Joni Mitchell’s “River” and the “Christmas movement” of God

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Joni Mitchell has long been my favorite female singer-songwriter. Her early song “River” from 1971 is undoubtedly one of her masterpieces. It is also a fitting song for a meditation on the meaning of Christmas.

The song begins and ends with Joni’s solo piano strains almost struggling in a minor rather than major key to play “Jingle Bells,” portending the dissonance between the season with songs of joy and the perennial sorrows of life. The sadness in her voice and the beautifully haunting music and lyrics immediately draw the listener into the melancholy that the advent of Christmas has created for her through its seeming inability to give her “joy and peace.”

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river

I could skate away on

Joni Mitchell has so beautifully juxtaposed joy and sorrow, peace and pain, that she simply melts the soul of the most hardened of us. The festive joys of the Christmas season have been annulled for her by the frozen winter that would provide hope, if only she could skate away on its cold hard ice. Christmas was lost for her as it was for all Narnia in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis, where it was “always winter, but never Christmas.”

She does not provide any critique though, of the biblical meaning of Christmas, but rather describes the dissonance in her own soul that the “traditional” season of joy brings to her. But is the fact that Christmas is simply, perhaps in the main the uncritically accepted “season of joy” the real problem? In other words, is Christmas actually “meant” to provide an easy solution to the perplexities and problems of life?

So the question, simply put is, what does Christmas mean? Is Christmas meant to remove all our problems and replace them with unending “joy and peace?” I think that to suppose so, is to mistake what Christmas is, at least in its initial interaction with the world.

Christmas is called the advent, the beginning of God’s movement toward the world in a new and unprecedented way. But Christmas did not annul, but rather fully entered the perplexities and sufferings of life. A young couple, the wife very pregnant, having to undergo severe inconvenience to comply with a governmental census for taxes. Sages traveling from distant lands following “signs” in their insatiable search for a viable hope for humanity. A King that so feared the loss of his power that he sent soldiers to slaughter the innocents, the contemporaries of the child who would be king and threaten his reign. The couple also then driven to become refugees in another country to escape Herod’s plan.

The mother herself was caught in difficulties and perplexities she could not begin to understand. For the child conceived in her womb was the beginning of a mysterious movement of God not only toward, but into the deepest parts of the world by “becoming flesh and dwelling among us,” and eventually to be “betrayed (to death) by the kiss” of a dear friend; to be abandoned in the end by all his disciples except the women; to “surrender” to the murderous political machinations of the “religious” authorities; to suffer the pains of torture and horrible execution at the hands of the Romans; and to seemingly have been abandoned and cursed by God himself.

So God become flesh in the infant Jesus was God’s movement toward and into the crucible of all human experience. Certainly there were simple pleasures, and the children came to Jesus because he was joyful, not austere! But there was also much suffering common to humanity just as “the sparks fly upward.”

But this is not to say that it is not perfectly natural for us to want to “skate away” from all the suffering. In Gethsemane with the prospect of the cross before him, Jesus agonized and sweat “great drops of blood,” desiring to escape the cup of suffering placed before him. For in this first Christmas movement of God into the world, the cup of suffering was to be fully drank to the bottom.

The proximate cause of Joni Mitchell’s sorrow in “River” is given in the narration, and can be summarized in a few lines:

I made my baby cry…

I made my baby say goodbye

Much of the sorrow we experience in life is due to our own failures, often inexplicable even to ourselves as we seem to be quite adept as saboteurs of even our own joy and peace. Joni Mitchell laments that

I’m so hard to handle

I’m selfish and I’m sad

Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby

That I ever had

Oh I wish I had a river…

These sorrows too, are part of the suffering that the Christmas movement has taken to the cross of Christ, bearing the guilt and shame of the manifold sins of humankind. There is no “river so long” that we could “skate away on,” that would enable us to escape not only from what we have done but who we are. For wherever we go, there we are. But part of the mystery of the suffering of Christ on the cross is that for those that believe it is the power of God that brings to us the very “righteousness, holiness and redemption” of God.

So Christmas is not annulled because it has not removed our sufferings or because we don’t have a river long or frozen enough to skate away on. Christmas is fulfilled because it is the river of God that flows to us and even within us if we believe. That river is what enables the people of the community it has created to “count it all joy” in trials,  and to have a “peace that passes understanding” because it is a community born into “fellowship with his sufferings.” Yet it is also the Christmas river whose lively water flows with songs of “joy and peace.”

