I've often felt that our faith has been domesticated. But more recently, many of the artists I run around with have shared that one of the major reasons they have "left organized religion" is the fact that the faith they once held dear has been watered down, ripped of its danger, and made vanilla.
"it seems like Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really is. They feel the need to tidy up God...God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured planet."
I couldn't agree more!
We attempt to expose a life-altering faith with our peers, but often times all that's experienced is a temperate, mundane, safe, far-from-revolutionary, nominal, set of beliefs that aren't much more than ideals we don't ever really expect to fully-believe, critically examine, or stand for in the face of any kind of scrutiny.
We've overcome the grit of broken lives with our choir robes and 3 chord praise songs; concealed the pain and doubt of life with freshly produced 1 hour services that tell us what we want to hear, so that we sleep better at night knowing we're right and they're wrong; and push us to dream only as big as we have left overs for.
I'm sorry, but when I open the pages of the scriptures, I just don't find a rationale for this domestication that's become the gold standard of church. I'm beginning to believe my friends that have walked away from faith were onto something, and the Church needs to reclaim what's withered.
This morning in a conversation regarding marriage, church, state, etc, the question was asked, "should all marriage be returned to the church as a purely religious ceremony?" The state could simply merit and classify (what once was a state-sponsored marriage) as a civil union; continuing to allocate and collect taxes, provide benefits, etc.
It's an interesting concept...when did the state become invested in a sacrament?
Of course, we could go the other way, and collect our communion wafers and wine from the DMV or courthouse. We wouldn't dare blur those lines. It's a sacrament that the state has no business in.
Or perhaps we (the church) take one seriously, and one for granted...
On a drive home from Columbia over the weekend, Kate and I got to talking about choir robes. Where did this fashion statement and practice originate? And why do we still think its an appropriate "costume?"
Here's the only conclusion I could come up with...
Back in the times where all people wore were robes, the group of singers decided they'd all wear the same color. Of course it wasn't a robe back then, it was clothes. So the leader says, "hey, this Sunday, we're wearing white." And somehow 2,000 years later, it's stuck.
The thing is, is that it's 2012, and well...robes look ridiculous.
Maybe this is the story, maybe not, but I like my version of the story. And truth be told, I'm too lazy to research it, because at the end of the day, no matter what the reason, it still looks ridiculous.
Pat – I was lucky enough to see Ross Christopher do a show in West County a few months ago and afterward, I began listening to some of his music on Spotify. He graciously agreed to do an interview with VIVE and has invited us to join him at his show on February 24th in the Duck Room. We’ll be giving away some merchandize and doing a follow-up Hi-Def video of his performance – I am looking very forward to that! For now, enjoy the great interview I had with local STL artist, Ross Christopher and come down to the Duck Room to see everyone on the 24th!
Interview – Ross Christopher
Me - Firstly, I love the violin, when did you first learn and how long have you been playing?
Ross - I started playing violin 27 years ago, when I was 3 years old. My parents got me started on the Suzuki Method, and I haven’t looked back.
Me - Also, I know you play a few instruments, how many can you play? And does playing multiple instruments affect your songwriting?
Ross - I play violin, sing, guitar (acoustic & electric), bass, keys/organ/piano, mandolin, cello, and really anything I can get my hands on. I love trying new things and pushing myself with new sounds and textures. Playing multiple instruments has made me think more broadly about sound, what makes a soundscape, and how the listener reacts to it. Different sounds create different emotions, and the more I can use (tastefully), will no doubt create a broader experience to its listener.
Me - Do you write and play all of the music on your records? Is there an instrument that you use primarily when creating a new song? And what do hope to accomplish with a diverse instrumentation?
Ross - Currently yes (for the most part), but not always in the past. Boxes and Human Fog is my 6th solo album. I recorded and produced it at my studio, SiloTreeSTUDIO. My first 3 were done from more of a band perspective, and the past 3 solo. I think you can hear the difference in the recordings, and each record was done so with that kind of intention. I write a few different ways. Violin is definitely my bread and butter instrument. It’s the one that gets the crowd going. I use it as the writing tool for my songs that are more riff-based, and most of my lead electric guitar tones are actually violins. When I write the non-riff songs, it’s usually from a guitar’s perspective. All in all (instrumentally), my goal is to use lots of traditional instruments in very non-traditional ways. I like it when people are caught of guard, thinking to themselves, “I didn’t know a violin (or whatever instrument) could sound like that.” Part of my motivation in life is to make people see things that they’ve never seen, that have been staring at them the whole time. I want to create new realities.
