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Soul Notes: Christian & Rock

Soul Notes:  Christian and Rock

by Jacob Souček

I’ve always been intrigued with Christian rock bands and even considered forming one myself.  That being said, for the first edition of Soul Notes I wanted to talk a little about the different degrees in which certain bands distinguish themselves as Christian rock.  There were many to choose from, but for me, the following four bands came to mind first.

Stryper
I know I’m probably dating myself when I bring up the band Stryper, but these guys were one of my favorite rock bands growing up and still are. Their music is heavy and melodic, coupled with the fact that they boldly talk about Christ in their lyrics is inspiring to me both as a rock musician and Orthodox Christian. Stryper was a pioneer of the heavy Christian rock music scene and some would arguably call them the first of its kind!  Many groups have since followed their example.

Songs like, The Way, which included the lyrics; “Oh – what did you say? / Oh Christ is the way, Rockin’ for the One who is the rock” and  Soldiers Under (God’s) Command; The battStryper Concert 1986.jpgle that’s waiting is fought so easily through Him, without sin there is victory!”

Stryper’s ten plus albums all have the same straight forward Christian themes, unapologetically proclaiming Christ as God and Savior in almost every song. I give them a lot of credit, while they were breaking into the scene in the early 90s other “heavy metal” bands such as Motley Crue, Ratt, and Poison were also widely popular, making names for themselves in an era of “wine, woman, and song.”

Regardless, Stryper gained popularity both in the mainstream and Christian markets and still enjoy a very loyal following today.

U2
Although I used to be a larger fan of U2 in my younger years, I grew to appreciate a bit more of a technical and heavy sound these days.  I still enjoy a lot of their music and respect them as musicians.  I’ve heard them described as a “semi-secretly Christian rock band”.  Because they reference the Bible in over 50 of their songs, I would say that the secret is out! Though their crossover appeal is also extremely evident as a secular band.

So, is U2 a Christian rock band?

I think we would first need to look to their lead singer to gain some insight into that question.

In an interview, Bono said; “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put oU2 on Joshua Tree Tour 2017 Brussels 8-1-17.jpgut did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death.”   

Although Bono is obviously a man of faith, the band’s lyrics lack that kind of boldness.  They have more of a “feel good, you fill in the blanks yourself” if you want them to have a Christian vibe or just a spiritual one.  I leave it up to the listener to perceive for themselves if they are a Christian rock band or not.

Petra
To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Petra and haven’t listened to a lot of their music, but to not include them in this conversation would be a big oversight. Their group is all Christian all the time!  Every song has a clear theme and focus.  They have been around since 1975 and are regarded as a pioneer of the Christian rock and contemporary Christian music genres. I would think that Petra has no issues with being labeled as a Christian rock band.  With songs like “Hallowed Be Thy Name”;We will worship the Maker of all things Almighty God, to You our voices sing Hallowed be Thy Name”, it is evident in their lyrics that Petra clearly has a strong Christian message.

Switchfoot
Love this band! “On Fire” is the song my wife and I used for our first dance at our wedding reception and holds a special place in my heart. Not necessarily a song full of bold “Christian” lyrical content, but it does allude to love as a “mystery.” As an Orthodox Christian, I thought it to be a poignant and appropriate theme for marriage.

Much like U2, Switchfoot has both a secular and Christian fan-base. Again, I will defer to the band’s lead singer (Jon Foreman) to explain in his own words, how he perceives Switchfoot’s message. Taken from an interview, Jon explained; “You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So, there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling.” Switchfoot live in Myrtle Beach, SC, 3 April 2008.jpg

Both Jon and Bono’s comments about their faith are bold statements and a testimony to their Christian beliefs, which is carried over to their music. I can’t help but feel uplifted when I hear U2’s “Where the Streets have no Name” and Switchfoot’s “On Fire.” But there is also something to be said about groups like Stryper and Petra whose sole purpose is to minister to their fan base through bold Christian-focused lyrical content.

The bands that I chose to highlight above are groups from my era, but there are several modern bands that also fit into this conversation.

Groups like:

Sons of Leon, composed of 4 brothers whose father is a Pentecostal preacher. Many of their songs deal with the topic of redemption. Their lyrical content is a bit more vague than groups like Stryper and Petra who leave you inspired and are very intentional in their message.

Mumford & Sons, band leader Marcus Mumford’s parents are leaders in the evangelical Vineyard Church in England, and he’s a member of that church to this day. Most of his songs reflect his spirituality, some more directly than others.

The Avett Brothers, a hugely popular cult band in the indie-folk world, they have been accepted as basically a secular act even though a lot of their lyrics are very clearly about their Christian faith.

