Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Crises of Faith in Anthems of Rock: "*Fin"- Anberlin

So a few warnings: This is going to be a rather long, deep, depressing post. I'm writing it because I'm in one of my introspective moods, and this song happened to come on my iTunes, and, well, given how much it means to me, I wanted to get it out of my system. Also, don't expect it to make much rational, logical, realistic sense. Ultimately, I'm talking about faith, here, so while I know there's something dissatisfying in "that's just how I feel" or whatever, in the fact that  I can't prove things and yadda yadda... I don't really give a damn. What a person feels is their own damn shit to grapple with, and for me, faith is intrinsic with and to emotion. So you won't be able to convince me anything new. Don't try to save my soul, or convince me I don't have one.

Also, the song sounds like it's cut off at the beginning- that's because that's what happens on the album, the previous track bleeds right into this one. 

Lastly, rather than having all of the lyrics in the post, I'll link to them here, and you can open a new tab or something (I have all my posts set to open a new tab when a hyperlink is clicked, btw) and, if you have the right operating system, you can have two windows open or something so you don't need to scroll a crapton. If this works better for anyone that cares, lemme know down below. 

Anberlin is one of my favorite rock bands that is still recording consistently. They're borderline screamo at times, sure, but all of their songs are lyrically intricate and musically powerful. I'll admit, I'm a bandwagon fan and found them through "Paper Thin Hymn," but when or how I found them doesn't matter. One thing I like and respect about them is how they kind of wave the middle finger at people that ask them if they're a Christian band, these people usually citing that 1) they started on a Christian rock label, and 2) their lyrics have a lot of religious/spiritual allusions and references. The response of the (aptly named) lead singer and lyricist for the group, Stephen Christian (see?)*, is usually something along the lines of, "We sing about what's important to us. It could be anything, If we're feeling like singing about God, we'll sing about God. If we want to sing about piss and vinegar the next day, well, fuck it all, we will!"

(Yes, I was, uh, paraphrasing. But it comes down to something like that.)

I think that's especially important because once, I was talking to a person I know about music, and this person, a person I call a "visceral atheist," said they liked them a lot, yadda yadda, and I mentioned that their first couple albums  were on a Christian label. This person got this terrible look on their face, said, "Seriously? Whoa, I guess that means I can't listen to them anymore."

When up until that point, they really wanted to see Anberlin live, they bet it would be a great concert, and oh my gosh, they played in my hometown a week after I had to come back to school!

So, wait,  the only reason you can't like them anymore is because they have past connections to a Christian label? 

That shit  is exactly why so many Christians think all atheists are out to get them- it's bigotry, you can't categorize it as anything  else.

Thing is, Anberlin as a collective is, as far as I know, very aware people have that kind of reaction to them. And they still carry on, waving their middle finger at the naysayers and embracing genuine care and support and fandom.

And that's kind of what I like to do, or at least wish I could do more with my life.

So that's why I like Anberlin. 

NOW. This song. This song. Listen to it. Is it not gorgeous and haunting? It's hands down one of my favorite rock anthems ever. And what's it about?

This song is about crises of faith. Read the lyrics as you listen again.

It sets up the scenarios for a few different individuals going through some pretty dark stuff, and losing faith in the process, starting out with a general first verse that hints at how some people lose faith  more because keeping  it means they  have to give up things they want- I equate this line here with people equating religiosity with faith, or who didn't have enough genuine faith to hold onto it when a church had rules or did something they didn't like. This line is why: "Where the unholy ghost doesn't tell/ Mary or William exactly what they want to hear."

And the first bridge into the first refrain  are the singer, exposing their vulnerability in the face of pain and suffering, and wondering at what anybody crazy enough to be residing over humankind would think of us as people (note: Christian has done field work in Mexico and founded a nonprofit that targets  human trafficking in the US and overseas)- he, we, are just lost causes because humanity  is pretty fucked up. We hurt each other, we're selfish, we're frightened little squackers that aren't worth the time. Lost causes. And why would any entity in their right mind that's "in charge" ever possibly see us as otherwise? 

The second verse is about other people losing faith- sometimes, going through enough pain makes it impossible to be happy in the face of good fortune. And being in this kind of pain, it's part of the human condition, otherwise you aren't really human. Part of the human experience is the ability to feel, and feel pain. And this is something  we've for some reason forgotten- we see admitting pain  as a sign of weakness, as cowardice. Which then leads to us isolating ourselves and wanting to just end it all.

Also,  not really an aside, but just an open admission because it's there: "Wish your drinking would hurry and kill you," that line cuts me to the core. There's a history of abuse (both of it and of people) and alcohol in my family, and I've been hurt because of it directly in body, mind, heart, and spirit. When that first started, that person had just lost faith because of how bad things in our lives  had  gotten at that point. And now they're the one being hurt by another person that drinks to try and numb their pain. Alcoholism and the abuse it can help facilitate is no joke, and if there's anything I'd understand losing faith over, it's being beaten by someone you love and is supposed to be protecting you- but that has a bottle. I think I did lose faith at that time, but then I became so desperate, felt so alone, that I jumped back to it. I'll get into why soon, but let's  move on.

The last verse starts with one more scenario, but goes into something much deeper and another bit that's dangerously close to home- most of the verse is about questioning not faith, but the man-made institutions that carry out practices of faith. Organized religion. It gets in the way of faith. It taints the experience.

