Monday, November 08, 2010

The Question of Mumford and the Lost Sons

A recent BBC News article asked, 'Where are the great new guitar bands?'
And I've kinda been wondering the same thing. Apart from decent, but not outstanding, recent offerings from the experienced Kings of Leon, and Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, Indie music seems to be scrambling about in the musical wilderness at the moment.
It may be true that we have grown a bit tired of the mellow strummings that proved so successful for Coldplay, Athlete and Snow Patrol in the 2003-2006 era ... but what comes next?
Where's the next breath of fresh air?

"I think the next big thing ... will sound like something you've heard before,' says BBC DJ Steve Lamacq. 'And I don't think we'd mind - if they say something about your life. If they are engaging and charismatic.' We 'want something to believe in,' and 'very few new bands have been "touching people in that way" in the last 12 months.'

According to Lamacq, it is emotion and meaning that we are craving most - something that expresses how we are feeling when we cannot find the words ourselves.

Considering his struggles in the recent US elections, I'm probably a bit late in getting round to reading Barack Obama's 'The Audacity of Hope'. But in Obama's 2007 book, which helped propel him to his presidency, he notes that thousands of Americans 'are deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness are not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness.' (pg 202)

And that for me has been the biggest reason why Mumford and Sons have had such incredible success in 2010. It's not because of a sudden sweeping love for the sound of folk, but because 'Sigh No More' feels like it has grown out of hours upon hours of honest heartfelt soul searching.


And as a result the album is so full of poetic pearls that someone could probably write a book simply dissecting the lyrics.
Indeed, one line seems so symptomatic of our age,
our generation,
our culture,
that it could potentially be quoted in University lectures in 50 years time.
I'm talking about Marcus Mumford's raw questioning croon, 'How can you say that your truth is better than ours?'

This lyric encapsulates what some philosophisers term postmodernism.
It's the idea that in a pluralistic society all opinions are valid.
That no truth is better than another.



I am learning that it is good to explore
and make your own decisions
and form personal opinions.
But I am also learning that you can never please everyone.
It's impossible.
The realisation is daunting
but also incredibly freeing.

Whether it's the greatness of a movie,
the hilarity of a comedian,
or the appropriateness of an abortion,
there is always a spectrum of possible opinions.
And no matter where you place yourself on that spectrum,
even if you take the view that everyone is right,
there will always be someone, somewhere, who disagrees with you.



Diversity of opinion is certainly beautiful.
And recognising it is certainly important.
In 2007, before becoming President, Barack Obama wrote, 'I am obligated to try to see the world through George Bush's eyes, no matter how much I disagree with him ... No one is exempt from the call to find common ground.' (pg 68)

But diversity of opinion can also make things incredibly complicated.
In a chapter on faith, Obama notes that even if the powers-that-be decided that Christianity was the only valid worldview, the problem would still remain, 'Whose Christianity would we teach in our schools? James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's? Which passage of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests that slavery is all right and eating shellfish is an abomination? ... Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage so radical that it's doubtful that our Defence Department would survive its application?' (pg 218)

For many centuries Christians have claimed to know 'The Truth'.
Yet Christianity is in itself full of diversity.
It encompasses numerous spectrums of wide-ranging opinions on many issues.
There are liberal views and conservative ones.
Progressive views and traditional ones.
It may be true that Christians relationally know 'The Truth', if Truth is God, but no-one can possibly claim to fully intellectually know and understand the truth.

In one of Jesus' most famous parables he tells the story of a lost son who wastes his Father's money on 'wild living', but is then welcomed home into the out-rushing open arms of his Father.
But in his recent book, 'The Prodigal God', Tim Keller points out that there is a second son, an elder brother, in Jesus' parable.
This son stays at home and works hard to earn his Father's love.
He thinks he has done everything right.
And takes pride in this.
But Keller claims that the elder brother is just as lost as the younger. He even states that ''elder brother lostness' brings just as much misery and strife into the world as the other kind.' (pg 49)

Indeed Jesus - who was telling this story to confident religious truth claiming know-it-alls, not the 'wild livers' - finishes his parable on a cliffhanger. Because even though the Father has invited both his sons to a massive celebratory feast, by the end of the story, only the younger has accepted the offer.
The second son is left with his nose stuck up.
Missing out on all the fun.
The point is, acknowledging that you might have got it wrong, it keeps you humble.
It keeps you healthy.
Because it keeps you looking out for a Rescuer.
Reaching out for the Father's embrace.

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