Emphasis Mine: Collective Soul/Rush

I recently came upon a quote by an anonynous individual. Brilliant stuff: “Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. Songs make you feel a thought.”

I don’t think I’m the only one who has integrated snippets of popular music into their life and worldview and philosophy. If you’ve read any of my posts (especially this one), you know that I think very highly of musicians and songwriters from every walk of life and their God-given gifts and abilities.
One thing I’ve sought to explain and thereby substantiate for my life (especially my adult life) is the thought or script that accompanies feelings. I’m very skeptical when it comes to good feelings that have no corresponding thoughts–evincing themselves upon attempted detection. I’d rather feel nothing than feel good for no discernible reason (a bold statement, but when it boils down and when it’s presented like that, I stick to that assertion). I’m digressing but I think this is a valid point that deserves elucidation in the future…

I write all that to say this: two bands that have helped me do just that–translate feelings into thoughts–are Collective Soul and Rush. If you’re not familiar with them, then please read on as I attempt to explain two ideologically different bands that unite, like heart and mind, into an amalgamated prescription that makes up much of the soundtrack to my life.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. Collective Soul is from Georgia. A small suburb of Atlanta called Stockbridge. The lead singer Ed Roland and his brother Dean-the band’s rhythm guitarist-are accompanied by bassist Will Turpin. These three form the backbone of the band and have been part of it since the band’s inception. Current lead guitarist Joel Kosche replaced original guitarist Ross Childress for their 2005 album Youth and is still with them. While they don’t have a current drummer, Sevendust’s Cheney Brannon did fill in for their 2009 self-titled album (It’s their ninth and most recent album and their second self-titled album), unofficially called Rabbit. He effectively replaced Shane Evans for 2007s Afterwords who had been with them since the beginning. I’ll get into their message–or at least my interpretation of it–later. First I’d like to introduce Rush.

Rush is the darling of Toronto’s progressive rock scene. Though they outlived that simple definition decades ago. In spite of their fervent worldwide fan base and outrageous multi-platinum record sales, they have yet to be nominated (not even a nomination) for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Except for their first (self-titled) album, the three members have been together since the late seventies. They have a new album coming out in 2012 entitled Clockwork Angels. Rush is made up of lead singer and bassist (and sometime keyboardist, much to some fans’ chagrin) Geddy Lee. Lead (and rhythm) guitarist Alex Lifeson. And last, but certainly not least, lyricist and percussionist Neil Peart.

I won’t get into specifics with reference to the band members’ beliefs and ideologies (or lack thereof) because I can (almost) guarantee you that none of them believe the way I do. And I’m perfectly cool with that. And I suppose if I present the proceeding paragraphs as my interpretive license only, they’d be cool with that too.

I’ll open by saying that–for me–Collective Soul is the heart to Rush’s brain. That’s why they’re first.

Collective Soul released their first album, called Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, in 1994. Their first single was Shine, and that’s the first song I ever heard by them that turned my head, though it took about ten years before I discovered it. A strong Christian undertone permeates the whole record and I find comfort and strength in singing along. Shine is a winner. Reach shines on its own and Sister Don’t Cry is an excellent song and one of the few that I’m aware of (from any band) that touches on the subject of men and women, boys and girls, as friends only. It’s a song of encouragement without any romantic overtone whatsoever. We need more of this (1 Timothy 5:2). Please note that Ed is the main lyricist. He writes songs that can be interpreted in many ways (all positive) without losing their strength because of a diluted ambiguity. Their second album, released a year later was self-titled. Standouts from that include December, which won a Grammy. It deals with the end of a relationship and freeing oneself from the tentacled grip of one’s ex and their manipulation. The World I Know is a wonderful and poignant meditation on the inherent tragedy of life when viewed from a higher vantage point. And the [untitled] track (#2 on the album) stresses–to my mind–the importance of receiving one’s spiritual guidance from God alone. Moving forward, another song of note is Forgiveness (about coming around to its necessity for life) off their 1997 album Disciplined Breakdown. That album’s title track and the incisive Blame-about his falling out with his former producer-are also exceptional. The whole album is a confrontation leveled at the band’s producer for cheating Ed. I’m not sure about the specifics. The 1999 album Dosage contains No More, No Less (my favorite song and favorite album), about living on the fine line between humility and proud self-effacement. 2000s Blender is superb and highly polished. The song Happiness simply rocks. You Speak My Language is one of only two (out of a hundred, plus) that they’ve covered and they do it well-better than the original. Rounding out their discography is Youth, Afterwords and then Rabbit.

