Arcade Fire’s Critique of “The Reflective Age” and their Call to a Counter-narrative

Since Arcade Fire has arrived I’ve been intrigued not only by their music but by the fact that they call their hearers to the task of being reflectors (critical thinkers) in relation to our modern culture. I tentatively believe that they present the concept of “reflektor” as the antithesis of being a reflector, wherein a reflektor does not reflect on the real world and reality, but rather only mistakenly finds in those realities reflections of the self. So how do we break free from the mirror/mold of the “reflective age” to the freedom of finding real reality? I believe that their method at least partly includes looking through the lens of biblical revelation.

Their song “Neon Bible” critiques a distortion of authentic biblical revelation as is unfortunately found promulgated by some brands of Christianity. Yet the word “Neon” signals that this is a distortion while also pointing to the fact that the true “Bible” nevertheless remains intact.

All these comments of mine are for the purpose of saying that I believe that Arcade Fire’s songs attempt to present a corpus of reflective narratives on our culture mediated to them (and us) partly through the Biblical revelatory texts. In other words, I think that Arcade Fire’s work at times amounts to a sort of “Bible Study” in which they seek to interpret our culture through the biblical lens and thereby offer counter-narratives to the dominant narratives of our culture.

So to return to where I started, I seriously think that Arcade Fire’s works present a call to us to join them in reflecting on the narratives of our culture in light of the counter-narrative of scripture. To “respond” to this “call” I started a facebook discussion group called “Arcade Fire Neon Bible Study” wherein listeners can compare thoughts and theories about that while also simply appreciating the broad scope of their literary/artistic/musical work.

I don’t view Arcade Fire as something like biblical prophets as though infallible in their cultural critiques, nor that they have fully or accurately presented the biblical counter-narratives. But I believe they are at least to some extent sincerely trying to do so, and if anything their observations, questions, critiques, and answers provide much “food for thought” for those seeking to truly “reflect” on things in “the reflective age.”

So here’s the address, check it out and I hope you’ll join the “Neon Bible Study.”

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2015

Yawny at the Apocalypse: Andrew Bird’s Ambiguous Apocalypse

Not much I can say about this instrumental song

although the song and album titles provide some hints

in the pervasive atmosphere of ambiguity:

“Yawny at the Apocalypse”

“Armchair Apocrypha”

an apt description

of postmodern life


Many thanks to Andrew Bird

 BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2015.

Thanks for reading – comments are welcomed!

“God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” – Coldplay’s Critique of Our Society’s Utilitarian God

This has always been a personal favorite Coldplay song. Past familiarity, and recently discovering the video have served to catalyze my thoughts about what they might be getting at in the song. So I have tentatively come up with the following “interpretation”:

I think there are three main factors of consideration in the song:

1) “God.”

2) What this “God” does for us.

3) Whether this “God” is the real God.

So the main “concern” of the song is whether the “God” of the song is the real God, and inasmuch as this “God” is the God of our real lives, whether or not our “God” is the real God. Furthermore, the main point is more explicitly an expose on what might be called “the utilitarian God,” or the God our society has created to serve the “needs” we deem as valuable and necessary. The utilitarian God is therefore the God we grant existence to, who is justified thereto by our knowledge of what we need for our “society.”

So again, let’s consider the three factors while looking at some of the lyrics:

The “God” in the song, the “God” our society posits, is under scrutiny as to “God’s” reality.

What this “God” does for us is three fold: putting “a smile on our face”; giving us “style”; and giving us “grace”. I think the song, especially as portrayed in the video, strongly implies that this “God” has actually failed in doing these three things. More significant is the fact that the two first things “God” does are quite frivolous and typically American, while the giving of “grace” only gains significance in connection with the how it is qualified by the more specific values of both “a smile” and “style.” The opening lines show what appears to be simple reality to the narrator.

Where do we go nobody knows?

I’ve gotta say I’m on my way down

They show that the “God” who is in question has not provided even these frivolous “needs” that have been deemed essential by his evangelists. So the first verses open by contrasting simple reality with the “religion of society” (of the masses).

The repeated lines about “drawing the line” and “falling from grace” seem to be expressions of doubt from the narrator concerning the problem of the alignment of this “societal God” with actual reality. The repeated lines about “working it out” show a “religious system” exists and thereby show that the narrator is thought to have “fallen from grace” by society and in particular by a certain person (“honey, honey”) so that the narrator has “wasted all their time.” In light of “the system” the doubting narrator is “worse than you” because they “wanted to” (fall short of “society”). So the song sets up a scenario in which the narrator is being judged by someone who has bought into this false socio/religious system, but the narrator has rejected the system due to it’s failure to align with reality.

