we couldn’t be any more excited to announce that we’ll be hosting david bazan, as a part of his “living room tour”, at eikon (518 w. 9th st.) on saturday, september 8 (8 p.m.). tickets ($20) go on sale on friday, june 15 at 3 p.m. (central time). click here to purchase tickets. (the only way to purchase tickets is through bazan’s website. there will be no ticket sales at/through eikon.)
since the inception of eikon, we’ve desired to play host to events like these that combine great art and compelling faith perspectives. bazan offers exactly that. once the lead singer and creative force behind the band pedro the lion, bazan began his solo career in the late 2000s. his first full length solo project, curse your branches was dubbed as the album in which bazan “broke up with god”, coming out of the closet of the faith he’d left behind. since that time, bazan has released the follow-up, strange negotiations, and continues to tour.
we’re looking forward to a great night of music on september 8. make sure to get your tickets this friday!
if you’ve never heard bazan’s music, here’s a video of him performing hard to be from a past house show.
where did you come from? what made you the person you are now? who shaped you? what life circumstances deeply molded your worldviews? what moments of crisis made you reorder the world around you? how have you wrestled with spirituality and truth and this whole god thing?
simply put, what is your story?
we’re very excited to announce that our upcoming series, prose: writing the story of community, asks this very question. what is your story?
beginning may 16, we’ll begin to hear the stories of not only the people who are a part of this faith community called eikon, but the bigger community of little rock. each week, we’ll hear the stories of 2 or 3 different people. we’ll discover where they came from, what has shaped them, how faith has impacted their stories and many other questions.
in addition, we’ll be compiling written pieces each week that will be distributed as booklets that contain both artwork & writing. throughout the series, we’ll be asking both our speakers and any others to submit art and written pieces to be a part of the booklets. we’ll give more details about how to submit pieces in the next several days.
so, mark your calendars and do your best to join us for this series. we’re convinced that people connect better with each other and with god when we learn the stories of others. so, see you on may 16!
last week, billy corgan—of smashing pumpkins fame—launched a new website, everything from here to there. in his first post, corgan expresses the purpose of the site, stating,
The purpose of this website is to discuss openly and without fear concepts of Mind-Body-Soul integration. If you are drawn to the Hidden Truths, drawn to God as something beyond limitation, and drawn to Love as the greatest force in the Universe, then you have come to the right place at the right time. This is a place of Love.
in essence, corgan has started a spiritual website that offers a safe and honest place to explore concepts of spirituality and the idea of something more. while it’s very clear that the site isn’t an overtly christian stream of thought (corgan states, “we promote no religion, and if we speak of any belief or faith system it won’t be at the expense of another”), certainly corgan is expressing themes that help to inform a broader conversation regarding religion, spirituality and ulitmately, jesus. he states,
There is God, and then there are gods, idols along the way that may convince us that the One God can be replaced by a lesser thought. To me, when I say One God, I mean One Truth, One Love, One Destination.
for billy corgan, though, these aren’t new themes. over the last 10 years or so, fans have increasingly become attune to corgan’s themes of faith and spirituality. what many are surprised by, though, is that corgan’s writing has shown his ups and downs with god ever since the beginning of the smashing pumpkins.
in 1991, the smashing pumpkins released their critically acclaimed debut album, gish. on the opening track, i am one (listen here), and in the opening line, it’s clear that corgan is someone thinking through his relationship to and with god, singing,
I am one as you are three
Trying to find a messiah in your trinity
corgan’s search for something more turned more and more into what sounded like angst and despair several years later at the release of their epic 2-disc set, mellon collie and the infinite sadness. one of the storylines that came from this album and still lingers today is that corgan’s anger and isolation was directed toward god, leading him to a place of hopelessness. while certainly there was plenty of cathartic raging aimed upward, corgan expresses that it wasn’t as dark as it might seem on the surface. in an interview with paste magazine, corgan adds some persepective to his state-of-mind during the writing of mellon collie:
It wasn’t a demonstrable need to say, ‘I’m so miserable, look at me.’ It was, ‘look at me, I’m miserable, but I’m trying to figure out a way to get out of the hole.’ That, even in and of itself, has a positivity to it because it’s hopeful, it’s not death, it isn’t nihilism. There’s actually a light at the end of the tunnel.
