Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Paste Magazine: Signs of Life Everywhere

I was a big fan of Paste Magazine from the first issue I read several years back. Their tagline, "Signs of Life in Music, FIlm, and Culture" has always struck a chord with me. I was very sad to learn that they had to stop printing the magazine last year due to financial issues. However, through their website and somewhat newly installed mPlayer, their reviews and articles are still very much alive and well.

From the latest issue of mPlayer, the editor Josh Jackson wrote an article that conveys so much of what I love about the magazine. Here's a few paragraphs about his personal journey with faith and how he has grown to see signs of life everywhere:
I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of faith and arts. In fact, I tend to get most excited about each when it wanders into the realm of the other. When I went from an agnostic who sneered at religion to a fairly close-minded born-again Christian in high school, a few things didn’t sit well with me, despite my sudden assumption that easier answers were just a few chapters away in a Bible I was reading for the first time.

After a naïve but often-blissful spiritual high, doubt started trickling in. For a brief moment, I wondered if the music and arts which had served as my spiritual food long before I looked to religion might indeed be the corrupting source of nagging questions that begged for something more mysterious than the systematic theology I was being handed. One of my new teachers suggested we toss out albums that weren’t “glorifying God.” He offered up an Outfield album. I countered with a dubbed cassette containing XTC’s Skylarking on one side (with the lyric, “Dear God, I can’t believe in you”) and, tragically, the Pixies’ Doolittle on the other.

But when the “easy answers” didn’t satisfy, it was in the arts where I found the room for a God bigger than any fundamentalism or dogma. There weren’t many musicians dabbling in that strange no-man’s-land, but during my first semester of college—and one of my first writing gigs for the college paper—I came across Vigilantes of Love. For frontman Bill Mallonee, grace was like a battering ram, hammering at him from one side, but its twin on the other side was mystery. From him, I also discovered Mark Heard, a poet slumming in the Christian-music ghetto, overturning the money-changing tables from inside where he could. By the end of my freshman year, the fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy became as much my creeds and confessions as anything I heard on Sundays.

I’ve since felt closer to heaven via the music of Sigur Rós or the words of Josh Ritter; seeing Roberto Benigni give his son a childhood in a concentration camp in Life Is Beautiful; reading Dave Eggers’ mostly non-fiction account of Sudanese refugees in What is the What; or even playing through some of those epic Final Fantasy games.

I see snatches of the divine in the people all around me and, often more intensely, in the art that they’ve created. I still hold to many of the tenets of faith I was introduced to in college, but I’ve become comfortable knowing that my hold is likely to always be tenuous—that God and faith and life and all their big questions are much bigger than any answers we can grasp.


I may be strange for looking for echoes of a higher power in videogames, TV and pop songs, but I think that’s what our tagline “Signs of Life” has always meant to me, even if it’s an irreverent YouTube video that’s just going to bring a little laughter. Not every piece of art is going to be The Bicycle Thief or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” But as far as I’m concerned, so much of pop culture is holy ground.

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