Reading Art and the Bible – Pt. 6

During my latest reading of Schaefers “Art and the Bible”, I came across another profound thought for the christian artist. He explains it as the two themes, the major theme, and the minor theme.

The minor theme being the lostness of man, his sin, his near absurdity.

…the minor theme is the abnormality of the revolting volting world. This falls into two parts: (1) Men who have revolted from God and not come back to Christ are eternally lost; they see their meaninglessness in the present and they are right from their own standpoint. point. Neitzsche can say that God is dead and Sartre must follow along, showing that man is dead, and Sartre is right from his own perspective. (2) There is a defeated and sinful side to the Christian’s life. If we are at all honest, we must admit that in this life there is no such thing as totally victorious living. In every one of us there are those things which are sinful and deceiving and, while we may see substantial healing, in this life we do not come to perfection.

The Major theme being the hope of the Gospel.

The major theme is the opposite of the minor; it is the meaningfulness and purposefulness of life. From the Christian viewpoint, this falls into two headings, metaphysics and morals. In the area of metaphysics (of being, of existence, including the existence of every man) God is there, God exists. Therefore, all is not absurd. Furthermore, man is made in God’s image age and so man has significance. With this comes the fact that love, not just sex, exists. True morals, as opposed posed to only conditioning, exist.

He then makes the point that the christian artist should accurately portray both of these themes in their work. Too much emphasis of the minor theme in most cases produces art that isn’t quite true. But he says the for the converse. Too much of the major theme without the minor creates a romanticism.

So, we know that art will always portray at least portions of a worldview, and if that’s true, then the christian’s would, logically, portray these major and minor themes that Schaeffer lined out for us.

Perhaps the issue with Schaeffer’s proposition here is the fact that Christian must always at some point reach the conclusion of the major theme.  This seems true, but… Why doesn’t this apply to other professions? Must christians always at some point show or make explicit the major theme?  A christian should proclaim the gospel, but is it a requirement for them to do so through their work?  Perhaps the artist is a unique profession that requires this sort of arrangement. And Schaeffer even nods at this fact:

A Christian businessman who does not operate on the basis of compassion does not live within the biblical norms of economics, and the Christian artist who only concentrates on the abnormality of the world is likewise not living by the law of love.

Something to think about, for sure.

In my personal life, I find this to be a good guideline.  What am I focusing on today, the destructive fallen world, or God’s grace?

The musings continue. Only a few more pages to the end of the book!

Back and Ready

Whew, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Leading up to closing on a house and moving all of our stuff out of the second story of an apartment and into a 70 year old house was quite the time-suck. I apologize for the lack of content and the seeming laziness. Rest assured. Content is on the way.

I’ve planned out a few drafts on some stand out christian music. There’s a podcast posting in early may and a few other podcast scheduled to record. There will most certainly be a post on film editing and at least two more Art and the Bible posts.

So our calendar is jam-packed and ready to roll-out. Get your bib on, cause the choo-choo train of creative-worship themed blog posts are coming for your mouth…

Reading Art and the Bible Pt. 5 – Forms and Messages (again)

Finally got my nose back into this book. It’s been a crazy few weeks for me, and its been nice to get back into reading about my passions again. Lets take a look at what I’ve read.

Just because something takes the form of a work of art does not mean that it cannot be factual.

Though art in a general sense is subjective, it doesn’t mean that art cannot contain facts.  Let that be clear,

Styles of art form change and there is nothing wrong with this.

Then what about the Christian’s art? Here three things should be stressed. First, Christian art today should be twentieth-century art. Art changes. Language changes. The preacher’s preaching today must be twentieth-century language communication, or there will be an obstacle to being understood. And if a Christian’s art is not twentieth-century art, it is an obstacle to his being heard. It makes him different in a way in which there is no necessity for difference. A Christian should not, therefore, strive to copy Rembrandt or Browning.

…there is no such thing as godly style or ungodly style.