i don’t want to overstate corgan’s intentions, but his lyrics throughout the album sound like some of the great lamentations throughout scripture: the desperation of the songs of david or the distressed weeping of job when his world collapses or the angered cries of hosea when the bride he bought turns her back on him.
in zero, one of the breakout tracks from that album, corgan famously screams,
emptiness is loneliness
and loneliness is cleanliness
and cleanliness is godliness
and god is empty just like me
in an interview years after penning the track, corgan clarified his feelings about god as expressed in the song. he asserted that instead of the song suggesting he thinks god is not present, he means, rather, that god experiences deep loneliness much like he perceived himself to be experiencing.
continuing after mellon collie and the pumpkins’ declaration that “god is empty,” corgan only amplified his themes of faith, but making them even more overt. with the collapse of the pumpkins in the early 2000s, corgan formed the one-album wonder, zwan. on their lone 2003 album, corgan chose to include an interpretation of a gospel standard, jesus, i my cross have taken (you can hear the traditional version here and read the lyrics here). what strikes me most about this track selection is the directness of the lyrics and the fact that it takes a lot of guts to record a song like this. not only do you have to have some well of knowledge to even know this song, but you have to be willing to make an overt statement of spirituality. here’s corgan and zwan’s interpretation.
so, did billy corgan find jesus? in the aforementioned paste interview, he answers the question, saying,
No, I didn’t find Jesus. He’s been there the whole time.
no doubt, this statement is much a deeper and richer theology than a lot of christian music or christian musicians bring to the conversation.
now, to be clear, corgan has fairly definitively stated several times that he doesn’t call himself a christian, but it’s worth saying that it doesn’t diminish the truth of his words and music.
again, to be clear, it’s also worth stating that there are certainly things that corgan has presented thus far on his new website that aren’t intrinsically jesus-centered, but that’s almost the point.
one of the values that we hold very near and dear at eikon is to say that truth is everywhere. to borrow a phrase from rob bell, truth is “under every nook and cranny.” billy corgan doesn’t blatantly utter the name of jesus on his new website. he doesn’t speak in ways that evoke a strict parallel with the language of scripture. he doesn’t express a linear depiction of the arc of judeo-christian narrative.
but what he does do, though, is broaden the conversation in which all people are welcome. he helps those who follow in the way of jesus see that there’s many ways of expressing faith and truth and god. it isn’t overtly christian, but it is overtly christ-like in nature.
when corgan describes god as “One Truth, One Love, One Destination,” i think that is deeply christ-like, but is certainly spoken in a much broader set of idioms than how we may instinctively speak as people pursuing life like jesus. if there is, indeed, only one god, then corgan, in his own manner of communicating, is speaking our this god.
beginning this week, corgan plans to open the site up to others as contributors and collaborators and he says he is working on a spiritual memoir that shares the site’s name. so, we’ll be hearing more from corgan. it’s hard to say exactly where’s he headed, but it’s something worth following and engaging as he continues to smash assumptions and talk god.
You’ve heard the story
You know how it goes
Once upon a garden
We were lovers with no clothes
Fresh from the soil
We were beautiful and true
In control of our emotions
‘Til we ate the poison fruit
so opens david bazan’s—formerly of pedro the lion fame—debut lp, curse your branches. bazan sets the stage with the opening lines from the opening track, hard to be—a song about original sin and the supposed spiraling implications. ultimately, bazan reveals that he’s someone who is walking away from faith, disbelievingly singing,
Wait just a minute
You expect me to believe
That all this misbehaving
Grew from one enchanted tree?
And helpless to fight it
We should all be satisfied
With this magical explanation
For why the living die
throughout the entirety of curse your branches, bazan lays forth his dissertation of what led him—as a recent chicago reader headline proclaimed—to break up with god. in when we fell, bazan’s argument is most clear, asking a number of questions:
What am I afraid of?
Who did I betray?
In what medieval kingdom does justice work that way?
