God, Eddie Vedder, and a Dark and Lonely Road October 25, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: Backspacer, death, Divine Inspiration, Eddie Vedder, god, life, love, meaning, Pearl Jam, prophetic voice, youth
Headlights cut a swath through the dark canvass of night, lighting the two lane path through the rural Arkansas night as my car sped along the lonesome, unlit road. On either side of the vehicle lay fields of cotton and other assorted crops, flat, seemingly endless planes stretching unseen into the black horizon. The sky was dotted with what seemed to be an infinite number of stars to this boy from the city, where light pollution erased any semblance of star gazing, and I fought the urge to stare into the depths of space normally unseen. The road and the darkness were my only companions.
This had been a quick trip to my hometown of Beebe, some 130 miles from our current home on the outskirts of Memphis, on a Saturday evening in order to give our chocolate lab, Hershey, a new and better home with my in-laws. The drive usually takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes, give or take for traffic and construction, of which about half is on a two lane highway between Beebe and Brinkley, Arkansas, passing through small towns in various states of decay like Des Arc and Cotton Plant, before hitting I-40 in Brinkley for the second and faster moving leg of the trip through the eastern side of the state and across the river into Memphis. It is a rather boring drive, so I made sure to load myself up with an amount of caffeine that would no doubt qualify as liquid speed, beginning with a 5 hour energy shot before I left Memphis and finishing with a couple of cups of after dinner coffee at my parents’ house. As would be expected, I was flying high with energy.
Those of you who know me well know that there are few things more important to me than the soundtrack I choose to listen to each day. Music carries a special significance in my life for it is the fuel that powers my very being, it challenges and inspires in a way that few other things can. So I thought for a few minutes about what album or playlist I wanted to treat my ears and mind to for the drive ahead but it did not take very much time before the answer became clear.
This has been a stellar year for new music, but there is one title in particular that has truly grabbed me from the first time I listened to it. This powerful collection of songs bored directly into my very soul and I knew that it was something special, something transcendent that I would not soon forget. Of course, as most of you probably know, the album of which I speak is Pearl Jam’s newest release, Backspacer. As I’ve spoken of before, Pearl Jam have held a special place to me ever since their 1991 debut, Ten, and I have followed them diligently ever since that time, lapping up every melody and lyric that Eddie Vedder and the boys saw fit to release – and some that they did not. They were there during the confusion and challenges of my teen years, they accompanied me as I left school and began wading my way through the world, they shouted angrily alongside me at the perversions of justice during the first 8 years of the new millennium, and today, perhaps more than ever before, they stand beside me like a good friend, a companion into a new world, one where I am now in my 30’s with a wife and kids and a job, in which their accompaniment is as important as ever. It is hard for me to put into words how I feel about this new album, but this past Saturday night I experienced something that I have not in many years, if ever and that is the story that I want to tell.
Soon the loud Johnny B Goode-style riff of the album opener, “Gonna See My Friend,” filled the car and settled back, head bobbing to the driving guitar, but as I listened my mind began to wander, picking through the lyrics and the sounds and mulling over their meaning, and at some point it was a sudden realization struck my brain with an unknown force, an epiphany of Biblical proportions under whose weight I would have staggered if I had not been seated in a minivan. This was their story and, in turn, this was my story. The first four songs on the album are among the loudest and most upbeat as they tell stories of living fast and for the moment, dealing with their flaws (in their songs this includes what sounds like drug addiction, which is certainly not my personal problem, but I know we all have shortcomings with which we have to cope) and personal failings. I see within these songs the story of youth, a time filled with exuberance and mistakes as we hammer out our small place in the universe.
This section is followed by perhaps the most powerful piece on the entire album, a song entitled, “Just Breathe,” in which the narrative takes a sudden turn, for our heroes have discovered two things that change everything: love and mortality. This is really the point where my spirit perked up as I listened to Eddie Vedder’s emotion filled voice crack over a beautifully finger-picked guitar as he seemed to struggle through many of the words.
Yes I understand that every life must end, uh huh,..
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, uh huh,..
I’m a lucky man to count on both hands
The ones I love,..
And this was it. The point where my eyes teared up a bit, my mind raced and I realized that something had just struck me like a spiritual lightning bolt – the Divine was suddenly here, sitting alongside myself and Eddie. I thought of my wife and kids and how I don’t always show them how much I appreciate them in our busy lives. I thought of my own life and the short time that we have to walk this earth with the ones we love.
I’ve long had a feeling that I’m going to die young, but can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I have already cheated death once, barely escaping its icy grip, and that the chances are low that I will once again evade it. Perhaps it is just general paranoia, though the idea doesn’t really fill me with fear, just some degree of sadness at the thought of missing my family.
And the rest of the album is filled with incredible songs having similar themes – ones of loss, regret, love, time and mortality. It is here that my melancholic soul found inspiration.