These quotes communicate one of the central ideas of the book. Style is a vehicle. Style can be critiqued, should be critiqued, but one cannot do so under the idea that any style is holier than the other.  Yes and amen.

Schaeffer refers to an example of how ones faith can inform the artists style, though.  T.S. Elliot’s fragmented poetry became less so when he became a christian. He didn’t abandon the style altogether, but his representation of the fragmented modern man had a different spin as a christian, and because of that his style changed slightly. Its amazing and affirming that faith, worldview, can change not just the message of the work, but the style as well. Very cool.

The form in which a world view is given can either weaken or strengthen the content, even if the viewer or reader does not in every case analyze this completely. In other words, depending upon the vehicle you use, something can come across that an audience does not notice and yet will be moving either in the direction of your world view or away from your world view. One must talk at length with the viewer or reader. And as a Christian adopts and adapts various contemporary techniques, he must wrestle with the whole question, looking to the Holy Spirit for help to know when to invent, when to adopt, when to adapt and when to not use a specific style at all. This is something each artist wrestles with for a lifetime, not something he settles once and for all.

The point he makes here is that the form of the art can either make clear or convolute the message of the work. And that the christian should be careful and discerning of what techniques and forms to use in order to be effective.  My thoughts on this are more complicated than a simple agree or disagree.

He is right in that form is an important factor in communication.  Most avant-garde pieces are harder to communicate specifics in their form due to their off-beat and challenging natures.  This is true.  I disagree with the implication behind the statement, and its very weird that he’s said something like this after spending some time in the beginning of the book dispelling this misnomer.  Schaeffer is implying, not only that the message should be at the forefront, which some would disagree with, but he is implying that christians should be putting the christian message at the forefront, which I can assume that the message would be the christian gospel. Now, I’m not necessarily against that by itself, but I’m against it if it is only by itself. Does that make sense?

If all I’m doing as an artist is preaching the gospel through my art, am I an evangelist or an artist? Why not be both? Because the best art communicates emotion and questions rather than telling someone what they should think. So. I think that while the gospel certainly has room within an artists repertoire of communicative messages, it’s not effective if that’s all they are saying.  Show me who you are, artist, not just what you think is true.

So my reaction to Schaeffer’s comment on form is an interesting one, I agree with the words he said, but from the sense I get behind them, I think he’s implying that christians who are artists should be focusing solely on the christian message, which is not good.  There are multiple facets to humanity, why limit what you can say?

The Worship Collective Discusses: Worship Music – What’s the Goal?

Last Post we discussed why we have music in our worship services in the first place.  We concluded that music possess an uncanny ability to draw out and communicate deep human emotion. And by doing so yields the ability to teach and associate thoughts and feelings with the different characteristics of God.

So we have a good foundation. Now lets build our living areas.

What is the goal of worship music? 

Questions to ponder as you read. What is the music trying to achieve? When you attend a worship service, what is the church trying to say/do/promote when they play the music they play? Are all churches striving for the same end? Are all the various styles of music any better than the others in trying to achieve they’re respective goals?

I can’t go further without showing you a fantastic answer I received the other day. I had asked an orthodox friend of mine how he would answer these questions, as I am not as familiar with their liturgies. He provided a statement that his church puts in one of their pamphlets:

“(Our) worship is based on Scripture and the traditions of the
church, and is driven by God’s saving activity through Jesus Christ
in the power of the Holy Spirit. First and foremost, the point of
liturgy is an encounter with God. Everything else, even good things
like learning the Bible, is secondary. Our liturgy is meant to involve
the whole church (not just the pastor or musicians) and to involve the
whole person (body, mind, spirit), because we believe that God saves
all of us (every aspect), and that he saves us together. So the goal
for worship is the full, active, and conscious participation of everyone
present. This can take some time. At times your prayerful participation
will be helped more by following along in this liturgy guide. However,
if you find yourself getting caught up in the performance and
forgetting that it’s prayer, you may find that it helps to put the book
aside and prayerfully listen. There’s no wrong way to engage, so long
as you come with an open heart and an open mind.”

