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.
Listening to iTunes in the morning makes getting to work on time difficult. I hear a phrase, which reminds me of an event, or makes me ask a question, and then my mind is traipsing off down some rabbit trail that may or may not end up forming a coherently written story.
Often, that story remains in my head and eventually gets emptied with the other deleted items. Sometimes it resurfaces down the road, but in a different format, only vaguely resembling my original thoughts. Occasionally, I have the good sense to grab on to the plethora of scrap papers lying around my room and jot down a few road markers so that the train of thought can be reformed at a more opportune time.
This morning the song that caused my tardiness was a live version of I Saw the Light by David Crowder Band and Robbie Seay. I had barely dipped a toe into the chorus before I drew back startled.
Hank Williams killed himself.
Ok, maybe not intentionally, but Hank Williams overdosed at the age of 29 after a hard life of broken relationships and repetitive struggles.
I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, No more night
Now I’m so happy, No sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light
Set apart from its back story, these lyrics could be daunting to an average human wandering aimlessly in a life filled with sin. Worse yet, what about those who have traded the wrong for the right, and still have days where they don’t have this feeling of wonderment? The lyrics standing alone would leave big shoes to fill.
But this song was not written by a saint. It was written by a human, whose last recorded single was “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”, and who was in the process of writing a song titled “Then Came that Fateful Day” when he died.
Out of context, it is a weighty song to compare one’s life against. In context, it’s a song of hope. It’s a song about the lofty desires of a tragic life.
I believe that some days Hank Williams was able to sing this song, and mean it – moments of clarity. Other days, he must have wondered, “where the hell did that song come from?” as he downed a bottle of whiskey.
In the same vein, David fluctuated between his Psalms of praise and Psalms of despair. And he really fucked up his life. Luckily, He served (we serve) a redemptive God. A God who longs to receive our praise (though, in truth He does not need it) and yet is willing to hear our cries, our longings and our asinine questions.
Paul was human. He had some very good things to say about himself, and God entrusted him with some big tasks which he willingly took on, but he was human.
And we the readers, the interpreters, are human. Are we not hypocrites to announce from a pulpit that THE WORD OF GOD SAYS women should not be permitted to preach, and yet not require them to keep their heads covered?
What does inerrancy really mean?
Does it mean Paul lived a life free of context? That every word of the epistles can be taken at face value?
Or is there room for looking at the big picture? Can we step back and look not only at what was being said, but when it was being said and where it was being said and why it was being said and to whom it was being said? Why is this even a controversial issue?
Can we trust God to speak through the context of His Word?
Persuaded, paraded, enebriated, in doubt
Still aware of everything life carries on without
‘Cause there’s one too many faces with dollar sign smiles
Got to find the shortest path to the bar for a while
A long way from happiness
In a three-hour-away town
Whiskey bottle over Jesus
Not forever, just for now
There’s trouble around, it’s never far away
The same trouble’s been around for a life and a day
I can’t forget the sound, ’cause it’s here to stay
The sound of people chasing money and money getting away
In between the dirt and disgust there must be
Some air to breathe and something to believe
Liquor and guns the sign says quite plain
Somehow life goes on in a place so insane
avoiding all cliché, 2009 was a great year for eikon and we’ve got a decent feeling that 2010 is going to be even better. over the last several months of the past year, we connected several times for worship gatherings, concluding the year with a shared time of advent. as we forge ahead in the new year, we have a whole new slate of gatherings to help foster our ever-growing community.
we’re excited to announce CONNECT: an eikon worship gathering. on sunday, january 17 at 6:00 pm, we’ll be gathering, once again, at sticky fingerz (see map here).
for those who have joined us at our past worship gatherings, you’ll notice we’ve expressed ourselves in a number of ways including the following: engaging in conversation, singing, listening, sharing stories, praying, eating, drinking, watching, hearing, thinking and, ultimately, connecting with god and each other. one of our values in regards to our gatherings is that we want to create a sense of familiarity, but not predictability. so, for this gathering, while you’ll notice many of the same elements as those in the past, we will certainly be employing some new modes of expression and connection. namely, this gathering will be much more conversational and talkback-driven.
along with the commitment of avoiding the creation of a rut, another value is that our times of worship don’t center around a single person or a single way of engaging in worship. often, the church has rallied around a singular “climax” to the service: the sermon. whereas we absolutely believe that the sermon can be transformative and deeply engaging, we want to also let the voices of our community be heard and shared on a regular basis. so, we’re excited to offer a time of voluntary feedback and idea-sharing. through a guided conversation, we’ll connect in a shared time of insight and reflection on god and what it means to engage in this thing called community.
