Monday, April 16, 2007

Sufjan--Chickens, War, Bathrooms, and God.



There has been much said in Christian circles about the fact that Sufjan Stevens has told his publicist that he prefers the media not to ask him about his faith in interviews. This seems to have bothered some, caused some to question Sufjan's devotion, given a reason, perhaps, to judge. I was also somewhat puzzled by Sufjan's stance, but have been much more sympathetic with it recently. I appreciate the fact that perhaps Sufjan does not seem to want to have his faith misenterpreted, turned into an evangelistic power point presentation, or, even worse, used as a marketing strategy. Here is an interesting excerpt from an interview with Sufjan on this very subject:
"I'm not an evangelist. I'm a songwriter and a storyteller. If that story happens to be about Christ, then perhaps, in some odd semantic way, the song could be termed 'evangelical'. I gladly accept that. I also sing about divorce. And murder. And adultery. I sing about chickens and war and bathrooms. In my mind, the gospel is not something to pander and pawn off like a diet soda drink. There is no product. There is no selling point."

I appreciate the authenticity of Sufjan's art--an authenticity that is sometimes raw, often delicate, always mysterious. The very mystery of his art, its resistance to becoming a bottled up evangelistic product, is something I respect.

In the same interview, Sufjan explains what he thinks "being born again" means. This phrase, which I am ashamed to say often makes me wince inside because of its near commodification in evangelical Christian subculture--the ease with which it is used--is ultimately mysterious. It cannot be fully explained or understood by converting into formula (no,not even the "four Spiritual Laws" or "Two Ways to Live"). In trying to simplify this phrase, we have stripped it of its mystery. I LOVE Sufjan's wonderful poetic definition--it seems that only poetry can even begin to reawaken our sense of wonder by both disorienting and familiarizing us at the same time. I love the concrete images, the smell and feel of life, that points toward this amazing mystery, giving us a bit of access to it through the poet's imagination. Sufjan again:

"This is what it means to be born again: to fully and completely disengage with the preconceptions and preoccupations of the adult world and its religions, to dismantle all laws - of physics and society - and yield yourself to the birth canal, and what comes after, in which everything begins to shake and tremble with all senses fully turned to the centre of the universe, the creator, God the Father, in whose cultivation we begin to know and understand our true selves, our real selves, as a reflection of God's image, his creation, like newborn babies, full, fresh, suckling, elated and laughing at everything. "

3 comments:

Abigail said...

That's the most beautiful definition I've ever heard. Glad you're blogging!

vanckirby said...

where did this article come from? is it the one from "books & culture" or another?
can you post a link? i would like to print it and post it up at the school where i teach.

John B. said...

Mary,
I don't know if you'll ever see this, and it's fine if you don't. I just like looking at inaugural posts of blogs that are new to me, and it so happens that I've come to the same conclusions about Stevens that you have. If you poke around my blog long enough, you'll run across a post about him.
As regards his definition of "born again," that sent me back to the source of that phrase. John 3:7-8 seems especially apropos to Stevens' definition.