i wrote this piece for the eikon blog yesterday and i thought it was worth sharing here. david bazan’s new album, curse your branches, is a truly incredible album and asks a lot of hard, but necessary questions. so, enjoy.
You’ve heard the story
You know how it goes
Once upon a garden
We were lovers with no clothes
Fresh from the soil
We were beautiful and true
In control of our emotions
‘Til we ate the poison fruit
so opens david bazan’s—formerly of pedro the lion fame—debut lp, curse your branches. bazan sets the stage with the opening lines from the opening track, hard to be—a song about original sin and the supposed spiraling implications. ultimately, bazan reveals that he’s someone who is walking away from faith, disbelievingly singing,
Wait just a minute
You expect me to believe
That all this misbehaving
Grew from one enchanted tree?
And helpless to fight it
We should all be satisfied
With this magical explanation
For why the living die
throughout the entirety of curse your branches, bazan lays forth his dissertation of what led him—as a recent chicago reader headline proclaimed—to break up with god. in when we fell, bazan’s argument is most clear, asking a number of questions:
What am I afraid of?
Who did I betray?
In what medieval kingdom does justice work that way?
If you knew what would happen
And you made us just the same
Then you my Lord can take the blame
When you set the table
When you chose the scale
Did you write a riddle that you knew they would fail
Did you make them tremble
So they would tell the tale
Did you push us when we fell?
certainly, bazan asks some pointed questions that are, no doubt, shared by an ever-growing number of people.
we at eikon are asking the same questions.
undoubtedly, our questions may be framed in a very different way, but we’re certainly asking the questions, not in fear of destroying faith, but in hopes of making it more fully realized. often the pain of struggling with the difficult questions is the thing that refines and shapes our sense of connection to christ. bazan’s long-time friend, cultural critic and progressive christian author (of the highly recommended the sacredness of questioning everything) david dark sees the need for expanding the christian conversation. of bazan’s latest effort, dark states, “i think with curse your branches david expands the space of the talk-about-able.” we hope eikon—in an attempt to expand the space of the talk-about-able—offers an ongoing opportunity to critique the church and the story of god in a way that builds both the collective community of faith and individuals’ faith itself.
i believe bazan would agree. although, certainly, he isn’t out evangelizing about the positive aspects of the church, he isn’t necessarily on a mission to tear down the church or to ask people to blindly walk away from their faith. he asserts, like in when we fell, that, much like his parents taught him, they should follow their hearts. he sings,
If my mother cries when I tell her what I discovered
Then I hope she remembers she taught me to follow my heart
And if you bully her like you done me with fear of damnation
Then I hope she can see you
for what you are
bazan—after much thought and personal soul-searching—has come to the conclusion that the “million small holes”—as he sings in harmless sparks—in his faith have given way to almost-full disconnect. it isn’t a spontaneous divorce. while listening to curse your branches, it’s helpful and important to remember that bazan isn’t some church newbie who’s spewing venom towards a system he barely understands. bazan grew up in an assembly of god church where his father was the music minister. in fact, in a recent interview at emusic, bazan affirms his very positive experiences in the church, stating,
You know, I really liked it. That’s one of the things about it — people often think, “Oh, you just had a bad experience with church.” But that’s not really the case — my experience with church was pretty positive. I was very serious about my faith. And for me, that meant a lot of thinking outside of the box. Because I knew other people who were “serious about their faith,” and they were total dickheads. People who were really zealous just seemed to get it way wrong. They were really keen on, like, everybody going to Promise Keepers. And that seemed to me to not be what the deal was. So I led songs in Youth Group, I did that in college as well. Church was such a social thing, and I loved that. I read the Bible a lot, and took it at face value and tried to see what it could mean.
the root of what i see in bazan’s music isn’t that he rejects the concept of god, but it’s that he rejects a specific notion of god. quite frankly, it’s this pervasive notion of god in that we hope to be an alternative. bazan clarifies the acknowledgement of that notion in the aforementioned emusic interview, stating,
When I wrote “When We Fell” and when I wrote “In Stitches,” I’m singing to the Christian character of “God,” which was my only view of God for a long time. And then there came a certain point where I started to realize, “Oh, wait, I’m just dethroning a notion of God — it’s not necessarily the same thing.” And so maybe there’s this other God, a real God, that doesn’t have those characteristics. And I do make an attempt to cultivate a relationship with that being on the days I’m comfortable thinking that he might exist.
it seems to me that bazan hasn’t engaged in full disconnect from living in the way of jesus. it’s just that he’s much more interested in asking questions that uncover truth rather than uncritically believing what has been presented in conjunction with our american church culture sensibilities.
david bazan is a brother and a friend and he represents the community of people for which this thing called eikon exists. much like many others asking questions, it seems that bazan hasn’t given up and he hasn’t broken up with god, but that he’s searching for some semblance of a god who seems true and real. in his final closing statement, in stitches bazan sings,
I might as well admit it
Like I even have a choice
The crew have killed the captain
But they still can hear his voice
A shadow on the water
A whisper in the wind
On long walks with my daughter
Who is lately full of questions about you