As front man for Pedro the Lion, the band he led from 1995 till 2005, Bazan was Christian indie rock's first big crossover star, predating Sufjan by nearly a decade and paving the way for the music's success outside the praise circuit. But as he straddled the secular and spiritual worlds, Bazan began to struggle with his faith. Unable to banish from his mind the possibility that the God he'd loved and prayed to his whole life didn't exist, he started drinking heavily
Now he's back playing to Christian audiences, but as one pointing out the struggle he's had with faith. And he's not pretending to have any answers.
Bazan says he tried to Band-Aid his loss of faith and the painful end of Pedro the Lion with about 18 months of "intense" drinking. "If I didn't have responsibilities, if I wasn't watching [my daughter] Ellanor, I had a deep drive to get blacked out," he says. But as he made peace with where he found himself, the compulsion to get obliterated began to wane. On Curse Your Branches Bazan sometimes directs the blame and indignation at himself, other times at Jesus and the faith. He's mourning what he's lost, and he knows there's no going back.
But for me, the most interesting thing about the article is the reaction of young Christians to his music. Apparently, most explain his questioning (yea, probably even blasphemy) away as an honest pursuit of truth. The problem is, that's not what Bazan is intending at all. He actually wants Christians to see the "error of their ways".
During the two days I follow Bazan and his fans around the Cornerstone campus, though, it becomes clear that he isn't really misunderstood at all. Everyone knows what he's singing about—what's happening is that his listeners are taking great pains to sidestep the obvious. "Well, his songs have always been controversial," one says, but when asked to pinpoint the source of the controversy suggests it's because he swears—nothing about not believing in hell or not taking the Bible as God's word. Bazan's agnosticism is the elephant in the merch tent.
When I tell Bazan that there are kids at Cornerstone resisting the clear message of his songs, he's surprised. "That someone could listen to what I was saying and think that I was saying it apologetically—like, in a way that characterizes [doubt] as the wrong posture—bums me out, but that's pretty high-concept given how I'm presenting this stuff. So I have to hand it to someone who can keep on spinning what is so clearly something else." He pauses for a long moment, then adds, "I don't want to be that misunderstood."
I'm not opposed to asking tough questions about faith, and in particular I appreciate an artist that can do so in a new and compelling way. I prefer that they follow it up with some sort of answer. But to totally overlook an artist's message to justify listening to the music is a bit of a stretch for me.
As I often tell our students at church, to decide what type of music is okay to listen to requires research into the lives and hearts that are writing and performing the songs. Bitter and sweet can't come out of the same fountain.