Strange convergences abound today. I got a tweet from The Believer magazine (the belief in this case in in literature, not God or other associated entities) about an on-line exclusive article called Concerning the Spiritual In Indie Rock. It name-drops a lot of bands whose place in the rock music world in roughly analogous to the place of Available Light’s favorite playwrights in the theatre world, including Young Jean Lee – Animal Collective, Neutral Milk Hotel, Arcade Fire, Ponytail, Mae Shi, Sufjan Stevens, and one my recent favorites, Yeasayer.
The article takes a close look at how various measures of secular spirituality, doubt, and devout (usually Christian) belief mix in the work of these edgy, explorational bands. The stand-out quotation here is about Yeasayer’s most recent release, All Hour Cymbals.
Chris Keating, who sings and plays keyboards, calls All Hour Cymbals a nonbeliever’s attempt to understand what devotion and awe might feel like. The album, he says, strives to awaken through art the feelings others go to church seeking.
The article’s author, Judy Berman, follows-up with a diagnosis that rings very true in my life.
These days, mainstream religion feels largely divorced from metaphysics. The language of good and evil has been co-opted in the service of countless holy wars, and Christian leaders spend more time railing against gay marriage than debating the nature of the human soul. Those of us who can’t buy into these crusades must find other marvels to contemplate. As Keating recognizes, art may help to fill a void left by organized religion: Indie rock’s predominantly young, urban, and irreligious audience kneels to worship at the foot of a stage. Bible study is replaced by ritualistic listening and re-listening to tease out the meaning or simply bask in the bliss of favorite albums.
Indeed, even in my most spiritual moments, I find it nearly impossible to relate to what Berman calls “mainstream religion”.
And, as if on cue, another story arrives via Twitter to remind me of the (from my perspective) strange people who fill the vast gulf that separates the doubters from the most devout.
WAUSAU, Wisc. – The mother of an 11-year-old girl who died of undiagnosed diabetes as the family prayed for her to get better testified Tuesday that she believes sickness is caused by sin and can be cured by God.
Leilani Neumann told the jury in her husband’s trial that she thought her daughter’s March 2008 illness was a test of her religious faith and she didn’t take the girl to a doctor because that would have been “complete disobedience to what we believe.”
It’s important to note that Mrs. Neumann did not belong to an “organized religion”, and so please don’t think I’m considering her part of “mainstream religion.” Nevertheless, this story is a disturbing illustration of the kind of events that make it so difficult for some of us to understand others of us.
So yes, I’ve just outed myself, I have doubt. So, why, you might wonder, am I directing Church? I’ll just quote Mr. Yeasayer from above, and say that in part, it’s “a nonbeliever’s attempt to understand what devotion and awe might feel like.” I do think that whether you’re a believer or not, it’s right and good to have a regular, healthy dose of devotion and awe in your life. Hopefully this production will deliver some of that for everyone who sees it.
Here are two fantastic videos of Yeasayer doing their thing live and in strange situations. They are definitely worth your 15 minutes.