My Mailbag: Come Away With Me

In which I am alleged to have pissed all over someone’s life-sustaining memories. 

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This came in the comment section below the blog post about God’s standards and hope.

COME AWAY WITH ME, that’s what I played when ever my dad would be tormenting my mom in the next room. These songs taught me to have hope, forgiveness and a sense of sanity. But after reading the above paragraphs I feel like you just pissed all over the memories that still get me through life. So the question, If your standards are BETTER than the ” imaginary god”, do you have a temple? Or a place where we can go and learn of all your great ways? Can you wipe away my sins and still my fears like JESUS. Or at least like an UNDERCOVER SONG?

Thanks for the note. First, I’m sorry for the awful suffering you had to endure at the hands of your parents. Second, I’m glad that our music and that song in particular was able to bring you some comfort and respite from that suffering, that they brought you some sense of hope. Especially Come Away With Me, which was written specifically for that reason for another friend going through some things.

I’m sorry you feel that my own path now would negate any of that at all. It certainly negates nothing for me and I still enjoy listening to that song and a good number of others from time to time. I understand the conflating of theology and religious frameworks with the human experience. I think I can help you understand a little if you’re interested.

I wrote about this exact kind of phenomenon in a number of other places in my blog because I get asked often about it. Here are two passages that deal with it specifically. In the very last paragraph of this post, I wrote:

“I’ve been asked how I reconcile my years in Undercover with my own beliefs and practices now.  Was it all a waste?  Am I just throwing all that away? What of all the people who listened to us and whose lives were changed in such powerful ways? How can I stand on a stage and play those songs still? These are all good questions.  I feel very fortunate to have been in Undercover, to have owned Brainstorm, to have been invited to be part of so many people’s lives, to have been changed by them as they were by us, to have been a catalyst in any way for good.  The message in the early days was one of “salvation” through Jesus only. I’ve many times expressed how we were young and the message necessarily simple and simplistic for a church not quite ready to go to the cultural or metaphysical edges.  They were also representative of our own growth.  I own that and assume responsibility for it. From Branded on, our message was one of self-forgiveness, acceptance and forgiveness of others, tolerance, kindness, wonder, love, all it means to be a complete human being.  I was not then at the point where I believed any of that was comprehensively possible outside of Christianity.  I know it is now, and that it’s not important what container love comes in.”

Continuing on with the idea that these songs and each album represents a step in my own life and personal growth, I wrote in this post:

The songs themselves all represent steps along my personal journey as an individual and as an artist. Every record we produced was a step of growth, necessarily moving on to new ideas and horizons, leaving some things behind. I am not in the same place now that I was 5 years ago, nor was I in the same place 5 years ago that I was 5 years before that. I see no problem in acknowledging and honoring that process and my own path in the performance of the songs even when they no longer represent my most current thinking. Artists do that all the time. […]

If there are people whose experience with Undercover has changed because of my own evolving beliefs, I understand that and have no quarrel with doing what they need to do to come to terms with that.  But for many people it’s not at all about me or us, it’s about what the music and the experiences have meant to them. […]

I have gone through the songs I’ve recorded over and over in my mind to see if there is anything there that could not possibly have had a positive impact outside the existence of God with no other possible explanation, and I come up empty. Forgiveness, love, tolerance, acceptance, kindness, charity, patience and long-suffering, a fertile, open and receptive heart, all human virtues are available to all of any creed and those with no creed in exactly the same way and measure.”

I closed that post with an anecdote about a Native American storyteller who used to begin his stories with, “Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true.”  The only way I knew how at the time to express those human virtues and experiences was within the framework of Christianity. I grew through that, but it does nothing to change the very real experience of our humanity including the hope you felt that night, that there is in fact love in this world and that it’s available to all of us with or without theology and its stories. You may choose to dismiss this altogether, but I am compelled to answer you and to do so truthfully. So on to your questions.

  • “If your standards are BETTER than the ” imaginary god”, do you have a temple?”

