it was maynard james keenan who wrote/sang in TOOL’s song SCHISM: “i know the pieces fit cuz i watched them tumble down; no fault, none to blame it doesn’t mean i don’t desire to; point the finger, blame the other, watch the temple topple over; to bring the pieces back together, rediscover communication.” among other things, what is being spoken of here is the unsettled/unsettling space between dis-integration + re-integration, dis-connection + re-connection, de-construction + re-construction. it’s a liminal state between what once was + what will be; a feeling/sense/notion of metaphysical disorientation/emptiness/disorder where once everything seemed to be in its right place. this experience of in-betweenness may arise or present itself for various reasons, e.g. personal loss, traumatic world events, information + experiences that cause us to question what we formerly held to be true/foundational/vital, etc.
in this void, we find ourselves at the fringe of what was “normal” for us + enduringly normative for many of those around us. therefore, how we choose to proceed can effectively (re)define/re-form our self + collective identities in one of three ways: (1) one seeks to return from “what is” to “what was”; (2) one seeks to remain within “what is”; or (3) one seeks to relocate oneself from “what is” to “what will be.” in other words, the first approach is an undertaking to retrieve or restore something that was somehow lost. second is the conclusion that something new has been found in the present absence of “what was.” and third, one may assume that finding true wholeness is only a possibility somewhere/somehow else in the indeterminate future. the problem with each of these perspectives is that they assume that a stable/static state of idealized/utopian existence is not only possible to fully realize but also that such a situation is preferable to what i consider to be a fourth option; namely, the realm of the “fringe faith(ful).”
alongside my previous recording projects (i.e. “delusional” in 2007 + “in absentia” in 2009/2011), “fringe faith(ful)” embodies a third delineation in my own spiritual thinking, which could be described as an unfinished evolution from a state of malaise/disenchantment/apathy to a workable, sustainable + legitimate way forward. in particular, the songs themselves serve to contemplate/critique personal + corporate experiences of the otherworldly in the context of christianity; they are a cathartic working out of my own existential questions about faith. and whereas older material like, “apathy, immunity, no longer possessed”(2007), was concerned with the assignment of responsibility for divine silence/inactivity (e.g. “is it my fault i can’t hear You? or is it that You have ceased to speak?”), this current musical + philosophical undertaking is more about two connected but different questions.
first, is the “church” today (in its diversity of expressions) truly a manifestation of the movement that God intended to inspire through Christ’s life, death + resurrection? to ask the same thing differently, in our attempts to concretely return to the past (e.g. conservative/fundamentalist christianity: “our way is the right way”), remain in the present (e.g. liberal/leftist christianity: “all ways are articulations of the right way”), or relocate to the future (e.g. irreligious/post-christianity: “there is no right way”), are we actually distancing ourselves from the Way of Jesus by seeking to develop/establish holding patterns or fixed/permanent religious settlements? since each of these ideological standpoints are diametrically opposed to each other + because those occupying such positions subjectively believe their views are objectively correct, if anyone within one of these three factions [c]overtly questions/challenges the formalized structure/system, such dissidents are relegated to the fringe + either ignored (i.e. passive rejection) or decried as heretic (i.e. active excommunication). consequently, such nonconformists are impelled/compelled to look for a spiritual home elsewhere (i.e. another religious tradition, christian or otherwise) or to renounce religion altogether (e.g. atheism or agnosticism). but could it be that it’s at the fringe where true faith is quickened? was not Jesus – God made flesh – rejected by the very faith community he was seeking to reach/reform? and since it’s so easy for us as humans to settle into + perpetuate similarly hypocritical religious organizations, isn’t re-formation a constant need…even an expectation? if there is something to the life that Jesus lived, taught about + died for, then “i want to believe.” yet, this iconic saying – made famous by a poster in the tv series “the x-files” – necessarily implies that such belief is non-existent in a conventional/presupposed form. in other words, there are people within + outside of traditional christian culture who cannot (+ do not wish to) shake a conviction that Christ’s example + message possesses life-altering potential, but who at the same time are unwilling to fully support/side with one particular ideological agenda (e.g. conservative, liberal, etc). this is what i would suggest to be the corporate aspect of “fringe faith(ful)”: a belonging to something greater by way of exclusion. they are spiritual nomads who – like Jesus – do not have a place to lay their heads (mt. 8:20 / lk. 9:58), thus alternating between movement + encampment; seeking not to perpetuate a kingdom-model of an ever-expanding empire (i.e. assimilate or die), but rather being open to venture to the borders of religious + secular establishments because that is where inspiration/life/faith is found.
this brings me to the personal dimension of “fringe faith(ful)”: a question about the nature/function of faith itself. in essence, if someone is completely convinced/certain of this or that belief/proposition, then faith is not in fact operative. i’m very wary of anyone who, when speaking of their own personal convictions, references in no uncertain terms that they are absolutely certain about their beliefs. in this case, quite simply, faith is unnecessary. could it be that “faith” is only mobilized in the gap, amidst a transition, when what we once knew becomes an unknown quantity? such a space/occurrence can rightly be called an “event,” as helpfully elucidated by philosopher slavoj žižek in his book by the same title: “this is an event at its purest and most minimal: something shocking, out of joint, that appears to happen all of a sudden and interrupts the usual flow of things; something that emerges seemingly out of nowhere, without discernible causes, an appearance without solid being as its foundation…things emerge when the equilibrium is destroyed, when something goes astray…a traumatic intrusion of something New which remains unacceptable for the predominant view”(event, p. 2, 55, 78). normally, when we face the dis-integration of what used to hold together for us regarding our experience of + resulting perspective about spiritual things, we speak of “losing one’s faith.” however, what the concept of “event” communicates is that - regardless of the specific trigger or supposed reason - such disturbances are destructively creative, without which we actually lack the conditions for faith to exist. sometimes the crisis of faith is the point of faith’s inception, as Jesus is remembered to have said: “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it”(mt. 16:25).