And so I press forward, inspired as a new man. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that love is the most powerful thing. All else will fail you in the end, whether it be your money or fame or religious dogma. It is all for naught. Love is what will carry you. Grasp it and don’t let it go and hold onto it until your dying day and all will be right.
The aptly titled final song on the album, “The End”, puts this in perspective when Eddie sings in the first person of someone nearing death begging their loved one to stay with them.
Don’t leave me so cold
Or buried beneath the stones
I just want to hold on
And know I’m worth your love
But the end comes suddenly as he sings the last words of the album,
But not much longer
And the music abruptly stops.
It was as though the finger of God suddenly reached through the clouds and touched me for all seemed clear, like a new plane of existence had been reached, one in which this realization was made plain. Eddie Vedder is a prophetic voice in the wilderness, a man preaching the Divine in a way that I had never heard nor felt from a preacher or church before. This is true. This is right. I smiled knowingly through watery eyes and I knew what had to be done. I had to tell my family how much I love them for nobody knows how much time is left.
It is love and only love that matters.
Leading the Growth Group September 17, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: agnosticism, atheism, church, conversation, discussion, Divine Inspiration, moral standards, small group
On Wednesday night the members of our congregation meet in various small groups around the Memphis metro area where we discuss various topics, many of which deal with the prior Sunday’s sermon. Our normal group leader, Ryan, is on a survey trip to Togo, West Africa, where he and his family are planning on joining a team of missionaries in the future, so the duties of leading the discussion has fallen to myself and my friend James. James and I have very similarly unorthodox views on things dealing with church and faith, so when I saw the topic for this week’s discussion, I was a bit uneasy with where it might lead.
This week’s sermon was entitled Urban Legends: God is Dead, and it was based on a passage taken from Psalm 14:1-4.
1 The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
3 All have turned aside,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
4 Will evildoers never learn—
those who devour my people as men eat bread
and who do not call on the LORD?
Along with the passage we were given a set of discussion questions to go over.
1) Why is it “foolish” to say that there is no God? What foundation for moral living does the atheist have?
My first inclination was to look at the first verse and to say that, if taken absolutely literally, it is garbage, utter crap. Seriously, you mean to tell me that people who do not believe in God are incapable of doing good? Any person who knows atheists can tell you with a great deal of certainty that this assertion is 100% false. James brought up the idea that perhaps it was more of a poetic device (he does have a degree in English), not meant to be taken literally, but meant to make a point. This also lead us down another path where we spent a good deal of time talking about the notion of divine inspiration and of how the Bible is often looked at as perfect and inerrant, ideas with which we both heartily disagree. In the end we agreed that this passage, much like the rest of the scriptures, is not meant to be taken literally. Therefore, we determined that it is the question that is misleading.
Secondly, I balked at the implication that atheists have no foundation for moral living, for this is another assertion often made by apologists in their attempt to prove the validity of the Christian faith within the confines of modernity. A look back at the history of philosophy will easily show that the notions of right and wrong can be reasoned out and do not have to be divinely dictated. James talked of the laws of the Jewish Bible that were likely borrowed from those of other cultures who were practicing them before the writings that became the Pentateuch were done. To imply that humans would act as wild animals without divine influence is just not correct. Thus, we came to the conclusion that humans could reason a serviceable moral law and that this question was also not a good one.
2) An agnostic (“without knowledge”) is someone who does not know if there is a God. How would you begin a conversation with an agnostic to explain your faith?
My answer was to begin the conversation with a drink and let it go from there. I’m not a fan of proselytizing, so I keep away from the idea of trying to prove my reasons for believing in God, relegating that type of conversation to the scrap heap of modernity. I have friends who are avowed atheists and agnostics and the idea of trying to aggressively persuade them to “come to Jesus” holds no real importance for me. Instead, I want to be their friend and spend time together and not worry myself over where they will spend eternity (of course, when you don’t believe in hell this is a lot easier, but I digress). I’ll listen to “secular” music, watch “secular” movies, and have drinks with them, but at the same time I hope that they will see that I have an innate desire to make this world a better place, to love my neighbor as myself.
And there were some other questions as well, but it’s nearly quitting time at work so I’m going to stop here. Thoughts?
The Battle Against the Brain – part 3 September 15, 2009Posted by Matt in The Battle Against the Brain.
Tags: Bible, Biblical Interpretation, Divine Inspiration, educated people, Evangelicals, mythology
add a comment
One of the biggest sticking points between many Evangelical Christians and the educated is undoubtedly their unwavering belief that the Bible is the perfect, inerrant, divinely inspired, directly-given word of God. The aforementioned Pew study quantified this idea, stating that 59% of Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the literal, word-for-word dictation from God.
But, some of us have differing opinions.
