Sunday, March 16, 2008

Secret Of An Easy Yoke

I promised Chris a while back that I would respond with my thoughts on this song that he posted on his blog. Every time I've started to post it on his site, I'd listen to it again and something new would hit me, or I would be affected because of new situation in my life and the song would speak anew. I remember a drive to meet with another friend, and on that 45 min drive, I listened to it over and over again. It brought me to tears because I could picture specific people and places that the song is talking about it.

Originally by Pedro The Lion, my fav. version is Justin McRoberts.
This is by David Bazan who wrote the song (the only version on Youtube).

I could hear the church bells ringing
they pealed aloud your praise
the member's faces were smiling
with their hands outstretched to shake
it's true they did not move me
my heart was hard and tired
their perfect fire annoyed me
I could not find you anywhere

could someone please tell me the story
of sinners ransomed from the fall
i still have never seen you, and somedays
i don't love you at all

the devoted were wearing bracelets
to remind them why they came
some concrete motivation
when the abstract could not do the same
but if all that's left is duty, i'm falling on my sword
at least then, i would not serve an unseen distant lord

could someone please tell me the story
of sinners ransomed from the fall
i still have never seen you, and somedays
i don't love you at all

if this only a test
i hope that I'm passing, cuz I'm losing steam
but i still want to trust you

peace be still (x3)


I want to start off by saying that I love God. I am PASSIONATE about God, and look for him EVERYWHERE! I've seen God in the beauty of nature, in the compassion and/or brokenness of another human being, in music, an author's words, on the Shroud of Turin, etc... (ok, I'm not so convinced of the last one, but it's still cool to see and I know that it has been a religions experience for many people, so I only half joke about it).

One place that I have more and more trouble finding God is the one place that I've been taught all of my life is the one place I am SUPPOSED to find him: @/in the Ch. To me, it's not that God's void, it's that he's pushed away by us. And here is where the song begins to touch a note with me.

Verse 1: See last post. The lack of genuine humanity in church really bothers me. There seems to be a true lack of concern for people, for their pain, for their needs. Church seems to be more about the rituals: getting done what is supposed to be done (worship service, programs, etc..) rather than adapting to actually meeting the need of those both within the Church and outside. It's sad that a person seeking something; seeking God can walk into a church and leave feeling like they haven't found Him at all in the one place they've always been told they could go to find Him. The line, "their perfect fire annoyed me" really hits home to me. Again, projecting perfection is more important than authenticity for most church-goers. And I really think that the Church has conditioned that way of thinking.

Verse 2: I've always had issues with the wearing Christian paraphernalia so that people would know that you're a Christian. It has always made me think, "so people can't just SEE that you're a Christian through the way you live? You have to wear a sandwich-board to announce it?" But this song brings out another reason people do this. They need a reminder...they need something concrete.... something that makes them feel like they're connected to God, because when it's completely abstract (as beliefs and God are), they feel unconnected. This is a lapse in our Education. We aren't allowing people to think critically in churches, and we aren't helping them to just be in the abstract presence of God. We feed into this non-innate skill (it has to be developed) and even after the children have become adults, we continue to teach them in glorified object lessons and concrete stories. When Jesus says, " _____ is LIKE _____", we teach that the same _______ IS _________. The Kingdom of Heaven is LIKE a treasure hidden in a field... It isn't exactly the same, but our human language can't capture all that it is. Same goes with God and faith.

I think that we sometimes leave people caught in between the questions. Our answers to the questions are things like, "just believe", or "all you need is God", or my personal fav., "don't worry, all things work for the glory of God". The answers belittle the real questions, emotions, doubts and pain that one is feeling. "Just believe" becomes about a Christian's DUTY. If that's all there is to being a Christian, then I too, "am falling on my sword". I HAVE to believe there's something more, something deeper...something with far more meaning and purpose in this world than a formula to keep my tail out of hell. Christ's presence was history-altering, at least my life as a Christian can be life-changing for others!

Chorus: I don't really resonate with the phrase, "somedays i don't love you at all". I have never questioned my love for God, but I know many people that have said this same statement to me about God. For someone who is searching, who has been hurt by other "Christians", who feels lost in "the house of the Lord"... this breaks my heart. I can easily see how a person gets to this point. I've even had a youth tell me something similar to this, and that youth admitted that the parents wouldn't allow his/her questions to be asked.... "just believe", they would say.

We've forgotten the Good News of the STORY! Not just the story of others, but OUR STORY, tangled up with GOD'S STORY. The power and healing that can come from that. The stories found in the Bible are stories of REAL people with REAL struggles trying to figure out God, faith, and discipleship. The same questions we have today are there, but are glossed over for the turn or burn tactics. They are ignored because it focuses on the humanity of the writers and heroes, and sometimes conflicts with our man-made theology of inerrancy and infallibility. The truth is that these people that are in the Bible, that wrote our scriptures were human just like us. They had struggles and questions. That's the good news. Christ was an inspiration, a salvation for them, and they would bond together in the midst of the questions. They would write letters to people they trusted like Paul, and he would admit his own humanity, struggles, and through that provide (not always answers) but comfort and companionship through the struggles.