If you knew what would happen
And you made us just the same
Then you my Lord can take the blame
When you set the table
When you chose the scale
Did you write a riddle that you knew they would fail
Did you make them tremble
So they would tell the tale
Did you push us when we fell?
certainly, bazan asks some pointed questions that are, no doubt, shared by an ever-growing number of people.
we at eikon are asking the same questions.
undoubtedly, our questions may be framed in a very different way, but we’re certainly asking the questions, not in fear of destroying faith, but in hopes of making it more fully realized. often the pain of struggling with the difficult questions is the thing that refines and shapes our sense of connection to christ. bazan’s long-time friend, cultural critic and progressive christian author (of the highly recommended the sacredness of questioning everything) david dark sees the need for expanding the christian conversation. of bazan’s latest effort, dark states, “i think with curse your branches david expands the space of the talk-about-able.” we hope eikon—in an attempt to expand the space of the talk-about-able—offers an ongoing opportunity to critique the church and the story of god in a way that builds both the collective community of faith and individuals’ faith itself.
i believe bazan would agree. although, certainly, he isn’t out evangelizing about the positive aspects of the church, he isn’t necessarily on a mission to tear down the church or to ask people to blindly walk away from their faith. he asserts, like in when we fell, that, much like his parents taught him, they should follow their hearts. he sings,
If my mother cries when I tell her what I discovered
Then I hope she remembers she taught me to follow my heart
And if you bully her like you done me with fear of damnation
Then I hope she can see you
for what you are
bazan—after much thought and personal soul-searching—has come to the conclusion that the “million small holes”—as he sings in harmless sparks—in his faith have given way to almost-full disconnect. it isn’t a spontaneous divorce. while listening to curse your branches, it’s helpful and important to remember that bazan isn’t some church newbie who’s spewing venom towards a system he barely understands. bazan grew up in an assembly of god church where his father was the music minister. in fact, in a recent interview at emusic, bazan affirms his very positive experiences in the church, stating,
You know, I really liked it. That’s one of the things about it — people often think, “Oh, you just had a bad experience with church.” But that’s not really the case — my experience with church was pretty positive. I was very serious about my faith. And for me, that meant a lot of thinking outside of the box. Because I knew other people who were “serious about their faith,” and they were total dickheads. People who were really zealous just seemed to get it way wrong. They were really keen on, like, everybody going to Promise Keepers. And that seemed to me to not be what the deal was. So I led songs in Youth Group, I did that in college as well. Church was such a social thing, and I loved that. I read the Bible a lot, and took it at face value and tried to see what it could mean.
the root of what i see in bazan’s music isn’t that he rejects the concept of god, but it’s that he rejects a specific notion of god. quite frankly, it’s this pervasive notion of god in that we hope to be an alternative. bazan clarifies the acknowledgement of that notion in the aforementioned emusic interview, stating,
When I wrote “When We Fell” and when I wrote “In Stitches,” I’m singing to the Christian character of “God,” which was my only view of God for a long time. And then there came a certain point where I started to realize, “Oh, wait, I’m just dethroning a notion of God — it’s not necessarily the same thing.” And so maybe there’s this other God, a real God, that doesn’t have those characteristics. And I do make an attempt to cultivate a relationship with that being on the days I’m comfortable thinking that he might exist.
it seems to me that bazan hasn’t engaged in full disconnect from living in the way of jesus. it’s just that he’s much more interested in asking questions that uncover truth rather than uncritically believing what has been presented in conjunction with our american church culture sensibilities.
david bazan is a brother and a friend and he represents the community of people for which this thing called eikon exists. much like many others asking questions, it seems that bazan hasn’t given up and he hasn’t broken up with god, but that he’s searching for some semblance of a god who seems true and real. in his final closing statement, in stitches bazan sings,
I might as well admit it
Like I even have a choice
The crew have killed the captain
But they still can hear his voice
A shadow on the water
A whisper in the wind
On long walks with my daughter
Who is lately full of questions about you
we’ve explored the intersection of faith and culture here before, specifically in the realm of the arts. this time, though, i’d like to begin by posing a question:
must/should art be accurate?
must art be “correct”? must it be definitional in nature? must it be factual?
i came across a group called B.A.S.I.C. (brothers and sisters in christ) who are based in ireland. whereas i’ve yet to learn a lot about this group, i certainly connected with their “who we are” statement, proclaiming,
BASIC, founded in 1993, is an Irish-based network of women and men (lay, religious, priests) who feel called to play an active part in building up a Church Community which is freed from the sin of sexism and healed from the divisions between men and women.
