A Matter of Trust
Pop songs explain the universe if you allow them enough time.
Thirty-something years ago, I knew nothing of the clouds which gather, then briefly part every four minutes above the world of Billy Joel’s “A Matter of Trust.” Unable to track their movement or trace their shape, I experienced them in elemental fashion. Storm and quiet, shadow and a moment’s clarity.
I held no framework for words left unspoken by lovers, only to dissipate into daybreak. No sense of how someone’s history with heartache interrupts their chance to be happy now. Or how often and how fervently they pray to break the cycle. I knew little of doubt and its weathering effect, how imperceptible cracks eventually become a breach big enough to run through.
I knew only what I liked, what sounded good. Joel’s musical math—a tenacious but tuneful “1-2-1-2-3-4” made me sit forward and listen close; the slightest hitch made his guitar sound as natural and present as breath, as if the song were spilling out of the next room.
News breaks around and from inside me, and it all seems like a matter of trust.
I was a kid, and didn’t know what I didn’t know. Yet “A Matter of Trust” kept making me promises. The song unfolded itself in a manner unlike anything else on the radio. No blush of desire or blissful delight; only layers to pierce, depths to plumb. Joel made me want to know his song’s every secret, to live “long enough to have learned” the nature of its animating fire.
Thirty-something years later, I know the spirit—if not always the letter—of Joel’s song too well. News breaks around and from inside me, and it all seems like a matter of trust.
Friends publish inner monologues or trade private messages, testifying how the last decade broke them. Their trust at an all-time low, they tiptoe around this world ever suspicious, ready to be disappointed daily.
Others sit and shrink back, watching the same loved ones who privately keep faith seize every public chance to diminish humanity they closely resemble. Seeing it all, one sentiment cancels the other.
These days, personal trials almost always blur into greater tragedies. A report reveals what anyone who’s awake already knew—how a denomination’s silence and deceit pressed hard on the fractures of its most vulnerable members. And so many of us remember how the fabric of its pews felt as we shifted beneath the gaze of God.
How rightly and reflexively we rage, throwing our hands heavenward.
We weep beneath the weight of all the children who never made it to summer. Our loud crying ceases long enough to listen while so-called leaders test microphones, then breathe out their profound lack of imagination. How rightly and reflexively we rage, throwing our hands heavenward.
So many of us rehearse the language and liturgy within an old Arcade Fire song. Souls weary and bodies broken, we cry out “Who’s going to reset the bone?” All the physicians we once looked to prescribe bad medicine.
I’m tempted to repeat parental proverbs about trust, to craft my best words and remind you how quickly it breaks, how long it takes to rebuild. But my God, shouldn’t we aspire to something beyond that? Especially if we adopt Christ’s name.
Trust is next to godliness. Proclaim divine transcendence all you wish, but an uncomfortable truth remains. We all experience God through each other. The closest anyone comes to him right here and now is six feet from his disciples. A church should be built out of people others trust with their pronouns, their testimonies of abuse, their children’s next breath. When we shatter—or simply abdicate—that trust, we tell untruths about the nature of God.
Years ago, I created a rudimentary test for trust. When I speak up and from the heart to share my soul fears, mental health tripwires, pandemic preferences, the trustworthy listen. They feel no pressure to immediately reject me or to adopt my concerns wholesale. But they bear the burden like a backpack—carrying it around for days, maybe weeks.
What I say—what I hope for and fear—sticks with them. They sift and weigh it, testing the spirits. They show it means something, show how my story affects their own. No default settings or doubling down, only quiet consideration. That’s all I ask. Sounds simple, but history proves how rare such time and attention is.
Turning on and turning up Billy Joel now, I hear the more he promised. In his storm clouds, I make out shapes and scenes from my life. I’m a man now and what I didn’t know hurts like hell. At the risk of bending Joel’s song past its breaking, his romantic confessions say something about every matter of trust.
Billy Joel verses trace our best-intentioned lies back to each organ; crooked love comes from the heart, where “the cold remains of what began with a passionate start.”
His verses trace our best-intentioned lies back to each organ; crooked love comes from the heart, where “the cold remains of what began with a passionate start.” Believing the best about our bonds, we often press on, only to let bitter winds blow across the state of love and trust when change requires something when it grows inconvenient.
“Some love is just a lie of the mind,” Joel sings, “it’s make-believe until it’s only a matter of time.” How quickly we convince ourselves we’re trustworthy, making passionate promises in darkened rooms until time and light expose us.
And, Joel tells us, “some love is just a lie of the soul / a constant battle for the ultimate state of control.” What else is there to say? We see this play out across time and place in the name of God.
For all these hard truths, I never sing along only to scoff. Like Joel, I hold hope tight, even against aching palms. I hear him singing to me—“It’s hard when you’re always afraid / You just recover / When another belief is betrayed”—and still I pray in earnest, that we all might trust each other again.
I can’t help myself, taking a deep breath and letting Joel’s later words loose. “I won’t hold back anything / And I’ll walk away a fool or a king.” This is the nature of trust—volleying between embarrassment and satisfaction. What more is there to do but learn from all the foolishness, readying myself to live differently, to come through because everything matters.