Me - When did you start using a loop pedal?
Ross - My wife (fiancée at the time) bought it for me back in 2002.
Me - Can you explain how the loop pedal works and why you enjoy using it?
Ross - Basically the loop pedal allows me to record a sequence and layer an infinite number of tracks on top of it. I start with a chord progression or riff, add percussive hits on my guitar, strings, etc and before you know it, I’ve created this sonic-orchestral piece that takes the song to new heights.
Me - Your album ‘The River Child’… you claim to be the river child. Why do you claim to be this person and what does being a river child represent?
Ross - It’s a story of redemption, renewal, and life. It’s certainly my story, but I think it’s the story of humanity. We started perfect, we’ve broken that, but I believe that’s all been set straight by Jesus about 2000 years ago.
Me - Your newest album Boxes and Human Fog has a lot of new sounds; piano, spacey vocals, a plucking banjo? (maybe), organs… can you tell me how your music and you as an artist have changed since River Child and Act Alive?
Ross - Ha, no banjos, those are violin plucks. Boxes is different than The River Child in lots of ways. Its way grittier and more in your face. I think I took more lyrical leaps and discuss some more volatile issues. The River Child was much more pop-rock. It’s where I was in 2007-2008, but the topics I wrestle with on Boxes just needed more raw, in your face, instrumentation and vocals. Topically, I was working out this issue I take with those that say God is black and white and create these boxes to define who God is, how he works, and conversely, how he can’t work. It’s a call to arms for the revolutionary practice of grace, of a justice that isn’t anything like war or our U.S. justice system.
Me - On your new album I listened to a song called 372 Year Eclipse… what is 372 Year Eclipse?
Ross - I wrote the instrumental piece the night of an eclipse that only happens every 372 years. I figured, “you can’t not name it that…I won’t be around again to name it that in the future!”
Me - If you were to cover any popular artist, who would it be?
Ross - That’s a tough one. I’m a huge Beatles fan. I really get into Radiohead. Sting and Michael Jackson are also huge influences. But to be honest, the only “cover” I’ve ever done was ‘Amazing Grace.’ It’s the perfect song. It sums me up. It’s ageless and everyone knows it, whether you call yourself a follower of Christ or not. It’s such a gritty song. Grace is not pretty. I don’t like the idea of the guilty being set free, but that’s grace. So I tried to capture that feeling.
Me - What is the most important message you hope to convey to your listeners?
Ross - Just to think, wrestle, and embrace doubt. I think it’s in those moments we see what we’ve been missing. Realities are made and transformation happens.
Here's a short excerpt from my upcoming book, Outsourcing God, addressing the complexities of consumerism and church.
Outsourcing God (c) 2012 Ross Christopher.
...We make no distinction between faith and consumerism. And if we’re not careful, we wind up treating our leadership positions as if they were telemarketing firms or IT consultants.
But this doesn’t happen over night. It’s a culmination of culture, movement, laziness, vision, and pace, all working in tandem over time to affect every single aspect of how people see and follow God. Because God is inextricably linked to the way the Church behaves, it ineffectually becomes the same.
We made it home after an eternity (non-literal) in the car. Last night, a bit past Indy, the snow started coming down, cars were in ditches, and travel was slowed to 30 mph. I found us a MOtel (HEAVY emphasis on the MO). Though I'm pretty sure I could have paid by the hour, I went ahead and paid the nightly rate.
All is well though. We made it home again. Now our little weekend trip to Baltimore is a memory. It was a lot of fun times: eating, dreaming, laughing, debating, and seeing.
We're in Baltimore, spending the weekend with our good friends, Brandon, Katie, and fam. The trek across IL, IN, OH, WV, VA, and MD were scenic and I hope to come back and hit up parts of the Appalachian Trail. The Schultz's greeted us on Thursday to an awesome hotel suite and late night chats (that's why we came to be quite honest!)
Yesterday we hit up the inner harbor of Baltimore, visited the aquarium, and finished out the day with a 3 hour voyage-of-a-meal at an amazing Ethiopian place called Bete, in Spring City. Oh Em Gee! Let's just say we devoured a table-sized smorgasbord of meats (some cooked & some not), veggies, lentils, and bread. I recommend the 'kit fo' - raw beef!
We crashed late last night and we're doing it again today; just with less raw meat this time. I hear the human body can only take on so much...
There's a TON of talk these days about masculinity in the church, in faith, heck, even the very nature of God. I get it - it's a response to men leaving the church in droves. But I see a HUGE flaw in this conversation. First of all is the tone. It's unhealthy, cocksure (pun fully intended), and segments the nature and character of God into a black and white mold, that I don't find helpful; and is actually untrue about God. For centuries, you couldn't utter the name of G-D, much less define him. But alas, its 2012, and we've figured God out.
Some of the same authors and thinkers that have propped up the sovereign God, are now painting God into a definable box. That leaves me a bit perplexed.
My reservations about this recent movement is that its a matter of identity. The same camp that is touting an uber-masculine God names homosexuality as a sin; that it's a sin because of identity. One's sexuality becomes their identity, rather than Christ. The argument usually goes like this:
"You can't be both Christian and homosexual" "The Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin" "You can't be vegan and eat meat" (I know its a lame example, but I didn't coin it) "Thus, Christianity and homosexuality don't mix" "You'll go to hell...the scripture says it, and who am I to argue with scripture...I didn't write it, I'm just the mailman" (again, I know its a lame example, but I didn't coin that one either)
Now, if its truly a matter of identity, how is replacing your sexual preference (as identity) any different than being identified by being "man?" At the end of the day, its the same identity crisis.
But that's what you get when you pick and choose scriptures to prop up your doctrine of faith and make it resonate to your cohort of followers. Either the Bible told the truth, or its a lie. But when it says, "because of my death and resurrection, there's no Jew or Greek, male or female, free or slave, etc..." how do we respond (Galatians 3:28)?
I think in that moment, all issues of identity changed (or at least should have). I struggle with my identity as do most people. I'm defined by my jobs, relationships, status, emotions, etc. But I'm working through it in response to my true identity being in Jesus.
Anything short of that is a distraction and hurts the Church in the long run.
I hope this discussion will fade away (soon) and that the damage will be minimal; but the voices are loud and cocksure. The cohort likes the doctrine, and I'm worried about damage control.
I thought it'd be interesting to write/think/discuss the biblical concept of binding and loosing in today's post.
Binding and loosing is an originally Jewish phrase which appears in the New Testament, as well as in the Targum. In usage to bind and to loose mean simply to forbid by an indisputable authority, and to permit by an indisputable authority.
Jesus continues the early Jewish discussion and notion in Matthew 18, when he says, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
What exactly does this mean? I'm not going to pretend to have the right answer. But what I can do is offer an opinion (which I think has a biblical, contextual, and historical basis.)
Could Jesus be speaking to those of us that create laws or ways of living that might be otherwise different than how we've interpreted God's original intention? By that I mean, God gives us a wide open grace and compassion and justice, that seems to be including all of humanity, but for some, we minimize the huge-ness of God to fit our particular theologies, doctrines, orthodoxies, denominations, and networks. In doing so, are we creating new realities with eternal consequences (both good and bad)?
Think about the questions posed to Jesus regarding the Kingdom of God...a rich young ruler asks how he might inherit it, and Jesus speaks in economic terms. That man is certainly bound by an economic identity and way of life. The way(s) he binds and looses his money on earth will likewise resemble eternity.
When a farmer asks Jesus about the Kingdom of God, Jesus speaks in agricultural terms, because that man's identity, calendar, and way of life revolves around crops and cultivation.
When the church leaders ask about the Kingdom of God, Jesus speaks of a wedding banquet which is more inclusive than they would like.
Again, it seems Jesus is tying identity to what is bound and loosed. He goes beyond the hard-lined black and white-ness of what the Old Testament seems to say, and creates new realities.
Today we find ourselves in various congregations that label certain things taboo or heretical, while other congregations may not. Does this mean there's not a specific right or wrong (method to inheriting the Kingdom of God)? Perhaps, perhaps not.
But in each of these cases, the Kingdom of God is merited, understood, and lived in different ways: giving away money, planting seeds and letting weeds grow amongst them, and being inclusive as to who's seated at the wedding party.
Remember, in Revelation we're also told that the gates of heaven are left wide open (Revelation 21:25). So just perhaps those black and white issues that we tend to label closed or open handed, will have eternal implications. Perhaps we are creating eternal realities. Perhaps eternity doesn't begin at death, but birth.