Can Church Be Hip? Ctd

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

A lesser-known band, but one that's easily as inventive and respected in certain circles as Starflyer 59 and David Bazan, is mewithoutYou. They formed out of the Philadelphia hardcore scene in the late '90s, have been on Tooth and Nail - the same label Starflyer and Pedro the Lion got their start on - since their first album in 2002, and have toured with David Bazan a couple times. The first album was pretty hard stuff, with singer Aaron Weiss doing more speaking/shouting than singing, but each successive album has gotten a little softer, with Weiss singing more and more.

Their fourth and most recent album, "It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright!" finds Weiss given over to singing every song and the band playing stuff that is a kind of gypsy/folk sound. It's also the first album ever on a Christian label and sold in Christian stores that's a largely Muslim work. Weiss and his brother were raised by parents who were into the Sufi faith, and this album has that kind of thing all over it.  In fact, the album title is a quote from Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, an important Sufi mystic, and some of the songs are his parables [see video above].

For my money, it might be the best Christian album ever. It's got talking animals and food, songs about King David and a baby Jesus, themes of environmental responsibility (the band drives around in an old bus converted to cooking oil), and one-ness with everyone else. It even closes with a song repeatedly using the name "Allah" for God. Musically it's outstanding too, and their live performances are as energetic and engaging as any band I've ever seen.

Weiss talked about his faith with Relevant magazine:

I read that a few years ago, Christianity was just "business" to you and that you wanted to "just make out with chicks" (at one point). It wasn't until you spent a time in a communal living situation that things changed for you. What made you join that commune?
I suppose it was a longing for something real, something different than what I'd known. The Christianity I'd been exposed to was primarily concerned with the afterlife, little concern for people's tangible, immediate needs. We pray, of course, "your kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven," and I found myself wondering what the world would look like if the kingdom did come, if it were a paradise, right here, today. And it seemed like communal living was a step in that direction.

Have you received direct criticism to your way of life from other Christians? What was it, and how did you deal with it?
Not as much as I'd hope. When criticism does come, I usually think, "Finally, I must be doing something right!"

What were your friends' and family's reactions to your life change? Was it immediate, or did the Aaron Weiss we see today emerge slowly?
For a while there was a gradual turning, with one single experience bringing about a sudden and dramatic change almost three years ago. I think people worried about me. I was feverish, couldn't sleep much, woke up trembling. I would ramble on, trying to communicate what was inside, to share what had been given to me. It didn't workI've had to learn to be quiet, to listen, to show it instead.

How does your view of Christianity affect your desire to, or lack of desire, to be married?
Jesus said that it's better for a man not to marry. Paul wrote the same thing. I see it as a sort of a concession I'll have to make if I don't have the faith to find contentment in my God alone. That I may need such a compromise seems likely, as I've always had a passion for that sort of union, and I get lonely. I don't so much mean sexually, but mostly I long for companionship and a deep friendship. If God is willing though, maybe I could find that in the Holy Ghost.

Another reader corrects me on previous entry:

There a small error in your post regarding Neutral Milk Hotel.  Mangum did NOT talk about his faith to Pitchfork in 2008.  Rather, in 2008, Pitchfork posted an interview from all the way back in December 1997.  Big deal, you might say.  I bring this up only because Mangum retreated from public life shortly after In The Aeroplane Over the Sea was released and, at least as far as I know, hasn't done an interview in many years so the suggestion he gave an interview in 2008 might surprise a few people.

Mangum's retreat from public life is itself a pretty interesting story.  Since about 2001, he has only played at a couple of benefit shows for friends.