Currently, each of the four members (Ed, Dean, Will and Joel) are working independent of one another on side-projects but assure the fans that they have not split up and will be recording together as Collective Soul in the future. I look forward to that day.

Collective Soul imbues their excellent musicianship and composition with two themes that resonate with me very highly: truth in relationships and honesty in interaction. I find that Mr. Roland illumines the hidden chambers of the heart better than any other secular songwriter on my radar today. His song Burn from the live DVD ‘Home’ says it best: “got the combination to my soul”. I love that. Under God, he has helped me to obtain that very thing.

Besides my being a fan, one very odd link between the two bands is the Russian philosopher Ayn Rand. “The collective soul” comes from her novel Fountainhead. Whereas Ed chose that name but espouses none of her opinions, each member of Rush had independently read and been inspired by her works prior to forming as a band. Their early music is full of her ideas and ideals. And their record label is called Anthem (as is one of their songs) after another of her books. The name ‘Rush’ was an off-the-cuff comment from an acquaintance. It ended up sticking.

Collective Soul has a penchant for one word song titles: Blame, Link (from the album Disciplined Breakdown—awesome), Bleed, Run, Gel, Giving (and Give), Generate, All, et. al. Rush, on the other hand, deals with songs with a more broad-handed approach, few being less than five minutes long. Their song titles are more representative of the themes dealt with in the lyrics. Examples include: Vital Signs, Anagram, Natural Science, Spirit of Radio, The Body Electric, etc.

Look around on any online music forum talking Collective Soul and you’re sure to hear this common complaint, the first part of which is true: “The reason you don’t hear any Collective Soul on the radio (you actually don’t, not where I live anyway) is because FM is anti-Christian!”. Hmm. Any Rush forum says (almost) the same thing: “The reason you don’t hear any Rush on the radio (hardly any) is because FM is too Christian!” Funny. They can’t both be right. In further comparing and contrasting the two bands, Ed Roland has a burly, at times gravelly, yet still musical voice. Geddy Lee’s voice (he’s referred to it before as his “yowl”) is the main reason that people are turned off by them as a band. It’s definitely an acquired taste. If you can’t abide his high-pitched pipes, try their stellar instrumentals: La Villa Strangiato and YYZ (the call-letters for the Toronto airport).

I will open by saying that Rush is definitely not Christian. They espouse a brand of secular humanism (evident in Ayn Rand’s philosophy as objectivism, more on that in some future post) that, were you to add God and subtract the godlessness (as I am wont to do), is an airtight prescription for helping with self-assertion in the big, bad world. I have no trouble sifting through much of their unpalatable ideology for the kernels of truth that pop up amidst the awesome instrumentals and drum fills. This appeals to me as a man because many of their songs are aimed at, or have protagonists who are, teen boys/young men trying to find their place in the world: Subdivisions, The Analog Kid, Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta and The Pass speak directly to that demographic. The music videos for Subdivisions, Lock and Key, Show Don’t Tell and The Pass drive this point home. Even the album covers for Roll the Bones and Power Windows feature guys on the cusp of adulthood or young-adulthood. And this is its appeal for me as a man. Nevermind the fact that each musician is world-class. I’m still trying to figure out how three guys can make all that noise.

I won’t get into the individual albums as Rush has more than twice as many as Collective Soul. My favorite Rush album is Hold Your Fire from 1987. The album is a strong shot of encouragement for the creatively-minded individual and well worth a listen for artists and writers. Most every Rush fan’s favorite album is Moving Pictures from 1981. Hailed by many in the industry as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. I mentioned it briefly in passing here. Fair enough. My favorite Rush song is Limelight from the same. The chorus from which contains an important maxim for life: “Those who wish to be must put aside the alienation, get on with the fascination, the real relation, the underlying theme.” It draws the distinction between seeming and being.

As Christians, we need to make sure, with God’s help and guidance, that we do more than just seem like we’re Christian. We need to be. Music, when seen through the lens of God’s love and His word, and directed toward God in worship and praise can make us be. And substantiating our thoughts on the ground of Jesus, His word and His work is so much fun with this music in the background.

Thank you for reading!

Open to interpretation? Part 5 Body’s in motion and at rest.

