Sex, Drugs and… Sacred Music?

I’ve loved rock and roll since, well, as long as I can remember.  As a kid growing up near Chicago I got to see many legends play to packed crowds in stadiums – Elton John, Yes, Chicago (remember them?), Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Aerosmith, Rush.  Because of my faith I’ve always considered it a bonus when members of bands I’ve liked are also professing Christians, like Bono of the Irish rock band U2.  About a decade ago there was a phenomenon in the Episcopal Church when parishes across the country held U2charists, services of Holy Eucharist that featured U2’s music.  The members of U2 allowed any church to use their music in conjunction with celebrations of the Holy Eucharist as long as the emphasis of the service was the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals (remember them?).

Lately there’s a new band on my radar: 21 Pilots.  A friend shared a 21 Pilots song with me awhile ago and the lyrics stuck.  “My name is Blurryface and I, care what you think… Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ da-ays, when our momma sang, us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.”  I liked the vibe, but Blurryface?  Huh?

When visiting my daughter recently (I love that much of the music on my playlist is also on hers) we acknowledged that we were both 21 Pilots fans.  That made me listen more.   The more I listened the more I thought, Jesus (literally)! Blurryface became a reference to 1 Corinthians: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  These musicians, I realized, are singing, a lot of the time, about God!  And their theology is sound, resembling much of what we hear from pulpits in our Episcopal church:

I know
Where you stand
In the trees
And that’s
Where I am
In the trees
Why won’t you speak?
Where I happen to be
In the trees
Standing cowardly
I can feel your breath
I can feel my death
I want to know you
I want to see
I want to say

So this won’t be for everybody but below are a couple of 21 Pilots videos.   You can always sign off if it’s not your (daily – ha!) cup of tea.  If you start them and your body doesn’t move then just hit stop.  If you do watch them, in the first video about half way through listen for the words “entertain my faith.”  In the second pay attention to the young fans. Watch how they reach out their hands and sing along word for word, to the lyrics. If you don’t like the music (a lot of you won’t) then just read this:

So here’s the thing.  When Laura Weiss led the Alban Singers in today’s motet at the 11:15 service (in William Byrd’s – Ave Verum Corpus) I wanted to drop to my knees in praise of God. Oh my!  I do love sacred music.  And with you I love all our choirs at St Alban’s Church.  But in a different kind of sacred, 21 Pilots don’t make me want to drop to my knees as much as they make me stand and tap my feet and move, and dance, and thank God that these two words with an ampersand –  Holy, Spirit & – (rather than the two words in the title of this post) can precede the words rock and roll.  I’m so very happy that the Holy Spirit is alive and well at St. Albans, and in bands like 21 Pilots, and that so many young people are singing along…

Happy Monday, on Sunday,


p.s.  I hope my colleague Ruth Frey reads this (21 Pilots at the National Cathedral?)

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2 Responses to Sex, Drugs and… Sacred Music?

  1. Eileen says:

    This guy could definitely start a movement!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Very interesting! My 13-year-old son introduced me to the “Stressed Out” song, and I love it, too. But I heard the “blurryface” line in the opposite way . . . As we grow up, we care more about what other people think and lose our child-like identity, which is what God wants us to find again.

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