I’ll take something to believe, something with long-sleeves, cause it’s unpredictable
That Jesus says he’d fill my needs, but my heart still bleeds – he’s just not physical
(“Promise” – It’s Hard to Find a Friend)
Even in ‘Promise’, one of the most lyrically earnest and tender moments of Pedro the Lion discography, David Bazan’s honest questions poke through the soft meshing of faith and expectations. I suppose that is what made Pedro such a banner to run under in Christian music of the early 2000’s. It wasn’t simply the legitimacy of gritty rock among glossy counterparts, it was the honesty Bazan sang with, where Christian rhetoric misaligned with real life and he acknowledged it. Bazan sang what he saw: Jesus and bleeding hearts, marriage and misery, faith and infidelity.
Last night in a bar in Oregon, I watched Bazan play live for the first time. The show was immense, with old Pedro and new David Bazan Band songs vitalized in an incredibly tight and dynamic three-piece (with Andy Fitz on bass and Alex Westcoat on drums). Bazan sang just like I thought he would, in a voice that was both grizzly and aching, and at moments cracking under the strain of singing a 47-day tour with no holds barred.
With hand sticking straight in the air and back arched like a 6-year old, Bazan broke off between songs to ask, “Any questions at this stage of the show?” Questions popped up from around the room – “How’s your family?” “What’s it like playing your older stuff?” “Who do you think will win the Iowa caucus?” and “Ten years ago I saw you play in Illinois and you said you were working on writing a book or something. Did you ever finish it?”
Bazan mused about his life ten years ago when he was making a roadmap to escape the “Christian cultural ghetto” (his term) and said that escape plan was probably what he had been writing. No, he hadn’t finished it, but he added, “Eventually, I realized the way to get out of the ghetto is to just stop being part of it. That’s the way to get out of anything, the way we can all… be free.”
He landed ironically on “freedom” as a way to describe getting out of a faith that talks a lot about being free. It was a profound reminder of how much the culture of being a Christian can feel like a trap. And though I’ve chosen to be with (most parts of) the culture for better or worse for the sake of my relationship with Christ, as my husband and I look for a church in a new town, slightly uncomfortable with how we need to peel back layers of coffee, sermon, smiles, decor, dresscode, music, etc., I have often thought, how much simpler it would be if faith could be this pure inner realm of Jesus, and Spirit, and goodness, and contemplation.
But of course, following Jesus is a messy collision of this deep internal journey with a lived life. And as we can see through the life of Jesus (where he was perceived as meddler, rebel, teacher, King), divinity and humanity do not mix easily. It’s a fragmenting business, but glossy cultural expressions of Christianity often tuck away the messiness in a way that can belie people’s actual experiences.
In Bazan’s earlier songs, I still recognize this theme of rupture as he pieces out how holiness meets the real world. Since then, it seems that his doubts about the culture have given way to doubts about the faith. Even so, as this interview makes clear, Bazan has become a public focal point for what has happened to a generation of disenchanted once-believers. Last night, as I listened to songs like “Second Best”, I remembered how grating the words are, like a cheek rubbing into pavement – the fictionalized scars of real accidents. Bazan, at least, has never been afraid to be honest.