I find it to be a special calling and commend all the groups and artists, labeled either Christian, secular, or mainstream, who recognize their platform as an opportunity to share the message of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ with people who may have never had heard the good news if it were not for their music and personal testimonies. I encourage you to explore these groups and others keeping in mind the message of Jesus Christ. Are there some that speak more loudly to you?

Soul Notes

Soul Notes

An interview with Jacob Souček, a new regular writer for this blog.

Q:   Tell us a bit about your background in music.

A:  My dad, who was an OCA priest (may his memory be eternal!) among many other things, was a prolific musician and composer. When it was time for me to choose an instrument to play in grade school, without prompting from my father, I chose the violin, not realizing how the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Before entering the priesthood, my dad was a semi-famous violinist in Czechoslovakia and was a big influence on me musically. I progressed quickly with my violin studies through grade school and High School and was soon taking private lessons with a professor at our local college.  My dad also worked at home preparing me for entrance into the Juilliard School of Music.

Ah, High-School, that’s when things got interesting. I loved violin, but also loved rock ‘n’ roll! I started listening to all the 80’s hair bands with screaming guitar solos, and thought to myself, that’s what I want to do! I taught myself to play guitar, retiring the violin to pursue my passion. My dad wasn’t on board at first, but soon realized my talent for the guitar and how I was growing as a musician. He was completely supportive of me being a rock musician and playing gigs with local bands. I could play shows on Saturday nights as long as I made it to Liturgy Sunday mornings, as I was the head altar boy.

After high-school I moved to Hollywood, CA and played in a band called Souls on Fire for many years. We recorded several albums in major recording studios, one of which was where Metallica and Aerosmith also recorded. We even worked with Steve Gallagher the engineer for Sugar Ray’s album, “Floored”.  We played at world famous venues and had a large, loyal following. Our band didn’t make the big time, but I feel we did make it in some capacity.

Q;       How do you bring your love of music to your Orthodox Faith?

A: Music is a gift from God! It is deeply rooted in our everyday lives and church life as well. The Cathedral where my family attends has an outstanding choir and the layer of beauty they add to our worship is something that is other-worldly. It helps us to connect with God and His angels who endlessly praise Him by singing “Holy, Holy, Holy!” Music has been such a blessing in my life as a Christian, a fan, and musician.

Q:  What kind of music do you prefer to listen to and why?  What inspired you to seek out that type of music?

A:  I can listen to pretty much anything that has a good beat and melody, but it also must be intelligent and thoughtful. I prefer listening to artists that tell a story and I can feel the life experience they are expressing through their music which is real and relatable. Rock ‘n’ roll has always been my passion. Recently, I’ve been getting into some heavier rock artists and am intrigued with the complexity of their song writing, musicianship, and lyrical themes. It inspires me to possibly start a new project, we’ll see what happens.

Q:      What kinds of music should Orthodox Christians listen to?

A:  Well, I guess that’s up to each person to answer for themselves. I for one say, Rock on and listen to whatever you want, whatever uplifts you. Of course, try to avoid music that contradict church teachings.

Q:      How can others seek inspiration from music? 

A:  Music is a personal journey and what might be inspiration to some may not be relatable to others. That being said, I would say try to recognize the diversity of music in different settings. Listen to your choir at church and feel God and His angels surround you. Listen to your favorite song that fills you with hope taking comfort in the fact that the artist is going through the same things you are. This, to me, is the gift of music!

Q:  Why is finding inspiration in music such a personal journey?

A:  We are all different, thank God! He made us all unique with unique personalities. The kind of music one listens to is unique to themselves. Even though, generally, we can all say that music makes us feel some kind of emotion, individually deep down inside only we know why a certain song, lyric, or riff inspires us.

Q: “Can you give us a sneak peak of what you plan to share in your music blog?”

A: I wanted to start by saying, I’m very excited to be afforded this opportunity to connect with other Orthodox Christians and share my love for music. You can expect many different topics from this blog. Ranging from my thoughts on the music, music industry, and artists of today as well as the past, to what inspires me personally as a musician and Christian. You might even see some album, song, or artist critiques and reviews of bands I went to see live. It’s pretty much wide open, I don’t have a set theme. It’s going to be a diverse music forum. I’m also open to topic suggestions from my readers, or even a reader Q & A. I’m looking forward to taking this journey!

 

Remembering the Beauty in the Grunge

Chris Cornell died last week, and his music will live on for a long time. His fans, who admired his creative genius and amazing vocal range, will feel a sense of loss and disappointment. And like other musicians and artists before him whose lives have been tragically cut short by suicide, he will be mourned for what could have been and what will no longer be.