BASIC believes in a Church which affirms, proclaims, lives out and makes visible sacramentally God’s creation of women and men as equal partners and the Good News of their reconciliation and unity in Christ.
great stuff (which are certainly values that are shared at eikon). what often strikes me about groups/ministries who are committed to fostering biblical gender equality is that a thorough review of jesus’ life and teachings paired with ancient hebraic history is necessary. what then flowed from this quest was a survey of related common cultural misunderstandings. one they identified is that, often, leonardo’s the last supper is often used as ammunition against their cause, with people stating, “well, there were no women present at the last supper!”
BASIC, as a part of their journey in affirming and advocating gender equality, decided to use art as a mode of educating. they discovered that leonardo’s depiction was far from accurate, omitting the following:
women, yet the Passover had to be eaten by whole families including women
children, yet the laws of Passover require children to ask questions so that they can learn the meaning of the Passover meal from their parents
the disciples who prepared the meal during the day
so, BASIC commissioned a new version of the last supper by polish artist bohdan piasecki in which the last supper was depicted in a distinctly jewish context (supposedly biblically accurate). here’s what piasecki created (unfortunately this is the best quality i could find online):
in this, you’ll find everything that was “missing” in leonardo’s depiction: women, children, distinctly jewish surroundings, the “correct” passover food, etc.
while i certainly find this depiction to be amazing in its accuracy and i truly appreciate the educational aspect of this piece of art, it doesn’t lead me to leave completely leave behind leonardo’s version.
first, leonardo’s piece, of course, is amazing. there’s something to be said for good art. while that’s a whole separate conversation in itself, good art trumps “true”-but-bad art—art, music, writing, film, whatever—any day. i’m certainly not suggesting that piasecki’s piece is “bad” by any means (in fact i very much like it), but i simply throw this idea out there because it’s worth mentioning.
more to the point, i think art is primarily representational of much more than “just the facts, ma’am.” art is feeling. it’s emotion. it’s one’s experiences. it’s a point-of-view. it’s contextual. it’s changing.
leonardo’s piece isn’t “accurate” but it tells us something about who leonardo was, the setting in which he created the piece and the culture in which he lived. leonardo’s piece has survived not only because of the information it gives us, but because of the work itself.
last year, the ever-controversial photographer david lachapelle created a collection called jesus is my homeboy in which he represented the life of jesus in the context of very modern scenarios. in this collection, among many other scenes, lachapelle offered his own take on the last supper:
of the three depictions, obviously, lachapelle’s version is the least “accurate” in the literal sense of the word. clearly, lachapelle wasn’t trying to be accurate.
what lachapelle did do, though, was create an evocative and stirring depiction of the last supper that is, quite frankly, my favorite of the three.
i love the diversity (in spite of only males being represented) and a sense of the sordid company that jesus often kept. there’s also a sense of exploration that engages the viewer. i want to look at this depiction over and over and each time i could find something new. it’s also something that evokes a different story based on what mood you are in when you approach the piece. i can see excitement or confusion or mystery or curiosity or claustrophobia or suspicion or scandal or social engagement. it certainly isn’t accurate, but it makes it no less “true.”
so, ultimately, my answer is “no.” art doesn’t have to be accurate. art evokes something much more truthful than the truth. it presents a reality deeper than reality. accuracy doesn’t make or break a piece of art.
so, must/should art be accurate? what do you think?
last week, i wrote about the beautiful and often messy intersection of faith and culture regarding christ thile and the punch brothers. specifically, i looked at thile’s faith journey shown in the trajectory of his lyrics.
here, i want to shift to another art form in which we find someone expressing their journey with christ in a beautifully creative and fresh way. barton damer is a motion graphics and print designer based in dallas, tx. he’s the creative director at rt creative group which is responsible for such things as collide magazine, igniter media and echo conference. he blogs at www.alreadybeenchewed.net and you can also finding him hanging with his 3 children or skateboarding.
