On February 28th, I’ll be speaking at Zion’s Menu-U (a monthly gathering for men to share breakfast and discuss ideas) on the topic of music. Or, more specifically, how Christians can engage, interact with, think about, and enjoy the music that surrounds us, regardless of whether it’s “Christian” or not (more info). It’s essentially an evolution of a similar talk I gave on Arcade Fire’s music awhile ago, but even so, it’s a daunting task — one that I feel rather under-qualified for, even as I’m very excited about the whole deal.
In order to get ready, I’ve been going through and re-reading those who have inspired and informed my way of thinking when it comes to Christianity and music, folks like David Dark and Andy Whitman. And of course, like any good music obsessive, I’ve been putting together a mix of some of the songs that I’ll play and talk about on Saturday… or at least, would like to play and talk about if we had five or six hours.
- Arcade Fire — “Neon Bible”
- Radiohead — “Fake Plastic Trees”
- Animal Collective — “My Girls”
- Sufjan Stevens — “Casimir Pulaski Day”
- Kanye West — “Welcome To Heartbreak”
- Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds — “God Is In The House”
- Woven Hand — “To Make A Ring”
- Sigur Rós — “Glósóli”
- The Postal Service — “Clark Gable”
- U2 — “A Sort Of Homecoming”
- Gavin Bryars — “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”
- Arvo Part — “Spiegel Im Spiegel”
- Daniel Lanois — “Shine”
- Marvin Gaye — “God Is Love”
- Pedro The Lion — “Secret Of The Easy Yoke”
- Sixteen Horsepower — “Black Soul Choir”
- Mark Hollis — “The Colour Of Spring”
- Low — “Dragonfly”
- The Trees Community — “Psalm 42”
- Scott Walker — “Clara”
In his book, Everyday Apocalypse, David Dark comments on the term “apocalyptic”. Today, we hear the word and we immediately think of doomsday and “end of the world” scenarios, the kind that Hollywood depicts oh so well. But the word actually refers to revelation, to the scales falling from our eyes so that we can see the world as it truly is and our lives as they truly are. As Dark puts it:
Apocalyptic shows us what we’re not seeing. It can’t be composed or spoken by the powers that be, because they are the sustainers of “the way things are” whose operation justifies itself by crowning itself as “the way things ought to be” and whose greatest virtue is in being “realistic.” Thinking through what we mean when we say “realistic” is where apocalyptic begins. If these powers are the boot that, to borrow Orwell’s phrase, presses down upon the human face forever, apocalyptic is the speech of that human face. Apocalyptic denies, in spite of all the appearances to the contrary, the “forever” part.
Or, as N.T. Wright puts it:
…“apocalyptic” is a way of investing space-time events with their theological significance; it is actually a way of affirming, not denying, the vital importance of the present continuing space-time order, by denying that evil has the last word in it.
Some of the songs listed above were written and performed by Christians, some of them weren’t. Some of them deal with explicitly religious themes and ideas, some of them don’t. Some of them could be considered offensive and sacrilegious, some of them might even be considered worship music. But I believe they all, in some small way, manifest the concept of the apocalyptic… for me, anyways, and ultimately, that’s all I can hope to communicate.
They strip back the veneer that so often clouds my sight; they push aside the ambivalence brought about by the cynicism that permeates our day and age and prevents me from speaking honestly and forthrightly; they breathe new life and beauty into a soul often deadened by marketing, commerce, and materialism. And I look forward to sharing and discussing them with others this Saturday.