“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

chorus

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.

Lyrics:
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)
Music
“Tiny Vessels” by Death Cab for Cutie (Google Play • iTunes • AmazonMP3 • eMusic)
Artist
Death Cab for Cutie
Category
Music
License
Standard YouTube License

On Conspiracy Theories and the Radical Mission of the Church

conspiracy
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.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/rhegma/

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: https://www.facebook.com/groups/rhegma/permalink/446259668864995/

Thanks, BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2015

The Crisis of Evangelical Christianity in America

Bryan Christman:

My final post for my other site which I reblogged here as an invitation to all Manifest Propensity followers. I am cutting back on Manifest posts and investing more time in this endeavor. I hope to perhaps meet some of you there.

Originally posted on Now & Then:

crisis

This may be the last post for “Now and Then” but to the few followers of this blog I would like to point out the following things:

I continue to share posts on my main blog called “Manifest Propensity.” If you want to keep in touch maybe you will want to follow that.

The things that I hoped to do with this blog, “Now and Then,” have not really succeeded in achieving what I envisioned.  I have therefore shifted to a facebook group where I hope to continue to work at facilitating dialogue around the current crises of evangelicalism. The address of the group is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/rhegma/

So please come visit to see what the “group” is trying to be about, and by all means do not hesitate to join in.

Many thanks, and I bid you Godspeed!

Bryan Christman

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“Miles Away” by Fleetwood Mac – Some Thoughts On The Flight From Disillusionment While “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar”

 

Fleetwood-Mac_Mystery-to-Me_rear

 

Fleetwood-Mac_Mystery-to-Me

 

Part 1: A brief autobiography: 1975-1978

In 1975 I graduated college with my AAS degree. Like many in my generation, and like many young of all generations, I was seeking for a life-meaning and a life-direction. I was disillusioned with the society I lived in and the “Christianity” I thought I had grown up with (I hadn’t actually “gotten it” and for the most part it was a “watered down” Christianity).

So, driven partly by “spiritual” experiences I thought I had, I would go to the mall bookstores and peruse their sacred shelves hoping to find the key to become attuned to whatever the ultimate truth of the universe was. One exception to my method was when a book came to me through encountering a representative of the “Hare Krishna” movement in front of the record store in the mall. The airwaves had been flooded for some time with “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, and this gentle soul was sure to let me know that the album he offered me (for a great price) was endorsed by George himself, and also by John Fahey. He also offered a very nice hardcover edition of “The Bhagavad Gita” so I walked away with some very ancient writings, “spiritual” music, and only $5 less cash in my pocket. In my search that often felt rather desperate, I counted the cost as insubstantial.

This began my encounter with hinduism which proved short lived, although pantheism itself became my basic worldview for a number of years. I simply made no progress in meditation, and didn’t really want to adopt vegetarianism or any other drastic lifestyle change that the Hare Krishna’s recommended.

So back to the bookstore narrative. I found and read many interesting books, but some less so for various reasons. One book though, spurred a several year quest. It was “The Teachings of Don Juan –  A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.” I was immediately fascinated and hooked, eventually reading the first five books that narrated the apprenticeship in Mexico of Carlos Castaneda under “Don Juan Matus,” a Yaqui Indian Sorcerer and “man of knowledge.” This series had begun under the auspices of Castaneda’s dissertation for anthropology at the University of California. My quest thus became to become a “man of knowledge.”

don juan

Little did I know at the time (due to the fact that Al Gore had not yet invented the internet and therefore finding news of things such as this required more attention than I exercised) the historicity of the books had been officially debunked in 1976 and had been under much scrutiny from as early as 1969. The five books I read came out from 1968 through 1977, and I read them mostly from 1976 through 1978. Some today still find value in them even as fiction, and think that perhaps Castaneda had valid reasons for his “cover up” as a sort of critique of typical anthropology studies. But for me their factuality was important and I think I believed they were historical probably until at least 1979. On the other hand it was not actually their non-historical basis that led me to abandon my quest to become a “man of knowledge” style sorcerer. The truth is that while I was in the midst of my quest, I found a different way, or perhaps more accurately it found me.

Had I known sooner, perhaps I would have given up that specific quest earlier. Alas, as early 1973 Fleetwood Mac had said that Don Juan went up “in a cloud of smoke,” but even though I was an avid early listener to the Mac, I didn’t hear “Mystery to Me” until probably 1978.

This brief autobiography is merely to provide a picture of what life was like for one, indeed for many in that era and to also provide some context for the song “Miles Away.” That song is an apt summation of how “man’s search for meaning” led many to eventually seek “flight” from the disillusionment a generation encountered in failed movements and false messiahs. The flowery optimism of the 1960’s had led to the hedonistic disillusionment of the 1970’s.

