be implied – what remains are faith, hope, and love.

And so, yes, one day God will bring the Kingdom in its fullness, and, like a pipe bomb, all that is just for show will be blown apart by the realization of our futile pride in the face of God’s presence. All that is essential, all that makes for abundant life, will remain. And with what remains, God the architect will make all things new.

So here, on this last day of Advent, let us pray:

“Come, Lord Jesus.”

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