Worship without artificiality

I don’t know about you, but I find it so much more engaging to worship God without the artificial enhancements of sound systems and electric lighting, to worship God in more natural ways, under the open sky, with my naked feet in touch with the earth. It may sound strange to worship God this way, in this day and age. Yet if we recall the story of Jesus, this is often how he and his earliest followers engaged with God – praising and praying as they crossed fields, mountains, and lakes. It wasn’t so strange to them.

A Perfect Circle lament the new beatitudes of Trump era America

A Perfect Circle are set to release a new album in 2018, their first in 14 years, and this month they’ve unveiled a teaser track entitled, “The Doomed”.

It’s musically and lyrically explosive. As the song progresses, vocalist Maynard James Keenan paints a dark and disturbing picture of a society hell bent on shrugging off responsibility for protecting its most vulnerable members: “The new beatitude: Good luck, you’re on your own.” In a statement, Keenan said of “The Doomed, “In light of this current difficult and polarised social, spiritual and political climate, we artist types need to open our big mouths and share the light a little louder.”

“The Doomed”

Behold a new Christ
Behold the same old horde
Gather at the altering
New beginning, new word
And the word was death
And the word was without light
The new beatitude:
“Good luck, you’re on your own”

Blessed are the fornicates
May we bend down to be their whores
Blessed are the rich
May we labour, deliver them more
Blessed are the envious
Bless the slothful, the wrathful, the vain
Blessed are the gluttonous
May they feast us to famine and war

What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful?
What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?
All doomed
All doomed

Behold a new Christ
Behold the same old horde
Gather at the altering
New beginning, new word
And the word was death
And the word was without light
The new beatitude:
“Good luck…”

What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful?
What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful?
What of the righteous?
What of the charitable?
What of the truthful, the dutiful, the decent?

Doomed are the poor
Doomed are the peaceful
Doomed are the meek
Doomed are the merciful
For the word is now death
And the word is now without light
The new beatitude:
“Fuck the doomed, you’re on your own”

Rock Music as Original Sin?

Eve's temptation - unknown artist

I have not been able to track down the artist who painted this image of Eve’s temptation, but it is clear that considerable artistic licence has been taken. This picture features Gene Simmon of KISS as the snake and a rock guitar as the apple.

Amusing on one level, but it uncomfortably reminds me of the Satanic Panics of the 80s, which put me on the opposite side of the fence to many evangelicals of the time.


The gospel according to Iron Maiden

Lyrics to For The Greater Good Of God:

Are you a man of peace
Or a man of holy war
Too many sides to you
Don’t know which anymore
So many full of life
But also filled with pain
Don’t know just how many
Will live to breathe again

A life that’s made to breath
Destruction or defense
A mind that’s vain corruption
Bad or good intent
A wolf in sheep’s clothing
Or saintly or sinner
Or some that would believe
A holy war winner

They fire off many shots
And many parting blows
There actions beyond a reasoning
Only god would know
And as he lies in heaven
Or it could be in hell
I feel he’s somewhere here
Or looking from below
But I don’t know, I don’t know

Please tell me now what life is
Please tell me now what love is
Well tell me now what war is
Again tell me what life is

More pain and misery in the history of mankind
Sometime it seems more like
The blind leading the blind
It brings upon us more famine, death and war
You know religion has a lot to answer for

And as they search to find the bodies in the sand
They find its ashes that are
Scattered across the land
And as the spirits seem to whistle on the wind
A shot is fired somewhere another war begins

And all because of it you’d think
That we would learn
But still the body count the city fires burn
Somewhere theres someone dying
In a foreign land
Meanwhile the world is crying stupidity of man
Tell me why, tell me why

Please tell me now what life is
Please tell me now what love is
Well tell me now what ware is
Again tell me what life is

Please tell me now what life is
Please tell me now what love is
Well tell me now what war is
Again tell me what life is

For the greater good of god (x 8)

Please tell me now what life is
Please tell me now what love is
Well tell me now what war is
Again tell me what life is

Please tell me now what life is
Please tell me now what love is
Well tell me now what war is
Again tell me what life is

For the greater good of god (x 8)

He gave his life for us he fell upon the cross
To die for all of those who never mourn him
It wasn’t meant for us to feel the pain again
Tell me why, tell me why

– Iron Maiden, For the Greater Good of God

If you liked this you might also want to check out The Gospel according to Black SabbathMetallica and Philosophy, Goth Church, Goth Eucharist and some dark alternative Christian art.