This is a sad song, and an even more sad reality. Released in '98, I think that, to me, it is more relevant now than it was 9 years ago. Maybe not...but it sure is in my life. The title is ironic... Christ promised that his yoke is easy...yet there's still a yoke to carry. I feel like today when I visit a lot of churches, or talk to a lot of Christians, the yoke they carry is a shadow, an illusion of what we are called to carry.

"For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matt. 11:31

if this only a test
i hope that I'm passing, cuz
I'm losing steam but i still want to trust you

peace be still...


  1. You really should be getting more comments on your posts dude seriously. Have you heard anything else from Pedro (now musically known by his real name David Bazzan)? His CD's at one time were carried by Family Chrisitan Bookstores when he was on Tooth and Nail (i think that was the publisher). All his lyrics are amazing. In fact he made Paste's 85th spot on their top 100 living writers. I really connect with your deconstruction of the song as well. I would like to take issue with your idea of rituals. Though the types of rituals most American evangelical churches posses I would agree with your assessment, I would like to posit that not all ritual is meaningless. Citing monks (mysticism and the ascetic life is simply beautiful) as well as many Jewish traditions (when understood I believe are quite meaningful).

    "This is a lapse in our Education. We aren't allowing people to think critically in churches, and we aren't helping them to just be in the abstract presence of God. We feed into this non-innate skill (it has to be developed) and even after the children have become adults, we continue to teach them in glorified object lessons and concrete stories."

    I just got done taking a US history class (which I hated) but the prof brought up an interesting idea. That traditionally americans have been anti-intellectual, and there is a deep seeded feeling of that in our society. I wonder, if this is indeed true, if this is reflected in what you speak of. Possibly, I think, Socrates' quote that the unexamined life is not worth living is as true to the Greek as it should be to the Christian--or perhaps the good human being. For me one of the main intellectual problems in many churches in the US is the lack of understanding of the context and culture of the time the texts were written. Many pastors require computer programs such as Logos for 95% of their sermons, and I could be wrong but I don't think there is quite enough biblical language being taught in seminaries. The pastor at the church I help with the youth program only took a year of each. I feel maybe that ignorance and a lack of looking outside of the textual box is what has lead to a good amount of fundamentalism and truth-saber wielding.

    Just some thoughts, I think I might have to bookmark your blog

  2. No,
    I'm really not that familiar with Pedro. I've promised my friend Chris ("Don't listen to anything I say" blog on side) that I would check more out.

    First off, I agree that not all rituals are meaningless. Reciting a creed, singing the doxology every sunday, the things you and of themselves are in no way without meaning. It is def. our attitude and lack of continually educating about WHY we do these rituals that's fallen behind. Communion for example... somehow every ch. I've been in has lost the fervor of that ritual, but to me it has such a great meaning. My best sermon is on communion because I wanted to breathe life back into that ritual.

    My best friend, and old college roommate is a history major and foreign policy masters. we have had many talks about what you speak on. I think we both have had a discussion about the decline in "intellectualism" in our society. Not that people are not smarter, we have more college grads now than ever, and Grad. Schools are overflowing. But the institutions (both religious and society-based) seem to have take the slack route of indoctrination. Why? Because in a comfortable empire, there's no need to challenge what has been working fine for hundreds of years.

    I will admit, that teaching a bible study where I've done all the background research and prep. that I can do is really tough. I can go and sit a whole day in a college library and work on one bible study, just research, and spend 4 more days on cutting down and prepping. The average person doesn't have time to do that. The average pastor doesn't have time to do that! I think that should some questions about the expectations put on pastors, and who should take up the slack of the other "pastoral duties" so that the pastor can focus on teaching. Some churches are picking up on that a lot. Hence why you are prob. drawn to Rob Bell. He has an extraordinary teaching gift, and his church allows him to focus on being a "teaching pastor". So he is allowed to focus his attention more on quality background and teaching.

    Just some additional thoughts off of your remarks. great comments! I will say also that I read your Borg post, and I know exactly how you feel in what you wrote. fantastic piece, and I am a big Borg fan. Unfortunately (and you can see this if you go to clearly's blog right now), many people are not ready for the challenge of those in the Jesus Seminar's thinking. Perhaps the reason why is some of what you've stated here... but learning that you don't have to completely agree with someone to find value in their work is part of becoming "mature in their faith". At least in my experience and humble opinion. I say that not to criticize, but again, it reemphasizes the lack of teaching time that goes into cultivating critical thinking so that a person can read or have a challenging conversation and yet walk away in love and respect!

    thanks again buddy,
    you are welcome her anytime!