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (from Psalm 46, ESV)

Christmas joy and peace to all!

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. 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.

Is the “Eternal Power of God” being denied by Young Earth Creationism?

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A Creation Scene from “Tree of Life”by Terrence Malick

The title of this post is stated in the form of a question, because in it I merely seek to raise  a question concerning the scriptural view of the age of the earth and the universe in which the earth exists. Part of the questioning format is due to the reason that I am thinking through this issue and do not wish to be unnecessarily dogmatic. Therefore I’m basically thinking out loud and putting my thoughts out there for interaction.

The scriptural text to be considered brings together what theologians call “general” and “biblical” revelation, which at times have come into conflict in Christianity. General revelation is the term used to consider what can be known of God apart from scripture. According to Millard J. Erickson general revelation is:

Revelation which is available to all persons at all times, particularly through the physical universe, history, and the makeup of human nature.

In contrast, biblical revelation, is what can be known of God through the Bible, and it is important to note that those that believe in God as the “author” of both revelations believe that they cannot ultimately contradict one another. But this supposition creates tensions and problems in the quest to harmonize general and biblical revelation. At the present time, the most obvious example of this is between those that believe that general revelation postulates that the earth is 4 to 5 billion years old, and those that believe that biblical revelation postulates that the earth is probably 6 to 10,000 years young. The former group are generally hold to what is known as “old earth creationism” (OEC) while the latter group are knows as “young earth creationism” (YEC).

This post will present an important text that may very well bridge the supposed “chasm” between general and biblical revelation, because it is a biblical text and therefore biblical revelation that speaks of general revelation. What the text seems to present is the universal “manifest propensity” of the response of humankind in regard to what creation has always “taught” human beings regarding the age of the earth and of creation. It thus presents two things: 1) an empirical observation of what humankind has universally thought about the age of the earth and creation; and 2) a propositional declaration that God has intended that thought to be produced in all humans of all times. The text is Romans 1:20, a well-known one from  Paul who authored many of the books of the New Testament as many of you may know:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Paul’s proposition is fairly simple albeit fairly radical, especially to our modern and postmodern ears. God’s “invisible attributes” have been “clearly perceived” by all people since the beginning of the world. The universality of this perception is more fully explained by Paul in what he wrote before and after the text of 1:20, but is hinted at in 1:20 by the words “they… (all people) …are without excuse.” Furthermore, the thing that Paul says is clearly perceived in creation “since the creation of the world” is God’s “eternal power.” Paul seems to be saying that creation itself seems to be “saying” to all people of all times that a main attribute of God is his “eternal power.” In other words, the observation of creation necessarily transmits an idea of eternality due to its own “given” attribute: creation itself seems to all humans to be eternal.

But this proposition of Paul, if I have given the correct sense of it, is dogmatically contradicted by Young Earth Creationists who deny that creation is old. To look at Paul’s proposition from the opposite angle, a young earth cannot produce the idea of eternality in and of itself. But YEC may respond by saying what they almost all admit, that the earth and creation “appear” to be old. But if that is actually the case it seems as though at least two serious problems arise: 1) Logically speaking, if the creation only appears to be old, then the correspondence between God’s and creation’s seemingly age-evocative attributes would also require that God only appears to be “eternal;” and 2) God’s intent that all humankind’s sense of his eternal power would amount to God presenting a false exhibit – a charade, something that in itself does not exhibit the attributes he intends to convey universally to all people of all times. God’s intent for general revelation, as stated in this text of biblical revelation, is that creation (and through it God’s own self) would be clearly and accurately perceived as eternity-evoking to all people of all times. 

Therefore the proposition of Paul seems to be clear. What is necessary to support it though is the empirical evidence that humankind has indeed always “clearly perceived” that creation is evocative of eternality. It seems evident to me that the empirical evidence is “common knowledge” as part of the history of human knowledge and philosophy. One source that adequately brings together much of this material is presented in the puzzlingly near-anonymous work of the author of a web-site called exactlywhatistime.com. In one page called Ancient Philosophy  the author demonstrates that until about the 6th century AD, the common knowledge was that the world itself was eternal, or at least eternally cyclical. Astronomical numbers were posted in support of this with cycles themselves consisting of repetitions from ten-thousands of years up to many millions of years. It was not until the early Christian apologists presented a defense of Creation that the eternality of creation itself was systematically challenged. In 529 John Philoponus of Alexandria wrote a critique titled On the Eternity of the World Against Proclus in which he challenged arguments put forward for the eternity of the world, which was the theory which formed the basis of pagan attacks of the Christian doctrine of Creation.