Reports indicate that Chris had posted to social media after the concert in Detroit, excited about heading to Cleveland with Soundgarden, his hard rocking group, to perform there. Everything appeared to be ok. But it clearly wasn’t. Chris was fighting an unseen battle.

We can’t begin to imagine or even speculate what Chris was going through in the days leading up to his death. As is often the case with those suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, what appears on the surface may not reveal what is truly happening deep within their soul.

Our souls safeguard our innermost thoughts, desires, memories and experiences in life. Friendship, love, excitement, resentment, doubt and fear shape who we truly are. While it’s possible to say that those closest to us can get a fairly accurate picture of our true self, only God knows and understands our true identity, potential and intentions.

Those who suffer from depression and loneliness like Chris Cornell find ways to escape from the people around them. At first, it’s subtle and hardly noticeable to those around them, and we may think they just want some alone time. But as Orthodox Christians, we know, our existence is defined by community and is to nurture and care for those around us. Especially if we notice patterns of someone drifting further and further away from others.

One of the most impactful experiences of my life was when my wife and I were on vacation overseas and we saw what is possible when friends care for someone in need.

We watched in amazement as eight friends took turns sitting with their friend whose life was out of control, and he was not well. Drunk and shouting, and at times flailing about, he was scary to those who observed his behavior. Yet his friends stayed by his side, listening to him, trying to get him sober, hugging him, and not abandoning him as he faced his inner struggles in real time. His friends did not tell him to go home and sleep it off. They didn’t abandon him. Instead, they took care of him and were careful to not let him drive or sleep or walk away. They were listening to him and making sure he was safe both emotionally and physically. They made sure he was not alone.

As intense as his struggles were with the demons he faced, the intensity of their compassion was even stronger. In that moment in which this man needed his friends most, they were there for him, remembering what he meant to each of them as an individual, as a person, as part of their collective friendship. They had gone beyond the rhetorical “How’s it goin’?” we often ask, and had accepted his pain and suffering as their own. They went into hell with him, so they could bring him back to life with them.

As we near the end of another Paschal season, it’s probably gotten harder for us to say ”˜Christ is risen!’ with the same vigor and energy we had at midnight just a few weeks ago. The radiance of our joy has probably dimmed and sadly, some of our old habits may be creeping back into our daily routines.

But it’s never too late to recapture that sense of joy and excitement of Pascha and carry it throughout the entire year. Focus on what Christ accomplished on that bright and saving night of Pascha: He accepted our pain, our suffering, our doubts, our loneliness, our weaknesses and our sins. He took them all upon himself. He destroyed them in finality of His own death. He opened a new path to life. He gave us the promise that things will ultimately get better. He destroyed death by death itself. He gave us hope.

And He did it all in love.

In the icon of the resurrection, we see our Lord pulling Adam and Eve up from their tombs by their hands. This image reminds us of the importance of relationships, and that it’s up to us to make that same intimate and physical connection with those around us. We need to reach out, sharing that same love with those we encounter, regardless of whether we can see their inner struggles or suffering.

One of Chris Cornell’s solo hits, “You Know My Name,” was the theme song for the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. It speaks about the coldness inside and what happens “if you come inside, things will not be the same when you return to my eyes.”

We don’t need to be priests or psychologists or specialists to know someone’s name, or even to be a friend. To see inside, we need to take a moment to get to know them and see the beauty of who they truly are deep inside.

Each of us can be an example of the love of Christ in a world filled with chaos and suffering. It’s about finding the beauty that exists within that grunge. And for those like Chris Cornell who struggle and suffer, reach out to a friend, remembering that Jesus Christ died so that you may live.

Chris Cornell died last week, may his memory be eternal.

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By David Lucs
David is a member of St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN and is a new contributor to the OCA’s Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries programs. His two daughters keep him and his wife busy and laughing with their amusing views on the world.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, help is available in a variety of ways, including these resources on the web:
www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may. Your parish priest can also provide confidential assistance to help you connect with trained professionals in your area.

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Chris Cornell (born July 20, 1964) was an American rock musician and singer-songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist, primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist for Seattle rock band Soundgarden and as former lead vocalist and songwriter for the supergroup Audioslave.

His numerous solo works and soundtrack contributions built upon his role as one of the innovative and founders of the ’90s grunge movement. As an extensive songwriter with an amazing near 4 octave vocal range, received a Golden Globe Award nomination and was at one time voted “Rock’s Greatest Singer,” ranked 4th in the list of “Heavy Metal’s All-Time Top 100 Vocalists” by Hit Parader, 9th in the list of ‘Best Lead Singers of All Time’ by Rolling Stone, and 12th in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music.”