The exodus according to Metallica

With the Metallica concert only a few hours away, here’s an account of the exodus story, Metallica style.

Hebrews born to serve, to the pharaoh
To his every word, live in fear
Of the unknown one, the deliverer
Something must be done, four hundred years

So let it be written
So let it be done
I’m sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first born pharaoh’s son
I’m creeping death

Let my people go, land of Chosen
I will be with thee, bush of fire
Running red and strong down the Nile
Darkness three days long, hail to fire

So let it be written
So let it be done
I’m sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first born pharaoh’s son
I’m creeping death

Die by my hand
I creep across the land
Killing first-born man
Die by my hand
I creep across the land
Killing first-born man

Rule the midnight air, the destroyer
I shall soon be there, deadly mass
Creep the steps and floor, final darkness
Lamb blood painted door, I shall pass

So let it be written
So let it be done
I’m sent here by the chosen one
So let it be written
So let it be done
To kill the first born pharaoh’s son
I’m creeping death

– Metallica, Creeping Death

Listen to Creeping Death

The gospel according to Black Sabbath

A word from the masters of metal:

Have you ever thought about your soul – can it be saved?
Or perhaps you think that when you’re dead
you just stay in your grave
Is God just a thought within your head or is he a part of you?
Is Christ just a name that you read in a book
when you were in school?

When you think about death do you lose your breath
or do you keep your cool?
Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope
do you think he’s a fool?
Well I have seen the truth, yes I’ve seen the light
and I’ve changed my ways
And I’ll be prepared when you’re lonely and scared
at the end of our days

Could it be you’re afraid of what your friends might say
If they knew you believed in God above?
They should realize before they criticize
that God is the only way to love

Is your mind so small that you have to fall
In with the pack wherever they run
Will you still sneer when death is near
And say they may as well worship the sun?

I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced
Will you be so sure when your day is near, say you don’t believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down, now you can’t retrieve

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone
Open your eyes, just realize that he’s the one
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate
Or will you jeer at all you hear? Yes! I think it’s too late.

– Black Sabbath, After Forever

Listen to After Forever here.

Musical Theology

Singing-angels There is no biblically proscribed way to worship God through music, but in an article entitled "Musical Theology: Past lessons, present perspectives" Joan Averett suggests that a disconnect between music and theology results in churches that "tend to 'entertain' the person in the pew rather than equip him for a deeper understanding of the gospels." In the process there are some fascinating things said about the way Johann Sebastian Bach used to express sacred concepts musically.

Michael Jackson, Divinized Already?


Earlier this evening on Twitter and Facebook I speculated on how long it would take for a Michael Jackson inspired religion to get started.

Well, surprise, surprise, the divinization process seems to be well underway already.

Michael Jackson has already appeared in a tree stump where he was declared to be on par with Jesus, been channelled from beyond the grave, been identified as the Archangel Michael and also as Saint Michael. Oddly, there are some cynics.

I wonder at what point the hagiographers will elevate him from King of Pop to King of Kings? Move over Elvis and Jesus.

Jesus, I’m NOT in Love with You

Wow, I just discovered John Stackhouse, an author whom I admire greatly, has a blog over at http://stackblog.wordpress.com. I think this will soon be on my favourites list.

I was searching for the lyrics of a worship love song that I got a bee in my bonnet about over the weekend when I found his critique of worship love songs and realized he had already done a superb job of it. Here it is:

One of the blights upon the hymnological landscape today is the continued presence of what we can fairly call the “love song to Jesus” genre. It’s been around as long as there has been Christian pop music – and even earlier, depending on what you make of sentimental gospel songs in the nineteenth century, eighteenth-century revivalist hymns, and especially a lot of the mystical poetry-cum-lyrics of certain medieval saints.

Today our congregation was asked to sing, “Jesus, I’m in love with you” – a line that shows up, in one permutation or another, in several songs that occur frequently in our worship leaders’ rotation.

Well, I didn’t sing it. It’s wrong, and I try not to sing wrong lyrics.

