I had the privilege of going to see David Bazan last week. He played in the lobby of my school. Just Dave, a guitar, and a small platform he stood on. No microphone, no speakers, no bullshit. Nothing but a man using the simple tools of his trade to lay bare his soul through song after poignant song. If you know anything about Bazan and his long musical career you know something of the single-mindedness with which he has examined his relationship to his Christian faith and the subsequent documentation of that process through his music. The man is relentless. I’ve found his singular passion fascinating.
As if his deeply personal and articulate lyrics weren’t enough Bazan has a wonderfully idiosyncratic tradition of fielding questions at several points during each live show he plays. He’ll finish a song and ask, “Are there any questions at this time?” Then he answers as best he can. People are usually respectful.
Well, being that this show was at a school famous for its marriage of certain fairly orthodox faith positions with a strong… encouragement, I guess, towards the process of rigorously deconstructing said orthodoxy, the crowd comprised entirely of that school’s students or friends of students promised to generate some interesting questions. We the rabble did not fail.
Jon went with me. He’s a bigger fan than I am and I was glad to be able to get two tickets. We both got to ask questions and Bazan gave us each four or five minute answers. The depth he went to was wonderful but what was really remarkable to me was the way that he rejoindered with his own questions. He responded to my broad, manic question about how, “dude, every time you come out with a new record I listen to it and I’m like ‘I can’t believe he’s still writing about the SAME THING’ and like, what’s the deal?” by graciously explaining more about his journey and then TURNING BACK TO ME with a question. “So are you post-religion too?”
Talking with Dave after the set was another fun bonus. He told Jon and I that he used to live in Scotts Valley and surfed at Sewers regularly. I think he went to Bethany for a while. The concert proved the catalyst for an in depth conversation later that week with Jon about the problem of evil and more specifically the origin of sin.
If, as I’ve come to believe, the first two chapters of Genesis are a mythical representation of God’s real creative work and not to be taken literally, how are we to make sense of the story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin in chapter three? What does the myth mean here? Somewhere at some point things were good, then someone screwed up, and we’re all paying for it? Part of me wants to bypass the question by admitting that, sure, we’re ALL evil. Regardless of what someone else did, I do what I know is wrong all the time. But the bitch of it is that I feel that I’m in thrall to sin, that I’m a slave with no chance but to obey my desires even when I know it’s killing me. That’s the maddening reality that makes the question of sin’s origin so pressing… why are we dying? Why are we killing ourselves? Why are we like this?
Part of the journey I’ve been on lately has involved listening for voices that seem to be a little farther down the road than me. Whether it’s a professor, a friend, a classmate, my counselor, one of my parents… it’s like I have a spiritual notebook and I’m trying to jot down good quotes when I experience them. One of the things I’ve heard multiple people I respect communicate recently is simply that they DON’T HAVE THE ANSWER. We want an answer, but life is much too complicated, the arbitrariness of suffering too confusing, pain too blinding and disillusioning and God too mysterious, too silent, too other. The simple response is kind of brilliant. It’s the only answer that makes any sense and is in itself the kind of answer we want – short and sweet. It’s also kind of not enough; sweet in the same way John the Revelator’s scroll was sweet on the way down and then turned sour in his stomach.
There is much I can’t understand of late.
I don’t know why my mom’s friend died before 50 leaving a husband and two kids. She truly loved God and others.
I don’t know why my grandfather lived through a war in which many of his friends died horrifying, violent deaths at the hands of strangers far from their mothers.
I don’t know why I fucked up a relationship five and a half years ago and then spent the next five and a half years unable to move on.
I don’t know why so many of the children I saw in India this summer were born into a world where the boot heels of malnutrition, despondence, idol-worship, crippling filth and little chance for education are pressed into their faces from the day they arrive.
Admitting that I don’t know feels good. But… and this is the hard part… this admission alone doesn’t satisfy anymore. It’s truth, and some truth at least feels gratifying to state out loud. I want more though.
There seems to be a necessary balance between on the one hand accepting that I can’t explain certain things away, and that this does not negate other truths about love, beauty, God and the importance of serving others despite how little it often seems to help in the face of overwhelming pain and on the other coming to God with a fiery coal in my heart that demands help, demands an answer, demands that he show up.
I heard a song last night called “The Problem of Evil.” It’s off the forthcoming Craig’s Brother album. I don’t know what the street date will be, and hell, at this point I don’t care since it’s been almost ten years in the making. In the chorus Ted sings about not being able to give an answer for pain, suffering and sin. There’s so much about that band that I’ve heard, so many assumptions I’ve made, so many judgments I’ve leveled. Jon made an insightful point today. I showed him the song and he said, “You know, from all accounts it sounds like Bazan has done a lot of the same stuff we’ve seen Ted do. Hard drinking, asshole moves, etc. We just haven’t seen him do it and we think he’s so amazing.”
And he is. But so is Ted. I won’t speak for David Bazan or Ted Bond or Scott, Heath, Andy or any of the other guys who’ve been in CB over the years, nor will I comment on their private lives in this post. If you’ve followed the band over the last fifteen years and grew up in that scene in Santa Cruz then you know something of what I’m talking about. The judgment. The self-righteousness. The curiosity.
What I will say is that the public offerings Ted has made through his lyrics moved me deeply when I was younger. Even in the moments when I felt fearful, as though aligning myself too closely in my mind with this rebel who was being honest about what no one else in “Christian” punk rock would say, who was perhaps in the throes of losing his religion, I still wanted to draw near to the flame of his searing honesty, self-hatred and all, and the incredible MUSIC that band made.
Having heard the lyrics to this new song at a juncture when I am ripe for reconsideration on nearly every level of my life I realize how quick I was to judge you Ted. I’m really, really sorry. Thank you for the honesty of your public struggling. Thank you for your integrity. Bless you for the gift you’ve given me. May God, who is above the misconceptions of the likes of you and I regarding who He is, continue to hear our desperate cries and draw us near.
And David, thank you in the same way for your unwillingness to water down the jeremiad of your personal journey. Your bitter contention with that which you do not understand and cannot accept has helped me see the ways in which I am complacent and afraid of facing my fury at God.