The video seems to support this interpretation of the song, so that the narrator is the character in the video that has no smile, no societal “success” or even fellowship, and ultimately loses his societal existence within this “religious system” that was interposed upon them by society.

What is interesting is that the narrator basically is presenting a theological view of God that is known as “apophatic theology,” which is a theology based on what God is not, rather than on what God is (cataphatic theology). I say this because the narrator cannot positively say more about God than that “your guess is as good as mine.” But it seems to me that because the narrator has used apophatic theology they believe they are at least correct to reject this societal, utilitarian “God,” while at the same time their accuser judges him by this “God” to be wrong. So there is an odd sort of logic at play in the song, in which an apophatic “drawing of the line” is correct but the cataphatic line is not which makes “your guess is as good as mine” to mean that “he” is right concerning “God,” while “honey” is wrong, even though he is still agnostic regarding any true God that actually aligns with reality.

So if this interpretation is on target, what is the point of the song? I would say it probably at least might include these ideas:

  • The “God” of our society is utilitarian, meaning that we have created “God” based on what is expedient for our perceived societal needs. God “puts a smile on our face” and gives us “style” and “grace” to succeed in our religious system.
  • Our society, both the segment that might claim to believe in and follow God, and the segment that does not, is idolatrous inasmuch as our “God” is created by us and “utilitarian” for our success. Some have called humans “religious animals” because we are inherently religious whether we actually are religious, or irreligious.
  • Human society is inherently judgmental, and the more we have a “social” unification of the masses the more we may also have a totalitarian style religion that sees non-practicioners as “wasted” from the point of view of the dominant society.
  • So the very disconcerting lesson is to beware, when our society tells us how it’s “God” will “put a smile on our face.”

All in all, I think it is an amazing song/critique of our “liberated” society by Coldplay.

Any questions, or comments are most welcome! Thanks for reading…

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2015. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.






Hey Ma, I’m Only Bleeding (for “Mother Kirk”)

pilgrim's regress

A song I wrote today partly inspired by Bob Dylan’s great song of similar title; dedicated to “Mother Kirk.”

Hey ma

ain’t good for man to be alone

it’s time to put down the phone

answer the door

Hey ma

three meals didn’t make me stay

but one will drive the devil away

supper’s ready


Don’t know who’ll be there

do know that I don’t care

the lesser and the least

the kingdom coming

Hey ma

I’m only bleeding ’cause now I’m home

a room off the streets of Rome

with flames of fire

Hey ma

darkness at the break of noon

the president hid in his room

his table’s broken

chorus 2x

Written by Bryan M. Christman, July 19th, 2015

Copyright 2015 by Bryan M. Christman @ Manifest Propensity

All rights reserved

“Tiny Vessels” – adrift in the nihilism of the sexual revolution (Death Cab for Cutie)

This is the only album by Death Cab for Cutie that I have, but it is a great one. This is also not one of the saddest, but one of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard. The mass of meaninglessness depicted: in the song; in the breakdown; in the “revolution.” I can’t believe intelligent people choose to live like this. Then again I can – knowing my own solidarity with the human species. But it’s time for the counter-revolution of the new man.

This is the moment that you know
That you told her that you loved her but you don’t.
You touch her skin and then you think
That she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.

I spent two weeks in Silver lake
The California sun cascading down my face
There was a girl with light brown streaks,
And she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.

I wanted to believe in all the words that I was speaking,
As we moved together in the dark
And all the friends that I was telling
All the playful misspellings
and every bite I gave you left a mark

Tiny vessels oozed into your neck
And formed the bruises
That you said you didn’t want to fade
But they did, and so did I that day

All I see are dark Grey clouds
In the distance moving closer with every hour
So when you ask “Is something wrong?”
I think “You’re damn right there is but we can’t talk about it now.
No, we can’t talk about it now.”

So one last touch and then you’ll go
And we’ll pretend that it meant something so much more
But it was vile, and it was cheap
and you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me
yeah you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me (x2)
“Tiny Vessels” by Death Cab for Cutie (Google Play • iTunes • AmazonMP3 • eMusic)
Death Cab for Cutie
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On Conspiracy Theories and the Radical Mission of the Church

In 1998 Dallas Willard published his book called ‘The Divine Conspiracy.” In 2014 Scot McKnight used “Kingdom Conspiracy” as the title for the book you see above. I think they used the word because it conveys the radical nature of the ways of God. Scot McKnight’s subtitle states that the church must “return to its radical mission.”