faith is ultimately mysterious + the more that we attempt to understand/domesticate/systematize it, the more it eludes us. my own bias/belief is that God does exist + that Jesus was who He claimed to be/who His original disciples recognized Him to be (i.e. God incarnate). however, the “church” from my experience perpetually needs to be saved from itself, because most within it assume they are those who have chosen the narrow road as opposed to the broad one (mt. 7:13-14), when it’s more likely the other way around. this is why in the song “reverse dracula”(2014), i wrote, “i hope + pray they will face the same dismay,” referring specifically to my perspective that there are many within pre-existing faith communities who need to be more open to revolutionizing conviction-shattering spiritual events that force them off the broad route (i.e. typical/patterned/mainstream) into fringe territory where they discover a new, narrow way (i.e. radical/fluid/subversive) that is much harder to tread, yet which may potentially generate more faith than ever before.
often, the best way to illuminate a concept is through the use of an analogy. as for the idea/connotation of the term “fringe faith(ful),” the post-exodus wilderness-wandering situation/position (from the older testament) of being “outside the camp” comes to mind.
functionally + symbolically, the now emancipated (but provisionally homeless) people of israel were ordered/structured by way of various interconnected boundaries, governing such things as personal behaviour, social relations + use/dedication of space. israelite life was centred around the tabernacle (i.e. the said dwelling place of God) + lived within the confines of the camp (alongside fellow members of the faith community). however, there was also a noteworthy significance for that outer space around the camp itself (i.e. the margins/border/fringe).
there are various reasons one might find oneself “outside the camp.” many (negatively) presuppose that this fringe region is occupied only by outsiders (who the “faithful” are to remain separate from) + spiritual dissenters (who the “faithful” should put to death). yet, it is also the case that this peripheral area was the very locus of divine restoration – an intermediate space that was by necessity inhabited before one was able to experience (re)integration into the community. according to jewish law, if one for whatever reason had become “ceremonially unclean,” one would – in faith – face exclusion from one’s kinfolk (i.e. life within the community of faith was only preserved through a recurrent traversing of the permeable demarcation of in/out). it’s also been written that, “moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting.’ anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp”(ex. 33:7), which suggests that “outside the camp” was once a/the vital region of divine encounter/engagement. all this to say that, from my perspective, one should be careful not to treat those at the fringe of a religious establishment as being the most unfaithful, for it could be that these “others” are only there because of their faith.
in a comparable way, within the range of christian traditions that subsist today, we find many at the periphery who are there because they are captivated by the message of Jesus, but who are nevertheless unprepared/unable to wholeheartedly support the ideological machine of many churches. when questions/concerns/criticism arise regarding the established system, instead of considering such ideas + people as potentially embodying new life (or even divine revelation), most are abruptly dismissed/dispatched as irredeemable/heterodox + such “rebels” are either forcefully or (not so) subtly told they are no longer welcome (unless, of course, they change). in other words, those who find themselves in this position of challenging institutional views + practices often face censure for doing so, when (ironically) their unconventional speculation/contemplation actually stems from a place of taking their faith/spiritual life very seriously. and so, they may in fact be experiencing discontent/concern about the hypocrisy of those religious-readers-of-the-riot-act that was similarly felt/articulated by the prophets + Jesus Himself (e.g. ”mercy, not sacrifice,” “the one who has never sinned throw the first stone,” etc).
however, how is one to proceed in this realm of fringe faith? as was the case when a person found themselves “outside the camp” in ages past, we may or may not have much choice. sometimes, we are (un)willingly led out to be martyred (i.e. we are removed). other times, we experience exclusion because it’s clear that our convictions + those of the established order are at a deadlock (i.e. we remove ourselves). still, there are occasions when asserting a fringe perspective/way of life is latently revolutionary (i.e. a refusal to conclusively/unambiguously be removed or to remove oneself from a faith community has the potential to generate new spiritual life from within + without).
the challenge/question: when does one play the role of sacrifice, defector or reformer? for there is assuredly a season/space for each undertaking. this is difficult – if not impossible – to answer with certainty. what is clear, however, is that any departure from what is typical/standard/expected will be meet with misunderstanding + resistance. yet, in spite of this, one is not alone – so it is with the “fringe faith(ful)”: they, “go to [Jesus] outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured”(heb. 13:13).
in case it wasn’t clear from their thinly-veiled critiques
everything you think is wrong and they have what you seek
who wouldn’t want to be like them, they ask themselves
i guess you must be weak
sorry you had the notion that they really cared
they must have failed to mention they’re indifferent that you’re here
unless you change to be like them, but since you don’t
they scapegoat what they fear
i’d be lying if i told you
that i’m still one of them
i suppose what they don’t see is that they could be wrong
so compelled to suppress doubt that they miss the call
from the REVERSE VAMPIRE who it’s all about
i’ll be there when they fall
til then i hope and pray
they will face the same dismay
you are what they need
me = me (and anyone else who similarly feels that…)
they = a significant part of the church today (tend to view/treat certain people as…)
you = unacceptable/unwelcome (for whatever reason, while…)
the reverse dracula/vampire = Jesus (was about giving life, not trying to take it away).
