Why So Many Christians Love David Bazan

In response this video I posted of David Bazan playing at one of his house shows, a commenter, Chris, wrote:

I love David Bazan. I think he is one of the greatest song writers of our time. I wonder though why it’s so magnetic to watch someone lose their faith in front of our eyes. I’ve listen to this album hundreds of times and I still can’t put my finger on it. Our society puts more value on struggle then commitment it seems, and the reality is there is truth in both.

From my perspective, it’s not Bazan’s loss of faith that makes him compelling, it’s the way he’s articulates his experience and his beautiful song writing that makes him compelling for so many (not to forget his incredible voice which is sneakily brilliant).

It would not surprise me if the majority of Bazan’s fans were folks who would consider themselves “of faith.” In a way that might seem strange given the fact that Bazan himself seems to have lost his faith. While it he maybe at peace with where he’s at, it seems as though he’s writing from a nearby vantage point. It’s as if he has departed through the church doors, writing from the outside, probably on the corner across the street. The reality is that so many in our generation are looking for new, fresh expressions of faith and coincidentally have, at one point or another, stood on that exact same corner across the street where Bazan gazes back, penning his anger, struggle, sadness to the tune of his acoustic. Bazan’s music, especially his latest “Curse Your Branches” becomes the soundtrack to the spiritual adolescence we walk into as we leave the church doors. We’re not really sure where we’re going, we just know we’re not going back and Bazan captures that experience better than anyone else.

Even though I’d like to think I’ve grown out of this kind of spiritual adolescence and as I continue to explore new ways of believing and new ways of worshiping a God I still know so little about, these songs will always be meaningful for me. As Pete Rollins might say, Bazan has been faithful in his betrayal of a bankrupt religiosity and his songs are playing on the boom box as we walk across the parted sea floor.

Bearing Witness

I clung to miracles I have not seen
From ancient signatures I cannot read
Though I’ve repented I’m still tempted I admit
But it’s not what bearing witness is

To full of fear and prophecy to see
The revelation right in front of me
So sick and tired of trying to make the pieces fit
cause it’s not what bearing witness is

When the gap between
what I hoped would be
and what is makes me weep for my kids
I take a cleansing breath
and make a positive confession
But is that what bearing witness is?

Though it may alienate your family
and blur the lines of your identity
Let go of what you know
and honor what exists
Son, that’s what bearing witness is
Daughter, that’s what bearing witness is

Creativity: “Divest Yourself from the Outcomes”

Creativity is risky. That’s a lesson I learn in a very real way every three years or so when the band I play in releases a new album. Ideally, artists create art for the simple reason that the art is inside them and to keep from exploding or going insane, they need to give it form and release it to the world. For my particular band we work at a unrushed pace, always deferring to give ourselves more time to make sure what’s in us is given a form that all four of us agree is the best we have to give. There are both positive and negative aspects of going slow. The positive is that you can really put what you’ve done under the microscope and are free to endlessly edit your approach. The downside is with this approach is that you can easily find yourself at the bottom of a very deep rabbit hole, losing any sense of direction, without any light to check your compass. We’ve tried to do everything out power to speed things up, but our process is just what it is. This isn’t to say that great records can’t be made in a matter of weeks or even days. Many of the very best records in our collections testify to that fact.

The other benefit of our slow approach is that when we finally get to the point of releasing our music to the world, we are content with what we’ve done. We can look each other in the eye and know that this album is an honest representation of who we’ve been as a band for the past two years or so while we’ve been making this album. We often talk about our what our albums will mean to us in twenty, thirty years from now. Will we look back and know we put the best part of ourselves in those songs? In order for us to be ready to release what we’ve done, the answer to that question has to be “YES!”

This sentiment allows us to more easily absolve ourselves from the peripheral outcomes that we encounter, primarily the opinions of others about what we’ve done. My friend Shane Hipps uses a great term that I’ve adopted, “Divest your self from the outcomes.” Becoming too attached to the opinions of others can lead an artist outside themselves, altering their original motivation and inspiration. This is incredibly hard to do and in a sense, it’s impossible. But attaching yourself to the outcomes must be resisted, even when the outcome is complimentary to your work. If you are not content with your work, keep working. If you are content with your work, own it and release it out into the world and never look back. Good reviews and bad reviews of what you’ve done are just steaming piles of dung, worthless to who you are as an artist.

