“Everything Now” by Arcade Fire – The Album Cover: Real or Fake Reality?

I open this series of posts on this latest (and greatest – OK maybe not but it is at least great) offering from Arcade Fire with a consideration of the album cover.

The cover is exactly the same as the featured image shown above, and the following observations of the image can be made:

  • the sign seamlessly shows the same mountains and sky which are behind it
  • the mountains on the sign are clearer and show more fine detail and thus would seem to be a “better” image
  • the sign contains the glaringly illuminated words “EVERYTHING NOW”
  • the sign is held up by some ugly manmade supports
  • the sign has a few speakers attached to it
  • there are no “signs of life” in the photo such as living creatures

A few thematic and conceptual “tie-ins” can be made between these observations and the songs on the album

  • “signage” and “signs”
  • natural creation vs. manmade “creation” – two “orders of creation” so to speak
  • the concept of difference between these two orders
  • the appeal to use our higher critical, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual faculties to evaluate these different orders

The highlighted transition to the song “Everything Now” begins with these first two lines – thus highlighting this difference – the juxtaposition between the orders of creation depicted on the cover:

Every inch of sky’s got a star
Every inch of skin’s got a scar

So to summarize all of this, I think that the cover was an ingenious way of depicting the two “orders of creation” in which “we live and move and have our being.” The one is natural, beautiful, filled with multitudes of stars. The other is manmade, too often ugly and filled with a multitude of scars. The manmade sets forth that it is “better” – brighter and clearer, and supposedly easier to read and understand. Granted, the natural world is difficult to “read” – a glowing sign reading “everything now” is easy to read. But is it really better? Is it even the real world or is it just a fake reality that we manufacture thinking that will provide the answers we long for? That is actually the basic definition of what an idol is – something we create and then worship as though it created us – because in a sense when that transpires we are creating our own selves. But the ultimate question is whether the reality we create is real or fake, whether it can provide everything we hope life is for.

I think Arcade Fire with this album has produced perhaps their most unified and cohesive conceptual album that is ultimately about the “big questions” – with “everything now” being the either/or to consider. But what is the alternative to “everything now?” Is there an alternative that is reality? Or is a self-created reality all there can be, even if it inevitably is fake and produces scars on every inch of our lives (if we are willing to think about it).

So, as for what I’ve set forth an an introductory fashion in this post, the proof will be in the contents of all the songs in the album. I hope that anyone that might be reading this has already listened enough times to have discovered that, negative reviews notwithstanding, this is a great and up to par offering by Arcade Fire. I for one, have a feeling it could grow to be my favorite, which may become evident as I proceed to work through the amazing collection of songs.

Thanks for reading and for any comments!

A Post post-date revision: I posted this yesterday, and now today I learned from a video interview I watched with Win Butler that this photo was taken in Death Valley. He mentioned something about it being “the lowest place” as having significance. So how might this change my read of the two orders of creation?

I think that the basic fact of two orders remains since the photo does show both. That the natural order is one of the most desolate places on the planet perhaps enhances a sense of ambiguity or even unknowing  regarding the significance of what the natural order is a “sign” of? Anything? I had originally mentioned that the natural word is “difficult to read” in contrast to our manmade presentation/reproduction of it. So the “better” image, even of a “death valley” may still show that our human “spin” on life is basically what we try to do with life. We try to make it better – even if we’re not quite sure it is actually better at all. If there are no “signs of life” in the world does our manufacturing of signs create them? Can we create life “ex nihilo” (out of nothing)?

So it seems to me that the “natural order” desert scene juxtaposed with our “man made order” enhanced desert scene makes makes a point that is best made through the use of the desert scene. The desert is known through experience, and in religious and philosophical tradition as the place of deprivation and death, trial and temptation, the realm of the demonic. In biblical literature this is behind the conclusion that life is at the present time largely a pilgrimage through the desert wilderness toward the future return home to the garden of Eden. I believe this conceptual imagery is presented in places in the album and so obviously the photo fits the overall concept being presented. (This should become evident as this series of posts progresses.)

In conclusion then, I think that the basic statement being made through the album cover may be that the endeavor to enhance the human wilderness experience as though it is an experience of “everything now” is an endeavor in futility and self-deception. The remaining question then is whether there are any “signs of life” that provide an alternative – such as an actual future hope beyond the desert wilderness. But in any case, these words seem the only proper commentary on mere human enhancement of “Death Valley” –

Stop pretending, you’ve got

(Everything now!) I want it
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!) I can’t live without
(Everything now!)
(Everything now!)
Everything now

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.