First, I’m not in love with Jesus. The locution “in love with” is one I reserve for one person only: my wife. I love my sons, I love my siblings and parents, I love my friends, I love my country, I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love God. But I’m not “in love” with any of them. And I daresay most of the rest of us use this phrase in exactly the same, highly-restrictive way.

Second, it gives me the homoerotic creeps to declare that I am “in love with” another man. And I don’t apologize for saying so. A gender lens is interesting here, for a lot of men feel as I do (many have told me so), while many (not all) women seem to love telling Jesus that they are in love with him. I saw them, swaying with closed eyes and waving hands in the air this morning, singing exactly that. Maybe, indeed, they are in love with Jesus. But they shouldn’t be.

For the third point to make is a theological one. Jesus is not your boyfriend, not your fiance, and not your eventual husband.

By God’s grace, Christians get to enjoy a wide range of relationships with Jesus. We are described in the New Testament variously as Jesus’ slaves, Jesus’ servants, Jesus co-workers, Jesus’ friends, and even Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Since the plural form of each of these is used, it is correct then for me to say, “I am Jesus’ slave, servant, co-worker,” etc.

But the New Testament never calls Christians Jesus’ fiancees or his brides. Instead, it is the Church collectively, and only the Church as a whole, that relates to Jesus this way – just as individual Israelites did not relate to Yhwh as so many spouses, but only the nation of Israel as nation was his beloved bride.

So I’m not singing to Jesus that I’m in love with him, because I’m not. I love him, and I aspire to loving him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. But I do not aspire to being in love with him, and I’m sure he understands.

I wish our worship leaders and songwriters did, too.

Although for shear impact you just can’t go past Southpark’s take on this with the “Faith + 1” album. I think every worship leader and song writer should be forced to watch it and wince.

And if that wasn’t enough of an inditement, it seems even Matt Redman is beginning to doubt the wisdom of whole worship love song thing.

Ah, now I remember, the song was “Arms of Love”. I was sitting there thinking, yuck, if I substituted “Saviour” and “Jesus” for “Baby” and played it on Mix FM who would have known it was supposed to be Christian? I will demonstrate with some simple substitution:

I sing a simple song of love
To my [Baby], to my [Baby].
I’m grateful for the things You’ve done,
My loving [Baby], my precious [Baby].

My heart is glad that [y]ou’ve called me [y]our own.
There’s no place I’d rather be than

In [y]our arms of love,
In [y]our arms of love.
Holding me still, holding me near,
In [y]our arms of love.

Homoerotic creeps … and theological shudders. It was ironic that the sermon was about food offered to idols. That’s food I definitely can’t touch.

Sonic Symbolism

boss-distortionAs a guitarist, former thrash head and die hard grunge fanatic I just loved this article entitled, “The Romance and Post-Modernity of the Electric Guitar“, which links love of distortion with a rejection of modernist precision. Here’s some excerpts:

“It’s always been funny to rock fans that critics have been plagued by an inarticulate understanding of the music they love to hate. It just sounds bad to them. It’s a racket, an indistinct chaos. It’s a redundancy of noise. The curmudgeons who reject rock music aren’t interested in listening to it at all. Yet, considered beyond its capacity to spontaneously repel or attract listeners, it’s clear that the soul of rock and roll is distortion. It sounds like a buzz saw, and you either love it or hate it.

The distorted electric guitar is so central to rock music that even serious listeners and musicians are scarcely aware of it as an affectation. Distortion is the sine quo non of rock, which perhaps explains the awkwardness one has in trying to name it and talk about it. It has the same kind of ill-fitting and clumsy names that we normally associate with taboo topics. On the one hand, there are the sterile clinical denominations such as “distortion” and “saturation.” On the other hand, there are the faintly off-color poeticisms like “fuzz” and “buzz.” But it’s clear, especially in our hyper-categorized culture, that it’s probably not rock music in any meaningful sense if the electric guitar doesn’t have the raspy burr of an overdriven signal. Given the overwhelming and long term popularity of rock music, it seems odd that there aren’t more words for this defining feature. To be sure, purists have developed a language of metaphor and simile for variations of distortion, such as “crunch,” “grunge”, “dirty”, and “tinny.” But this vocabulary is nearly as remote and bootless — not to mention annoying — as that of the professional wine taster.