Christians, as one, are the Body of Christ. Many people disagree that God the Father has a body, but I believe He does. And Jesus has a physical body (Luke 24:39). But the Holy Spirit does not. I refer to the Holy Spirit with a male pronoun. Where the King James translates Him as “It[self]” in Romans (8:26), I don’t think it was as precise as it could’ve been. He is truly without gender but that doesn’t mean He’s an “It”; He’s a person, like you and I, in that He’s a Spirit. It’s understandable that it might be difficult to wrap your mind around the concept of a bodiless entity without size and shape and with no means of discerning outside of a humble and believing heart. Jesus said the “world does not see Him” (John 14:17). God will help you, but (within reason) there might be some preconceived notions that need tweaking or shelving. I say “within reason” because by the same logic, anything that we invent by imagination could exist. But were not talking philosophy, we’re talking Christianity.

As Christians are the Body of Christ in a figurative sense, then the Holy Spirit is like the blood that flows within and gives life to every member. Jesus, when speaking of the Holy Spirit, said to His disciples that He (the Holy Spirit) was with them, and shall be in them (again, John 14:17). Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, I don’t think it was possible for those who believed in God to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But there are exceptions (Daniel, David). When Jesus said that He would be in them, does this refer to the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost? Sure. But what do you think about this: could it be that we receive a portion of the Holy Spirit upon salvation but that we could always have more? David (Old Testament, I know) said that “his cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5) The river is always flowing. (Revelation 22:1)

An interesting event takes place in Acts, chapter 19. Paul is on his way to Ephesus and he comes upon some believers who, it says, hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit. After a question and answer session regarding their original baptism, Paul lays his hands on them and baptizes them in the name of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that was in Paul comes into them. They immediately began speaking in tongues (verse 6).

This story illustrates that there are different ways of receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. By direct contact with another human. Or directly from God, as in chapter 2.

However God chooses, if you’re willing and press on in faith, He will see to it that you get all that is rightfully yours, in Him. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

I suppose that the reason I feel so passionately about this is because of a particular corollary. It seems that our church is immured—hemmed in, kept down—by the world’s standard of expression and interaction. When society becomes intolerant of any expression of “religion” and seeks to keep it out of the public square, then we as a country will eventually cease to exist. Alexis de Tocqueville (French statesman and novelist), when he toured the country during the 1800s, praised the open expression of religion in our public square. By the same token, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (a Russian author and Nobel prizewinner), touring the country a hundred years later was booed by his Harvard audience for expressing the same sentiment. The church is seen in many circles as powerless and feckless. Jesus said that we’d receive “power” after we received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). There’s a disconnect somewhere and it’s not God’s fault…

“Brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10). When we sideline and ignore the Holy Spirit, how then, as in Mark’s Gospel (16:20), will He be able to “work with us, confirming the Word with signs and wonders following”? (see also Hebrews 2:4) One of those “signs and wonders” is the gift of tongues and interpretations. Pray about it, wrestle with it. Where can we go from here? How can we, as a church body, return to the simplicity and power of our spiritual forbears in Acts? Acknowledge the Holy Spirit. He’s just as much God as Jesus and the Father.

And “forbid not to speak with tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39)

Open to interpretation? Part 4 A Spiritual Entelechy

The definition of entelechy—pronounced “intelli-key”—is not too far a cry from the definition of its pronunciation. Forgive my wordplay and circular definition here. An entelechy is like an epiphany. An entelechy happens when you begin to see something, for yourself, as more than just someone’s opinion. You see it as necessary, integral. Actual as opposed to optional. Do you see where I’m going with this? For the Believer, it means that God has opened your eyes. Somewhere in the near or distant past, you humbled yourself and as it says in 1 Peter (5:6), God exalted you. “He gives grace—His ability, His sight, His insight—to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).

I say all of that to say this: The default state of a Christian should be one of humility and meekness, or teachability. Gratitude and worship, yes. But without humility and meekness, those actions can be hollow and insincere. And if we are truly humble, then God can show us what we don’t know. That’s what my Dad says: “God is always showing us what we don’t know”. Keep this in mind as we move on.

Regarding praying in tongues, the most common comment coming from one who does not consider the gifts of the Spirit is that “it’s not for today”. I hear this from believers. Christians.

I don’t know how that could be. Maybe some elaboration is in order? Tell me when, in the 2000+ year history of Christianity, did this gift cease to be not only given, but needed? Are things any better now than they were in the time of the reformation? What about first century Asia Minor? Are we as effective a cohesive body as they were? (the modern Chinese house-church movement is) When did the gift of tongues, let alone any gift that has made itself scarce in our modern, conservative churches, become obsolete? I have a feeling that this is just someone’s opinion. Wouldn’t the fifty-year moral and social decline in this country be enough to cause us to cry out to God for anything that we could be missing?