also, of course, you can find him producing some really amazing art that creates a pattern for the interplay between christ and art.
damer specializes in seemlessly blending the worlds of motion graphics and printed art. most of the time, it’s difficult to differientiate between one of his 2-d pieces and a motion still. his ability to create a sense of movement and fluidity in a flat piece is incredible.
what’s most incredible, though, is the way in which damer creates work that points back to a Creator without being explicitly “christian.” now, damer—particularly with his work at igniter media—certainly does quite a bit of motion and graphics work that is made to be used in worship settings or in the context of the church, but the distinction is that it never feels cheap or reverts to the most mindless form of art (think thomas kinkade). rather, he creates beautiful and moving pieces of art that engage people and elicits response.
i think that’s the kind of art christ followers should be creating. art that comes from a christ perspective doesn’t have to cheapen itself by settling for the most literal interpretation or merely slapping the word “christian” in front of it. damer is able to convey beauty and depth even on something like a line of skateboard decks (which you see an example of below). it isn’t like you suddenly look at one of his skateboards or t-shirts and say, “ooh, i think i want to accept jesus”, but what it does is engage people with beauty and truth that expresses the nature of humans as created by the most gifted Creator.
so, here’s to art that’s goal is to move and engage people not in a one-sighted and cheapened way, but to show the beauty and work that’s god’s doing in the world
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.
beyond the saints in scripture, there are quite a few theologians, pastors, artists and thinkers that have shaped the guiding theologies of eikon. one of those people—who could be described by all those words—is rob bell. if you aren’t familiar with bell, he is the pastor and founder of mars hill church in grand rapids, michigan. he is also a very notable speaker and author and the main face of nooma, a series of incredible spiritual short films. he is at the same time the admired/despised/loved/hated/prophet/false prophet/messiah/antichrist voice of an emerging generation of leaders and christians.
bell sat down with patrol magazine for a conversation about faith and art. as always, bell has some deeply insightful and introspective commentary concerning these issues (particularly the brief discussion of the controversial sculpture my sweet lord by new york artist cosimo cavallaro).
at eikon, we hope to make art a central part of our expression of faith and worship. we believe, much bell expresses in the interview, that we’re all creators and there’s a sense of co-creation with god. that doesn’t mean we’re all amazing painters or sculptors, but we are all inherently creators who desire a sense of beauty and truth.
so, you can read it in its entirety here, but here’s a segment that i thought was particularly salient:
(in response to the question, what is art?)
I would begin with the understanding that God has left the world unfinished, and so, in Genesis chapter 1, this creation poem is about trees that are created to have the ability to create more trees. So, to me an authentic spirituality begins with the premise that we co-create the world with God. The world is not done, and that all of action is essentially rooted in creativity. Any way in which you contribute to the ongoing creation of the world you are in fact, in some form or another being creative and so then I think the question from there becomes “what is art?”
And I would argue that art is simply the creating within the particular medium, free of any utilitarianism. So a business person creates for the purpose of making profit, a product, providing goods and services. Art, specifically like the fine arts, music, sculpture, dance, spoken word, is the manifestation of that creativity in a form that is free from any pragmatic needs. So this painting just exists, beauty is its highest goal, as opposed to food that actually feeds us. A degree of art and creativity is in food, but it has a larger function. To which song is just a song. It may convey truth, it may have lyrics that are rooted in some particular world-view a person is trying to further express.
I think we must have art because it reminds us that God is not always a pragmatist. Because our world wants to turn us into slaves, everything is about how hard you work so you can create something so you can buy something so you can make something, so you’re back in Egypt. That’s the defining story of the Bible: people who are enslaved in Egypt, and their whole use is that they are a machine and they’re used by pharaoh to build stuff. So to me we need the artist to remind ourselves that God is not always a pragmatist. I love this passage in Job where God is like, “HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THE STORK?” It’s beautiful poetry about a God who gets off on things just cause they are and that to me is central to any sort of living, breathing spirituality is going to be plenty of room for things that don’t have any purpose other than their own beauty, design and order.