C. S. Lewis on Prayer as Monologue

Malcom

 

Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person.

(From “The World’s Last Night and Other Essays“, p. 8)

Poem

They tell me, Lord that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since you make no replies, it’s all a dream
– One talker aping two.

The are half right, but not as they
Falsely believe. For I
Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo!, the well’s are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, You forsake
The listener’s part, and through
My dumb limps breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

Therefore You neither need reply
Nor can; for while we seem
Two talking, Thou art one forever; and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

– C.S. Lewis; 4 April 1934

(From “Yours Jack“, p.44)

Note on the word “limps” above: 

There are apparently different editions of this poem, with an earlier one published in 1964 reading “lips” instead of “limps.” How to resolve this I do not know, but it is interesting that in 1933 Lewis wrote:

Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord in thy great,

Unbroken speech, our limping metaphor translate.

It is also interesting that Lewis says in his letter from 1934 that he had written the poem “over a year ago.” I also note that at the time Lewis wrote the poem it was only about 2 1/2 years following his “second conversion,” to Christianity. About a year prior he experienced his “first conversion,” to theism.

Thanks for reading…

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity, 2015.

The Paradox of the Cross – Does God Play Dice with the Universe?

220px-Einstein_1921_by_F_Schmutzer_-_restoration

Einstein once said that God “does not play dice with the universe.”

I think what he meant was that the universe is governed by unchanging laws of physics, rather than inherent randomness. Of course Einstein said this while contemplating the inherent randomness of particles evident in Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle.”

Einstein never reconciled the apparent contradiction between “macro” order and “micro” randomness. He recognized mystery in the hidden physics of the universe, but in a sense “trusted” reliable evidence and therefore concluded the “contradiction” must be a paradox, some solution must exist.

But still, many people complain that “God” seems to “play dice” with human beings, by not making everything plain to us. 

Einstein’s belief that “God” does not “play dice” related to the natural universe, but what about the moral universe? Is everything God says or does perfectly intelligible there? And if God allows or even ordains paradox, does that amount to “playing dice” or unnecessary elusiveness?

What if the most important act of God for humanity was veiled in a master paradox, so that our “natural reason” causes us to not recognize it for what it is?

But what if God also plainly tells the meaning of the paradox, and also reveals this master paradox was “crafted”? This paper will explore the “revelation” of the master paradox, but without doubt not all mysteries have been revealed. But following Einstein’s lead I think we can find enough is revealed by God to trust in the face of remaining mystery.

So what is God’s master paradox? It is the contradiction between two understandings of the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth around 30 AD in the Roman Empire. Paul wrote that,

1:18 “The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.”

The Apostle Paul had to learn the hard way about God’s use of paradox. In fact his misunderstanding was so complete that Paul persecuted to the death those that believed “the word of the cross.” Nevertheless God chose Paul, and used him to reveal that “the cross of Christ” was God’s most important work for humankind, and also that its meaning is hidden in paradox, and that ultimately God’s love was behind the “corrective” use of paradox.

The paradox then, is that “the word of the cross” is understood either as “foolishness” or “the power of God” and how we perceive the cross of Christ indicates whether we are “perishing” or “saved.”

The paradox occurs because there is the plain appearance of what the crucifixion of Jesus was, and then there is the “explanation” given by God (in the New Testament) of what the crucifixion of Jesus “meant.” And these seem on the face of it, to be mutually exclusive points of view. So is there a solution to this “contradiction” between what Jesus’ death was and what the New Testament says it meant?

First, what would death on a cross mean in the Roman Empire? It would mean nothing more than a cruel means of execution for despised criminals or condemned slaves.

Second, what did the death of Jesus on a cross mean to Paul (and the early Christians)? They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was Israel’s messiah. But even Israel’s ancient scriptures seemed to be against this preposterous idea, for the law declared that any person executed and “hung on a tree” for publicly display meant that that person had been cursed by God. And yet Paul believed that Jesus was the powerful “warrior messiah” of Israel?

So here is the paradox stated more boldly: Jesus who died in utter shame and weakness, cursed by God and forsaken by men – is the messiah, the very “power” and “wisdom” of God on earth. 

Isn’t it obvious that the idea is “foolishness’?

Well, lets give Paul a hearing. After all Paul himself once believed it was foolishness, and then dramatically changed his mind.