But does historical/empirical evidence that humankind always surmised the eternality of the world before the Christian doctrine of creation emerged prove too much? Not at all, for it actually serves to demonstrate that the eternity-evoking attribute of creation that God intended worked! God intended that Creation would evoke in people of all times and places the idea that it was eternal, and that therefore the invisible God, intuitively known through the agency of creation, had eternal power. What remained in God’s purpose was for God to bring to humankind a distinguishing between God and creation.

In conclusion, it seems that the recent trend toward young earth creationism denies God’s pedagogical intent for creation to instill in humankind the sense of eternality. The book of Ecclesiastes seems to show God’s method of evoking the concept of eternality in humankind by means of the seemingly endless natural cycles. Thus Ecclesiastes 3:11 aptly concludes sections of poetic narrations of the cyclical attributes of nature in 1:2-11 and 3:1-8.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, English Standard Version.)

Furthermore, it seems that this text in Romans 1:20, which all admit to be one of the weightiest texts in support of Paul’s universal “gospel,” is an informative instance of “biblical revelation” regarding God’s revelational intent for the world, as “general revelation.” And it seems that Paul was fully aware of the fact that humankind had “followed the lead” of seeing the world itself as eternal and thereby also knowing intuitively the “eternal power” of God, even though they might also seek to repress that knowledge.

I also add that this has been an attempt to reckon with a direct text that seems to address the question of the age of the earth and creation, as opposed to drawing inferences from texts that do not directly address that question. These other (and unfortunately more well known methods) have included seeking to draw precise chronological information from Genesis as Bishop Ussher did in his findings that the earth was created in 4004 BC; or by concluding that the 7 day creation narrative simply requires a young earth due to other “theological” reasons.

I haven’t surveyed other texts in this post that have some bearing on the age of the earth, but may do so in the future since I think that similarly evocative texts are in the Bible, and ought to be considered. But hopefully, this introduction provides what I think might have been Paul’s own summation of what we are meant to know regarding the age of the earth through our experience as human beings in the world, through general revelation.

Thanks for reading this post and please feel free to reply with any comments or questions.

Bryan M. Christman @ Manifest Propensity, 2019. All rights reserved.

Thanos and the Infinity Stones: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks (Like Us)

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Marvel comics supervillain character “Thanos” is certainly a contender (apart from the biblical Lucifer) for the prize of being the ultimate control freak. But he is actually each of us magnified almost infinitely in our desire to control all of reality and God – and thus a cautionary tale. We all are tempted by the uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and suffering of life to “wish” that we could change things in almost ultimate ways, as Thanos hoped to do in complete ultimacy, once he was able to possess all six of the “infinity stones” – mind, soul, space, power, time, and reality. I always wonder whether the multitudes of Americans seeing movies like this realize that a major point is that the desire for “control” is ultimately dangerously destructive to our God-given creaturely self-hood and of the dignity and right to life of others?

Thanos is a good character to portray such self-deception, because he isn’t automatically portrayed as a shallow one-dimensional maniacal egomaniac but rather as a reasonable, courageous, even sacrificial and loving person (by his own estimation). It’s amazing what the unchecked desire for control does to us all, a story as old as the fall of adam & eve, the fall to the desire for control in the garden of God in Genesis, and as real as the terrible consequences that violently rippled out from there and provide the dismal default context of our personal and collective lives.

So, is there any anti-Thanos we can look to for a better way? How about a “forty day fasted” Jesus in the desolate wilderness tempted by Satan to use “infinity stones” to change “everything” but ultimately victorious over him though the conflict continued and culminated in an “anti-garden” of suffering, called Gethsemane? He is the one to consider, along with those who have truly followed his way, though they be few and far  between.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links 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.

 

The “Problem” of Anxiety and Freedom: Soren Kierkegaard, Arcade Fire, and the “Promise” of “Creature Comfort”

 

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It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

On and on I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it…

From “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

A chorus from Arcade Fire that is “dizzying” in both “merry go round” style – “on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on” – and actually also in content, which this post will explore. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Does that mean that “Creature Comfort” for the anxious is the ultimate thing we should seek? Is our anxiety itself one of the “Signs of Life” that as a “Manifest Propensity” empirically shows that we were created for more than simply consuming (and being consumed by?) the creature comforts marketed to us constantly?