At the forefront of this church is making sure that you are encountering God through their liturgy. The sermons, the reading and response, the music, all of it is there to ensure and encourage an encounter with God.  Isn’t that the point? Isn’t all of creation here to revere God? Our worship is meant to be an offering of respect, reverence, and love for God. This is how we encounter him. Music at a worship service should attempt to encounter God.

It involves the whole church (!), and not just the musicians and pastors.  This is a huge point! The congregation plays a huge part in the worship service. We are a body of believers, not merely individuals. So the music, and the worship service, strives to include everyone in the worship of God. Granted, successfully drawing everyone in and leading them to an encounter with God doesn’t always happen. And that’s okay, I don’t think God depends on us being perfect. But they should strive to. This isn’t about numbers, feelings, showcase, or artistry. First and foremost, we all need to see, hear, and experience God.

Now, think about how incredibly different and unique humankind is. Think about the cultures that differ so greatly from ours.  There isn’t a single way to unify the experience of worship for the entirety of the human race. So trying to find a “one-size-fits-all” approach to worship is a hopeless task.  Cultures, and people groups have different interests, talents, slants, and desires. They need to fit the needs of these peoples.

But even within these gatherings, there are so many unique individuals with different tastes.  Some might find the contemporary worship service lackidasical and distracting, while others within the same congregation finds that this worship is inspiring and beautiful to their ears. Who’s to say they are wrong? How do we solve this problem?

I don’t have a giant solution, but I do think that pastors need to listen to their people. I think that churches should constantly evaluate what they are doing in terms of music and worship as a whole. Is this helping people encounter God? Does this style of music get too familiar? are we going through the motions? Has this become solely about the music?

I think worship leaders and pastors need to be creative in this regard. If the goal is to encounter God, then find what helps do that the best. I’m not one to judge the style of worship service of any particular church, but I can judge whether they have held on to their favorite style rather than what revere God through the music.

All this to say that really, God loves when we worship him, the music style is secondary. Revere him. Encounter him. Love him. Worship him, whatever that looks like. Just be mindful of others. That’s all.

A Poem – Eyelash

Eyelash

I guard your sight with fragility.
Warding off dust and crushed rocks.
Yet you don’t feel me. But you look odd without me.
And to think you don’t think of me
when you rid of me
with your breathe
as I scream
for a continued life as
your beauty-beholding guardian.
How could you?

 

Worship Collective Discusses: Worship Music – Why Music?

Finally. We’re talking worship music. One would think that with the word “Worship” in our name that we would be at the forefront of the worship music conversation, right? While we mostly concern ourselves with the interweaving of artistry and faith, worship music is a topic we’ve wanted to discuss but have pushed off due to an ever present dread over the genre. I attribute this to the fact that the opinions are vast, expansive, amorphous and slippery on the subject matter. There’s no way to address the state of  worship music in one post, but there is a way to break this down into three different questions:

Why do most churches use music in their services?

What is the goal of worship music?

How important is performance and aesthetics? 

Think about them before you go further. What do you think? Your answers (and mine) will/should overlap. 

Why do most churches use music in their services? 

Here’s a good place to start. Why music? Why has this artform been so integral in the liturgies of orthodox and evangelical churches alike? And for so long!? Why not anything else, like visual art, photography, or what have you? I posed this question to a few of my musician friends who I thought could provide insight. Here was a response that I thought was interesting:

 

“…I would say a deeper reason is that song/poetry seems to be the preeminent way of expressing human emotion.  As far as I know, all cultures throughout human history have had some form of singing. And in the case of Christianity, in many ways it is its own culture.  It has its own worldview, a specific vision of what the universe is about: namely, humanity becoming reconciled to God through his Son.”

