Posts Tagged 'sufjan stevens'

To Be Alone With You

I often wonder if our over-familiarity with stories or concepts keeps us from grasping the fullness that they have to offer?  I love when a book, film, song or piece of art makes me see a whole new perspective.

The concept that Jesus was fully human, yet, fully God is a cornerstone of the Christian faith.  I guess I have always understood that to mean that He could identify with the position I find myself in the midst of temptation.  What about feelings of: frustration; weariness; elation; doubt; or a whole host of others? 

We sing lines in church like, “Thank you for the cross, thank you for the price you paid”.  We think of the ultimate cost of sacrifice – of death on a cross, but it’s often hard for me to grasp. 

In 2004 the film world reacted strongly as Mel Gibson tried to convey the reality of the cost Jesus paid in his film “The Passion”.  In a day and age of tolerance, many took offence at the film and both he and the film were labelled in an array of manners.  Often a prejudice ensues in the reviews of art that tries to tackle the topic of Christ.

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Also in 2004, controversial artist Damien Hirst teamed up with David Bailey to produce a series of very graphic and disturbing works called “The Stations Of The Cross”.  The image depicting the crucifixion hangs in Aberdeen Art Gallery.  I found myself staring at it for ages last year.  Whilst the initial impact was horrible, sinister and somewhat evil, I actually found my mind processing what it tried to convey.  I now consider it a great piece of art because it confronts my thinking and challenges me with something of the scandal of the cross anew.  I have often prayed that I could stand at the foot of the cross and let it really impact me afresh.  I’ve sensed something of it when seeing huge statues in pristine cathedrals, but this piece of art disturbed me more than any other and that was actually something positive.  The horror, the brutality, the spiritual forces at play…I would recommend anyone to go with some spare time, an open mind and an open heart and to experience the power of art and something of the power of the gospel.

What about the other costs of the lifestyle decisions Jesus must have made simply to achieve His purpose?  I can be quick to think of the cost of my faith in those terms – the things I go without from time to time…  Then I try to place that in the context of a command to “pick up my cross and follow” and things take a new perspective when I realise how little it sometimes really seems to cost me.  Our Pastor often says, “salvation is fee, but it will cost you everything.”  Actually, that is a kernel of tuth.  But surely, there were a myriad of daily choices that faced a fully human Jesus and commanded obedience and submission? 

I actually get quite excited when I see credible artists using a variety of art forms to explore their thinking and to express something of their own discovery.  I love when that actually connects with people who wouldn’t darken a church door.  The review linked here which appeared in the highly rated indie domain that is “Pitchfork” still gives me goosebumps to read.  Good art can realign our thoughts.  Great art can change our understanding.  

“You gave your body to the lonely.
They took your clothes.
You gave up a wife and a family.
You gave your ghost.
To be alone with me.
To be alone with me.
To be alone with me,
You went up on a tree”.

 From “To Be Alone With You” by Sufjan Stevens.

Just Like Christmas

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“On our way from Stockholm
Started to snow
And you said it was like Christmas
But you were wrong
It wasn’t like Christmas at all”

From “Just Like Christmas” by Low

I always pity those folks who have to work in shops and be exposed to cheesy, cheery, Christmas music from the middle of October onwards…The decorations go up so early and we are buoyed into a sense of compulsive festive spending at what seems like an ever alarmingly early point in our calendar.

That said, there is something I love in amongst all of that.  Dark mornings and nights, steam exhaling from nostrils, warm drinks, cozy fires and a time to revert to childhood and the anticipation of Christmas.  It is one of the times in the year when lots of folks who never darken church doors find themselves in a church singing songs they have learned as kids when life often seemed less complicated and full of possibilities. 

I’ve come to love re-workings of some of those old Christmas songs.  Belle & Sebastian’s reading of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, Sufjan Stevens’ “O Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” or most of the “XFM: It’s A Cool, Cool Christmas” album.  No Christmas Day in our home is likely to be complete without the Christmas albums of Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra getting an airing.

My all-time favourite seasonal album though has to be “Christmas” by Low.  Last night we had the delight of seeing them play over in Glasgow (a treat I have enjoyed more times than I can be sure of).  After a typically sparse and beautifully melodic opening setlist, the minimalism was interrupted by a cluttered stage comprising an ensemble of Low and Ida together with Eric from The Retribution Gospel Choir and Sun Kil Moon and Jean on violin.  They ran through most of the songs from the “Christmas” album and a few other festive favourites.  They threw themselves into it and it was a sight to behold Mimi really hitting those drums and all sorts of percussive instruments in a seasonal ho-down.

It didn’t really feel like Christmas, as I have a mental list of a million things to do between now and then.  Yet, it was a pleasure to behold in the presence of my true love.  It was so nice of a good friend to offer to babysit.  It was a rare treat to munch crepes in the car afterwards as we watched band and fans spill out of the venue.  Yet in the midst of it all, there was a contrast of seasonal silliness and a deeper sincerity.  Alan Sparhawk exited the stage saying “God is a forgiver, God is a forgiver”.

Casimir Pulaski Day

On my most recent post, I quoted extensively from an engaging interview with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine which appeared in Paste magazine.  You can link to that post here.  He commented that the three main topics which he believes will really affect someone as a human being are: love; God; and death. 

Are those the topics that really seperate “great” art (in whatever media i.e painting, sculpture, photography, literature, film, music, whatever) from “good” art?  For me, I think that notion certainly rings very true.  Faced with any one of those issues in isolation and, in our most quiet and honest moments, I reckon that we stop pretending.

I asked what these things would look or sound like?

For me, I think it might be something very much like the attached you tube clip.  This is a song that speaks more truth to me about these subjects than many others.  The video is something that has not been prepared by some high budget commission by the musician involved, but is simply someone having lovingly story-boarded the sentiment and imagery and story of the song.  The result gets me every time I watch and listen to it.  I know there can be a tendency to skip people’s video links on blogs, but I would encourage you to click the arrow below and watch this.


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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