To Those Who Want to Ignore “Emerging” Terminology

There seems to be a lot of chatter around town about the end the term “Emerging”/”Emergent” Church. Folks are claiming these categories are no longer relevant to what’s happening today in American Christianity. To be honest, I’ve always had a hard time with calling myself “emergent” but I’ve always felt compelled to be friendly with all the participants. Over the course of the last 8 years or so I’ve been lucky enough to meet or befriend a lot of folks in and around emerging Christianity. These folks come from a substantially diverse spectrum and getting to know them and to hear their perspective has enriched my faith greatly.

In a way, I can truly relate to those who are find the descriptor “emerging” to be troublesome. In Jimmy Eat World, we’ve always struggled with the word “emo.” While we’ve never once called ourselves “emo” and have always loathed the term, we have continually been linked to the term by journalists and well-meaning fans. As a band, we just chose to ignore it. Our hope is that the term is sort of like a young puppy that continually jumps up your leg. If you pretend the puppy doesn’t exist, it will realize it’s efforts to get your attention is a pointless exercise. If you freak out and yell “No!!” each time the puppy jumps up, it’s learned how to get your attention.

The problem with the term “emo” is that it tends to mean everything and nothing at the same time. To a significant degree, the terms “emerging” and “emergent” have suffered a similar fate. The value of those descriptors are found in the eye of the beholder. The spectrum of differences found among the cast of characters in emerging Christianity is broad and it was only an inevitable development that a need for distinctions would arise.

The big problem with making these distinctions is that they are being made by folks that have previously embraced and benefited from the “emerging”/”emergent” terminology, some of them even being the key players who’ve planted the seeds of the categories they now want to uproot. The problem is once you attach yourself to a descriptor like “emerging” or “emergent,” there’s no going back. This reminds me of when “ska” music was huge in the late 90s and all of the sudden, ska bands were popping up everywhere, trying to capitalize on the wave of popularity. But then as the fad subsided, so did all the newly formed ska bands. Because they associated themselves with the genre, they were anchored it’s inevitable demise. It becomes extremely tricky to navigate a way out of that problem.

My sense is that many of the folks trying to marginalize all things “emerging” are doing so because the term has gotten in the way of their task at hand. It’s understandably much easier to detach oneself from whatever “emerging” or “emergent” has come to mean for folks than it is to explain what YOU mean by the word “emerging” and how that’s different from what THEY mean. From a church leader or pastoral perspective, you must guard and protect from creating confusion and misunderstanding among your church community and if for you that means hitting the eject button on “emerging christianity” then that is understandable. If you are a missionary seeking support for your ministry, these descriptors can also be problematic. You have potential supporters who see you writing about “emerging church” and wonder, “Are they talking about good kind of emerging or the heretical kind?” It might be a smart move to distance yourself from the terminology and call yourself something a bit more vague like “missional.” Or you might be a college professor who is beholden to certain articles of faith your institution holds dear and all of the sudden, the “emerging church” you’ve been writing about is doing a bit of exploring outside the bounds of what your institution deems appropriate. At that point, you might want to distance yourself as to not cause confusion among the faculty and students.

What’s interesting is that these folks aren’t just dropping the term. Instead, they insert a qualifier that they are not using the term every time they use the term. The issue isn’t so much they’ve stopped using the term because they can’t seem to avoid using it. It’s just that when they do use it, they say they aren’t GOING to use it anymore. The main reason for this is that the terms they seek to avoid are turning out to be unavoidable. In the marketplace of ideas in American Christianity, emergence Christianity is getting a great deal of attention and sparking much debate.

In many ways, I really do understand the desire to define more clearly what guides you and what kind of movements you’re participating in. Maybe this is just a failure of language. But if you want to these terms to stop bothering you, then simply ignore them like the over excited puppy. If you keep saying, “No emergent!! Down emergent!!!” then the puppy will keep following you around, nipping at your heals.