Considering Good Friday


“For a truly religious man nothing is tragic.” – Wittgenstein

For me Easter has no religious meaning. There was a time in my life when I wore the label of (c)hristian, but at present I am a blissfully content Agnostic. What happens during any religious holiday is that I consider how these people are living, and whether through their lives they are examples of being more ethical,content and giving than the rest of us. Let us be clear that I am not grouping all of a faith into a single bucket. They are nuanced in how and what they believe, and to universally label them is unfair. But Easter holds an almost universally accepted element of the faith: Jesus died and rose again.

So what is next? How is this act interpreted? With death seen by humanity as that which cannot be defeated, does the story of Christ not show us anything is possible and subsequently nothing is tragic?

As noted I was once a “believer”. Upon reflection it is not clear that, for me,  there was ever a “conversion experience”. It is a demanding ask to pull the memory from behind all the life experiences which have succeeded it, yet I do recall being on a youth retreat courtesy of Parkwood Baptist church when I made “the choice”. My newest friend and neighbor Billy Bond had invited me to his church, and having a parent who felt the Church brought value to one’s life my attendance was supported. What I cannot recall is whether I personally felt anything beyond the opportunity to be with a friend and meet girls. The church was a building. God was not a concept discussed, much less seen as relevant.

So here I was, Epworth By The Sea if the mental lines being drawn are straight, sitting in a room with a few others my age. Head bowed down, as requested by the group leader, listening to a series of questions directed at my eternal soul and whether my life was constituted with things to bring peace. In spite of the directive to keep our eyes closed I peeked to see if others had their hands raised when the calling for whether anyone wanted to give their life to Christ was presented. Others raised their hands. My hand went up. There was no emotional fan fare, but there was crowd acceptance. A decision made absent of any reasonable discussion, but validated by welcoming as if being selected to a mysterious club.

There is a degree of confidence that if I spent time reminiscing with those who were also in attendance that certain details would achieve greater clarity. While part of me doubts some of the specifics, the sentiment is not a thing to doubt. To a greater extent focusing on the specifics will be a distraction from the narrative. But what is the narrative without a grounding on some truth? It’s just a story, and one which loses some level of practicality  Things must happen for the lesson to be learned.

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Daniel J. Boorstin

To be sure, then, what I know is that the feeling of closeness to the divine was less than a feeling of belonging. This played out for many years with me simply accepting statements rather than questioning them. There were times of civility, and there were times in which caustic confrontation was the lantern. There was significant reconciliation of conflict as the Baptist theology collided with my love for music. Rush. AC/DC. Iron Maiden. Def Leppard. Judas Priest. The Police. It probably wasn’t until U2 landed that any degree of harmony was obtained. This made the relationship between faith, sound and the extended congregation less hostile. But it took years to make the decision that the world didn’t look brighter, I wasn’t treating people better and I wasn’t more at peace with faith pulling the rope.

Where did I go when stress came? Sorrow? Struggle? It was music (and now it is also nature) that absorbed the world to clarify its messages. You might even say this clarity was my “religious experience”. Falling into the singular mode of thinking that the bible was the source of record, one which validated the confirmation bias being taught, was a tragedy but it was not tragic. The need for the religion experience was part of my steps being built which will constitute my final self. As time passed there was clarity which has me in what one might call a Zen state, though I can assure you such a term must be understood within an irreligious undogmatic context. And it’s also always a process of becoming.

Today, while millions are preparing for this holy time of year I am listening to Band of Horses’ Acoustic at the Ryman. It’s 80 degrees outside, the back door is open and the sounds of someone doing yard work is the present backdrop to “The Funeral”. Is what I’m feeling right now so much different from my Christian friends?

My thoughts inevitably go back to that Wittgenstein quote, and I think about how certain events are portrayed. Was the crucifixion a requirement? Is suffering an existential condition as much as joy? Are all experiences lessons on how to be at peace with being? The news is littered with the religious fighting against the rights of the LGBT community and radicals murdering those of other faiths along with those who they feel offend their faith. Why do many who call themselves religious, through these myriad of religions, react as if occurrences will somehow derail their divine? What is tragic about that which they fight against?