The inaccuracies and contradictions contained within the pages of the Bible have been widely written about in the past (see Marcus Borg’s Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, as one example) and, though many seek to tie the loose ends together with the most tenuous and illogical explanations, they still exist and they can be quite damning.
Now, of course, this does not mean that the Bible is unimportant, quite the contrary, it is of great relevance, even to those of us living today in a world that the Biblical writers could not have even dreamed of. For us it is a window into the world of an ancient people as they try to explain things beyond explanation. It is their realization that something bigger than them exists, leading them to speak of it and write about it in a way that makes sense within their ancient worldview. It then leads us in our search for the Divine as we search for meaning in a world of randomly occurring tragedies and triumphs.
Thus, we do not feel the need to accept the asinine assumptions of creation science or to accept the obviously bipolar God of Genesis (It says creation is good and then, one page later, is sorry for it and wants to kill all the men, women, children, and animals by asphyxiation?) as factual. We do not need to believe that a good God sends pestilence and plague and natural disasters to wipe out masses of people. We can accept it that the New Testament writers borrowed heavily from Plato, rather than having their pens divinely guided (unless you accept Plato as being divinely inspired as well, but, as a homosexual heathen he’s probably not very high on the Evangelical guest list in heaven).
Perhaps then it is the overarching Biblical themes of redemption and love that truly matter rather than the specific stories. Maybe we would all be better off if we accepted mythology for what it is, a collection of thematic stories proclaiming truth without being factual representations of actual events.
It is this blind allegiance, this thinly veiled form of idolatry, that has been largely responsible for the exodus of the educated from America’s churches.
Faith Like an Adult July 16, 2009Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: adults, children, Divine Inspiration, faith, god, morality, personal salvation, service
1 comment so far
I’ve got three kids, ages 6, 4, and 6 months, and I am often amazed at their propensity toward belief, especially when it comes to God. If you ask them (well if you ask the older two, Jackson will just smile and say, “Blaaaahhhh!) about God and Jesus or Adam and Eve or a worldwide flood or the tower of Babel or the parting of the Red Sea, they would answer that of course it actually happened because the Bible says so. In their eyes good and evil have distinct definitions and all things fall into one or the other. Though they certainly have times of kindness toward others, their actions are primarily self-serving, with one’s personal well-being seen as the highest good. Many would look at this and proclaim that this is exactly what Jesus requires us to do, to have faith like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then there are others, like me, who are thankful to not fulfill this “requirement.” We do not blindly accept things as fact or as divinely inspired, but instead look to scriptures and claims of inspiration with a critical eye. We do not hold to a black and white moral paradigm, but instead to one consisting mainly of gray, one that recognizes the existence of nuance. We have done away with the selfish motivation of declaring our ultimate goal in life to be our personal salvation and instead embrace a view that does not focus on the afterlife and what it may hold, but instead hones in on a life of service and on what we can do to make this world a better place for everyone else.
So, you can keep the faith of a child. I’ll take the faith of an adult.
A Place at the Table – pt.2 January 14, 2009Posted by Matt in A Place at the Table.
Tags: Bible, church, Divine Inspiration, Paul, Plato, role of women, theology
add a comment
When looking at the role of women (or lack thereof) as discussed in the New Testament it only makes sense to begin with the author of the majority of the books, Paul. Over the years his writings have been held in high esteem and with great reverence, for it is through his words (many times as seen through the lens of those coming later) that the church came to be and then evolved through time. There are several avenues for criticism of these revered writings, though, both generally speaking and within the context of women’s issues.
To begin with, it is important that we have a healthy view of Biblical inspiration. Are these scriptures truly infalliable and inerrant? Are they truly the perfectly exact words of God as whispered to the writer in a sort of divine dictation?
Paul was certainly a brilliant and learned man, and he was one who used a variety of resources in his writings. For example, just a bit of rudimentary research will show his reliance on the ancient Greek philosophers, in particular Plato. I have written about this in greater detail in the past and do not care to retread the ground I have already covered, so if you care to read about the connection between Plato and Paul, you can do so here. If this is truly the case, then it must be asked what this means in regard to divine inspiration. Was Plato merely copying God’s dictation as many believe Paul and other Biblical writers to have done? It is important that one take these things into account before making blanket statements regarding the entirety of the Bible as the product of perfect divine revelation.
Secondly, it is important that we see that a distinct line (and perhaps more than one of them) can be drawn through Paul’s contribution to the Biblical canon. On one side you find Paul’s theological ideas involving justification, the relationship of Judaism and the newly formed Christian faith, and a myriad of others. The other side consists of Paul’s practical instructions to individual churches, giving them advice on subjects befitting their individual contexts within the community. Our conversation will continue on this second side.
Keeping the right perspective on Paul and his works will be essential as we move into his actual writings regarding women.