 

All cultures throughout history have had music. Interesting. There must be something about this artform that is communal and unifying. But one could argue that lots of artforms are communal. Look at theatre or film.  The audience plays a big role in both of those forms and require some sort of community effort just like music does. So what distinction does music have that the church has grabbed a hold of?

Consider this:

I recently watched the documentary Alive Inside, about which a man seeks to give the gift of music to many dementia and alzheimers patients.  What he found is that while these patients’ brains were deteriorating, music had an effect on awakening memory and emotion. (It’s a fantastic film, and you should see it. Check it out on Netflix.)

But isn’t this true of those who do not carry these illnesses? If I played a song that played during your high school days, would you not immediately recall some specific memories of that time? Has a song ever reminded you of a trip? A relationship? A feeling? Music has the innate ability to stick with us and help the brain recount memories. Which is another reason why music is often used, as a quasi-teaching method.

Some lessons, ideas, themes, have been communicated most effectively through song. I’m going to throw out a few lines to prove my point. See if the song doesn’t immediately play in your head.

Times they are a changin,

Let It be,

Fight the power,

Baby you’re a firework,

See what I mean? I had to throw Katy Perry in there because shes too good to not. The point being that perhaps you don’t know every lyric to these songs, but you were able to think of at least one of these songs based solely on one line that speaks the message of the song.

Churches, then, capitalize on the strong emotive nature of music, and its ability to implement itself in the brains of its congregates. They simply find that singing and playing music is a natural response to hearing, understanding, and learning the gospel.  The songs also serve to teach certain doctrines and theologies that help drive home the emotional impact of the truths.

“Whatever my lot /  thou hath taught me to say / It is well with my soul”

“I once was lost, but now am found / was blind, but now I see”

“From life’s first cry, to final breathe / Jesus commands my destiny”

I literally rattled these off the top of my head. It’s helpful to use the songs, and the accompanying emotions attached to the songs to grab hold of the implications of the teaching.

So why music? It’s an aid. It’s a tool. It communicates a message. It communicates a feeling.  It’s a device by which the church uses to help its congregates encounter God.  This. This is key. This is why music.

 

TWC Podcast – Episode 01 – Art and Death

Robert Cullen’s “Other Cities”

The First Episode is here!  Robert Cullen discusses his latest album “Other Cities,” and what his process is like and where he finds inspiring moments in his music as well as his annual Top 50 Albums of the Year list. We go into to some heavy territory with how death and mortality lends itself to much of his art, but how it helps him come to terms and accept his beliefs.  I also go on a mild rant at the end of the show about some of our previous posts on whether or not depressing content is worth experiencing if it affects oneself too much.

LINKS

1. Robert Cullen’s bandcamp – http://robertcullen.bandcamp.com/

2. Kashiwa Daisuke – http://kashiwadaisuke.com/  (also my favorite song of his https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc1cZ9Ee2eo )

3. ML Candelario’s “Good Art/Bad Subjects

4. Daniel Hansen “A Response to ‘Good Art/Bad Subjects‘”

Anathallo – A Lyric Study

As we continue this series on my favorite songs by my favorite artists, Anathallo takes center stage with the forgotten song “To Gary and Marcus: The Sovereignty of God is Omnipresent.” Or, for the sake of easier reading, “Gary and Marcus.” This is a song that would seriously benefit from a listen to the song before reading the lyrics. Anathallo, especially in their earlier days, were very free form in their song structure and the musical progression lends itself to the emotive lyrics. Check it out:

“To Gary and Marcus: The Sovereignty of God is Omnipresent”

I could not come this time and stand on my feet.
I just thought of you and sank.
“I’m tough, I’m tough,” I told myself,
but I fell apart.

Thin arms cling lightly to my sunken chest.
I hold my breath.
Your sad eyes droop with hopelessness,
and I feel like I’m dying with you.
And I hold your toothpick ribcage.
And I pray aloud into your ear,

“Lord what would you have of me?
To plead before You for this child?
Why does faith seem so foreign to me now?”

Every time I see your beautiful faces
in my thoughts, or in something I see,
may faith stand firm.
Let it grow from grace I have received and know
that this grace abounds to you
so far away.

 

Pretty heavy song, no? Let’s get into it.

Form
1. Rhyme Scheme – I scanned this song about a hundred times trying to find something. And it took some scraping to find two examples of slant rhymes, or rhymes that aren’t technically rhymes but kind-of-sort-of sound similar. Stanza 1 Line 1 has a slant of “time” and “my” and Stanza 2 has a slant on “chest” and “breath.” That’s it. These rhymes serve to bring some sort of loose unity to an otherwise very free form structure. I think it especially helps to have this near the beginning of the song.  It serves to bring the listener along without totally losing them in the radically different foundation of songwriting.
2. Meter – Again, free form. No pattern or repetition to be found, really.  When you listen to the song, though, it’s a hard fact to believe. The lines seem so rhythmic. But that could be because of the great jazz-like music that accompanies the lyrics. If there is a pattern, I can’t hammer it down.
3. Diction/Devices – Alliteration, Repetition. “I’m tough I’m tough I told myself,” and “Thin arms cling lightly…” and “Why does faith seem so foreign…” are great examples. Come to think of it, these devices might be what lends to the “sneaky-rhythm” in the song.  Even in free form, something has to ground the song for it to succeed. I strongly believe its these devices that do it.

On the Diction side of things, we some extraordinary word choice. “Toothpick ribcage” and “sunken chest” evoke strong images. And I was particularly struck in the last stanza where we see Matt Joynt (the lyricist and frontman) refer to God’s “beautiful faces,” a reminder that God has many ways to reveal himself and has “face” in different forms. Love Love Love it.

Themes
1. The Problem of Suffering Children – Joynt lays out a story (no doubt personal) of the narrator looking upon a dying child and wondering what he can do, and how to reconcile this with his faith.  He even expresses his doubts in what he believes, “Why does faith seem so foreign to me now?”  “Lord, what would you have of me?” Questions that are, no doubt, legitimate and worthy of pondering.
2. The Frailty of Humans – While Joynt highlights the awfulness of dying children, he also showcases the frailty of the narrator.  This situation leads him down a path of tremendous frailty and weakness. And just as this child he sings about is sick and dying, so too is his disposition and faith. It’s almost a commentary on physical sickness begetting emotional and spiritual sickness.
3. Beauty in Grace – After the amazing climax in the music after the third stanza, we get a lovely drop out of everything except the tapping of sticks. An auditory signal of stripping everything down to its basics. And as the music does so does the philosophy in the lyrics. Joynt knows that when he gazes upon God’s character, he sees why he believes what he does. His thoughts, his feelings, his experiences remind him of the beauty he finds in the gospel, in the grace of God.  And he takes another leap of faith, admitting he doesn’t have an answer to this child’s death, or have an action of which to take. He simply recognizes and encourages the child, knowing that the grace he has received from God, surely extends to the child.

The song takes a heavy and erratic direction in its structure but takes a deconstructing approach as it reveals the foundation of Joynt’s faith and philosophy: Grace abounds.

Reading Art and the Bible – Pt. 4 “Critiquing Art and Worldviews Separately”

Observations:

1.  Schaefer lays out detailed way to critique art not just for the christian but for everyone. Separating technical achievement and worldview messages is the main distinction here.

We are not being true to the artist as a man if we consider his art work junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life.

Again, something I’ve always tried to explain, and here, it’s validated.  The form and worldview of an art piece should be critiqued and evaluated separately.  Don’t dismiss it because you don’t agree. You might be missing excellence at work. In art school, we were never allowed to say wether or not a piece was good or bad, but rather we were encouraged to say wether or not the piece “works.” I think that type of critique is what Schaeffer gets at here.

2.  He also separates the worldview/form distinction by pointing out that art isn’t sacred.  This point serves the religious more than anyone, but he does a good job reminding the reader that one’s faith takes precedence over any art piece. So if a masterful artist creates a magnificent piece of work and it doesn’t line up with an audience’s worldview, that doesn’t validate or reject either of them.

As Christians, we must see that just because an artist-even a great artist-portrays a world view in writing or on canvas, it does not mean that we should automatically accept that world view. Art may heighten the impact of the world view, in fact we can count on this, but it does not make something true. The truth of a world view presented by an artist must be judged on separate grounds than artistic greatness.

The truth of a worldview must be judged on separate grounds than artistic greatness. I’m stealing that.

3.  After reading a hundred or so pages of this book, I can tell that Schaeffer has an aversion towards the “art-for-art’s-sake” approach to creativity.  And “aversion” might be a strong word for his feelings, because I see him constantly correcting this artistic outlook. His point is more, “Whether you like it or not, what you truly believe shines through the work. Art can’t simply end for the purpose of being.”

Some artists may not know that they are consciously showing forth a world view. Nonetheless, a world view usually does show through. Even those works which were constructed under the principle of art for art’s sake often imply a world view. Even the world view that there is no meaning is a message.

So, even though the intent of no meaning may be present, it still holds a worldview that displays itself in the work. I agree in principle, but the specifics of this still cause me to say “But…but…” Like, what kind of worldview shines through this piece?

“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” by Damien Hirst (1992)

I don’t have an answer. I would agree that a worldview exists, I just can’t see it. (I’m not too familiar with Damien Hirst, but I’m betting one can use the context of his body of work to find out what he centers himself around. We talked about this principle early on in this series! How exciting!)

4.  The greater the artistic excellence, the more impact the message possesses, the more seriously the piece deserves critique. Schaeffer makes the point that often, critique seems to lessen the more excellent the piece. And by critique he means mostly about the worldview of the artist.

We should realize that if something untrue or immoral is stated in great art it can be far more destructive and devastating than if it is expressed in poor art or prosaic statement. Much of the crude art, the common product of hippie communities and the underground press, is laden with destructive messages, but the art is so poor that it does not have much force. But the greater the artistic expression, the more important it is to consciously bring it and its world view under the judgment of Christ and the Bible. The common reaction among many, however, is just the opposite. Ordinarily, many seem to feel that the greater the art, the less we ought to be critical of its world view. This we must reverse.

Lol, hippie hate.

He goes on a long rant about Zen, how the worldview is about becoming nothing, and nothingness is an end goal, how this message had been said in many crude underground settings, (“We believe in nothing, Lebowski!”) and how due to an excellence in hightening the message through artistic beauty, the worldview has had a bigger impact and has had less critique. Interesting thoughts and I can see what he’s getting at. I would say that this is more a testament to the power of art.  It brought validity to the worldview because of the beauty that it showcased.  Good point to say that excellence should always be critiqued, no matter the beauty. 

Sufjan Steven’s “Seven Swans” a Lyric Study

Sufjan Stevens’ “Seven Swans” is one of many legendary indie folk albums from the Michigan native.  Some call this his most vulnerable album, though it is definitely his most spiritual.  The album is a must listen, and we will study the lyrics of the title track.

“Seven Swans”

We didn’t sleep too late. 
There was a fire in the yard.
All of the tress were in light.
They had no faces to show.

I saw a sign in the sky:
Seven swans, seven swans, seven swans.
I heard a voice in my mind:
“I will try, I will try, I will try.
I will try, I will try, I will try.”

We saw the dragon move down.
My father burned into coal.
My mother saw it from far.
She took her purse to the bed.

I saw a sign in the sky:
Seven horns, seven horns, seven horns.
I heard a voice in my mind:
“I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord.”
He said: “I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord.”
He said: “I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord.”

He will take you. If you run,
He will chase you.
He will take you. If you run,
He will chase you.
Cause he is the Lord.