So Paul explained that God has chosen to do things that appear to us as foolish, in order to subvert our “wisdom” that in reality is foolishness. Paul says that GOD has said he would do this:

1:19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought.

We can’t argue against this, for Israel’s scriptures plainly predict that God will do this some time. But would he choose to be “paradoxical” about “messiah?” And if so, why? Has God set us up to fail? Can’t he give us a break?

Paul in effect replies by saying “people… this is the break.” It is the break because we have tried to find God with our wisdom and have failed. And what’s worse, we then boast in that wisdom that has proven futile for knowing God. Paul wrote,

1:20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1:21 For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe.

1:27 but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong;

1:28 and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are:

1:29 that no flesh should glory before God.

Most of us would probably agree that in the main, humankind’s philosophers and religious leaders have not led us to a definitive knowledge of God. Furthermore, it seems to be the epitome of madness that a “crucified messiah”  could be the definitive action of God. The “God” that says this seems to be “playing dice” because is simply against all reason.

But Paul was thorough in communicating what was revealed to him: a deeper look at the cross and at man’s supposed “wisdom” so that God’s hidden power and wisdom can become evident. 

1:22 Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom:

1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness;

1:24 but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.

Many, with a religious bent, ask for signs because they want a “plain” display of God’s power. Therefore they “stumble” at the idea of the “power of God” in a crucified messiah. So their question is how can the “word of the cross” be God’s power?

Others, with a philosophical bent, seek after wisdom because if anything God must simply make sense! And it does not make sense that God, the ‘unmoved mover,’ the ‘reason’ behind all reason somehow demonstrates wisdom in this crucified man. So their question is how can the “word of the cross” be God’s wisdom?

Paul’s answer is that what the cross was, was not revealed until Jesus was resurrected from the dead showing that he was the “Lord of glory.”

2:7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory:

2:8 which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory

Paul’s provides much more detail in his many letters to the early churches explaining all that actually occurred at the cross.

The Holy Spirit revealed to Paul that these things had been God’s plan all along, actually hidden in Israel’s scriptures, veiled in mystery until then.

Oftentimes the true nature of events in life is hidden. There is the appearance, and then there is the reality. It is generally wise to suspend judgment until “all the facts” and the consequences are discovered and evaluated.

In the popular movie “Gran Torino” the story builds to the climactic confrontation between good and evil with no real hope of a favorable outcome. Walt, the cantankerous old widower played by Clint Eastwood, had gradually befriended his young immigrant neighbors that had been harassed, violently abused, and thereby controlled by a ruthless gang. After one of their most horrific ‘warning’ attacks on the sister, Walt’s young friend wanted to exact revenge for her, knowing that this would undoubtedly bring his own death. But old Walt devised a non-violent solution which also prevented the boy from killing and ensured future safety for the sister and the entire neighborhood. Walt’s wise plan was “hidden in mystery” from all and was only shown to be “powerful” after the conflict. And of course, this solution required his sacrificial death.

In the final confrontation, Walt appeared to be weak and foolish, but proved in the end to have been strong and wise. 

Driven by love for him, Walt thwarted the “wisdom” of his young friend which would have been suicidal foolishness. And driven by love, Walt “became” weakness to enact power effective for salvation.

In the end the “cycle of vengeance” was broken and justice was enabled through Walt’s self-sacrifice.

Gran Torino is fictional, but it powerfully portrays the types of realities that were operative in the cross of Jesus the Christ where utter weakness overcame death, sacrificial love overcame foolishness, so that true wisdom and salvation prevailed. Here we have barely skimmed the surface of all that transpired at the cross of Christ, but can glimpse how God worked wise and mighty wonders therein.

So does God “play dice with the universe?” No, but much is still veiled in mystery. Yet, in the cross of Christ enough is revealed so we may boast in the loving power and wisdom of God.

All scriptures are from 1 Corinthians, The American Standard Version of the Bible

Copyright 2014 by Bryan M. Christman

Thanks for reading. Comments and questions are welcomed.

 

Flannery O’Connor – “She would of been a good woman…”

flannery

“She would of been a good woman,” said The Misfit, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
― Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

“Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

Link to the PBS episode on Flannery O’Connor

Thoughts on Bob Dylan’s “Modern Times”

modern times cover

“Taxi, New York at Night” by Ted Croner, 1947

I recently read a book called “The Dilemma of Modern Belief”. written in 1963 by Samuel H. Miller who was the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School. When I read the following I immediately thought of the cover of “Modern Times.” Continue reading

Neil Young’s apocalyptic songs of change: “For the Turnstiles” and “Don’t Let it Bring You Down”

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I happened to be listening to the collection of songs called “Decade” by Neil Young the other day, and was struck by the song “For the Turnstiles” when he sang

You can really learn a lot that way
It will change you in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence may be shattered,
It doesn’t matter.