What is it about the sound of buzzing and wailing guitars that causes one generation to gnash its teeth, and another to mosh in the pit? The answer is deeply buried beneath layers of cultural meaning. In her book Natural Symbols, Mary Douglas argues that modernity is a cultural trend away from “condensed symbol systems” toward “elaborated language and signs.” This means that the ways we communicate are becoming more and more concrete and precise. In the modern age, old symbols like the Christian Cross or Motherhood lose their abstract impact as they become loaded with all kinds of apology and explanation and elaboration.

In the post-modern period, it has become a convention to question the wisdom of discarding our old “condensed symbols.” It’s not that we want the old ones back; it’s just that we suspect they want replacing. There’s a growing recognition of the vacuum of meaning left in the wake of technology, industry, and scientific elaboration. Precision of language and ideation is itself criticized as misleading, unrealistic, and unpleasant. Rock music can be seen as a general cultural expression of this reaction. It disputes elaborated systems and modernity’s mandate for precision. The central vehicle of this rejection is distortion.

Of course, “distortion” is a term with negative connotations. It’s often used this way when we speak of someone misinterpreting or misrepresenting the facts.

In music, the term is more neutral. It’s simply a physical effect applied to sound. Distortion is the degradation of a pure signal by the addition of interference, often through a little device called “a fuzzbox.” To illustrate, there are numerous other effects that are frequently applied to the pure signal of electric music. Reverb, wah-wah, and chorus are all good examples of effects which are commonly applied in rock music — as well as country, folk, new age, and even classical music. Most of these other “effects” aren’t so much a “degradation” as an enhancement or an embellishment of sound.

But rock music doesn’t just mimic the sounds of a heavily industrialized city. Through distortion, it represents the deconstruction of industry. In other words, the fuzzbox applies technology to the job of degrading itself. The fuzzbox allows the musician to “make dirty” the normally “clean” signal of an unaffected electric guitar. It intentionally distorts the products of technology, making them less precise, clear, and controlled.

All of these characteristics make rock music look an awful lot like historical Romanticism. The rejection of artifice, the championing of the vulgar, the infatuation with mystery and power, sexuality, aggression, primitivism, and the gothic — all of these elements smack of the nineteenth century’s Romantic movement. It’s typical for art to be critical of political, social, and cultural realities. Romantic art criticized enlightenment ideals which championed “Reason” and “Science” over “Emotion” and “Art.” Romanticism wanted to introduce some fuzziness to the crisp picture of reality that the Enlightenment purveyed. Rock music stands squarely in this tradition.

But rock music has a distinctly post-modern complexion in its use of distortion. Rock music stands in an ambivalent relationship to technology, since it’s dependent on it, while at the same time wary of it.

The metaphysics of distortion suggest that chaos is beautiful, and uncertainty is powerful.”

Tribal Drumming

Well it seems I am going to have to skip the Drumming Circle this month.

In an unfortunate co-incidence it falls this Friday evening, the same night as Anything Goes which is the bi-weekly spiritual discussion group I run. Hmmm. Anyway, can’t be helped. But I should tell you about the djembe tribal drumming I saw at the Parramatta spring festival last weekend.

The performers were an amalgamation of two drumming circles further out west. I believe their names were something like Hands Feet and Heart and Earth Rhythms but don’t quote me. The energy was palpable and I find myself belatedly acknowledging that I’m a techno-primitivist at heart. As much as I am drawn towards state of the art technology I feel simultaneously drawn towards cultural atavism. The more we advance the more I realize the heart of humanity is truly ancient.

Drum rhythms are well known for their trance inducing characteristics and I expect my explorations in this direction will raise the hackles of some well meaning Christians. All I say in response is that before you cast the first stone consider the phenomenological similarities of this to the buzz people get listening to repetitive fast-talking revivalist preachers and rhythmic praise choruses. Its well documented by anthropologists and psychologists so look it up. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not uncritical of the way it is used by shamans. But I respect that God has wired our minds to respond to rhythm in this way for his own good reasons. I am just seeking to rediscover what those reasons are and how I can become more attuned to them as I walk amongst others who share the same interests.