What It’s Like to Be Me: In the Beginning Pt 5, Theology & Doctrine

Adolescence is the time in a kid’s life they begin to ask and answer some of the most important questions of human existence. Who am I? Where do I belong? Why am I here? What do I believe?

Church was a dominant setting in my life while I was going through this phase. I often asked those questions in the halls, classrooms, and sanctuary of Marysville Nazarene. The answers I found were formed inside that environment. My background was legalistic, and when I solidified what it was that I believed, a lot of it was a reaction to the church culture around me. The answers I have now, the hill that I’d die on is far different than what I was taught as a kid. And that’s OK.

Looking at theology, the study of God, I turned to music. The poetry and melody, rhythms and distortion, it helped me see the divine. These songs were released while I was at an age exploring and desperate for answers. They helped me understand the doctrine, the specific beliefs and principles I would follow. In this small set of songs, I found what I’ve used as my tenets of faith, my axioms that guide how I lived and continue to live my life.

Grammatrain: “Believe
One of my most fundamental beliefs is that faith is impossible without doubt. I found this tenet echoed in the song, “Some say that doubt's disappointing, but I say to question is to understand, and I won't swallow poison of faith placed in faith in experience.” I question so that I can understand and that understanding leads me to deeper faith. I believe because I doubt.

Black Eyed Sceva: “Ecumenical
I didn’t know the word ecumenical existed until I heard this song but the definition blew my mind: “Unity in what is essential. Liberty in non-essentials.” I’ve clung to this phrase through my various frustrations with organized church. After 24 years, there is still an important message for modern Christians in its lyrics, “Victims of religion, be forewarned. Try to exchange substance for form.” When I see differences in how people approach God, I find comfort in these words, is it a matter of substance or form? Is it essential or not? If it is non-essential, it’s not worth arguing.

Pedro the Lion: “Whole
Pedro’s song was always about hope for me, even as pain reverberated within David Bazan’s voice, “A hole that big I'd never seen before.” As someone who is easily distracted, the song provided a valuable lesson, “And all the charms that never were enough, It seems the hole was always twice as big no matter what it was” Nothing could ever take the place of God in my life. And my feeble attempts to do so always proved fruitless.

Havalina Rail Co.: “Total Depravity
“For weak and for strong, for every intention that ever went wrong.” This melancholic track opens with a confession of inadequacy. Matt Wignall continues to offer a list of his underwhelming contributions, “An old tattoo, shag rug and a recipe for stew” in a self-deprecating dirge that introduced me to the concept of total depravity – that on our own, humanity is corrupted and undeserving of God’s love. Yet, God still loves us in our brokenness. Understanding the disparity between God’s love for us and our complete inability to reciprocate it, Wignall provided the question I’ve asked time and time again, “Who am I to cry out when I suffer or to question you when I feel pain?”

The Swirling Eddies: “Multipurpose Man
One of my favorite Bible verses is 1 Corinthians 9:22 – “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Paul’s message to the church in Corinth is the intent behind this Swirling Eddies song. “I’m a room for your love, I’m a factory for war, a hungry artist knocking at the rich man’s door.” This is the kind of person I’ve always wanted to be, someone who could relate to anyone regardless of their political or religious beliefs, their hobbies or profession, their financial or cultural status. I wanted to be a multi-purpose man, all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.

All Star United: “Bright Red Carpet
The denomination I grew up in was founded on a ‘come as you are’ principle, this idea that God accepts you just as you are. Generations later, wearing your Sunday best became more of an expectation than a tradition. Show up to Sunday morning services in jeans and you might get some dirty looks. Naturally, I rebelled. I’d be the punk wearing t-shirts and a baseball cap every week when everyone else was dressed in slacks and a neck tie. This All Star United song was a breath of fresh air for me, validation that I didn’t need to dress fancy to earn God’s love. Some of the older people used to tell me I should dress nicer to church because it was respectful to God. Any time I was given that argument, I’d hear these words in my head: “And that's OK, 'cause Armani likes the way you wear your clothes. But Heaven's gate is no place for fashion shows.” Church isn’t a fashion show and we shouldn’t make it one.

Plankeye: “Open House
This track from Plankeye’s sophomore album was like a post-grunge psalm. In Psalm 51, David wrote “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” In this song, Plankeye sang “Face down in a pool of my own sorrow, will it last or will it leave tomorrow? Broken man, he's got you on his mind.” Different words with the same spirit. This song provided a raucous way of expressing what David penned in another Psalm – that God is close to the brokenhearted. It’s a reminder I needed often while growing up; in my personal defeats, in my heartbreak, God had me on his mind.

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