Miles Away 
by Fleetwood Mac
Written by Bob Welch

The swamp is getting deeper all the time
And the faces that I see don’t seem to shine
Now there’s too much warhol hanging off the wall
And the mystery that there used to be is gone

Let me go
Miles away
Let me ride
Just miles away
Don’t wanna know
I’m not gonna miss it much
Gonna be drivin’ once again

Don juan goes up in a cloud of smoke
And all those hare krishnas turned out to be a joke
And it’s restless, restless, restless all the time
Slidin’ up and down the surface of this life
Now I know that I can’t say what’s black and white
But if I could fly I think I’d try tonight

(From MetroLyrics.com)

Part 2: What follows disillusionment, endless flight?

Fleetwood Mac had proposed “flight” as an answer back in 1973. By 1977 Steve Miller’s enormous FM hit “Fly Like an Eagle” arguably confirmed “flight” as the answer for the generation. Alvin Lee’s ‘Ten Years After” had pointed the way back in 1971 saying “I’d  love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do…, so I’ll leave it up to you.” By 1977 the 60’s revolution had become flight with Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle.”

Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I’m free
Fly through the revolution

(From MetroLyrics.com)

The question to ask today is whether our life is now become one of endless flight. Have we become a generation that unknowingly are ironically and perversely living the ancient biblical mandate of being “strangers and pilgrims” in the earth? For the point of that biblical “lifestyle” was not that it is good to be homeless and on endless “flight”, but to be on “pilgrimage” to an “alternative city” from the city of the kingdom’s of the world. In other words, there is a reality greater than the kingdom of humanity that has invaded, and the only “escape” from the old reality is to be found in this new “invading” reality.

This is the controversial truth of Christianity, so controversial that many Christians aren’t even familiar with it, namely that rightly understood Christianity is not about escape at all! It is about people becoming part of God’s new reality here and now. In more scriptural language in about becoming part of the inaugurated “kingdom of God.” In theological language it is about people becoming part of “the presence of the future,” meaning that God’s other-dimensional “future” for the world has invaded the present.

Now admittedly this may all sound strange and perhaps even stranger than Castaneda’s second book “A Separate Reality” did to those that read it. But this is scriptural Christian doctrine, which should be evident in this simple parable told by Jesus, the person in whom God’s invasion of the world was inaugurated in potency.

Matthew 13:33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

N. T. Wright, on of today’s foremost scholars of the New Testament wrote this:

We who live after Calvary and Easter know that God did indeed act suddenly and dramatically at that moment. When today we long for God to act, to put the world to rights, we must remind ourselves that he has already done so, and that what we are now awaiting is the full outworking of those events. We wait with patience, not like people in a dark room wondering if anyone will ever come with a lighted candle, but like people in early morning who know that the sun has arisen and are now waiting for the full brightness of midday. (Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, p. 170)

In short, through Christ, God’s “kingdom of heaven” has been hidden in the world to “leaven” the whole world. How this works is admittedly somewhat controversial, and not merely because at times various bodies of “the Church” have sought to facilitate this providentially “secret” process of God through questionable “public” means. This historical scenario has left fear in the minds of many that an unbridled  future movement could make the communistic attempted  “leavenings” of the world pale by comparison. But the only scripturally legitimate power of God’s kingdom must be centered in the dynamic exhibited by Jesus in his ministry. And that dynamic was diametrically opposed to the power that is operative in the kingdoms of mankind. The dynamic of Jesus was the exercise of a different sort of power, that has been notably absent in human governments and organized religions of all stripes.

Mark 10:42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The dynamic of Jesus was even a different sort of love, one that is conspicuously absent in the intolerance in the name of “tolerance” in America today.

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

But in the end am I not espousing some measure of Christianity as “organized religion”? I would have to answer yes, but it would have to be a “matured” Christianity such as we have not yet seen broadly in the world. I readily admit that “organized religion” is scary, especially to “conspiracy theory” prone Americans. The reality is that some human “organization” is inevitable. The question then is what will it’s ethic be? Does even the American tradition of liberal democracy foster the ethical dynamic of Jesus? Do the disillusioned Americans that are permanently “in flight” have a dynamic that fosters the shalom of God for humanity? In the end, Bob Welch’s “Miles Away” is the only solution for postmodernism’s  no “black or white” epistemological dogma.

And it’s restless, restless, restless all the time
Slidin’ up and down the surface of this life
Now I know that I can’t say what’s black and white
But if I could fly I think I’d try tonight

The true alternative is that God has already inaugurated the solution in which the reality of God’s alternate city can “leaven” the world. Postmoderns can only confess with Alvin Lee “I don’t know what to do”?

Revelation 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

The responsibility of all people then, is not to seek endless flight from the world, but to be part of the city that is to come. God has already prepared everything, but as Bob Dylan (who else) has pointed out, “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.”

West of the Jordan, east of the Rock of Gibraltar,
I see the burning of the stage,
Curtain risin’ on a new age,
See the groom still waitin’ at the altar.

Note that throughout the chorus Dylan has several second lines:

  • I see the burning of the page (1 x)
  • I see the burning of the stage (3x)
  • I see the burning of the cage (1x)

He also has an alternate to the third line one time where he sings:

  • Curtain rising on a new stage…

I would love to hear any thoughts you may have about my thoughts.

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.