I wonder how many, perhaps even the reader of this post, think that the words “church” and “radical” belong in the same sentence? Or in the same universe? God and radical, maybe, but the American church that we know of? But the roots of the church were truly radical. Most that know anything about the church know that it’s founder Jesus of Nazareth was conspired against and put to death by his own native people on a Roman cross, all for basically being too radical. Saul of Tarsus who took up the exterminating cause against the “post resurrection” followers of Jesus had an unexpected meeting with the risen Jesus and himself became Paul the radical convert. His following in the radical way also provoked conspiracies against him.

12 When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. 14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.” (from “The Acts of the Apostles,” Chapter 23)

So historically, the early church was quite radical, and so conspiracy became the lifestyle of its enemies. But undoubtedly, the enemies thought the church was the party guilty of conspiracy.

So what I am driving at is that perhaps the words God, church, conspiracy, and radical do belong in the same sentence and universe. But what about the American Churches of today? Has their salt lost it’s flavor, or their light been hid under a basket as Jesus warned might happen? Interestingly Jesus said that when salt loses it’s flavor it is thrown upon the ground and then trampled by men as if it were of no value. Perhaps that is the image more known today by the onlookers, former members, or heaven forbid the present attendees of the American Church today?

Near the beginning of his book, Scot McKnight tells how Christian musician Derek Webb had left the church because of his disillusionment with it, but that he eventually returned. The song “I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You” partly narrates the story. With Webb’s individual story in the background, McKnight as representative of American church leaders is witnessing the exodus of the many from the churches, and asking the questions about why they are leaving, will they be back, and most importantly whether “radical” Christianity still exists. McKnight’s “radical” answer is that the radical “kingdom conspiracy” of God is only in the church, which tragically has generally not fulfilled it’s radical calling. This is not the answer many want to hear, because McKnight’s “pro-church” view creates a dilemma for today’s seekers of the kingdom of God that apparently have “no place else to go to” than to the local churches. Of course, in McKnight’s view, if the churches were what “King Jesus” wants them to be, they would be demonstrably radical, and the answer to the question “where is the kingdom of God seen?” would become evident to many. Of course some would not see “the kingdom of God,” but rather only a threat to their power status and so may seek to root out the annoyance to their “kingdom” such as happened repeatedly in the early tribulations of the Church, before Emperor Constantine legitimized (de-radicalized) Christianity for the world.

On a practical note regarding whether this is a book for common consumption, Scot McKnight’s book is focused toward answering the “in house” debate concerning the whereabouts of the kingdom of God in relation to the conservative “pleated pants church folk” and the liberal “skinny jeans kingdom activists.” But I think any with a mind for social sciences and political theory could profit from reading the book and seeing more clearly what “radical” church community ought to look like if the New Testament is the lens. And who knows, one might become radically converted even by proximity to the resplendent vision of “pure” (godly) radicalness as Saul was. Personally, I am obviously trying to promote the book because I think it is radically right. I have mentioned in another post that I’ve started a facebook group where people of any sort, may discuss things having to do with crisis circumstances in the church culture and in the wider arena of what is called the culture wars. I plan to spend the next several months discussing this very book by Scot McKnight. Just below is the facebook address if any want to join in, and below that is a version of Derek Webb’s song and a short video about the “Kingdom Conspiracy.” I am not myself a “conspiracy theorist” except in relation to small ones like those against Jesus and Paul, and big ones like God’s, which is not actually against the inhabitants of the earth, but for them.

If you have read this far, I hope a radical blessing will be yours.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2015. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

U2’s “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and the Deep Crisis in the Church

Hope is where the door is
When the church is where the war is
Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

When I first heard this song I was humbled inasmuch as I have been an uncaring and unsympathetic Christian. Of course that lack is also a basic human shortcoming, but it is especially tragic when the Church is meant to shine hope before all the world as it lives within the greatest things of “faith, hope, and love.”

There has been much decline in the churches of all stripes, for many different reasons, but what U2 has said about hope being “where the door is” explains perhaps the most important reason. Certainly the churches have portrayed hope, but when we also know that there is much truth and many lives effected by failures to portray hope, we are called not to re-assuring ourselves or congratulating on ourselves wherein we have been faithful. Instead we are always called to look at our communities, our neighbors, and yes, our enemies and consider whether they see hope.

I think that the difficulty the churches face today, namely to be witnesses to the particular hope that is specifically Christian, is because of past instances where we have acted in specifically unchristian ways. So there is some “payback” going on, some of which may be motivated by similar uncharitableness, but some of which is also the reaction of those that have been hurt. So we actually ought to assume that even in this, Christ is trying to tell something to the churches that show him to the world.

It should be obvious, when we look at Jesus in the Gospel accounts, that he always “felt someone else’s pain” and in the end went to the cross to die for the sake of their pain.

Would you care to discuss this? I am hoping to do so here:

Thanks, BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2015