ultimately, THEY need YOU (in order for things to be the way they should)…but nothing is going to change for anyone until this is admitted, believed + people commit to being about life-giving/sacrifice/truly loving each other.
if you treat me thus
there can be no “us”
you speak not for me
truth should remain free
is death for one
the best option?
you assume, you assume, you convince yourself
automate, subjugate, for the sake of health
you pretend, you pretend, you defend yourself
patronize, hate, despise, in the name of hell
are you the one…
to not intervene?
to lynch all dissent?
maintain the machine?
“if you treat me thus / there can be no ‘us’ / you speak not for me / truth should remain free”
the “you” in this song is intended to represent a fundamentalist christian(ity) + the “me” would stand for anyone who such a christian(ity) is ©overtly attempting to exclude/expel/keep at the edge of the church. this christian(ity) deems their beliefs/feelings/opinions to be completely objective/above criticism/divinely inspired. yet, what God has revealed/unveiled/brought to light is never unaffected by human interpretation/subjectivity/prejudice. even within one local faith community, it’s not possible to claim that everyone shares the exact same convictions about every single thing…multiply that by the total number of “believers” who have ever lived (i.e. historically, culturally, denominationally, etc). accordingly, can anyone with absolute sureness + complete self-assurance claim that they speak on God’s behalf (or indisputably allege that they are doubtlessly “in”/right/faithful while others are condemnably “out”/wrong/unfaithful)? this is unlikely.
“is death for one the best option?”
this is a direct reference to john 11:50, where the high priest in Jesus’ day declared to the jewish authorities: “you do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” in other words, this statement epitomizes the religious response to anyone - in this case, Jesus - who may have in mind to reform/resist/revolutionize the institutional norm. in his day, Christ challenged the existing religious system + they killed him for it (in God’s name). the absurdity was that in their self-righteous efforts to protect/guard/fight for the establishment, they killed God in the process. i would claim that the same mentality/approach/conduct is operative in the church today: silence the disillusioned/discontented/disenchanted minority by aggressively asserting that the views of the majority are distinctly/conclusively/inarguably divine (when it could be that God conversely identifies with the mistreated/suppressed/oppressed ones).
“you assume, you convince yourself / automate, subjugate for the sake of health”
people who inhabit this type of christianity assume that questions/skepticism/doubts are incompatible with faith (even “evil”). what they don’t (or aren’t willing to) admit is that they are just as questioning/skeptical/doubtful as those who they would judge as faithless…it’s just that they (attempt to) repress it. so they go about trying to convince themselves (and others) that what they believe is inarguably/unbiasedly/certainly true + develop strict systems/protocols/strategies to deal with situations + people who don’t share their particular perspective. they have good intentions. but the danger of this type of religious person - as alluded to in the quote by philosopher slavoj žižek at the beginning of the song - is found when an individual is utterly persuaded that their beliefs are a direct download from God, because it’s then that one is prepared to unreservedly do anything for God (including to condemn, convict + crucify nonconformists). whatever the case may be, one cannot disregard the declaration/dereliction/distress of Jesus on the cross: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”(mark 15:34)? since it can be argued that in this moment even Christ struggled to trust/have faith/remain sure, then there is hope for those who similarly face crises of belief. for, “…the moment we experience the ground beneath our feet dissolving and feel the loss of all certainties is the moment we touch upon the experience of the cross”(peter rollins), which means that full participation in faith that is truly of Christ will by necessity involve assumptions being broken, convictions dismantled + the overriding of former notions of what christian(ity) means/involves/requires.
“you pretend, you defend yourself / patronize, hate, despise in the name of hell”
the resulting attitude of anyone who prides oneself as being a guardian of “biblical faith” (as opposed to one who unassumingly/humbly/uncertainly seeks to follow in the way of Jesus) is that of pretension + defensiveness. among other things, they feel a need to cast judgment on others, to favour debate over dialogue, to make people into projects, to base decisions on emotions instead of information, to ridicule those who don’t agree with their ideas + to maintain inequality as something that is supposedly “God-ordained.” the religious leaders in the first century were no different + although they assumed their spiritual lives were being directed by God the Father, Jesus plainly told them: “you belong to your father, the devil”(john 8:44).
“are you the one… / to not intervene? / to lynch all dissent? / maintain the machine?”
if someone considers themselves to be a christian, the question was/is/will always be if they are actually like Christ. in more than a few ways, the church today is not made up of those who really grasp who + what Jesus is about. correspondingly, i do not claim to possess comprehensive insight about life, church + God…just abstract hints, vague inklings + fleeting ideas. however, what is unmistakable to me is that things aren’t as they should be + that our response to Christ’s example/teaching/being will either: (1) serve to preserve/promote/propagate an institutional machine that exists as functionally independent from God, or (2) move us to the fringe of the traditional by effectively inducing/impelling/inspiring a new dependence on God. the latter will involve some type of (in)formal insurgence (that will conceivably cast one into the role of nonconformist/scapegoat/martyr). consequently, many opt for the former more familiar/conventional/accepted mechanization of “church,” as they know that deviations from the standard will be met with opposition. but i would contend that it’s at the fringe where authenticity of faith is found. sometimes, the most faithful/genuine/Christ-like response is to intervene (when no one else will), to become a dissident (though it is disruptive) + to accept/embrace/support the breakdown of malfunctioning religious machinery (so that something new can emerge).
