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Archive for November, 2010

I follow the conversation over at Internet Monk daily. The posts are always insightful and brimming with grace, and the commenters are intelligent and thoughtful. It gives me hope that the Internet can be something other than ignoramuses throwing poop at each other.

The other day, they had a post regarding how to get people to show up to special church services, such as Christmas Eve, Good Friday, etc., without being legalistic. The moderator’s opinion was that these services were important, and that people should make their schedules fit the church’s, and not vice versa. But how do you encourage people to do that without being a legalistic jerk?

It made me think about the way we think about and perceive legalism. And it led me to write on this particular hypothesis which has been in my head for a while now. Accusations of legalism, more often than not, reveal more about the accuser than the accusee these days.

As always, please view this statement in light the historical context we are living in. I am not saying that there aren’t or haven’t been legalists. You might recall that the people Jesus bashes the most are the Pharisees. I just think that today, in this current age, accusations of legalism are, more often than not, unfounded whining. We live in an individualistic culture. We grow up hearing about our rights, about freedom to do as we please. The government offers up anti-obesity initiatives, and we don’t respond with “That’s probably a good thing, because there’s a lot of fat people who are dying simply because they’re fat”; we respond with anger. The government has no right to tell us what to eat! If I want to be stupid and eat 70 boxes of Twinkies for breakfast before smoking a whole carton of cigarettes then that’s my right! Please don’t think I am making a political point one way or the other. I am just pointing out that we believe, moreso than most ages in history, that individuals can do as they please, and if you don’t like it you can kiss my (increasingly large and mushy) ass. And we carry that individualism with us everywhere we go, including church.

So when the guy up front says that we should go to a special church service, that we ought to make an effort to attend, because it’s what Christians have historically done and therefore a good thing that we ought to do, we bristle. Never mind the back-breaking commands from our job or our kid’s soccer schedule that we submit to, without question, every week. What right does that guy in the collar or the suit have to tell me what to do? So what if I don’t go–is it a sin? You have no right to impose that on me! What a Pharisee.

Why do we ever ask the question, “So is it a sin if I don’t?” I think that can reveal a lot about our true motives.

Do we ever think that maybe the problem isn’t so much legalism in others, but a lack of obedience in ourselves? Because that’s where Christianity tells us to look for the flaws–ourselves, not others.

Individualism runs counter to commandments. And commandments are part of Christianity. They must, must, MUST be viewed in light of what Christ has done. And there is so, so much browbeating and guilting that can go on in church. But sometimes, guilt is legitimate. We are sinners, after all. And sometimes we just need to obey.

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The rock of the 1960s was revolutionary. The rock of the 70s was virtuosic and could be prone to self-indulgence. In the 80s, it became commercialized, synthesized, and downright narcissistic. And in the 90s, Kurt Cobain looked across the music landscape, saw the commercialism and narcissism, and made rock nihilistic. Then he saw his art become a commercial product itself, and shot himself. The nihilistic, I’m-no-good angst quickly became a product, and reached its cynical, artless nadir in bands like Creed and Nickelback.

But looking at the history of philosophy, the response to nihilism was existentialism. People refused to believe in nothing. I think it’s fair to say that in indie music, there is a bit of existentialism in response to music’s recent nihilism. And it is in this light that I am interpreting Mumford and Sons.

This is music that believes in something, that refuses to surrender to despair. In the title track of their latest album, Sigh No More, the singer acknowledges his faults and frailties (“My heart was never pure/You know me”). But he doesn’t wallow in his humanity, nor is he trite about it. He celebrates it: “Love, it will not betray, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free/Be more like the man you were made to be.” The guitar sets a percussive rhythm, the banjo is frenetically joyful. The foot-stomping kick drum is completely unironic; it’s the pounding heartbeat of someone realizing that a lover they thought was gone forever has returned. It’s a sunrise, and wonderfully sets the tone for the rest of the album.

The music is sincere, and brimming with life and energy. Absolutely worth a listen.

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