Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ministers of Death

A couple of significant events this past week.
First was being able to have this terrible picture taken of myself and Mr. David Bazan (formerly of Pedro the Lion). Does it look like I let on that I am a fan? :)

I have been listening to his music for some ten years now. Bazan's music has always represented a brave and engaged criticism of Christian religion. What sets his approach apart from more reactionary criticism is how honest he remains in his own sense of hopefulness to the spirit of faith. After the show I talked with him and asked if he kept any personal ties to the church. He said that his wife and daughter attend church but that he had 'made his exit' (adding a comment of it being a hopeful exit; I think is how he put it). Having grown up as a pastor's kid he has tried to distance himself from the institution with an attempt to suspend his received assumptions. What remains is still a sense of God's existence, which in his words has created a strong dissonance to where he thought he was going. He admits that this could simply be the result of such an entrenched world view that he received growing up. I would have liked to talk longer.
David Bazan remains for me as a type of minister of death. A minister in the truest sense (though prophet may be a more appropriate term) that his engagement with the social implications of faith and religion remain significant in his work. The role of death remains prominent in much of his lyrics whether it is physical death, the death of a relationship or the death certain beliefs. To those in the church who will listen this ministry of death injects needed perspective and the possibility of change and movement. I am hoping to invite David to read this post and offer further comment. I would love an opportunity for further engagement on his journey. In transition to the second significant event of the week here are his lyrics to "Priest and Paramedics" (see IndieVision to the right).

Paramedics brave and strong
Up before the break of dawn
Putting poker faces on
Broken bodies all day long
The neighbors heard a fight
Someone had a knife
It must have have been the wife
Husband's lost a lot of blood
He wakes up screaming, "Oh my God
Am I going to die?
Am I going to die?"
As they strapped his arms down to his sides
At times like these they'd been taught to lie
"Buddy, just calm down, you'll be all right"

Several friends came to his grave
His children were so well-behaved
As the priest got up to speak
The assembly craved relief
But he himself had given up
So instead he offered them this bitter cup
"You're going to die
We're all going to die
Could be twenty years, could be tonight
Lately I have been wondering why
We go to so much trouble
To postpone the unavoidable
And prolong the pain of being alive"

I performed my second funeral yesterday and the first on my own. I had never met the man who passed away. He was 48 and died of a heart attack in his sleep with no warning (a husband and father of two). As a minister of death who works firmly within the institutional church my work stands in some contrast to David Bazan's. I hope to make death a little more palatable that its hemorrhaging force move through the system with less resistance. I remember the words at the close of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Marlow is trying to recount the words of judgment at Kurtz's death to Kurtz's wife. He fails in transmitting this message of death instead he says that Kurtz uttered her name at his death. Marlow says this in response to his action,

It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall on my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn't he said he only wanted justice? But I couldn't. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark - too dark altogether . . .

David Bazan appears liberated to speak some of the dark words, but what is his community that needs to hear the dark words of faith if he remains largely unheard outside the church walls? My speech is modified within these walls and not all for bad. Some things are too crushing and need mediating, but the right mediator is crucial. I wrestle between the ministries of death. I hope to continue in both, in some way.


johnny m said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
johnny m said...

i think prophet is definitely appropriate, but perhaps not in the most traditional sense.

i hope david does read your post. it's honest, it seems (but is it really as honest as the rant has been?...j/k). i am glad that, of the things that often have seperated us (including expressions of faith at times), this is one thing we have in common (honesty too but i am referring to our love of bazan's expressions in music).

i don't know if you read my post on the "other blog" about the funeral i attended. but i actually find the kind of honesty in bazan's priest's message to be comforting. maybe i haven't suffered the death of someone close enough to me, and i hope i don't have to any time soon, but for the deaths in my family and amongst some friends i find the traditionally "hopeful" messages of Christian ministers to be trite and actually kind of dull.

i suppose this is why i appreciate bazan's music as a whole. i prefer the perspective that stares the difficulties of life right in the face and tries to deal with them directly in a reactionary way. surprising? probably not, for those that know me.

Nathan Smith said...

Wow, it is great to see some others who are engaging with Bazan's view on faith. My blog is actually titled "Fewer Broken Pieces" in his honor. I meant to comment on the other post with the lyrics from selling advertising, but it seems comments were disabled. Anyhow, I thought it fitting to mention that I first understood the final stanza to be a critique of seeker-sensitive mega churches:

"Just pretend
that you don't make your living
from selling advertising
tracking trends
corralling demographics
and maximizing traffic"

IndieFaith said...

Thanks for stopping by. I am at a point where I go in seasons with his work and recently ran through nearly all his albums and it was great to be moved by new songs and lines that I hadn't noticed before.