I thought that he seemed to be singing about reaction to “apocalyptic” events that can be the catalyst for a change, or turning in life, essentially a sort of “conversion.” This post will explore the question of apocalyptic and change in “For the Turnstiles” and in another thematically similar song, “Don’t Let it Bring You Down.” These songs are both from the early 1970’s and I would also like to say that they are both excellent songs.

All the sailors
with their seasick mamas
Hear the sirens on the shore,
Singin’ songs
for pimps with tailors
Who charge ten dollars
at the door.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn’t matter.

All the great explorers
Are now in granite laid,
Under white sheets
for the great unveiling
At the big parade.

You can really
learn a lot that way
It will change you
in the middle of the day.
Though your confidence
may be shattered,
It doesn’t matter.

All the bushleague batters
Are left to die
on the diamond.
In the stands
the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles.

“For the Turnstiles” is from Neil Young’s 1974 album “On the Beach.” Many believe that “On the Beach” is one of his best works. I would probably agree, but I have not heard many of his albums, so I am in not qualified to say. But I definitely think it ranks with some of the best of what I have heard.

I believe the song “For the Turnstiles”is about the nature of life and about change. The verses portray several episodes of various lives that perhaps characterize the bizarre nature of life as both mundane and cataclysmic, with the implication being that in either case it can turn out “bad.” If we know this we should see it as a life lesson and “learn a lot that way” and change. Thus the nature of life should drive us “for the turnstiles” where we can escape the consequence that will otherwise follow as the inevitable result if we simply remain where we are. The events of life should “change us in the middle of the day” which seems to signify an abrupt and decisive change. I think of  some fishermen sitting on the shore of the Sea of  Galilee while mending their nets in the middle of the day, with no apparent thought of change for their life’s work,  but then being “called” by Jesus and abruptly leaving their present lives and their nets to follow him. (see Matthew 4:18-22)

What I especially like about the chorus is the observation that if we are open to learning and changing, that the shattering of our confidence will become our experience, but “It doesn’t matter” in light of the alternative. What is the alternative? It is to not change, but rather to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and continue our facade of “confidence” that everything is fine as it is. This alternative seems to me akin to taking a nap in a burning building.

I once read somewhere that Jackson Browne’s songs could be generally categorized as some sort of “romantic/apocalyptic” genre because of their life settings. In similar fashion, Neil Young’s “For the Turnstiles” is manifestly “apocalyptic” with images like “the great unveiling at the big parade” and “the home crowd” scattering “for the turnstiles.” But by mixing the apocalyptic with the mundane Neil Young seemed to be saying that all of life is in some sense apocalyptic in nature.

Perhaps some definition of “apocalyptic” may be helpful.

Preliminary Description of “Apocalypse”:

  • In popular terminology today, an “apocalypse” is a catastrophic event (e.g., nuclear holocaust).
  • In biblical terminology, an “apocalypse” is not an event, but a “revelation” that is recorded in written form:
    • it is a piece of crisis literature that “reveals” truths about the past, present, and/or future in highly symbolic terms;
    • the revelation often comes in dreams or visions, and usually needs to be interpreted with the help of an angel;
    • it is usually intended to provide hope and encouragement for people in the midst of severe trials and tribulations.

(From Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D. at http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Apoc_Def.htm)

It seems that Neil Young’s songs “For the Turnstiles” and “Don’t let it Bring You Down” are similar to points 1 and 3 under the second heading regarding the “biblical terminology” because of his focus on “crisis” (that includes the crisis of the mundane) and because of the “hope and encouragement” that is the purpose of the songs.

At first glance the songs seems to shatter our conception and confidence in life itself  but, “it doesn’t matter” since the shattering itself is part of the means of change and hope. Similarly, Adam and Eve’s world was shattered when they found they were prevented from re-entering what became their “old world” by a cherubim/guard with a flaming sword since their return would have actually sealed them in their separation from God and hope (see Genesis 3:22-24).

Here is “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” from 1970’s “After the Gold Rush.” It seems to contain the same concept of the need of turning, for hope, in the face of the “apocalyptic” nature of life.

