My top ten series is complete! This is the #1 most-read post from before 2014 from last year. In 2013 I remembered David Bazan and his very public struggle with faith.
About the time Circle of Hope got going, a group named Pedro the Lion started becoming popular. It was the brainchild of David Bazan, the son of a Pentecostal worship leader who brought a down-to-earth Seattle vibe to his music and didn’t mind being a Christian who talked about issues of justice and issues of doubt.
Since nothing ever disappears from the internet (even if we can’t remember that long ago!), we can still see what Bazan was saying about faith and art back in the early days of Pedro the Lion. He said that his faith naturally permeated his music because it is an extension of who he is. “Anyone with a strong, sincere belief in something shouldn’t treat it lightly. It seems I’m always being called upon to boil down my faith for interviews. Defining it should be done with great care.” [Want to see the whole interview?]
Becoming a Christian rocker who makes a living finding ways to make holy scripture fit alongside gnarly power chords was NOT what Bazan wanted to do. He thought that ”the basic act of being creative glorifies God.” Christian rock “turns the music and the message into crap. The message is degraded when it’s made into slogans and low-level propaganda. They’re attempting to reach a certain audience just like advertisers do — and that, ultimately, degrades the art.”
A more pure model, he said, would be to try to express yourself artistically, as honestly and sincerely as possible. But “It would be naïve to think you could steer clear of the forces of money and acceptance. To ignore it is to let it rule you. You can only control it if you openly address it.”
He was a sincere, intense twentysomething. He was leading the way into a faith that was not just a slogan or a straitjacket. Now he is leading people into his own agnosticism. Pedro the Lion broke up mainly because of Bazan’s drinking and inconsistency, it seems. But now he has righted the ship and is writing and performing provocative songs in his own name.
Bazan earned religion and philosophy credits from a Christian college and that pursuit started his journey into analyzing everything he could get his mind around. Curse Your Branches chronicled his struggle with faith, and the resulting spiral that came with uprooting his foundation. He did not claim a sudden disbelief, but he did not let any metaphysical question avoid his analysis, either. As more people heard his musical autobiography, he found out just how many others were asking the same questions he was asking.
A newer album, Strange Negotiations, shows that the religious roots are still visibly dissolving. He addresses his current reality with brutal honesty. He has abandoned his faithful stability. But, reportedly, his wife, parents, and some of his friends still pray for him. One of the songs on the album, “Virginia,” reflects his shaky roots [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMzqRHFjcbo]. He muses about a friend who died very young:
We were worried about your personal salvation.
Was it heaven or hell that you saw when your eyes closed?
You smiled at us floating high above the question
Like you knew something we didn’t know.
He says Negotiations is about the “frustration that comes from realizing the refusal to participate in the mass delusion while not dismissing the deluded is the only way forward… I think people are starting to take more seriously the discrepancies in their faith. I think we’ll all be better off for that.” [Want to read the whole interview?]
I find Bazan’s journey fascinating because I have travelled it with his peers since they first loved Pedro the Lion. Now they are part of the dialogue about the loss they feel about their dissolving faith. They care about their Evangelical or Catholic relatives and friends, but they can’t stand going into the church and experiencing the cognitive dissonance. They slowly take on the new religions of the day, based on Eastern thought or generated by one of the many denominations of psychotherapy. They graze for the solidity of organic food and experiment with the relevance of occupying something. Mostly they wonder about themselves and express their wondering.
It is challenging to be tagged as part of the old church they have left behind. I can safely say that I never adopted the Christianity Bazan rejected, so I think I can relate to his conviction. But I can also say that I met Jesus, whose smile I experience as much more than the smirk of a lost friend.
Other relevant posts:
What if I Don’t Feel God Anymore? Sep 2012
The Tantric Propaganda in Green Lantern and Elsewhere Sep 2011
Good Questions About Jesus Jul 2010