  3. Thanks for the response. I had a question for you seeing as you have recently graduated from a seminary. Borg talks about how the crux of his shake up of faith occurred in his first NT class in his first semester at Seminary at Union. I don't know what school you went to, and I don't know if it matters but he stated all these things you are taught about the NT and specifically the gospels that you'd think pastors would touch on in sermons. Things that lend a bit more of intellectual honesty to the subjects they propose, but I have yet to hear ANY pastor at a pulpit bring up the sorts of things Borg does in his first chapter. You said you read Borg and I'm not sure if you read this book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Examples of what he pointed out were that it is useless to get a historical account of Jesus through the book of John, and that the birth stories are not to be trusted as historical facts but as "symobolic liberties" if you will. Are clerical leaders afraid to make waves, be called heretics? What do you do and how do you rationalize what you do? Thanks, hope your weekend went well.

  4. Tommy,
    That is a very very good question. One I'm not going to pretend to have a conclusive answer to. I have read most of Borg's works including that one (I like Reading the Bible again for the first time and Heart of Christianity the best).

    I do remember that statement, although to go back and reread it is tough since a majority of my older books are packed up in boxes:/

    I still think that we see many an uneducated pastor/minister/teacher when it comes to historicity and preaching/teaching. There are still many schools that don't teach a historical contextual criticism of the Bible. Although the academic discipline has been around, few schools had it in their curriculum when our pastors were in seminary, and some even omit it today.

    I went to Campbell Univ. both undergrad and grad. I have a Relig. Major as well as a MDiv. Honestly, because Capbell Div. was trying to be fair of all sides of the interpretive coin (if you will), I had better historical context.criticism upbringing in undergrad. That's not to say that it wasn't taught by my wonderful NT and OT profs. in grad. school, but I think that no matter where you came in at on the interpretive spectrum, you could leave there with the same understanding. I appriciate the kindness, but almost wish they would have stayed with the more academic track in teaching.

    That being said, I think that another problem is that it's just too much work! It takes a lot of research to get the historical background of any one passage, as well as a running general understanding on what was happening in history during that time period. It's easier to do a quick drive-by of the passage in your fav. one-volume commentary and then preach fluffy.

    On top of that, we have not done a good job of teaching laity to be intellectual when it comes to the Bible. There's a good book: "How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth" by Gordan Fee" that helps teach laity how to exegete passages. It's the only book I know of on a realistic level for the average person. Although I don't agree with all he says, I greatly appriciate what he brings to the table as far as approachable academic bible study for all.

    It goes back to thinking critically about one's faith and the Bible. We have allowed our congregants to become lazy in their critical thinking skills when it comes to Christianity, wanting to be TOLD what to think and believe. And as a result, pastors too have become lazy because the laity do not hold them accountable for teaching in-depth intellectual teachings. Also I think that it's easier for the pastor to "have control" when he can tell the congregation what to believe. I've seen it in almost every church I've been a part of, both as laity and as staff. My sermon to the grads. last year: challenge everything! "Just because someone stands behind a podium and says this is what you should think, question him/her. I am standing here right now giving a sermon to you and telling you that you should think on, question and challenge everything that I am saying."

    Needless to say, I don't think some of the congragents (and I honestly don't think the pastor) liked me saying that!

    I think, to also answer your question, fear may play a part. Maintaining the status quo has been many a motivation for staff in the modern ch. I think that there is many reasons. People that I see and speak to on the blogosphere all the time hate borg because he rejects that physical ressurection of Christ. The problem is, even if you disagree with him on that, doesn't mean that you should close him out completely. I don't agree with everything Borg says, but he has soo much good to say! So I take what I am led to take after much thought and prayer, and leave the rest behind.

    My personal main approach is what he calls in "reading the bible again..." the historical-metaphorical interpretation. I personally think that this is the best approach to interpretation. It is what I TRY to do in my sermons/teaching. However, being brought up in a "literal interpretation" world, I can get the "historical" part down, but the "metaphorical" part is still tough. Many times what I do in a teaching atmosphere is teach the historical portion and "introduce" the metaphorical portion in group discussion. I usually present the material in one way, and then leave application and present-day interpretation to discussion. That way, people can think, listen, discuss, and walk away with different viewpoints... all of which I would argue as valid because we believe the Spirit is at work in those interpretations. some people are not comfortable with a metaphorical view of the birth stories. So we make sure that all sides are represented, weigh them against the historical interp. and understanding, and people can leave with what they are led to leave with. This has been very successful with youth and older.

    In sermons, I just state those controversial things in "what if" questions, and then focus more on application. I find much more personal value out of the scriptures with the "historical-metaphorical" approach.

    I am glad to see you reading Borg. His new book with NT Wright is really good!

    I hope I made some headway into your question. Honestly though, the best way to get a good answer is for us to ask those that aren't doing it, "why?". Not that we'd get a straight answer, but nonetheless, they are the only ones who can do something besides educated speculation!

    thanks buddy.
    I'll be back from vacation in a week. feel free to leave more comments in the meantime. i hope I helped somewhat!