Sometimes, those we know and love throw us a curve ball so simple, innocent and innocuous on the face, but almost devastating in poignance. They can show up in the strangest of places, at the most unexpected times and perhaps they don’t even realize what they’ve done. I got one yesterday from my friend, composer Steve Layton, (who has even more music available here) just moments after posting my essay, A Theology Sandwich.
You know Joe, there might come a time where you just let your new wings take you out and away to enjoy the new vistas, & not keep circling the old nest… 😉
It stopped me again yesterday. It’s complicated. I’ve been asked similar questions, like this one, but this is different because I got the sense Steve was asking this question out of kindness, for my benefit rather than the benefit of some institution. The point of focus was not “Why are you picking on religion,” but “Can you set yourself free?” It is a question I’ve been asked before by close friends but not for a while, and I do wrestle with it from time to time. It also reminded me of a poem by Rumi that I read every semester to my classes as they learn to create meaningful musical experiences.
The way of love is not a subtle argument.
The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling, they’re given wings.
Undercover is certainly one big issue now; not so much the band itself, but the sociology around the band. Except for the love I have for my bandmates and the fun we always have together, I really don’t care if we play anymore or not if it must be done in religious venues. After the church politics surrounding the last concert we did in January 2011, when the church itself almost cancelled the concert at the very last minute because of my beliefs, putting into jeopardy the huge personal investment of time, effort and all the money the promotion team had on this earth, risking turning people away who had already bought tickets, some of whom had traveled thousands of miles just for that show, something snapped in me. I’ve lost my appetite for it and have kind of put my foot down. It seemed as immoral in its consideration as it would have been if they had actually cancelled. I’ve always loved our audience more than anything, and if we play again, it will be on our terms, for their sake, or fuck it.
I don’t want to overstate any importance we may have had or minimize what we’ve done at all. Undercover was somewhat influential in christian music circles and meaningful to a number of people. I do feel I have some work to do, both internally and with people who actually (for some reason) give a shit about what I have to say or at least want answers. I do my best I think, when I simply tell my story and ask my questions rather than debate and argue. This was another way the question was powerful. It was a good reminder for me.
So I wrote back. With regard to new vistas right at this time, “As things would have it Steve, I think I’m doomed!“…
- There are those who are still actively and publicly praying for and working towards my re-conversion. I tell them over and over that I am way better off now, that life is much better on this side, more loving, and makes much more sense, that this is a huge growth step forward. They’re having none of that.
- Then again there is also the idea that a substantial number of people in the U.S. still believe the world was created in six literal days just a few thousand years ago;
- …and that this should be taught in the public school science classroom,
- …and that religion and religious morals should govern foreign policy and federal court appointments.
- …and that my gay friends should not be considered equal in every single aspect of the human meaning of the word.
For some reason all that kind of thing just bothers me a little. I cannot seem to escape it or the public discourse on all these things.
- Watch a presidential debate, for example, and what do we get? A lesson on all this, oh, and also on the moral evils of contraception!
Oh, to be indifferent! How can I psychically leave all this behind? It is to some degree circling the old nest and I do have some working out of things still to do, perhaps more of interest and curiosity than anything else, but it’s bigger than that.
- It’s also because I think I had some part earlier on in creating a monster in the trajectory and tone of the christian music biz and I would like to do my share to correct errors.
- And because I have a number of friends (unbelieving mostly) who think I have a responsibility to do so. Sometimes I agree.
- Because I care very much about the music I wrote and performed that was born from this era.
- Because I deeply believe in the work during that time, focused on love, acceptance, forgiveness, grace, kindness, all human phenomena, and that it was worthwhile even when the doctrinal focus – raptures, hell, sin, eternal life, doctrines, devils and demons, trinities and transfigurations, revelations and redemption was not, except in its mythological sense and then only sometimes (as Isabel Allende asks, “What is truer than truth? The story.“)
- Because I think children are being damaged every Sunday when they hear messages of sin and eternal torment at the hands of an apparently benevolent and all-merciful god and they are not equipped to process that (if we ever are at all).
- Because my girlfriend’s mother’s funeral was overrun by a minister who put the family’s needs and preferences beneath the church’s and his own need to preach about many mansions in heaven, making it as much an evangelical event in his eyes rather than, or at least primarily, if not solely a celebration of her life and an opportunity to say goodbye in individually meaningful ways, which they managed to do anyway and still beautifully in spite of “Reverend Dingleberry.”
- Because there are many believers who maintain that the dark days of their own religion’s evils are in the past.
- Because there are many people somewhere on the continuum of doubt and unbelief who write to me privately for fear of retribution, ridicule or just plain fear who tell me it gives them hope and a voice when I write. They no longer have gods and much as they want to, they are not completely sure how to live with no gods, how to live free.
- And because people write me publicly on Twitter, Facebook and here thanking me and telling me the same thing.
- And because in the end, I have compassion for these people. I care for them. There is so much fear.
Sometimes I have a hard time believing myself that I no longer believe. It is not that I am sad about it, remorseful or afraid. It’s been a big leap forward in my life. There is no turning back, anymore than I can return to Dick and Jane. I am certain of that, but the moment I realized “there is no there there” was cataclysmic for me in the way that it must feel for a captive to have his cell door blown wide open with one simple devastating breath. And perhaps like in the midst of any wreckage of creative destruction, there is a time when one picks oneself up and surveys the landscape, looks around at all the debris and asks, “Now what?”