I firmly believe that God never dares anyone to do anything. So if you’ve ever felt like you’ve been forced to do something out of pressure or torment or threat, I can assure you that it’s not God. He doesn’t work that way. He’s gentle, oh so gentle. The key to experiencing all that God has and wants to give us is to be willing. “How shall He not with Him (Jesus) also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Are we even willing to be willing? If you’re not sure but you’re open, then God will lead you. Spend time in prayer and worship. Fast if need be and it doesn’t have to be from food. The Holy Spirit will let you know. And if the gift of tongues is for today—and I believe it is—then God will make sure you get it. Just don’t let doubt turn into unbelief. Because unbelief is sin. God can only do so much when someone is an unbelieving believer. Does this make sense?

Another way to define entelechy is to see the Body of Christ become “endued” with this “power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) But didn’t that already happen on Pentecost? It did (Acts 2:2-4). So now it’s up to us to seek it out anew. Did we just misplace it? How do you misplace the Holy Spirit?

I’ll wrap this up tomorrow.

Open to Interpretation? Part 1

I’m going to put this topic on the table. If you agree with my assessments, great, though I’m not looking for agreement. If you disagree, feel free to comment and tell me why. I’m looking on one hand for clarification and on the other to clear up the confusion surrounding this issue. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to hammer and iron out the fine points of this, but I do know that this is the first post of many regarding this issue.

The issue in question is praying in tongues or praying in the spirit as it’s often referred to. I was turned onto the concept by my dad (a former Pastor, with a varied denominational background) when I was in my early teens and have been observing both the practice of it (in various churches) as well as perceptions about it—Christian and non—since that time.

I will open by saying that I believe that it is a valid, even necessary, albeit largely neglected, aspect to the Christian walk.
My dad learned of it himself in a small church in Michigan in the late sixties. Prior to that, the gift can be traced back to Jerusalem, to a little room where it was “delivered to the saints” during the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4), about three months after Jesus ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:51) refers to it many times in his letters to the early churches in Asia Minor and it will be his thoughts from which I draw for the bulk of my reference. If you’re a Christian, then you’ve probably heard all of the verses in circulation and already know arguments for or against it, whether or not your church practices praying in tongues. But! If you’re not a Christian, something this odd-sounding would necessarily have to be predicated by a belief in God’s existence. And secondly, by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. So if praying in an unknown or largely indecipherable tongue sounds like gibberish and nonsense to you (without even having heard it for yourself), then how much more would your belief in God’s existence, or lack thereof, color your opinion about this topic?

“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

Moving forward, praying in tongues is linguistically classified under two types. The first being xenoglossia, literally meaning “foreign tongue”. This type refers to the spontaneous acquisition of a language other than by one’s native tongue. Other than the language that we have cognitively accrued and assembled through our years of interacting with our family and our society. The second is glossolalia which is a series of syllables and sounds unidentifiable with any spoken language on this earth and unintelligible to the hearer (without an interpreter, of course). As I have personally experienced only the latter, it’s this type that I will be writing and opining on throughout this series.

One of the main aims of this blog is to address—and hopefully heal—the divisions within our church and subsequently, our world. And as this is (in my opinion) one of the most divisive topics within the Body of Christ, it would have to have been addressed and examined sooner or later.

To be continued.

Four-Word Progress Part 1

FOR GIVING God has given us His all. Life and breath (1). He gave us His Son (2), who in turn gave up His life (3), to give us His life (4). And with Jesus, God gave us all things that pertain to life and godliness (5). He gives us His Holy Spirit (6). He did all this for us so we could give to others (7). It’s more blessed to give than receive, you know (8).

FORGIVING Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for any and every sin to be forgiven (except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit *shudder*, 9). God has forgiven us (10) so we should in turn forgive others (11; 12). Simple as that. No qualifiers.

(by the way, in forgiving us, He also FORGOT our sin—13)

FOR GETTING In giving us Jesus, God got us back. No one’s gonna take us from Him (14). We are seated in heavenly places with Him even now (15). He’ll never leave us or forsake us (16). He’s with us to the end (17).

FOR NOT FORGETTING God knows us (18). This is absolutely beautiful: “Though the Lord be high…” (19) how high? (“far above all heavens” 20) “…yet He has respect unto the lowly.” Stay humble, stay “lowly” (21), let Him lift you up and carry you (22).