Arcade Fire’s petition to God about the “problem of freedom” is “just make it painless” with painlessness coming through the “Creature Comfort” supposedly promised and provided for through the technological consumerism of “Everything Now.”  Arcade Fire raises one of the most perennial questions of human beings regarding God. Can God, if we consider God as the One that is the creator of human life, able to make that life “painless” for a being that is created with a measure of freedom? It seems that Soren Kierkegaard thought that freedom inevitably produces a measure of anxiety for creatures endowed with that gift.

If that is true, then question becomes, what do we do with this “birthright” of anxiety? Do we try to manufacture “comfort” for the “creature,” the solution that Arcade Fire sees as the “anxiety fix” currently on offer for any and all of us willing to buy into that solution? The manufacturers of such “creature comfort” constantly bombard us with the assurance that we ought to “Put your money on me?” In fact, we all tend to buy into that solution simply because it is the given of our existence now. In a sense we have already paid for it, simply as the price of admission to the modern world.

Infinite Content.

Infinite Content.

We’re infinitely content.

All your money is already spent on it.

All you money is already spent.

On Infinite Content.

From “Infinite Content” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

With nearly biblical poetical genius Arcade Fire reveals the pseudo-religious character of this captivating sales pitch which captures precisely because it tends to exhaust all our resources so that we can’t afford anything else. All our money is already spent! We’re overly invested. But that’s alright because we’re so “infinitely content!” Many or most of us will probably admit how trapped we feel in this situation. But lurking within is the anxiety of dizziness caused by our struggle between wanting and not wanting to remain sellouts to the consumerist solution of “Creature Comfort.”

Soren Kierkegaard defined anxiety as “a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” Mark A. Tietjen explains that “It occurs when one is attracted to and repulsed by the same thing.” We seem to be attracted to the comforts offered, but repulsed by the loss of freedom we pay for them.

A short alternative answer from Kierkegaard was that we shouldn’t evade our birthright of anxiety, for the sake of a false “comfort,” but rather embrace it. For in that path lies becoming the self we were created to be.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I think it is highly possible that Arcade Fires’s song “Put Your Money On Me” contains a double entendre regarding two different voices pleading for us to put our money on them. The first, which we all know all too well, has already been considered. The other is the anti-type of the former. Arcade Fire’s song “We Don’t Deserve Love” explicitly evokes Jesus Christ with the plea to a “Mary” to “roll away the stone” and the mention of the “Christ-types” which leave Mary (us) alone and inevitably don’t provide what we need (love) so that we are always “waiting on” them. I believe that point is that the “Christ-types” can’t give us love. The more sinister underlying narrative of the false savior consumer culture is that we are merely “consumers” and as such are less than human beings. In other words “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

So to return to the double entendre of “Put Your Money On Me” – it is actually present through the song as a complex counter-narrative wherein there is an “either/or” (Kierkegaard) regarding the identity of the one speaking throughout the song. Is it the false Christ offering us “creature comfort” through loss of our own true self or the real Christ offering us love through the gain of true self-hood?  I believe that the “counter-narrative” of the real Christ is actually stronger because of a few of the lyrics, but I still call it the counter-narrative because of Arcade Fire’s “Money + Love” video in which the speaker is obviously the false one. The section of the song that I believe most explicitly can apply to Christ, and can’t really apply to “consumerism” is this:

My mother was crying on the day of our wedding.

Trumpets of angels call for my head.

But I fight through the ether and I’ll quit when I’m dead.

If you wanna know who’ll be there in the end,

When you bury me, baby, I’ll still be your friend.

It is also important to note that the basic premise of the song is the difficult and anxiety producing struggle for freedom by the one being spoken to throughout. The song closes before the epic track “We Don’t Deserve Love” with the words, “I know it’s not easy to put your money on me, all your money on me.”

It is also interesting to think about the scenario of “venturing” for the freedom of true self, as Kierkegaard calls it, in light of the fact of the seeming unfreedom inherent in the fact all our money “is already spent.” Is it possible Arcade Fire’s narrative/ counter-narrative interplay in which money is required for everything leads one to the biblical invitation to freedom for those in bondage that does not require the soul destroying commodities the world trades in? In other words, was Win Butler who majored in Bible and Philosophy at McGill and has explicitly given credit to the Bible and Kierkegaard as constantly forming the way he approaches everything, thinking about the only commodity God “trades in” with humans, namely our anxiety producing gift of freedom of choice?