if i were to describe the first track from my latest project “fringe faith(ful)” (i.e. the song “reverse dracula”), i would call it semi-satirical/sarcastic. however, the tone of the second single “automaton” is almost entirely critical/cynical.
in particular, “automaton” was written as a rejection of ultra-conservative/fundamentalist “christianity,” but the lyrics themselves could be considered just as applicable to the opposite end of the religious/ideological spectrum, for at its core the song is principally anti-extremist. nevertheless, i would claim that the particular issues confronted by “automaton” are more common/symptomatic for those who maintain/promote an unprogressive christian agenda (as exemplified in an increasing number of “evangelical” churches today). such a christian(ity) considers anything non-conservative as highly suspect/unchristian + the resulting tendency is an attitude/practice that is reactionarily antogonistic toward anyone who is perceived as “other.” consequently, there is a felt need to discredit/debase any “unorthodox” perspectives/people by vehemently/ostentatiously defending one’s own version/understanding of reality as “truth” (without a corresponding awareness/admission that one’s beliefs are subjectively formed + not free from bias/misapprehension). ultimately, what’s operative here is a fear of the unknown/ambiguity + whereas in science fiction there is an obsession with the potential menace of artificial intelligence (i.e. something robotic developing consciousness), this branch of conventional christianity interestingly holds as an ideal what could be described as the inverse of AI.
in essence, the presumption here is that free will is utterly dangerous (since sin/wrongdoing is an inevitable aspect of being given the ability to choose) + that humankind would be better off if independence was never an option. in other words, through explicit/overt attempts to limit/restrict choice through fundamentalist propaganda/indoctrination, there’s an implicit wish/desire for automation. the problem: self-determination is one of the central characteristics of human life. if humanity was able to be fully programmed/mechanized to do no wrong, people would not exist. yet, it’s this supposedly idyllic (but nonsensical) state of becoming an “automaton” that is at the heart of conservatism…an unnuanced/blind faith that - depending on the particular distinctives of one’s denominational expression of “church” - is legalistically reliant on strict adherence to various (arguably) arbitrarily selected non-negotiables. from this perspective, the bible is essentially envisioned as a computer program, which (if faultlessly followed) is intended/able to generate the perfect person + Jesus is understood to be the sinless/prototypical “automaton” (who could not help but live a perfect life). however, this outlook - in my opinion - simultaneously misapprehends both biblical revelation + the person of Jesus Christ.
on one hand, there’s the bible. instead of viewing scripture as a direct/complete download from God (which provides definitive answers to any/all of life’s questions), i’m partial to the view that it’s more of a “community library,” which chronicles the (ongoing) development/evolution of judaeo-christian experiences/understandings of God/spirituality across a number of generations/cultures. accordingly, an adage like the one that states, “the bible says it, i believe it, that settles it,” is naive/unhelpful for various reasons: (1) individual christians are highly selective when it comes to choosing which biblical passages to underscore + which to ignore/dismiss; (2) the hearing + reading of all scripture is subject to interpretation + can be misconstrued; and (3) although the biblical text could rightly be described as informative/indispensable for christian faith, any insistence that the whole/entirety of divine disclosure is contained within the pages of a book + that this revelation is complete/static by extension must conclude that God has ceased to speak. i’d like to believe this is not the case; that the words it contains point beyond the pages to the person of God, who is neither limitable to historical documentation nor to one christian(ity)’s reading of the bible. otherwise, to (re)use an analogy, all that remains is a machine without the Ghost within it.
as for Jesus, i’m convinced that one of the great misunderstandings held by fundamentalist christians relates to the paradoxical/mysterious nature of Christ’s personhood (i.e. being simultaneously God + human…a claim that i fully support). what this necessarily requires is that Jesus - though divine - constantly faced the real/genuinely persuasive potential/choice to sin. if this wasn’t the case, Jesus would not have been truly human + would therefore be of no help to humanity. Christ wasn’t a humanoid robot without a will of his own, which means that he faced (+ overcame) actual temptation (e.g. heb. 2:18), had his own questions about things (e.g. matt. 27:46), didn’t know all that there is to know about everything (e.g. matt. 24:36) + actually needed to learn obedience (e.g. heb. 5:8). Jesus also brazenly/constantly challenged the religious establishment/system + often sought to reinterpret/lend new meaning to the scriptures, which was - back then as well as today - perceived as a threat to the community of faith’s formerly revealed/sanctioned understanding of God. that being said, if this was God’s own experience/approach, if we take seriously Christ’s instruction to follow in his steps + if we are convinced that God somehow remains continuously present/active in our lives/the world by the Holy Spirit, then holding to/insisting on a legalistic/uncritical or “automatonic” faith is not an option (for all of the reasons stated above).
all this to say, the question that remains for any self-proclaimed “follower of the way” of Jesus is this: “are you the one to not intervene, to lynch all dissent, maintain the machine?” our response to this will determine whether we are part of the “fringe faith(ful).”
there used to be a great city underneath these fallen stones
now i live throughout the ruin, with the wild dogs share my home
i guess nothing is what you need to truly start again
…these pockets full of dust: my inheritance
…broken stained glass + rust: my inheritance
the song “jackal haunt” was inspired by the label of an arizonan wine. caduceus cellars is a winery (owned by maynard james keenan, i.e. the frontman from the band “tool”), whose wine is nearly impossible to acquire in canada. so – on a recent trip to the bordering state of california, i was finally able to find a bottle of what was called “anubis.” the wine itself was named after the mythological jackal-headed figure anubis (a.k.a. anpu or inpu): an egyptian god who people saw as a protector of the dead. the realm of anubis was the initial in-between space of life after death, as he was said to guide + test those newcomers at the edge of the underworld. ultimately, anubis was responsible for weighing people’s hearts to determine whether or not one was found faithful to proceed into the realm of the dead.
the jackal is also a commonly-referenced animal in the bible – often associated with desolation, loneliness + abandonment, as jackals were said to scavenge among the ruins of former cities. for instance, when reflecting on the destruction of jerusalem, the city was referred to at various times as, “a haunt of jackals” (e.g. psalm 44:19, isaiah 34:13, jeremiah 9:11), which conveys that a former location of life had become a place of death. where there was once a city, there were now only fallen buildings, casualties + memories of what was ages ago. as later written in the newer testament, “wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” (matthew 24:28). if this verse was about jackals, it would read: “wherever there is a graveyard, there the jackals will gather,” as they would regularly be found in or near cemeteries in the ancient world. this is conceivably why the jackal was associated with embalming/mummification/burial in egypt.
therefore, jackals were symbols of both death + life, destruction + recreation. on one hand, a pile of ruins was all that was left of what was once a great city: “woe to us…because of mount zion, which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it”(lamentations 5:16,18). but on the other hand, what would have at one time been a wilderness was now repossessed by the wild. it wasn’t the same life that people had become used to, but it was life nonetheless…perhaps even a gateway to a more profound experience of existence; a reclamation of land from “civilization” by nature; the reduction of a kingdom into a desert wasteland, where native life would once again be able to thrive. not quite a return to eden. however, perhaps living unsettled is closer to how we were meant to be (from a spiritual standpoint), as complacency, superiority + self-reliance is less present when faith becomes a necessity.
the song “jackal haunt” continues to explore + expand upon the concept of “fringe faith(ful),” which as a musical + philosophical project is about the (re)quickening of faith at the edge/margin/periphery of conventional (ir)religion + (a)theism. the continuing supposition conveyed here is that authentic/veritable/unsimulated spirituality occurs most characteristically at the fringe – like in the region “outside the camp” for the community of israel or in the space that a person finds oneself after ruin, amidst desolation + among jackals. “jackal haunt” is the counterpart of both “reverse dracula” + “automaton,” as all three are principally cynical + crestfallen commentaries on the church + christians in our 21st century context. yet, i’m not completely hopeless. for whatever reason, i’m convinced that something good/beneficial/valuable could emerge or be made from the broken stained glass (that plainly represents christianity as we know it today). after all, wasn’t life itself said to be made from dust? this is what “jackal haunt” is about: rediscovering life in the wilderness + like it was sung by “frightened rabbit” in their song “head rolls off,” perhaps our focus should be less about rebuilding a fallen empire + more on, “[making] tiny changes to earth…while [we’re] alive.”
say hai, then die
should you be so surprised by the blaring silence in my head
as if your hearing’s better than mine – do you counterfeit to impress?
or is it that you cannot cope with uncertainty yourself?
so you fake what could be genuine, plagiarize authentic wealth
perhaps you’re just deluded – hearing voices in your mind
and it could be your intentions are more plain + pure than mine
but what if i’m the one who recognizes what is real?
would you give me the benefit or from me try to steal?
(blah, blah, blah, blah, blah)
what are you hearing that i’m not?
the first level of meaning embedded in the song “signal synchronization” is a quote attributed to søren kierkegaard + shared by peter rollins (in his youtube video “enacting doubt”) about existential crisis: “what is a poet? a poet is someone who screams out in agony, who cries out, and yet who’s lips are so formed that when they scream, beautiful music is heard. so when we say to the poet, ‘play to us again,’ what we’re really saying is, ‘may new disasters befall you.’” the idea is that anything truly creative, artistic or poetic is a by-product of suffering, turmoil or upheaval (which from my own experience is where/when i have found the most inspiration musically). for some reason, it’s generally during times of tremendous angst + distress that the best songs find their genesis. perhaps because they’re the most honest/forthright. or, because in their desperate attempt to see + salvage something good from whatever has been experienced as traumatic, such compositions distil an aspect of life that could most accurately be described as “spiritual” – worldly events forged into otherworldly creations.
secondly, in line with the first three tracks of the “fringe faith(ful)” project, “signal sync” tersely articulates a continuing disparagement re: anyone’s insistence that they undoubtedly/irrefutably (as well as constantly + consistently) hear from God or see God at work today in this or that situation. for instance, in what could be described as an inverse of “first-world problems,” it’s regularly the case that people from various religious backgrounds – Christian or otherwise – arrive at the conclusion that God was behind a relatively insignificant but good happening (e.g. all green lights while driving somewhere, “randomly” running into an old friend, etc), while there are as many things or more that any sensible human would not readily conclude to be divinely inspired (e.g. natural disasters, genocide, etc). myself, i’m extremely careful when considering to conclude that something or other was “God-ordained” or “meant to be” or “more than a coincidence” – often erring on the side of caution/skepticism. accordingly, it’s been said: “because of our short life-spans we are irrevocably condemned to live secular lives, lives in which we can never clearly perceive the hand of God, lives in which we think we are the only actors and that it is our motives and our abilities that accomplish whatever is achieved in this world of ours. it is only in retrospect, from an angle that can encompass scores of generations at a glance that God emerges into view. it all depends upon from which point on the time continuum we observe events. the secular is the outcome of the short-term view. only from the viewpoint of centuries can we attain the religious perspective”(hillel i. millgram). in other words…hindsight. yet, from my perspective, this could mean that we may not ultimately know if we’re following along the proverbial “narrow way” until well after we’re gone (which doesn’t really help us today…at all). that being said, it’s deeply frustrating not to know whether we or others are in fact conduits or reflectors of the divine (or alternatively, simply deluded). as for myself, there are relatively few moments in my life where i’ve felt absolutely certain that something or other was “of God” + not merely bound to happen or coincidence or a contrived theological projection. and though i’m not so naïve as to think that my (im)perception should be the measure of human religious experience, since my “encounters” with God are limited, i tend to question the reliability of those people who supposedly hear from God or see God at work all the time.
third is an analogy based on turning signals. at the mid-point of the song, the main drums stop + only the tambourine remains to keep the beat. a second tambourine starts to be played (but slightly slower than the first), which creates a wave effect that gradually intersects or appears to synchronize – like when listening to music in a car when the turning signal’s on: the beats sometimes momentarily overlap (a.k.a. “blinker sync”). in other words, there is a co-occurrence of what was initially asynchronous, which then progressively becomes unsynchronized again. for me, this illustrates my present awareness of humanity’s connection (or lack thereof) with God. we all long to be “centred.” but much like a pendulum, the number of angles of uncentredness far exceed its initial or middle-point position. multiply that by 360 degrees – like in a foucault pendulum – and it’s clear that being centred is a relatively infrequent position to be in compared to the combined time spent swinging around the point of equilibrium. thus, in a spiritual sense, i’m convinced that we’re all uncentred most of the time; however, there are nonetheless periodic occurrences when we find ourselves in a space of equilibrium – where God’s signal to us syncs (albeit such occasions are usually momentary/fleeting/impermanent).
the fourth + final level of lyrical significance relates to the title of this second grouping of songs that make up the ongoing “fringe faith(ful)” project; namely, “narrow way.” when one removes the letter “w” from both words, what remains is “narro” (i.e. the first person singular conjugation of the spanish verb “narrar,” which means “i narrate/recite/report/tell/say”) + “ay” (i.e. the expression “yes,” derived from the norse + middle english term for “ever” or “always”). so – despite my cynicism + doubt, criticism + disbelief (that’s plainly articulated in songs like this one), i still choose to say yes (“hai” in japanese) to the challenge of being a christian + of listening for God (surrounded by well-meaning but tiresomely outspoken + unsound church spokespeople) because i believe there to be a captivating + enduring significance re: the life/death/resurrection + teachings of Jesus (which have always helped to centre me, like an anchor…like a pendulum at rest, in a state of equilibrium; at the very least, providing me some momentary grounding amidst the storms of life).
my steps ring lonely through the streets
protest + love the monarchy
the King is dead, long live the King
i sing, i laugh, lament, i speak
the King is dead, long live the King
protest + love the monarchy
with saints of old, in shelters cold
in faith we question everything
the King is dead, long live the King
we fight + love the monarchy
sinners of old, in dungeons cold
their revolution song we sing
this fifth song from project “fringe faith(ful)” draws its inspiration from the prologue of friedrich nietzche’s book “thus spoke zarathustra,” in which he described an interaction between an old saint + the protagonist of the narrative, zarathustra. as the two characters speak to one another, the saint remarks, “our steps ring too lonely through the streets,” + thus encourages zarathustra to, “stay in the forest.” in response, zarathustra asks: “what does the saint do in the forest?” the saint answers: “i make songs + sing them, + when i make songs, i laugh, weep, + mutter: thus i praise God.” when the two part ways, zarathustra makes his (in)famous declaration: “could it be possible! this old saint has not yet heard in his forest that God is dead!”
in its context, zarathustra is presented as a prophetic figure who descends from a mountain to bring humankind a gift; to impart light/wisdom. the first place he comes to is a forest, where he is met by an old man/hermit/saint (who recognizes that zarathustra has experienced some kind of enlightenment). apparently, this saint – probably representing some aspect of traditional organized religion – has given up on humanity + withdrawn into the forest to seek God on his own. however, sheltered from the rest of the world, it becomes evident that the saint’s view of God has effectively become detached from reality, which is one reason why – as i understand it – zarathustra concludes what he does about God. that is to say, the “God” that the saint praises does not actually exist (as he assumes), in the same way that people often project their own fabricated/opinionated ideas of who they suppose God to be (i.e. making God in one’s own image, not the other way around). so, when the old man asks zarathustra about the gift he was bringing to humanity, the response he gave was this: “what should i have to give you! but let me go quickly, that i may take nothing from you!” in other words, what zarathustra had discovered to be true (i.e. the gift) would inevitably destroy the saint’s concept/belief about God. if one is somehow misguided (like the saint in the prologue), such a bringing to light of one’s mistakenness – though crisis-of-identity generating – would ultimately be beneficial in its iconoclasm. what’s interesting, however, is that zarathustra does not share his knowledge with the old man. instead, he continues his descent to the nearest town, leaving the saint in the forest (to his singing, laughing, weeping, muttering + praising God).
the balance of nietzche’s “thus spoke” is increasingly complex (as is the concept of “the death of God” itself, which first appeared in an earlier work called “the gay science”). but for my own purposes, in the same manner that biblical writers customarily took old texts + recast/reinterpreted them to fit their own purposes, i’ve done the same with nietzche’s prologue in the song “new tenements.” despite the many ways that i see a disconnect between myself + what/who this “old saint” stands for – as plainly expressed via each “fringe faith(ful)” song + explanation – i nonetheless identify with this saint. like him, i see the problem with humanity to be humans themselves. like him, i appreciate that a life of faith is often a lonely venture (which is not welcomed by many). like him, i find solace in nature. and like him, i’m persuaded that there is a God behind the things that exist. but unlike the actual prologue of “thus spoke,” in my re-imagined version of the narrative, zarathustra does share his knowledge with the saint before continuing his descent. as a result, it is both the saint’s undoing + becoming; destroying his faith + at the same time, reforming it. such existential enlightenment annihilates the often illusory/superstitious feature of purposely anencephalous religion. that is imaginably why zarathustra (in the original text) didn’t disclose what he discovered to the old man. or perhaps zarathustra simply knew that the saint would become defensive (i.e. retreating even further into the forest) or may even respond violently (i.e. seeking to destroy zarathustra’s revelation). but might it be possible – as a thought experiment – for the saint + zarathustra to both be speaking the truth? that is in fact what i propose in “new tenements,” which is correspondingly the premise of christian existentialism.
what if one accepts our existence for what it is (i.e. what we can perceive with our senses) as well as simultaneously holding to a belief in God (i.e. trusting that there is potentially more than what we can see/hear/feel)? what if God died (as nietzche suggested), but also lived/lives again (as depicted in the new testament)? this is, after all, the heart of the christian message: “Christ has died, Christ is risen.” i’ve specifically alluded to this premise in the song when i reference the monarchic proclamation, “the King is dead, long live the King.” it’s a dual owning of death + resurrection, of philosophical existentialism + christian theism; a willingness to question all things with a concurrent inability to jettison or disallow the spiritual/metaphysical realm. it’s a valuing of both perspectives, for i’m persuaded that both the saint + zarathustra were equally wrong + right, foolish + wise, incoherent + reasonable. it’s the space between the two standpoints that is of interest to me; where in a paradoxical way, apparently divergent visions of life converge. criticism + acceptance, protest + obedience, doubt + faith. the biblical tradition – in the hebrew bible especially – is well known for this tension, where psalmists expressed both feelings of abandonment by + reliance on God, where prophets both critiqued + upheld God-ordained practices, where key leaders in israel both wrestled with + submitted themselves to God. but this profoundly meaningful tradition has largely been lost + stifled over generations. depending on one’s religious community – especially in more conservative/fundamentalist circles – such a tension may even be discouraged + vilified (compared to blind/unquestioning/dictatorial subservience). what christian existentialism does (for me) is to restore the balance, to requicken the tension, to create a new space that is between the forest + the city: a tenement.
tenements are typically places where many poor people live together in substandard housing, because there’s simply nowhere else to go. perhaps it’s just my own limited/biased/subjective point of view, but it seems to me that the future of christianity will depend on the establishment of new spiritual tenements within + outside of the innumerable incarnations or denominational expressions of what people traditionally call “church.” as a number of “emergent” christian thinkers have pointed out, it looks as if another reformation of sorts is afoot – similar to the protestant split from the catholic church back in the 16th century. however, i’m not convinced that the way forward today is in seeking to generate another new branch of christianity; neither do i think the solution lies in thoughtlessly/uncritically upholding + retreating into traditional/insular/extremist communes (like the saint), nor in arrogantly + disparagingly pronouncing that God/spirituality/religion is passé + obsolete (like zarathustra). it’s the “poor in spirit” who Jesus once said would be blessed (matthew 5:3), those with “faith the size of a mustard seed” who would move mountains (17:20), those few who walk “through the narrow gate” + along the narrow road who find life (7:13-14). such few, poor folks who sincerely wrestle to have + hold on to faith are those occupying the “new tenements” i speak of. they have been rejected/shunned/judged by both religious + secular groups as either heretic or primitive, respectively. yet, perhaps it’s within this region at the fringe (of forest + city) where life is most activated, where faith is most galvanized, where blessing is most found. it’s not an easy place to reside. with any revolutionary existence, there are casualties/martyrs, discord + fallout. but as leonard cohen once wrote/sang: “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” accordingly, the more cracks, the more light. the more things come apart, the more we find ourselves together in a shared brokenness, which can strangely enough give us a new place to call home, new people to call family + a renewed faith in a God that died but who didn’t stay dead.
these thoughts: how can i trust myself to be
free from the lie that often shelters me?
we own too little of what we really believe
no die can be cast before one pays the fee
i am less different than you’d like me to be
you are more equal than i’d like to concede
it’s time we broke this charade
and as one accepted defeat
if what remains when your faith has left
is a resignation to death
say: “what if?”
“pari dise” is the last of six songs from the “fringe faith(ful)” project (i.e. a concept album with corresponding philosophical explanations, written/recorded between march 2014 + december 2015). the title for this particular track is intended to be initially misunderstood/mispronounced, as part of the audience’s engagement with the music/lyrics. a superficial glance of the name will bring to mind the correctly-spelled word “paradise,” with its notion of heaven/afterlife/otherworldliness. but that’s not what “pari dise” is about. thus, the first angle of significance is this: people routinely misapprehend meaning in life, reading their own (often self-interested) implications into situations/events – similar to those who improperly attempt to spiritualize everything (or to those who conversely seek to exsanguinate the spiritual out of all things). to say this differently, everyone – including myself – is thoroughly biased/subjective in their personal views of the world. accordingly, we (un)consciously process existence in ways that benefit our egocentric/egotistical perspectives (whatever they might be). because this is the case, however, reality has the potential to be consistently misread – it’s equally possible to interpret a happening to be replete with or devoid of meaning (when it might actually be meaningless or profoundly important, respectively).
in french, PARI (pronounced “pah-ree”) is translated as “wager” + DISE (pronounced “deez”) is the first + third person singular subjunctive conjugation of the verb “dire” (i.e. “que je/qu’il dise” = “i say/he says”). the subjunctive mood is typically used to express subjective ideas like opinions, doubts + uncertainties. so – the second angle of the song’s significance relates to making a wager/bet + doing so tentatively/indeterminately. in this way, “pari dise” is an analogy for faith: regardless of what beliefs a person is convinced of – (a/mono/poly)theism – one is constantly/inescapably in a position of taking a chance. after all, it’s not possible for a theist to substantiate the existence of God to anyone (including oneself) + it’s similarly impossible for an atheist to conclusively disprove God’s existence. as humans, we are all consigned to make our best guess regarding life’s origin/purpose(lessness) with the knowledge that we have. historically, 17th century french thinker blaise pascal wrote in his work entitled “pensées” (a.k.a. “thoughts): “you must wager. it is not optional. you are embarked. which will you choose then? let us see. since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. you have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. this is one point settled. but your happiness? let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. let us estimate these two chances. if you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. wager, then, without hesitation that He is.” in other words, irrespective of one’s specific beliefs, any/every person is theoretically either right or wrong regarding their subjective view of God + there is ultimately no way of knowing for sure whether or not an individual (or group) has “won” what they have staked their lives upon; but if there’s even a small chance that a specific belief in God might lead to something greater than can be experienced in this life, then it’s worth the gamble – says pascal.
however, for the sake of argument, since nothing can be irrefutably (dis)proven vis-à-vis a life beyond this one, the value of a particular outlook should first be evaluated by bracketing out the proverbial “hereafter.” from such an existential perspective, if this life is all that there is, one must ask what help (or harm) is imparted by one’s convictions – i.e. do one’s principles encourage peace (or conflict), love (or indifference), kindness (or competition), freedom (or oppression), humility (or arrogance), creativeness (or destruction)? is someone truly more alive, ameliorated or altruistic as a result of their beliefs? especially as it relates to religious views, if a theological/philosophical point of view is to be recognized as legitimately advantageous/beneficial/constructive, it ought to generate/catalyze life; here + now. otherwise, one must seriously ask what inherent value is contained within a belief + whether one would risk everything for that belief (when there are no guarantees of any eternal payoff).
yet, the question that remains for all people is this: what if? though i functionally live my life as an existentialist (see paragraph above), there’s a resilient part of me that cannot be extinguished that asks: “what if there’s more than mere oblivion when we die + that what we do with our days on earth is somehow connected?” but again, “pari dise” is not about some hypothetical/supposed paradise (or perdition) that our predecessors spoke of to motivate subservience to a certain system of thought. i’m persuaded that if we need some kind of abstract/immaterial/otherworldly incentive to believe this or that, then our belief’s sincerity must be questioned. genuine faith – from my perspective – involves living rightly without expecting anything in return; and this kind of faith should relate first + foremost to our experience of the time between our birth + death. anything beyond should be considered bonus (i.e. not earned, nor presumed, nor viewed as worthier than our earthly existence). faith wagers, rolls the dice, acknowledges what is + accepts whatever’s ahead (be it blessing or bane). i just happen to be convinced – in spite of my doubts, misgivings, cynicism + criticism of the church/christianity – that the teachings + example of Jesus have the most practical value to create + sustain goodness + harmony in our world. maybe i’m right. perhaps, i’m deluded. it’s a gamble. but to make such a wager, one must be all in.
at the very least, no matter what a person’s belief(s), we all need to ask ourselves: what if we’re wrong? because there is no system of thought wherein one has total assurance that what is known is the reality. all that we can do is to put faith in a postulation (which will likely cost us or entail some kind of sacrifice if it’s worth keeping), to allow our ideas to evolve/adapt given new information (while holding onto those notions that we cannot personally disregard/discount) + to unpretentiously wait for the dice to stop rolling. in the end, we could be wrong. but what if…?
the album “fringe faith(ful)“ was made into a record in january 2016 by monotype audio (sonic boom, toronto, ontario).
in its final form, the project is thematically subdivided as follows:
- part one: "outside the camp" (reverse dracula / automaton)
- part two: "narrow way" (jackal haunt / signal synchronization / new tenements)
- part three: "not paradise" (pari dise)
“this is not a story of heroic feats, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least i do not mean it to be. it is a glimpse of two lines running parallel for a time, with similar hopes + convergent dreams”(ernesto “che” guevara de la serna, the motorcyle diaries).