Despite the words “imaginary god” being put in quotes, I didn’t write that here so I’m not sure who or what you are quoting. And while I do believe the morality of the Bible is deeply flawed in both Testaments in a number of places, no, I do not have a temple, nor do we need one. Why would we? Jesus himself distinguished between a temple made of human hands and the more sacred temple of his own body.

  • Or a place where we can go and learn of all your great ways?

They’re not MY great ways. They’re our better ways, based on the well-being of sentient beings and social contracts with one another as Elizabeth Anderson writes, and as my friend Ric Alba often says; from the earliest times we agreed not to clonk each other on the head with our clubs, not because there’s a god that says not to, but because it hurts and is counterproductive for society and social groups. If you’d like to learn more though, I’m happy to give you a list of books and lecture videos that have been immensely helpful to me.

  • Can you wipe away my sins and still my fears like JESUS. Or at least like an UNDERCOVER SONG?

Sin is a theological construct that I don’t believe exists. So no, I cannot wipe them away for you, but on the other hand I don’t believe you have any to wipe away in the first place, by Jesus or anyone else. That should not be construed to mean that I don’t think people make mistakes and commit harmful and evil actions, even deliberately and willfully. For those there are consequences and restitution, and hopefully restoration where possible. This is sometimes administered by the law and sometimes just between ourselves and even sometimes within ourselves, sometimes with therapy and other kinds of help to deal with all the stuff that comes with being wronged and trespassing against others. That’s the best I can offer you, and I think it’s the best we have as humans. And yes, I think some Undercover songs can help there. At least they have for me when I wrote, recorded and performed them many times over decades.

There’s another post specifically talking about Branded, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary where I wrote this:

By the time a record is done, the “work” of the work is already done.  I’ve always felt that once the record is finished I am also finished.  It belongs to everyone else then, and people bring their own meaning to the songs, which is often stuff that’s much more impressive than anything we could have conjured.  It’s only a song, after all, and the real value of any song is the meaning we bring to it individually. 

I congratulate you for bringing yourself to this song and I’m sure to many others in a show of human strength and spirit although it may not always feel that way. I hope you’re in a good place and that you are able to find the love and sustenance of spirit you need, whether that’s in certain of our songs which still to this day are infused and informed by love, hope and all those human virtues, or anywhere else you can.

3 thoughts on “My Mailbag: Come Away With Me

  1. I can relate, in some ways, to the writer of the letter, Ojo.The deeper challenging of one’s understanding of reality can be quite emotionally-trying. Add to that the difficult life-circumstances that brought many of us to embrace Undecover’s music in the first place, and it is understandable why so many are “deeply saddened” by your current “position”. I myself found a kind of solace in Undecover as a young Christian diagnosed with clinical depression, suicidal ideation, etc. “Branded” and “Balance of Power”, and to lesser degree, Undecover’s early albums inspired hope on a level I could relate to. My own path also led me to an informed and non-emotional rejection of the Christianity. I acknowledge myy current path allows me emotional distance from the associations of Christianity, but I choose to honor your music for what it meant to me at the time: depth, passion, and thirst for truth. Thank you again !

  2. My own association with the christian music scene in the 80s and early 90s sounds very similar to yours. I was a huge Undercover fan and the band I played with back then (No Laughing Matter) certainly drew a lot of inspiration from you, Altar Boys, Lifesavors, etc. Like you and a few others I know (from at least one of the bands mentioned), I’ve reached many of the same conclusions about the world. I now describe myself as a “non believer” but I still occasionally listen to When You’re a Rebel, Dream Life or Boys and Girls and it still gives me the same emotional lift it did when I was a believer. Of course, now it’s because of the great memories of the shows I saw and played, the people I knew and the way many of those songs (Come Away With Me in particular) helped me deal with some very serious situations. I guess I’m just saying thanks. Your music back then and your evolving worldview are still right in line with mine and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.

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