"Christianity & mewithoutYou's Lyrics"

I recently read Anne Lammot's "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith," which I highly recommend (both to Christians and to anyone else). One of the thoughts she shares in the book struck me.

Before she became a Christian, for weeks she would walk into a Church nearby the Sunday flea market she frequented, because the music was so beautiful. She had been brought up with a healthy distrust of Christianity, and would stand in the doorway listening to the music but leave just before the sermon. For weeks she would stand, entranced by the music, feeling a strange peace in the beauty of the songs, and then her intellect would get the better of her and she would leave after the songs ended. Eventually the music broke her, and she began to stay for the sermon and then, much later, she became a Christian.

A few weeks ago, when I was in LA for Nick and Sheena's wedding, mewithoutYou was playing at a downtown music venue and a bunch of my friends were going. Because one of my goals while in LA was to see some of the friends that I so dearly missed since moving away from LA, it was a perfect opportunity to interact with a bunch of them at once.

I'd never been a big fan of mewithoutYou; the strange vocals, nearly inscrutable lyrics and too-hardcore for my taste musical style turned me off. But I read Chris Faris' review of their new album, and I knew that many of my friends (Amy, Trevor, Matt Dougherty, to name a few) absolutely LOVED the band, so I decided to give them a try.

And the concert wasn't great. I had downloaded their albums a week or so prior and tried (in vain) to get into their stuff. At the concert, I didn't know a bunch of the songs; it was far too loud and hot and crowded; I was tired from a missed flight and hours of public transportation and didn't want to stand there listening to music I didn't really enjoy.

But I talked to Trevor about his love for the band and he said it was all about the lyrics. He said that he is consistently amazed when re-listening to their songs, that he reaches newfound insights each time he sits with the lyric book and follows along. He called them "the most Christian band I know." Coming from the teaching pastor at the church I attended frequently, this is something, and equally so because I very highly respect Trevor's taste in music.

So after getting back from the show, and especially after getting their new album, which is much, much more easily palatable than their older stuff, I started listening to them more. And then a lot more. When I found that I really, really enjoyed their new album, it somehow gave me license to like their older stuff too. Except for their first one (can't get over the screaming, sorry) their last three albums are now at the top of my frequent listening list. I really, really enjoy mewithoutYou's stuff. And now, after having listened to their albums over and over, something curious has been happening.

I've recently found myself in Anne Lammot's position. I am currently not a Christian, per se. But when I listen to mewithoutYou, I get a sense of the peace, love, order, that Christianity offers, but that I don't really understand. I find myself in their lyrics. But I don't believe in the God they do, or I don't think I do. I don't think that mewithoutYou is going to lead me back to Christianity like the choir singers at that church led Anne Lammot to Christianity, but I've just had some interesting thoughts, feelings, etc. when listening to this music that point to something inside of me that I don't really understand at the moment.

Here's a sample of a few of the songs that really affect me:

There's a sign on the barn in the cabbage town
When the rain picks up and the sun goes down:
Sinners, come inside. With no money, come and buy.
No clever talk, nor a gift to bring
requires our lowly, lovely king.
Come now empty handed, you don't need anything."

_from "A Stick, A Carrot, And A String"

In every blade of grass, (x6)
Allah, Allah, Allah
in every blade of grass.

It doesn't matter what you done,
it doesn't matter what you done.
What effect is without a cause?
It doesn't matter what you done.
Now lay your faithless head down
in necessity's cotton hand.
There's a love that never changes
no matter what you done.

If your old man did you wrong (x3)
Well, maybe his old man did him wrong.
If you care to sing forgiveness songs,
come down and join our band.
We'll cut you like a sword,
and sing forgiveness songs.

_from "Allah, Allah, Allah"

What new mystery is this?
What blessed backwardness?
The Immeasurable One is held and does not resist!
Struck by wicked words and foolish fists of senseless men,
the Almighty One does not defend!

What new mystery is this? In overflowing emptiness
the Invisible is seen among the shadows and the mist,
before my doubting eyes, the Infinite appears in time -
the Unquestionable is questioned, but makes no reply!

What new mystery is this? (x5)
"My Rabbi!" My lips betray with a kiss.

_from "A Glass Can Only Spill What It Contains"

No one here to believe but You.
Everyone else is bound to leave but You.
When they swear their love is real,
they mean "I like the way you make me feel."
There's no one here to believe but You.

_from "Every Thought a Thought of You"

"But I'm so small I can barely be seen -
how can this great love be inside of me?"
Look at your eyes - they're small in size, but they see enormous things.

"Oh, but I'm so afraid, and I'm set in my ways."
But he'll make the rabbits and rocks sing his praise.
"But I'm too tired, I won't last long."
No, he'll use the weak to overcome the strong!

We hunger, but though all that we eat brings us little relief
we don't know quite what else to do,
We have all our beliefs but we don't want our beliefs,
God of peace, we want you.

_from "Four Word Letter Pt. 2"

The idea of "Sinners, come inside. With no money, come and buy," is just such a beautiful image, right? One of the most enduringly appealing aspects of the concept of Jesus. And I love, love, love the way that Aaron Weiss chooses, probably to the scorn of mainline Christians, to use the name "Allah" to refer to God instead of, well, "God." And that last line - "If you care to sing forgiveness songs/ come down and join our band/ we'll cut you like a sword/ and sing forgiveness songs." I don't know exactly what he's saying with this cutting business. Cut me open to reveal the truth inside of me, or the true me? Cut me in a malicious way, and then we all sing to forgive each other our mutual sins? I don't know, but it resonates in a way I can't understand. And I love this "blessed backwardness." Another example of the appeal of Jesus. And then the idea that we're all Judas. The (in my opinion entirely correct) understanding of the world's view of love in "Every Thought." And that last one, the questions, the answers, the longing for peace.

Listening to these songs makes me think, "I'd go to a church, I'd be a part of the religion that this guy sings about." And I realized that I did, kind of; that Risen was kind of that kind of church. But then I remember my main problem with Christianity - its exclusivity.

I remember reading third-hand (a Youtube comment or something, talking about a friend who had spoken to Weiss after a show, or something) that Weiss was quoted as saying something like, "I do believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but that doesn't mean I believe Christianity is." And I kind of want to accept that. And I'd go to a church that believes that.

But it would basically, by definition, not be Christian, right?

1 comment:

  1. maybe we should be email buddies. as I read more of your backblogs, I want to be able to have a conversation! let me know what you think about that.