Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Bornin’ Cry of a Ghost

Please excuse me for a few moments, now. I would like to set aside my role as “future missionary,” and step into the exciting costume of “rock critic.” OK? Just this one last time? …

Every once in a while, rock bands get it right. I always keep my antenna up for those artists or songwriters who dare to tackle profound matters of faith, social justice, and the existence of God. Sometimes I stumble across shafts of insight in the unlikeliest of places.

Take Wilco, for instance. They certainly wouldn’t qualify as a particularly “religious” group; frontman Jeff Tweedy wrote about heavy metal cover bands and doomed relationships on the last album. The 2002 film, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, which documents the twists and turns of the band’s comings and goings, doesn’t reveal the band as anything more than that – a band. They make music – they don’t try to change the world. Tweedy is certainly no Bono.

I’m a Wilco fan simply because of their quirky sound. But their new album, A Ghost is Born, released just over a week ago, is rapidly becoming one of my most-played discs.

The best song on the album, from a theological point of view, of course, is … well, erm, “Theologians.” I don’t know if Tweedy had a bad experience in a seminary class, but here are the lyrics:

theologians don’t know nothing
about my soul
about my soul

I’m an ocean
and this emotion
slow motion, slow motion

illiterati lumen fedei
God is with us everyday
the illiterate light
is with us every night

theologians they don’t know nothing
about my soul
oh, they don’t know

they thin my heart with little things
and my life with change
in so many ways
I find more missing every day

theologians …

I’m going away
where you will look for me
where I’m going you cannot come
no one’s ever gonna take my life from me
I lay it down
a ghost is born
a ghost is born
a ghost is born

I am a notion
I am all emotion
I am a cherry ghost

OK, yes, it gets a little weird at the end there. I don’t know what a “cherry ghost” is. E-mail me if you figure that one out … or you can just chalk it up to Wilco weirdness.

Tweedy is simply saying what most of us who read theology and took seminary classes have already figured out. You don’t experience God in a textbook of dogmatics and systematic theology. Nor can you exhaust the richness, depth, and power of God in a book … not even the Bible! And there will always be theologians – and preachers! – who will drain the life right out of faith and present us with a sterile, emasculated, and desiccated skeleton of beliefs.

But then I listened to the song again … and heard something different. This time, I heard the words of Jesus. Specifically, Tweedy has paraphrased parts of John’s Gospel: “I’m going away/where you will look for me/where I’m going you cannot come/no one’s ever gonna take my life from me/I lay it down.”

Maybe the song is being sung from the perspective of Jesus! Jesus was an anti-theologian, for sure. The theologians of his day, whether liberal or secular, couldn’t figure him out. I can picture Jesus saying something like, “Those dang theologians – they don’t know nothing about my soul!”

And notice that this talk of a ghost being born shows up in the song after the line, “I lay it down.” Doesn’t this correlate to the New Testament story -- after Jesus died and was resurrected, the Holy Ghost came onto the scene?!

Now that’s a unique way to put it! Pentecost is the story of a ghost being born … the Holy Ghost! And “Theologians” is the doctrine of the Trinity in a nutshell! Egads, the entire album is a theological statement, a manifesto!

If you think that’s too nutty, then consider the fact that the cover art of the CD is a picture of an egg in various stages of cracking. Every good children’s minister knows that an egg is a symbol of the Trinity – shell, yolk, and egg white correspond in a very rudimentary way to the mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Or then again … maybe it’s just rock and roll. What do you say I go back to being a future missionary, eh?