“Bravado”: I Finally Get It

Confession: I am a HUGE Rush fan. I think they are heads and shoulders above every other rock group in the world, both in terms of individual skill and what they do as a group. True, lyricist Peart sometimes has some scathing things to say about Christianity, but sadly he often has good reason to speak out against the church.

My introduction to the band was the album “Roll The Bones” (now every Rush fan reading this is cringing- but what can I say- I STILL like the album, even if it isn’t “Moving Pictures”). Pretty funny album for a young Christian boy to get into, since the lyrics for most of the songs are very critical of faith. But one song will always stick out on that album: Bravado. I’d later find out as I got to know the band, while a fantastic song, it’s about as un-Rush as anything they’ve ever done. Straight 4/4 beat, simple parts, and just an uncomplicated song in general. Yet it is masterful and moving in its simplicity, and Peart’s drumming swells and dips with the lyrics in a way that impresses me on every listen. If I ever had a criticism of Rush, it’s that sometimes their lyrics and music don’t match, but that is not true here. When the music drops down on the line “But if love remains” after recounting everything that is lost, I get chills. And as it builds with the strength and power of that love, it just moves my soul.

And I finally get it. For years I didn’t understand this song. I thought lyricist Peart had it wrong. Because as I understood it, the Bible doesn’t jive with the idea that if something is important, we don’t count the cost. In fact, I believed that when we count the cost, we reveal it’s value. And that’s true in some respects. Jesus was very clear that he wanted his disciples to understand what they were getting into when they chose to follow him:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33, ESV)

So for years, I’ve written off this song as a nice and beautiful sentiment, but one counter to the words of Jesus. I was not approaching the scriptural text with the nuance that there are different aspects to “counting the cost” and Jesus was making more of a point about commitment to the path than he was the value of discipleship. And actually, commitment to the path is what this song is about (though I’m sure “the path” would be defined very differently by Peart and myself). But consider these words of Jesus:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46, ESV)

This is the ultimate example of valuing something so much that everything else is worth losing in order to get it, and that’s the point of the song “Bravado”. Peart doesn’t really define what it is that is worth so much, except to say “love” (but that can be a very broad term). But “love” is right, isn’t it? Love is the highest law and the summation of the law. God is love. Love is why God redeemed us. The Kingdom of God is worth losing everything for:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26, ESV)

And for some reason, listening to this song tonight in the car, everything clicked. “Bravado” is how I try to live my life. Faith is not about being afraid of failure: earthly failures don’t matter in light of eternity, and eternity cannot fail us. I do some crazy things in faith (for example, investing my time and money into a band that will probably never make a dime!). And why do I do it? Because in the end, if we are following God, it is Worth it. Every. Time.

To go to another favorite of mine, consider this conversation between Gandalf and Frodo in Lord of the Rings:

Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

What is significant about this (spoiler alert!) is that Frodo can only be described as demonstrating the ultimate in perseverance. He does his task, to carry the ring, with all his strength, and does so far better than anyone else might. Certainly better than the humans who would try to take it for themselves. But in the end, Frodo fails! He cannot destroy the ring. It is only the providential evil of Gollum that allows for the ring to be destroyed. And love remains, even though Frodo fails.

What does the word “Bravado” mean? According to Marriam-Webster: “Confident or brave talk or behavior that is intended to impress other people”. Ok, well maybe in general that’s not the proper attitude of a Christian, but the part this where we are to be brave and confident despite the overwhelming task before us- imminent failure on a human level- well that IS part of the Christian life. So I think I’m finally able to embrace this song and its message.

All we can do is abide in Christ, doing the things he’s set for us to do:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, ESV)

We may or may not be successful as we seek do to the work of God. We may end up with failed music groups, failed churches, failed marriages, or any number of failures in this broken world. But in the end, we are called to be bold and do the work set out before us, because God will overcome all, and love WILL remain.

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Is Christian Music “Safe”?

One of the local stations here in Atlanta once ran an ad campaign (no idea if they still do) claiming to be “safe” for the whole family. I have to say, such a term applied to Christianity really gives me pause. Now, I understand why the station does this- it’s a marketing move to attract families that don’t want to hear the worldly music and foul language/situations found in secular music. That actually is a fine goal, but I wish it weren’t tied to the notion of being a Christian.

