Today's guest list comes from Andrew Whitworth. Andrew is a regular contributor at Shared Justice and Christ & Pop Culture (check out this cracking review of 22, A Million), and the Assignment Editor for the Center for Christian Civics. He's also a good friend who has a knack for synthesizing art and faith in a way that bolsters both without cheapening either. If you're ever in DC, buy him a cup of coffee and buckle in for a revitalizing and thoroughly enjoyable conversation.
By Andrew Whitworth
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
And this is the tragedy of human existence that we cannot do anything about. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news: all of our hard work to be better people, to avoid screwing up, to love our neighbor—it is ultimately futile (although not without meaning and purpose).
Just as the world presents beauty beyond comprehension, it presents evil just as fundamental and compelling. Of course, as Solzhenitsyn points out, part of the reason this evil is so chilling is its familiarity; we recognize the same darkness in ourselves. In Sufjan’s words, “I am a man with a heart that offends with its lonely and greedy demands. There’s only a shadow of me; in a manner of speaking, I'm dead.”
We cannot fix ourselves and we cannot fix the world.
In the Christian tradition, this all leads up to Easter, which is a celebration of resurrection. It’s not that death gets eliminated from the picture, but that God becomes incarnate, takes on human flesh, and actually dies. In the Christian story, because the most fundamental reality of the world is love, the resurrection does comes. But not before an actual life and an actual death.
We humans find ourselves in this chunk of the story. Each year, as Christians prepare for Easter, we observe Ash Wednesday starting a 40-day period of reflection and repentance. It is a time to sit with the reality of death and evil in the world, which cannot be separated from the death and evil in our own hearts.
No matter what your religious or spiritual commitments, there is a necessity to this kind of reflection. Humans have limits and a proclivity toward violence. Unless we glimpse the depth of this truth, we will never move in a different direction.
At Ash Wednesday services, the priest will take ash and draw a cross on folks’ foreheads, whispering, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Thankfully, art exists in the world and helps us get a little bit closer to the center of this reality in all of its beauty and horror. This collection of songs is a meditation towards that end.
- A$AP Rocky - Long Live A$AP
- Sampha - Blood on Me
- Son Lux - Build A Pyre (Begin Again)
- Arcade Fire - Month of May
- Lucius - Monsters
- Courtney Barnett - Pedestrian at Best
- Vampire Weekend - Hudson
- Joey Bada$$ - Like Me (feat. BJ The Chicago Kid)
- Kendrick Lamar - untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.
- Flying Lotus - Coronus, the Terminator
- Sufjan Stevens - The Seer's Tower
- Bon Iver - 715 - CRΣΣKS
- José González - Stories We Build, Stories We Tell
- Sufjan Stevens - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
- Bon Iver - 666 ʇ
- David Bazan - Kept Secrets
- Father John Misty - Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
- Sufjan Stevens - Justice Delivers Its Death
- J. Tillman - Year In the Kingdom
- Kendrick Lamar - Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst