one of the values we feel most strongly about at eikon is the intersection of faith and culture. more to the point, we don’t view this intersection with an “us vs. them” mentality or as some unfortunate circumstance which we avoid, but rather, as an opportunity to engage culture in a way that sees god at work in the world. we believe that because every person is created in the image of god—the creator—then, ultimately, our creativity flows from god. that doesn’t mean that all aspects of culture—art, music, film, literature, etc—are specifically “christian”, but that, ultimately, it points back to something bigger than or something beyond us (whether it be about love or pain or a journey or whatever).
with that said, there are musicians and artists and other cultural contributors that seem to create art that is particularly descriptive of this faith/culture intersection. one of these musicians is chris thile.
in my (ryan’s) top five favorite bands of all time is nickel creek, of which chris thile is the most recognizable and arguably the driving musical force. flowing from nickel creek has been several other successful offshoots including solo albums from all three members (sara’s album drops in a couple weeks), mutual admiration society, fiction family and punch brothers. along with nickel creek and these various offshoots, both thile’s solo work and, now, work with punch brothers has been very spiritually charged.
beginning with 2004′s believer and continuing with 2006′s follow-up how to grow a woman from the ground, thile has played out his real life struggles with god and faith and life in musical public space. 2008′s punch, by his latest incarnation punch brothers, is the most lyrically focused work to date for thile in which he sheds the mystery of his feelings toward christianity. when the veil is lifted, we find that thile—in the aftermath of a painful divorce—has all but walked away from the faith of his family and youth.
speaking about his upbringing, thile says, “I grew up in a very Christian household and was not a rebellious child…The religion of my youth was fear-based, and I think a lot of religion is. It’s left me with an overall fear of death, which I kind of resent. I feel that’s no way to really live.” The unraveling of this childhood faith is captured in the sprawling 40-minute composition, the blind leaving the blind, which is the centerpiece of punch.
by the fourth and final movement, thile confronts his soured feelings toward religion, singing,
Where I was so concerned
We would be the ones who burned
The more scared the safer
The more grateful for the grapejuice
And the wafer
further, thile reveals the kind of god he has never known:
And I need to hear Him say
“You and your friends can come in
Your thoughts and that girl can come in
Your parents and brothers are here
I let them In
Who told you I wouldn’t let you all in?
You are my children.”
his lyrics clearly speak to the exclusive, single-sided legalistic faith that was offered during his childhood. thile, of course, isn’t alone. here in the very early phases of the development of eikon, i’ve had the opportunity to share the vision for the church with many people and, likewise, enter into dialogue with people about their views of god and christianity, specifically. for many people, their journey from belief as a child to eventual disbelief after negative experiences or a personal crisis, has led them to see god as some cast-aside remnant of their former self. religion, at best—for many people—is a crutch rather than a vibrant part of their life.
for many of these people, though, the conversations we’ve had have turned much like the final stanza of thile’s the blind leaving the blind. the epic track closes with,
And I sound done
And I feel done
But I’m not done
Unless you’d give up on a lost son
thile hasn’t given up if god hasn’t. it’s a chapter that isn’t closed. despite personal crisis, pain and near-complete disbelief, he’s willing to continue a dialogical journey in which god is still a possibility. it certainly may not be the god of his childhood, but it is a god he’s willing to re-engage.
i recently heard someone say that “doubt is the new faith” and certainly i think that may be true. in many ways, in fact, that may be a welcome reality that seems a bit more reflective not only of our current culture but also, in many ways, the great people of “faith” as presented in scripture. thile is a doubter, but his music speaks to a great hope and journey of discovery and possibility that we most certainly embrace at eikon.
as our faith community continues to unfold and grow, i invite you to engage in this intersection of culture and faith and life and doubt. just like thile, we’re a long way from having it figured out, but “unless [he'd] give up on a lost son,” we’re not done in that process of growing and uncovering and seeking god.
listen to the blind leaving the blind: