Monday, August 18, 2008

Andrew Bird, Meet Rich Mullins

Indie singer/songwriter Andrew Bird's latest album, Armchair Apocrypha, includes a thoughtful piece titled 'Imitosis.'

Early on the song delivers this rather depressing line: "It was anything but hear the voice / That says that we're all basically alone." Is this an atheist' lament? Not exactly. Look more closely:

Turning to a playground in a Petri dish
Where single cells would swing their fists
At anything that looks like easy prey
In this nature show that rages every day...

Despite what all his [Professor Pynchon's] studies had shown
What's mistaken for closeness
Is just a case of mitosis
And why do some show no mercy
While others are painfully shy?
Tell me doctor can you quantify?
He just wants to know the reason why

I have no reason to believe that Bird has any particularly religious persuasions, but he seems to have acutely diagnosed the problem of fallenness. In spite of our best efforts and all of our claims to the contrary, human being find themselves in more or less constant conflict with one another (cf. Thomas Hobbes). In the midst of our vast society we often find ourselves quite alone, because... well, because we just can't seem to get along.

While Bird, Hobbes and others have noted this phenomenon, it seems to me a particularly Christian theme. A long-time favorite of mine, Rich Mullins, considers it thus on his Songs album:

It took the hand of God Almighty
To part the waters of the sea
But it only took one little lie
To separate you and me
Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are

And they say that one day Joshua
He made the sun stand still in the sky
But I can't even keep these thoughts of you from passing by
Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are

Christianity does not, however, simply discuss the problem of fallenness, the separation it breeds and the acute pain they can produce. No, Christianity also offers a way out, something Mullins often wrote about, though only hints at here:

When you love you walk on the water
Just don't stumble on the waves
We all want to go there somethin' awful
But to stand there takes some grace

In the end it is not social projects or international law or believing in ourselves that solves this conundrum, but God's grace: our ability to love one another is pure gift, beyond any just deserts.
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