Isn’t it strange that things which are not growing seem to be dying? I remember hiking in the superstition mountains with a mentor. I was in high school and a group of kids went along. We ran out of water, no small problem in Arizona. We came across a stream which was cold and looked delicious but before we could drink my mentor stopped up. “Don’t drink that unless you want to spend the last days of your life on a toilet.” While we all pondered the meaning of his threat he began to explain about a small bacterium call Giardia. Wild animals are not conscious of waterways when they use the restroom; as a result stagnant waters are often havens for things that would wreck havoc on your bowels and generally ruin your weak.
A stagnant life is one which may appear restful, like the image above. There is a certain beauty to a life uncomplicated by the forces of challenge, change or growth. People on the outside may envy it and those within may relish the experience. Yet there is a difference between being at rest and being stationary. Inertia is a difficult force to overcome and the people I respect in life are those who actively pursue an ever-increasing discipline and depth in their lives. It is certainly more convenient to remain the same person you were years ago, with the same prejudices and ideas. Change is often hard, there are always growing pains but surely it is more painful to lead an unexamined life which produced relatively little fruit. I have been reading in the Gospel of John lately and there is a woman in the fourth chapter who comes to a place of stagnancy and instead encounters Jesus. He offers her living water, the sort that is always on the move, never stale. She finds herself transformed by the experience, challenged to grow out of who she was and into who she has the potential to be. The business I’m in aims to help people come in contact with life itself, to overcome their inertia and move on to deeper waters.
The definition of “Art” has been problematic in a Postmodern age. This is particularly true in light of earlier definitions which are Modern in their roots. I had a professor once who told me that “Good art challenges people. Otherwise it isn’t art.” While I’m not sure I agree with the latter part of his statement the former seems solid.
I have a friend who is an organist and he takes great exception to the idea that the organ is a boring instrument. His argument is that the organists (not all but the majority) who are boring. He says that the organ is an instrument of almost infinite complexity; it is built to challenge and create. The problem is that somewhere along the way organists became “curators” instead of “innovators.” “They were so concerned with losing precious traditions that they stopped trying to move people” (there is a metaphor here for mainline Christianity).
I have had many conversations recently about a band called Mumford and Sons. There are quite popular with the demographic that I do ministry with, and I like their music. Mumford has a tendency to use biblical themes in their music and it baffles people. From Rolling Stone to a mediocre Christian blogger people have been speculating on whether or not the band is a “Christian” one. This is the wrong question, largely because it obscures the content of the album. The question should be: “Is this good art?” If the definition of “Good art” is that it is both 1) aesthetically pleasing and 2) that it challenges people then I would argue that it is. The album “Babel” makes almost constant use images and themes from Genesis 1-11. Several people I have talked to have claimed that I am imagining this, others believe that it is an accident and that the lyrics are bewildering rather than deep (this may be true as well). Folks outside my faith group have asked many questions about my opinions of the album. Mumford for their part has said “the only thing we feel evangelical about is music” and I am sure they mean that- many Christian labels produce a remarkably low amount of good art.
Yet, despite their objections, it is obvious that growing up in the Vineyard UK has had a profound impact on these musicians. As a result they are producing some very good art. People are trying to put a box around the music (something which tends to happen to challenging art) because for the several years now Christians make Christian music and the rest of the community makes music. Yet like U2 before them they are wrestling with Christian themes in a far deeper way than non-Christian musicians are capable of. The pastor in me loves listening and wondering what exactly they are trying to say with lyrics like
…We will run and scream You will dance with me They’ll fulfill our dreams And we’ll be free
And we will be who we are And they’ll heal our scars Sadness will be far away So as we walked Of fields of green As the fairest sun I’d ever seen And I was broke I was on my knees But you said yes as I said please… (Below my Feet see Revelation 21:22 and following)
…Touch my mouth and hold my tongue I’ll never be your chosen one I’ll be home, safe and tucked away You can’t tempt me if I don’t see the day … And oh, my heart was flawed I knew my weakness So hold my hand, consign me not to darkness. Crawl on my belly ‘til the sun goes down I’ll never wear your broken crown I took the road and I (expletive) it all away. Now in this twilight how dare you speak of grace…. (Broken Crown see Genesis 3:1-14)
There is definitely a challenge here, and the fact that we as listeners are allowed to view this wrestling match is intentional. The artist has effectively baited my curiosity and I have, as yet, to find an answer to my questions. However I have found many people who are interested in talking about the album and I am thoroughly enjoying the conversations.
So we’ve been going through Genesis at The Refinery and its been making me think. I have begun to see the images and the story of human nature in the scenes played out around me. Just when I would think myself done with it for the day Mumford and Sons would release an album clearly influenced by Genesis 1-11 or a friend would describe himself with language like that of Cain. My scientist friends have an issue with the beginning of Genesis because they expect it to function like a science textbook, likely because Christians often have the same expectation. Yet, Genesis makes no such promise. It is a story, by definition something which seeks to take us captive. It has no intention of persuading us that its material is true and it will not allows us to dictate the terms by which it may speak. I am in the habit of saying that Genesis isn’t so much about the specific hows of the world coming into existence but the whys. Why did the world come into being, why did it go wrong?
As a captive of Genesis I have been wrestling with the story of Noah. One of the basic premises of most Christian theological systems is that human beings are flawed, crippled, twisted from birth since the Fall. We are a people filled with violence. God’s rationale for the flood is that the humans that are should not be (Gen 6:5-7, 11-14). So, why would God save humanity through one man, apparently against his better judgment (Gen 8:21)? He tells Noah that the human heart is inclined (NRSV) toward evil since birth, a depressing admonition for one of the few humans left alive! Yet the statement comes on the heels of a promise; God’s solution for the problem of human nature will no longer be allowing violence and evil to flood over them. The complete destruction of humanity represents an unacceptable loss for God. This begs the question: What is the solution? What will God do in light of such an obviously problematic creature as man? One thing is clear, the Creator of the World in Genesis 1 will not allow the world to be uncreated. He seems intent on finding a way to redeem that which has been broken.