As hard as I try to it is almost impossible to not see some things as tragic. But at times I’m reminded that thinking is illusion. Years ago I watched a story about a girl who was raped, got pregnant and carried the child to term. How does someone do that? Asking my memory for another gift I seem to remember her stating how the child came to be was not more important than the child being. She said her Christian faith gave her the strength to see things that way. If I’ve learned anything it’s that people have the strength to not see things as tragic, they just need something to ground them. If my grounding is just as religious as the religious then common experiences, while leading to different views, have left us with a similar perspective. It is people like this girl who define the truth of the faith as equally as those who can’t live it make it a lie.

Easter, from a secular perspective, can be a story about being reborn as someone who sees things not as tragic but as hopeful. And if the faithful are living that then we are neighbors.

 

The wind blew a path through the fallen leaves
And there showed a crack in the old oak tree
The door stood as if it was standing guard
Of the dozen chipmunks in the backyard

Every house not a home but dare do I roam
There’s a light on the porch here for someone

Once upon a time in a border town
The war was over, the guns laid down
The women, the men, the children say
Now it’s hard to remember it any other way

When the law acts as though there is nothing to show
There is compassion and depth in a neighbor

Now if Bartles & Jaymes didn’t need no first names
We could live by our own laws in favor

Every house not a home but dare do I roam
There’s a light on the porch here for someone

Now if Bartles & Jaymes didn’t need no first names
We could live by our own laws in favor

“Neighbor” by Band of Horses

 

Jars of Clay – The Inland Review


It has been almost three years since Jars of Clay released Shelter, a disc which Glenn McCarty of Crosswalk.com heralded as “a clarion call to unity” relative to the Christian community. Lead singer Dan Haseltine noted, “…we were already thinking about a project that would be specific for the church.” But on Inland, their first release as an “indie” band, the central focus is a bit more existential.

In an interview with Hans Schiefelbein, keyboardist Charlie Lowell says of Inland:

It’s where we all live- caring about work, family, faith, doubt, the world around us- but really struggling to connect them and find lasting meaning out of them all. So we approached this record process with that in mind- our goal was to write in those specific moments of humanity, and to put the many voices we have accumulated over the years behind us.

Since 1995 when their debut single “Flood” further closed the gap between pop and Christian music, Jars have been a band that refused to compromise their faith nor their crossover viability. For every directly religious “Love Song for a Savior” there was a more universally accessible “Work“. Yet even amidst the brambles of praise and pop music that is their entire catalog, they always managed to present the subject matter with a poetic elegance so both believer and non-believer alike could take in the experience.

Being Agnostic allowed for a first hand appreciation of Jars’ artisanship, a sentiment which I thought peaked at their 2006 release Good Monsters. It is with great joy that I announce Inland as the new standard. Taking its theme from The Odyssey, the new disc asks the listener to reflect on their pilgrimage through life. The beauty in its presentation is that you do not need to have faith in God for the message to resonate.

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Garbage Day


Over the past three days I attended two showings of a musical called Back in the Boondocks. It was put on by the CrossRoad UMC Arts Academy. The premise of the story is that of a family living in Louisiana. It details their struggles with relationships, alcoholism, friendship, death and faith. Musically the backdrop is solely Country with songs by the likes of Miranda Lambert (Kerosene), Joe Nichols (The Shape I’m In), The Band Perry (If I Die Young), Craig Morgan (Bonfire) and Little Big Town (Boondocks).

As someone who is not a big Country Music fan (yet I feel I am becoming a very selective one as each day passes), and a seasoned agnostic, the existential message disclosed by the production was something to which anyone could relate. For me it was summed up simply as this: we should not be looking for happiness, we should be looking for peace. This production was sharing how that could be found in Christianity and the crowds who I saw it with grasped that to thunderous applause. I saw the message as expanding beyond any one faith or belief system. Encountering, as well all surely have, individuals who do not hold the same life view as we and he who are at peace it serves not to remind us that we are necessarily wrong in our beliefs but that maybe we have gotten a bit off track.

There is one character who loses her farm after her brother signs it over to her seemingly ex-husband in good faith. Then there is that same brother who struggles with returning to Nashville in an effort to revive a successful singing career which he walked away from when his wife died in a tour bus accident. Amidst the messages of forgiveness and repentance I was more hit by the problem of attachment. Of holding on too tightly to something for fear of being without it. Such a crime assumes that beyond the now is not any better. How can we be so arrogant and naive?

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