as with our other gatherings, we’re excited to once again offer free, quality childcare. we’ll have some more info very soon here on the blog about childcare and how you can RSVP your children for those services.
so, mark your calendars, invite some friends, retweet this, put it on facebook. this should be an incredible night to CONNECT with both god and each other.
over the last couple weeks, many of you have worshipped with us as we’ve engaged in this season called advent. through our modVent gatherings, we’ve eagerly anticipated the coming of the messiah. as we’ve learned, of course, advent simply means coming. during this season, we await the coming of a baby, in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. who is the savior. who is the one sent from god.
advent is about life. it’s about redemption. it’s about hopeful expectation. but advent is also about death. we not only await the coming of the christ child, but we await his death on a cross. we look ahead to the time of jesus’ atoning sacrifice in which he suffered in order to restore the brokenness of all creation. death, indeed, is a part of the cycle of anticipation.
as many of you are aware, i traveled to houston, texas a couple days ago after receiving word that our music leader, rob toon, had taken a serious turn for the worse. most of you know the situation with rob, but let me offer a very brief catch-up for those who are unaware. nearly 2 years ago, rob was diagnosed with leukemia. since that time, he has received treatment both at uams in little rock and now, at md anderson in houston. several months ago, rob underwent a bone marrow transplant and has since been recovering both in and out of the hospital. throughout this time, he has been battling infections and acclimation to life after a life-altering procedure.
so, a couple days ago, stephanie—rob’s wife—contacted me with news that rob’s condition had become seemingly grave and the doctors recommended she come immediately. we’ve now spent the last couple days at the hospital by rob’s side, watching his condition—i’m very glad to say—improve incredibly. at this point, things are still touch and go, but the doctors seem to think things have stabilized.
what has become very real to me in these last couple days is the reality of both life and death. spending time in the waiting room of an ICU in a cancer hospital offers plenty of time to experience that actuality. we are literally surrounded by those experiencing a sense of advent. of waiting.
but we’re keenly aware that this advent is much different than the hopeful expectation that describes our fundamental sense of the christian season of advent.
this waiting is full of fear and uncertainty and pain and stress. this waiting looks toward the reality not of life, but of death.
while we are certainly not expecting death with rob at this point, we are surrounded by many people that we pass in the halls and sit with in the waiting room that certainly do expect death of the ones they love. and it’s in these shared times that one sees the reality and the beauty of life.
the reality is that life means so much. it’s beautiful. and its ugly. and it’s tragic. and it’s wonderful. it means so much.
life is brief. it’s fleeting. it’s to be cherished. and appreciated. and lived to its fullest.
while many christians have this sense that life is just a temporary pitstop to some other eternal home, it’s in these times that you see that the gift of life is god-given and to be cherished. it isn’t to be wasted, waiting on the next life, but lived to its maximum potential. to be lived like it was a precious, precious endowment.
cancer is a ravaging thing that reminds us how beautiful life is. so, as i sit here in the midst of others who wait on death—the advent of loss—let us all remember that life is a wonderful gift from god.
let us love others, giving ourselves as if this life is as fleeting as it actually is.
as a bit of an epilogue to this post, let me share my thoughts with something other than words. in the preceding days before traveling down to houston, i became obsessed with an album (like i often do with new music discoveries) called hospice by the antlers. the story describes the singers journey of meeting a woman who he loved, finding she had bone cancer and ultimately, ending with the time when she passes away.
in some ways, the album is intensely saddening, but there’s also this glimmer of hope that affirms everything i’ve said above. in spite of the narrator’s grief, there’s a celebration of life that compels him to stay next to the side of the woman he loves. in her pain and agony and withering away, he is drawn to her side. life, indeed, means so much.
in this track, the singer learns of her cancer and the impending reality of her diagnosis. my prayer is that you find the intense power of love and grief and happiness and sadness in this track.
and in the end, my prayer is that you sense—in a roundabout way—this mysterious season of advent.
kettering by the antlers
i wish that i had known in
that first minute we met
the unpayable debt
that i owed you
’cause you’d been abused
by the bone that refused
you and you hired me
to make up for that
and walking in that room
when you had tubes in your arms
those singing morphine alarms
out of tune
they had you sleeping and eating and
and I didn’t believe them
when they called you a hurricane thunder cloud
when i was checking vitals
i suggested a smile
you didn’t talk for a while
you were freezing
you said you hated my tone
it made you feel so alone
so you told me i had to be leaving
but something kept me standing
by that hospital bed
i should have quit but instead
i took care of you
you made me sleep and uneven
and i didn’t believe them
when they told me that there
was no saving you
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
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.