Raining Cats and Dogma

When Derek Webb Tweeted, “wait, was i just nominated for a dove award? where did i go wrong??” it was just the latest in a string of issues that the former member of Caedmon’s Call turned solo artist has directed towards the Christian music industry. He later clarified with the statement on Twitter which read, “for those misunderstanding me: i’m not making fun of the dove awards. i just don’t believe in them. and find a nom. for ‘feedback’ ironic.” He’s not the only “Christian” artist making a move to distance themselves from an industry that helped establish them. He’s making a very loud statement. This shouldn’t be a surprise since Derek Webb is a bit of a maverick. His comments about his album “Feedback” receiving a nomination for a Dove isn’t lost on those that remember his objection to his record label removing the song “What Matters More” from the retail version of the release based on his inclusion of one expletive. In so doing they were ignoring the idea that the song was itself an argument against the status quo of hate and for the practitioners of Christianity to get back to a gospel of inclusion. “Feedback” has no lyrics at all. For Webb, and no doubt others, this was a slap in the face to what he believed mattered most to him and spoke volumes about an industry and culture that is known for its copycat music and musicians offering a sometimes spiritual or dogmatic alternative brand of music apart from the larger “worldly” industry. For Webb and others, there’s a greater good that is being ignored in favor of practices and dogmas that are far less “Christian” than most Red State living and Bible thumping Americans have been practicing. This might also be why “Christian” music as it once was is dying. It can be argued that Christianity (at least the American brand) is also dying. This may be wholly attributed to most of the “religious right” getting the most important parts about Christianity wrong and completely ignoring what matters most. But over simplifying faith is really what’s wrong and allowing one class of people to take the fall for issues that most of us have largely remained silent about would do us all an injustice if you want me to be really honest. Today I feel closer to Atheists than I do Christians. Maybe it’s for all the right reasons or maybe it’s for all the wrong reasons, I don’t know yet. I do not deny the struggle I have, at times, of trying to reconcile the random acts of subtle hatred I see all over the country in the name of a faith that I’ve held dear to my heart since childhood compared to the message that “God is Love.” However strange this is to admit, the bigger issue that I have with the new ideologies of practicing this faith at all is the trivialization of the faith in an effort to ease our suffering. It’s when I see the contradictions that I understand a complete and utter rejection with the understanding of an Atheist. From the outside looking in our love is hate, our gospel is ridiculous and our God must be a fabrication of convenience, control and the desire to make more money. In it’s current state much of the practice of Christianity has become a political, capitalistic, misguided mess in which I often find myself fighting against rather than for these days. Maybe I’m becoming enlightened, or maybe I’m just getting crabby in my middle age, but what I often see when it comes to the American Church is a class of believers that has redefined words like suffering, persecution and poverty as unnatural states of existence that must not mean what we really think they mean. They are states that we need to “seven step” ourselves out of rather than rejoice as we sojourn through them. The church I currently attend actually invokes this prayer after the offering bucket goes by. “As we receive today’s offering we are believing the Lord for:
Jobs and better jobs,
Raises and bonuses
Benefits Sales and commissions
Favorable settlements
Estates and inheritances
Interests and income
Rebates and returns
Checks in the mail
Gifts and surprises
Finding money
Debts paid off
Expenses decrease
Blessing and increase.”
It’s a prayer that makes me cringe as I think about it. Not because I don’t understand the desire to want things. I resent it because it’s a prayer that reduces the concept of God into a cosmic Coke machine ready to dispense goodies at our request. It’s like saying, “Lord if I give you this money, may you dispense that money in return.” There is a stark contrast between this prayer and the kind the first disciples asked Jesus when they asked how we should pray. According to the new Testament Jesus responded by saying this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
I was recently arguing with someone about the practice of Lent and the idea that giving up beer or chocolate was not so much a sacrifice as it was a diet. If you are unfamiliar with what happens during this time of year on the church calendar Lent is the season in which Christians observe, acknowledge and sometimes walk in a kind of suffering to remind themselves of the ultimate sacrifice that will be paid at the cross. Given that, how can we give up things that are already bad for us and try to pass them off as sacrificial and then in the same breath take that as a serious reminder of what we are supposed to be doing during this season? I wonder if forty days this kind of “suffering” is an acceptable act of solidarity? Does this kind of suffering mean anything at all if our commitment is no stronger than a New Year’s resolution? No wonder why people walk away from the faith when people speak of giving up things like coffee or gum while hating gays and practitioners of Islam without missing a beat. It’s almost laughable. I laughed too reminding myself that the cup that Christ asked to be removed from him was not likely filled with beer. If you want know what kind of reverence the American church holds towards it’s god and the kind suffering that it would rather avoid than learn from, see the first prayer above. Apparently this is really our god and not the God of the second that reminds us to take each day as it comes – one day at a time. I get Atheism. I do. The reason I do has very little to do with a lack of faith as much as it has to do at times with my disappointment in the execution of the ideologies I hold dear. When I look at how some enter into this season I am left with wonder as I see what is being practiced and with the logic in which it’s practiced and think that it cannot possibly be entirely right. That is to say that if being a Christian means giving up sweets for Lent or it means being greedy for money and more money or if it means hating my neighbor because he’s different, I ask where is the love that is preached and where are our hearts? Where are our true values? Is it in finding jobs and better jobs or is it found in the phrase “Thy will be done?” Sometimes I have to acknowledge that Christianity can be stupid. It is in the same way that I understand how a Derek Webb can want to distance himself from an industry in order to differentiate himself and stand on beliefs rather than dogmas. What matters more, my God or my money? As I travel through the next forty days and I think about the love that will soon lie bleeding on the floor I am reminded that what we share with one another lies in our flaws as much as it is in our execution of our actions. In the end, whether you believe in something or believe in nothing we are all walking contradictions in a search for meaning. It’s because of this reason alone that I have hope. Because if I must choose one prayer as the framework to remind me about my faith I choose the one with less words, more action and the one that begs for my need to take the kind of action that goes beyond my politics, my religion or some branded belief in a partisan and capitalistic religions that I cannot even find in the Bible at all. Maybe I’m still upset because I can no longer even recognize the original idea after it has been mangled by the ideas of men. If you ask me what matters more? Maybe we should all shut up and either love one another or walk away from this entirely before we reduce it all to a crazy pyramid scheme that I’m fairly certain it was never meant to be either.

By Paul Stamat