Isaiah 55 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (King James Version)

 

Kierkegaard saw how humans deal with anxiety as bound up with the problem of despair. His thought on that problem is more than can be dealt with at the end of this meditation. So I’ll merely add this quote in which he shows that despair can be overcome through the proper reaction to anxiety which is possible through “resting transparently” in God.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death)

I apologize for not taking time to add links to Arcade Fire’s songs, but I assume that for most of us, being adept with navigating “infinite content,” they are easy to find!

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links 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 “The Lights of Home” – How U2 and You Too Can Pray

Thou didst hide thy face,

I was dismayed

To thee, O Lord, I cried;

and to the Lord I made supplication:

“What profit is there in my death,

if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise thee?

Will it tell of thy faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to Me!

O Lord, be thou my helper!”

Psalm 30:7b-10

“The use of these ‘psalms of darkness’ may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure, bold faith, albeit a transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. Continue reading

Is There Any Solution in Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now?”

Many professional record critics have complained about “Everything Now” on the basis that the album is all “problem” with no “solution.” I think that is because the “problem” is fairly obvious not only throughout the songs, but also in our lives. And more pointedly, perhaps the songs hit too close to where we all live, and in lieu of any obvious of solution (that is the supposed accusation) we are left with an album that exists mainly for our listening depression.

But do they not offer any solution? My critique of the critics is that they have completely missed it and that is why they think the album is only about our big problem of “Everything Now.” (And I would agree that nobody only wants to hear about our big problem.)

So what is the solution? Well first let me make a point. What do you think could be the solution to our entire society’s problem? See, most of us don’t have an answer and therefore we don’t even know what to look for and can’t see it when it is offered. In other words, we miss the solution because we don’t even know what it looks like.

I believe their solution is in the transition in their narrative from songs about the problems of consumerism of everything, including our wanting even God to be another commodity (“God in heaven, could you please me?“) to songs about relationship. Peter Pan, Chemistry, Put Your Money on Me, We Don’t Deserve Love are all relational. But a relationship with who?

Well, for the sake of keeping this fairly short I’ll just mention several key points of who I think this mystery person might be. In “Chemistry” we learn that we haven’t yet “met” them. In “Put Your Money On Me” we learn that their “race for our heart” began “before we were born” and that they win that race for it when they “wake” following their death. Also their “mother” was “crying on the day of our wedding” alluding to the sorrow of Mary the mother of Jesus at the crucifixion of her son Jesus, which event was also the sealing through the blood of the New Covenant of Jesus/God with his people. In “We Don’t Deserve Love” we learn that we are like a biblical “Mary” Magdalene who has been repeatedly left by her previous lovers, the “Christ types” that always “leave you alone.” But the singer pleads with “Mary” (us) to “roll away the stone” behind which is not the imposter “Christ types” but I think the real Christ.

Now if anyone has any other ideas of some other person that can do fit in all of these descriptions, I’d love to hear it. I also realize that the biblical illiteracy in our culture is nearly complete, so it doesn’t surprise me in the least that most of these allusions go completely over the heads of the professional critics and masses of fans of Arcade Fire.
So this answer to the problem of “Everything Now” – that relationship to God is the solution, certainly raises many other questions – mainly “how can a relationship with God save me from “Everything Now?”

Well that question is more than I can tackle at this point, but listening to the entire album more with this “solution” in mind might help. For now I’m contented to post this excerpt from the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann:

“Nevertheless I am continually with you; You hold my right hand. (Psalm 73:23)
This is no casual hand-holding. This is a life-or-death grip that does not let go. “No-Sabbath” existence imagines getting through on our own, surrounded by commodities to accumulate and before which to bow down. But a commodity cannot hold one’s hand. Only late does the psalmist come to know otherwise. Only late may we also come to know. We may know, but likely not without Sabbath, a rest rooted in God’s own restfulness and extended to our neighbors who also must rest. We, with our hurts, fears, and exhaustion, are left restless until then.” (From “Sabbath as Resistance – Saying No to the Culture of Now.”)

Comments, questions, outrage, are welcome. Thanks for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links 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.