This was the opening of Sufjan Steven’s tour in 2010.  The ominous banjo was accompanied by a projection of tiny little stars on a large screen behind the band.  All lights were turned down except for a spotlight on Sufjan, and the flickering of reflected lights from the large projection screen.  That specific performance in Asheville, NC was one of the best concert experiences in my life.  Sufjan has such a strong sense of tone throughout every aspect of his art. Let’s dive deeper.

Form

  1. Rhyme Scheme – No technical rhyme scheme, though its worth noting that repetition sometimes guises itself as a rhyme. See “I will try…”, “I am Lord…”, and “He will take you…He will chase you.” So how does this lack of scheme lend itself to the structure and effectiveness of the song? Well, some songwriters and poets, believe that meter is a more effective tool in creating a sense of rhythm without distracting from the actual meaning of the words spoken or sung. Thought I can’t lie that a good rhyme scheme in a song is like butter on freshly baked bread; a great pair.
  2. Meter – Here we find the definitive structure of the song. rigid syllabic counts on each line.  Can you guess how many syllables per line? That’s right. Seven. With the exception of the “I will/I am…”  lines and the last stanza has a few lines in the four to five range.  Obviously, this is no mistake. Stevens creates a unique syllable structure to mirror the thematic elements of the song; seven being the classic number in revelation representing God. It lends to a unique rhythm that pairs well with the lone banjo and delicate vocals. Have you ever tried writing a poem with strict syllables per line? It’s difficult.
  3. Devices/Diction – Repetition creates a beautiful contrast in “Seven Swans.” In the first example we see, “I will try,” versus the second example of “I am Lord,” we can see the comparison of humanity to deity.  He shows that in his own mind, he has a finite limitation in what he can do, but the Lord has no limitation, he is infinite and powerful, as per the wonderful and terrible imagery that Stevens portrays.  Dragons, Swans, people being burned to bits, and great fires. Yikes. The tone, again, controlled through specific word choices. The feeling that we felt in that auditorium in Asheville, was majestic and terrifying. Repitition, contrast, fantastic imagery, all performed at a master level.

Themes

  1. Revelation – Sufjan has been known to stretch the truth and we’ll talk about this later, but at the concert he explained how this was a song about how lightening struck a tree in their backyard and it caught fire. Their father woke them all up to witness it, and then the fire spread into the yard and the image of Seven Swans appeared in the sky playing John Phillip Sousa on trumpets. Whether or not this story is true doesn’t quite matter. What matters is the depiction of the fantastic and the extroardinary in life. Some moments are things we will remember forever. Some of them change our lives. I’ll add too, that some might deny or be skeptical of these moments. I’m not sure that it matters to Sufjan. He seems to concern himself with the revelatory nature of what he finds in the God he follows, or rather, the God that reveals himself.
  2. Sovereignty of God – We’ve already gone over the frightening images of dragons and burning people, so it goes without saying that this shows fearful representation of God.  This God has the power to destroy and uses it as he pleases.  He chases, he takes, he burns, He is Lord.
  3. Storytelling – This is an interesting one. As I stated earlier, Sufjan is known to stretch the truth on his songs. He doesn’t really like to delve too deep into what his songs mean, lest he ruin the enjoyment of interpretation for the audience. So he tends to explain much like the Joker explains where he got his scars. He changes the story every time, though he does keep some central points consistent. However, the main objective Sufjan has in his songs is to be sure to tell a good story by making a good song. Interpretation is left to the audience, and whatever point he tries to get accross is secondary to the form of the piece. He’s said that he doesn’t believe faith is worth discussing publicly as it is a private matter, though he writes intensely spiritual and personal songs about his faith. This creates a great deal of mystique around him. Just as soon as we feel like we can pin him down, he goes off and creates a concept album based around electronic sound and an obscure artist, then turns back around goes back to write a folk album about his parents. He loves to tell stories, and even likes shaping his own.

Sufjan Stevens has been a huge influence on my creative self in how he is bold enough to instill his worldview into his art without compromising form or content. It can be done, and this song exemplifies it.  I strive to do the same.