Old man lying
By the side of the road
With the lorries rolling by,
Blue moon sinking
From the weight of the load
And the building scrape the sky,
Cold wind ripping
Down the allay at dawn
And the morning paper flies,
Dead man lying
By the side of the road
With the daylight in his eyes.

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning,
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.

Blind man running
Through the light
Of the night
With an answer in his hand,
Come on down
To the river of sight
And you can really understand,
Red lights flashing
Through the window
In the rain,
Can you hear the sirens moan?
White cane lying
In a gutter in the lane,
If you’re walking home alone.

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning,
Just find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.

Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning,
Just find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.

So if Neil Young is showing the need to change in the light of the nature of life, for the sake of hope, then what is the specific hope he envisioned? First of all I would say that it is not primarily the hope of an external change in the person’s relation to the nature of life portrayed in the songs but in the person’s internal perspective regarding it. We usually think of apocalyptic crises as things that have the power to change us, without thinking of the fact that they are merely opportunities to change, opportunities that arise from our struggle with the powers beyond our control. But in a sense changing is in our power inasmuch as we face the choice of changing or resisting change.  Neil Young seems to be portraying in these songs the practical change that is the oft-missed purpose of all apocalyptic, whether futuristic or occupied with the present. (Actually, even exclusively futuristic apocalyptic is for the purpose of change in the present.) We need to again remember the following parts of the definition of apocalypse from Felix Just:

“it is a piece of crisis literature that “reveals” truths about the past, present, and/or future in highly symbolic terms…it is usually intended to provide hope and encouragement for people in the midst of severe trials and tribulations.”

Neil Young is focused on the “hope and encouragement” that can come if we allow our eyes to become open to the reality of the nature of life. That reality is portrayed in apocalyptic literature as futuristic and cataclysmic, but as I noted earlier, the songs show that the crisis of the mundane is also essentially apocalyptic because it demonstrates that many events of life are beyond our control and are therefore powers that we struggle against. This struggle is the older existential apocalyptic of Job, of the Psalmists, and of the writer of Ecclesiastes. This older apocalyptic purpose is not absent in the newer, although it is often missed by mistaking the purpose of all biblical apocalyptic. William Barrett, speaking of the older view, states the “change” or “turning” that is the purpose of all apocalyptic:

“The Hebrew, however, proceeds not by the way of reason but by the confrontation of the whole man, Job, in the fulness and violence of passion with the unknowable and overwhelming God. And the final solution for Job lies not in the rational resolution of the problem, any more than it ever does in life, but in a change and conversion of the whole man.” (Irrational Man, A Study in Existentialist Philosophy, William Barrett, 1958, p. 65.)

In conclusion, I find these songs of Neil Young to be in alignment with the essential nature of existence as understood by pre-Christian Judaism and Christianity. The nature of all human existence, not merely the “end of the world” cataclysm that many people throughout history have believed would come in their lifetimes, but even the present tense mundane existence, is essentially apocalyptic. It is for all people in some measure, a life of “castles burning”, of “flaming swords” that ban us from eternity here.  Hopefully we have seen that the futuristic and present tense apocalyptic views of life are not  mutually exclusive, for people will experience both eventually, as Neil Young’s “great explorers” will at “the great unveiling.” But in the meantime, because of the cherubim’s flaming sword we all live in the world of the “blue moon sinking” and “castles burning,” with our “confidence shattered.” But “it doesn’t matter” since “it will change us in the middle of the day”  if we “find someone who’s turning” so we “may come around.”

The two main points are that even the “crisis of the mundane” is apocalyptic, and that all apocalyptic is for the purpose of “turning.”  As the late Mark Heard wrote in one of his best songs,

The headlines in the dailies
Are the horses in a race
They lead you to believe
That life and death are commonplace
Some believe it
And I’m crying again

Mark Heard, and Neil Young are simply saying that nothing in life and death are “commonplace” and that if we acknowledge rather than evade the nature of reality “it will change you in the middle of the day.”

Neil Young also alludes to what may be the most important aspect of this change, namely to “find someone who’s turning.” What, or probably more accurately, who, is he referring to? I cannot really say who he had in mind, but I personally believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the best candidate. According to the New Testament, he is the “New Adam,” meaning the first of what some have called a “new way to be human.” He therefore, actually is the “turning,” just as he is “the way.” It is a little known fact that the early Christians were not at first called Christians, but “followers of “the way” – the new way to be human.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. 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.