Religion and religiosity are about politics and power. They're a means for oppression and control, even if it's little power-plays within a single church building. I saw this crap in Walla Walla with a small congregation that was part of a lesser-known but national organization (a board of elders that insists on control and ousts pastors that disagree with their politics and, Heaven (HAH!) forbid, want to be more progressive), I saw it when I tried a small, non-denominational place in Indiana (the judgmental nature and stepping-on-toes, and the way you're somehow less of  a person or have less faith/ are less of a believer if you can't set up donuts every fucking week). And I was Catholic before moving to Washington, so I need not argue my case for corruption and power snagging about that institution. 

But the "we're no better, you'll see," part indicates it's not just churches that get in the way of faith- it's ourselves. We let ourselves get wrapped up in our day-to-day lives and we enjoy wallowing so fucking much, we can't see the beauty and freedom in not questioning. In  just believing.

And then the chorus of kids sets in. Haunting, right? 

The "Patron Saint" of the song, if you didn't pick up on it, is the singer, because he realizes he exemplifies this overarching human characteristic of pain and confusion and being torn in myriad directions at once. The choir represents the rest of humanity's denial that  we can be hurt, that that's normal. The kids singing, it's beautiful, but I interpret it as slightly patronizing (especially since they keep going, singing over his... uh... well, there's a reason I said they're kinda screamo sometimes). The band is of course also harkening to the trope of "choirs of angels," too, but I think as a way  of underscoring this point of what it means to be alive- the  singer is being  patronized by someone (or a group of individuals singing with one voice) that can't be lost, but it's in the form of angels. And angels are, well, angels- they  aren't human. They aren't flawed. People are, flawed.

And that's okay. Because otherwise, we'd be angels. And thus, we wouldn't be alive.

And then the music gets kind  of quiet and it's just Christian again, singing and kind of echoing.

Fucking haunting.

The echoing  itself, that's representative of how usually crises of faith happen when a person feels alone. Or, well, maybe I'm declaring my own subjective experiences as universal truth, here, but any time I've cried out in anger at God and questioned whether he/she exists, I was in the middle of a freak-out in which I felt helpless and alone. No question, I always felt like nobody on this green/blue Earth cared, so why the fuck should I think anybody in the cosmos would? After all, I'm one of those lost causes, right? His plea goes out into the seemingly empty caverns of this life on Earth.

What he's singing  about, though. That's basically the plea in the midst of one of those crises of faith. It's stream-of-consciousness babbling, but each line hits at a different direction of thought and feeling. 

Importantly, the song just kind of ends. It's disturbing the way it cuts off like that, but it's actually kind of perfect. For three reasons.

First, because I personally don't buy into the idea that life wraps itself up in a neat little bow and everything's perfect and you're always surrounded by the ones you love and ready to die. No, I've lost too many people in the exact opposite circumstances in my life to believe in that cockamamy load of bollocks. Of course, I think it'd be awesome if that somehow happened, but I wouldn't bet on it. So anyhoo, the song ends abruptly and awkwardly, jarringly, because that's how life often ends.

But the next two dovetail from the  same point: The song actually doesn't really have an "ending," in the typical sense of the word when it comes to songs, and in the way a person with a faith leading them to believing that would, in fact, believe; and the fact that this state of questioning our institutions and ourselves and being in pain never really ends as far as we know when here and on Earth.

So then why have faith?

The message of being alone in this  song  is, I think, meant to both demonstrate how alone  one can feel, but to remind us that having faith is  a way of not feeling alone.

And that's why I have faith. It's a crutch. I admit  it fully and openly. No, it  makes no sense. How could someone as smart as me have faith?

Because there are times where that's all I feel like I have. And if  I don't have that, I have  nothing.  I have faith because I know I'm weak, I'm not weak because I have faith. My faith gives me strength, it doesn't take it away. Some may disagree, but, well, obviously that doesn't matter. My life, my mind, my heart. I don't understand how my heart works all the time, so I can't rationalize this bullshit. 

There's a part of me that  knows it's bullshit, too, simply because this "faith" is mostly fear of being  alone, or of my life actually being meaningless. That's the other thing, if I can believe in the fact that there's Something (dunno what) out there, then I can stretch it to believe I may, just may, have something important to do with my life. 

Does this mean I don't believe in random chance? No.

Does this  mean I believe everything happens  for a reason?  Ish. I'd say the results of "things" are more like... externalities? The learning and growth experienced in life are side-effects, not direct reasons. We can retroactively assign meaning, but the meaning doesn't come first. Shit  happens- it's what we do with it that matters. We give reason  to things  ourselves, they don't come with it from the get-go. 

So I have faith because I take solace that even though I've never really felt good enough and have been treated in ways to reinforce that, there's still someone/thing out there that loves me unconditionally. Even if they can't really help me- because I don't think there's such a thing as "Acts of God," I don't think that whatever is out there can really intervene. I see them as a parent watching their baby through the glass at the hospital. They can love with every cell in their being, but they  can't do anything from that vantage point. And the doors are locked, so the vantage point is the best they can do.

This  guy is slightly happier than I was
hoping for- which, I guess, is a good thing
because  that means  it's happy parents looking, not sad ones

That's God/Goddess/Whatever/Whomever. They can sort of stand by, but they can't intervene. 

Which, in some ways, is where we are, too. Where I am. I have control over some things, but a lot of it is out of my hands. The latter drives me crazy. I feel so helpless all the time  because there really is so much I can't help.

But it's freeing to admit when I can't be in control. It's healing, or at least soothing. 

So that's why I have faith. It's a way of admitting I'm not in control, but that it's okay because even if I completely screw up any chance at control I do have, I won't be entirely alone.

So I do have crises of faith, I have them all the time. But I eventually go back to believing  in something. Not always instantaneously, but at worst  eventually. And what that something is, I don't know.  I just believe there's someone or something (or maybe few ones or things) out there.

*Also, one of the guitarists is named Christian McAlhaney. For serious. 

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