For Giving

1. Acts 17:25
2. John 3:16
3. Ephesians 5:2
4. Galatians 2:20
5. 2 Peter 1:3-4
6. Romans 5:5
7. Acts 3:6
8. Acts 20:35

Forgiving

9. Matthew 12:31
10. 1 Peter 4:8
11. Matthew 6:12
12. Mark 11:26

Forgot

13. Hebrews 8:12

For Getting

14. John 10:28
15. Ephesians 2:6
16. Hebrews 13:5-6
17. Matthew 28:20

For Not Forgetting

18. Jeremiah 1:5
19.. Psalm 138:6
20. Ephesians 4:10
21. 1 Peter 5:5-6

22. Isaiah 40:11

National Resurrection

“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)

Whether you believe in God or not, the fact that you have the freedom to believe or the freedom to doubt is integral to the fabric of this nation. Ten years ago that fabric hung, tattered and knotted as we struggled in disbelief at the attacks on the East Coast. I watched from my TV, having just come back home from delivering a missed customer on my paper route. It took a long time to process what I saw and still some of the details are hazy. Like the New York skyline for weeks following.

Did God cause it to happen? Absolutely not. But I believe He was powerless to prevent it.

As it says in Proverbs (16:7), “if our ways please the Lord, He’ll cause our enemies to be at peace with us”. The pundits, preachers, poets, priests and politicians (thank you, Sting) pointed at this sin and that “sin” and blamed each other. Conspiracy theories littered the landscape like detritus from the war of ideologies. And yet, following this tack, it was indeed an inside job. Inside our hearts and minds we shut God out. All of the apathy and hate and ingratitude rising to heaven, we sacrificed compassion and conscience for hate and hedonism and as such the door was left open for the enemy. We paid the price. And as Ed Roland (of Collective Soul, in an unrelated song;10 Years Later) sings: “it’s 10 years later and still I haven’t a clue”. I see today, the same apathetic attitude we were infected with a decade ago.

God’s forgiveness is still extant and extravagant. Love, as Peter says (1 Peter 4:8), covers a multitude of sins. Any outward, behavioral sin, “a reproach to any people” (again, Proverbs 14:34), begins—towards God (Psalms 51:4)—in the heart and mind. So, too, do the virtues. A lukewarm heart, veneered over with rudimentary morality isn’t going to last. Let us turn to God again and let Him heal our nation (2 Chronicles 7:14). We need to “put aside the alienation” as Rush sang in Limelight. Only when we renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) to the truths in God’s word will we experience real healing and prosperity. And freedom. From sin, violence and apathy. His love, mercy and grace will help us if we ask.

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Watershed or Waterloo?

What do the setbacks of our lives mean? I’ll tell you what they mean. They mean God loves you enough to forestall your “forward” progress to ensure that you’re getting closer to Him.

I can’t answer specifically for anyone. I will attempt, however, to qualify setbacks, disappointments and defeats under two categories:

• Watersheds: Also known as turning points, epiphanies, Aha!/eureka moments, etc.

• Waterloos: Crushing defeats (though not really if you’re still alive).

As God sees everything we don’t, we’d do well to realize that any setback we face is an opportunity to pause and pray. Any endeavor worth its salt is bound to encounter opposition. This is true in the world’s system as well as in the church. It’s important that we slow down and see that, whatever it is that God is doing or wants to do in our life is undergirded by prayer, praise and worship. This way, any setback you encounter will end up strengthening the project as a whole. And as God is the one “with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13), we know that we’re on His time schedule. Areas of blindness in ourselves and others can only be revealed through waiting. Setbacks.

Watersheds come when God says “friend, come up higher” (Luke 14:10). God’s call on your life is entering the next phase and yet, there are things that you were blind to. Through it all you remained humble before God and now He’s ready to reveal things about your life and call that you weren’t aware of before. What’s really strange is when God shows you something that was there that you didn’t even think to look for. Watersheds. Your life is then qualified, not only by God, but by “before” and “after”. Stay humble.

Waterloo: Historically, the sight of Napoleon’s ultimate defeat. Prior to that, he had announced in a fit of pride and arrogance that he himself was God. And you know that God wasn’t going to allow that. There’s only one God. We’d do well to remember this too. Our gifts and callings are “without repentance” (Romans 11:29). This means that our talents and dreams will play out even without God’s involvement. Should you run up against defeat in an area of your life where maybe you weren’t enthroning Jesus as Lord, then stop and pray. Repent for making a god out of the task or project or even yourself. Humble yourself before Him and ask Him to take over whatever area is in question. God “works all things together for our good if we love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Personally, I wouldn’t want any endeavor to succeed that was not “according to His purpose”.

Setbacks are not meant to make us ultimately give up, just to give up control to God.