I have two issues with deeming Christian music “safe”. The first is that it simply isn’t. Singing about spiritual matters does not automatically put a song into a category that requires no discernment, though that’s what calling it “safe” implies. Unless there are trustworthy gatekeepers guarding the music that gets put out in the name of Jesus, we are talking about the HIGHEST potential for danger there is if we do not approach the music with discernment. When it comes to the topics of the world: dating, sexuality, greed, idolatry, fun, politics, etc. there are a wide array of good and bad topics, but at the least we know we have to listen with a discerning ear. But music about God- that seems to be the MOST dangerous of all topics if bad theology or unloving attitudes get baked into the music. And is the record company primarily motivated by good discernment of what is spiritually good? Are the radio stations? I have no doubt that there are many good Christian individuals working in these places, but at the end of the day, spirituality is a dangerous subject that requires discernment, and the record companies are always going to print what sells- that’s what they do.

So I think it isn’t “safe” to just tune out when a Christian song comes on- in fact, this might be the place where we need to pay attention the most. In the music of the world it can be easy to spot the lies, but with music about God, how easy is it for something to slip in that we don’t even realize because of all the good stuff that’s also there (like, for example, say a modalistic view of the Trinity)? I’m not suggesting that Christian artists are nefarious and trying to lead us down the wrong paths, but by in large music is a young person’s game, so we aren’t hearing content developed by mature, weathered Christians (this is true of my own music as well) and there’s no one really guarding the spiritual core of what is CCM. So I think it would be very dangerous to turn off our sense of discernment just because some song plays on Christian radio.

The second issue I have with labeling Christian music as “safe” as that it creates a very dim view of what Christianity is. It paints a picture of a way of being that is much like the world, only with the edges softened. Christian music is the diet version of what the world has to offer- it might not taste as good, but at least it won’t kill you. This can be an easy perception for people to gain of Christianity in general, and largely because a lot of Christians live this way. We are the same as everyone else, but there are lists of things we don’t do that the “pagans” do. We are just the fat free version of the world. Does that sound like a great testimony?

But this is not the New Testament view of what being a Christian is. We are salt and light. We shine in the darkness, preserve the truth, and agitate when that is what it takes to do God’s work. I am not my unchristian neighbor with the edges filed off- I am a whole new creation, dangerous to those who serve evil and empowered by the Creator of the universe. There is nothing “light” or “safe” about me.

Now I don’t want to be overly critical here. I get what Christian stations are trying to do, and I understand they are trying to appeal to families with children who just don’t want to hear the garbage on the radio that leads to uncomfortable questions and conversations. As much as I understand that, though, I think it is super important we don’t get lulled into the idea that what we do with faith is in any way “safe”. When we get faith wrong, people get hurt- badly. When we accept lies and are not properly discerning, we can become dangerous and hindering to the faith of others. Spiritual abuse is a real thing and VERY damaging, and I believe it starts with people accepting and not questioning- a lack of discernment. My goals is not to be a “safe” Christian who participates in a “safe” bubbled subculture, but one who the darkness fears to see coming because it knows I come with the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit- and that I’m not afraid to use these things. We may strive to be a lot of things as people of faith, but let’s not make “safe” be one of them.

Is “Steady On” A Christian Band?

I guess the answer to this question is pretty obvious- there’s no mystery that the music of Steady On is faith based. But the better question might be, WHY is Steady On a Christian band? Or maybe even what is it that makes it such?

In some respects, it is only because there are lyrics and lyrics have the potential to speak truth that this question even somewhat pertinent. Music is an art form, but certain kinds of art can be more didactic than others- some Christians insist that music be very specific and obvious or it isn’t worth much at all. These folks want clarity and to know that the songs are about Jesus. Can the same person enjoy other forms of art that are less clear- like say an abstract painting, or do they insist that every painting obviously be about Christ? And for some, the goal of listening to Christian music is because they want to enjoy art that is “safe”, a line of reasoning that I will write about later in a separate post.

In my opinion, art exists for its owns sake. It does not need to be about Jesus to have worth. Music is one form of communicating emotions, and when combined with lyrics it can be a powerful way of expressing concrete ideas fused with feeling. Such a wonderful gift it is that we can do this- and by “we”, I mean human beings, not just Christians. The ability to make music is truly a treasure whatever we may choose to write about.

A lot of Christians see the content of a faith based song as the primary reason for singing it, and the “artistic” value as secondary. But I’m a firm believer if an artist isn’t driven to make the art, then it will not be a compelling experience for the intended audience. Art is about touching people in a way that mere words cannot do– and while there may be concrete ideas in a song, there is always some part that is abstract, subjective, and emotional. If those less concrete aspects are manufactured to serve the transmission of the didactic, then the song really just becomes a vehicle for ideas, not something birthed from genuine passion.