 

“Everything Now” by Arcade Fire – Track 1: “Everything_Now (Continued)” The Prologue: “I’m in the black again”

The first track on “Everything Now” is a concise prologue that provides the main context for the album which is a sort of travelogue of the human condition. The track’s lyrics are as follows:

“Everything_Now (Continued)”

I’m in the black again
Can’t make it back again
We can just pretend
We’ll make it home again
From everything now

The first track is the first 40 seconds or so of this video:

“I’m in the black again” provides a double meaning. The literal sense is from the accounting term “in the black” and means that one is “profitably in business.”  The investments and expenditures that first put one “in the red” of debt, have “paid off” and the profits/benefits are being received. The metaphorical sense of “in the black” here is that of being in depression and darkness. Immediately we are thrust into a world of juxtaposition and contrast, a dualistic “place” of light & dark, good & evil, reality & appearance. Things may not be what they seem to be. More generally, it introduces the fact that our lives consist in sorts of “contracts” or “covenants” that we have committed ourselves to, as a theme of the album.

“Can’t make it back again” introduces the experiential realities of a struggle: failure, discouragement, futility, despair, hopelessness, in short… lostness. It plays off the usual positive meaning of “in the black” with a dramatic and dark counterpoint. Again, generally speaking it introduces the theme of “struggle.”

“We can just pretend” introduces the possibilities of living in a false realities, created by self-deception for the sake of providing a way to cope with the place we find ourselves. This introduces the theme of false reality.

“We’ll make it home again” introduces the place we are lost from, the place we long for, the place called “home.” This introduces the theme of pilgrimage – the return journey to home that makes the sojourner a “stranger and pilgrim” in the land being traveled through. It also thus introduces the theme of home and associated deeper traditional associations thereof such as “paradise lost” or Eden; or more personally the finding of one’s “true self.”

“From everything now” introduces the place we now live, the place we wish to be freed from. We might call it the place of bondage, servitude, captivity. It is interesting that this first track pictures “everything now” as a place, when it is more precisely a temporal rather than a spatial image. But by making it a spatial designation they have been able to deconstruct “everything now” from being a positive experience of “nowness” – and showing (I think) that it is in reality a pretending, a diversion from what might be called original  or possibly intended reality. In other words, “everything now” is a social construct of humans that we have created as an alternative to “home.” In biblical imagery this is the “Egypt” in which the Israelites were enslaved by Pharaoh, the Babylon that captured Israel. Original or intended reality is what God intended, or what we are “meant for” however we might understand it.

But something we could easily miss in all this analysis is that this place in which we find ourselves is what we have willingly purchased. This is why the double meaning of “in the black” is so important. We lament the darkness of “everything now” even though it is what we have “put our money on.” And we can’t seem to free ourselves from our chosen bondage. The scariest thought is that pretending we can “make it home again” might prove to be one of two possibilities:

  • There actually is no home anyway – “everything now” is everything
  • We are hypocrites only fooling ourselves- we don’t actually want home anyway

So Arcade Fire’s prologue track introduces these themes, and thus also many questions about ourselves and the nature of reality. Many people might say that this album is “simply about consumerism.” In a sense I agree, but the real question is “what is consumerism? I think that in this album it is but the symptom of the much deeper seated dis-ease we call “the human condition.” So perhaps the main questions could be summarized by these two:

  • Is there anything other than “everything now?”
  • Do “sell outs” like us really want anything other than “everything now?”

I think that these are perhaps two of the main questions that “Everything Now” deals with. The first one is about objective reality “outside” us, and the second the subjective reality “within” us. I find it amazing that with these five short lines Arcade Fire can not merely present a context for their philosophizing, but can actually present to us our own inner narrative – the one where if we sometimes seem to have arrived we then ask ourselves “have we?” – or where we may just always invariably arrive back “in the black” of depression.

An explanatory note on my “method” of interpretation. I realize that it may seem that I am coloring or nuancing the themes I see toward a certain narrative. The reason I am doing this is because of more explicit factors that are “revealed” as the album continues. So I am interpreting from the standpoint of having a view already of the entire album and the “narrative” that develops therein. This could make it seem that I am “begging the question” or “reading into” the songs already discussed. Perhaps I could have written the posts using a different methodology, but I think that require a much more difficult method of engaging in either a sort of “higher criticism” of AF’s songwriting process or merely being required to leave so much ambiguity that it would be difficult to say much regarding what I think they are saying. I’d have to continually qualify the narrative by saying things like “at this point I think they are saying this… but they could be saying that… ” etc.

As always, questions, comments, etc.

Thanks for reading.

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