Honestly, if people want to understand what I think is true, then they can come to my blog or just ask me questions. The naked written or spoken word is more than sufficient for that goal. I need not construct a clever argument with an emotional component to try and convince someone of what I think or believe. But when you listen to a Steady On song, you are getting more than just ideas- you are getting that abstract creative side of me too. That creative side is connected with the ideas in the lyrics, even if the point of contact isn’t completely defined– and that’s what makes it art.

I said up front that Steady On is a Christian band– so obviously we have an agenda here, right? Not really– it’s not a goal, it’s a description. Because I am moved to write music about faith and as performers we are compelled to sing about such things, it’s an outflow of who we are, not a goal we are trying to reach. In fact, I LOVE writing about my faith and I’m glad that what I do has more significance than just a tune I sing. When some truth about God is communicated to someone through song and they see it in a new light, then there is nothing more satisfying than being a part of the communication of that truth. But in the same breath I can say I’ve never committed to not writing about a beautiful meadow, a love song, or even a political statement: those types of songs are not off limits. Thus far, they are just not the passions I’ve had inside that needed to be expressed in song.

I write Christian songs because I am a Christian and my faith is important to me. I write Christian songs because I believe music can be encouraging to believers, and encouragement is a passion of mine. And I write Christian songs because I really don’t have a desire to write anything else. I have no problem wearing that label, but I hope as long as I do it will be a description of the art I’ve chosen to make, not a constraint I must obey– or even worse a marketing strategy.

When you listen to a Steady On song, it might not be the best art or about the most earth shattering truths. It might not have the best guitar solo, most impressive melody, or compelling phrases. But however it measures up, the one thing I can promise is that it will always be honest both as a form of art and as an expression of what I think and feel. Steady On may be labeled as Christian music, but it gets its identity honestly, and you can trust me for that.

What This Is All About

Many of you know me from my blogging on A Cry For Justice and may have noticed that I haven’t posted any articles there recently. Don’t worry, I haven’t left that blog, I’ve just been incredibly focused on the work of Steady On. Also, I must say with the narrow focus of domestic abuse on ACFJ, sometimes I think we all need a break and time to think about other things. Fortunately Jeff and Barbara, along with some guests, have plenty of articles to keep things moving along.

Steady On has always been intended to be music of encouragement, and I think the old songs still have the power to do that. And the new songs, well, they really fit right in and carry on the legacy. You see, I have been through a VERY dark place and felt pain from those I never thought could hurt me. I’ve learned that the church isn’t always a safe place, but I’ve also learned that the TRUE church looks much different than I ever thought- and it is a glorious tool of God. I’ve learned that there were a lot of things I accepted about both God and myself that needed to be purged- and they have been. And I learned that God just doesn’t let go.

As I’ve blogged on ACFJ I’ve never intended to teach or bring wisdom- I’ve tried to be honest about where I’ve been and what it has felt like to be on the wrong side of some very bad teaching about divorce. I’ve told my story and hoped to validate others who are going through the same things. But most of all I’ve listened and learned about how much pain earnest believers in the body of Christ have gone through because of some very bad teaching and ideas that really should have nothing to do with Jesus. My involvement with ACFJ has pricked my heart and in a lot of ways the fight against the mishandling of abuse in the church has become a primary mission for me. But even as I’ve participated on that blog, I’ve always known that my main voice will never be as a writer, but rather as a musician. Music is how I tell my stories, the stories of others, and testify to what God has done around me. So I wrote new songs- songs that come from my story, but also of the stories I’ve read on ACFJ.

So I hope to use Steady On to bring encouragement, to honestly tell of the dark places, to remember what it was like to be built up stronger than I was before, and sound a call to not leave anyone else behind, because we are all in this together.

Having said all of that, these messages are not only for victims of abuse- whoever has been through a dark place, whoever has questioned if God was pleased with his or her suffering, whoever has struggled with sin and the frustration of not being the person he or she ought to be: these are your songs too. I hope they will encourage you.

As for this blog, I plan to cover the kinds of musings that just don’t fit on ACFJ. My thoughts about worship, music ministry, Reformed theology, or just whatever comes to mind. This is a journey of faith we are all in together, so I hope to shine what little light I’ve been given to others.