Appropriately Analyzing "An Introduction"
It seemed appropriate for me to formally kick off this music-oriented series with the song "An Introduction" by David Ramirez off his album Apologies (Danielle kicked this thing off with an excellent INFJ post last Friday). This series will take songs and drill out of them interesting or provocative blog posts. They might be theological, sociological, ethical, or any number of things. They might be children's songs, praise songs, or the devil's music. Other posts in this series will highlight the Top 5 albums that writers are currently playing. There is something about lyrics and melody that etch arguments and truths deeper into our souls. The different songs chosen throughout series reflect this. We here at Torrey Gazette appreciate the arts and so we are putting together a stream of posts on songs that we find provocative and hopefully entertain you.
Enough with the introduction. It is time for me to focus on David Ramirez's "An Introduction." I stumbled onto David Ramirez only recently. I found him via a duet with Noah Gundersen of an awesome Bob Dylan song. It got me searching. Searching led to obsession. It is hard for me to pick out any one song from the many I love so I chose one that probed close to home. The song "An Introduction" is provocative for me in the theology department. Ramirez grew up religious. From what I can gather it was within a Southern Baptist church. I cannot make a statement for his current position on religion, but it is clear he is not religion-less. Nevertheless, his song "An Introduction" struck me as incredibly pertinent. I believe it cuts to the question of millennials, "Where can I find the Lord?" It also provided me with some interesting thought exercises.
Like many millennials, Ramirez comes off critical of religion. Even some evangelical Christians has sworn off "religion" for "a relationship." This points to the utter confusion that language is wrecking on our illiterate laymen. Frankly, Christianity is a religion founded on a relationship. It never ceases to be true religion.
Where Ramirez departs from his millennial existential cell mates is his criticism of both formal and informal types of religion. Many have rejected the church of their youth for the church of their lusts. Instead of a clear or cluttered orthodoxy, most millennials have sought to "find how their story relates to God." The answer to these questions is in fact in the Scriptures. But it has been interesting regardless to see a generation of "soul searchers" become even more lost to the degree that they do not remember the question. Ramirez leads me to believe he has seen through that facade. He certainly remembers the question. His song opens with words against the institutions,
I've stood in Roman cathedrals
Prayed in Southern Baptist chapels
I've never heard a voice so I ain't paying a penny more
Tell me where to find the Lord
They raised me on doughnuts and coffee
Under fluorescent lights we watched outdated movies
It smelled like a hospital but no one was being cured
Tell me where to find the Lord
The emphasis here is on denominations and buildings. Is God here? For Ramirez, He was not. He "never heard a voice." Ignoring the Pentecostal type elements, this begs of a demand for the real presence of Christ. There are even some snarky lines about the state of youth groups in evangelical churches. Is God in these things? Has He chosen wood and stone to abide in forever? Without letting Ramirez off the hook, the answer is "no." God is not merely found in the institution. Not to hammer solely on the instituted church, Ramirez responds with some critical remarks for the spiritual/existential methods of the day,
So I traded in my pew for a bar stool
Trying to find redemption in the mind of the youth
We'd sit tall with our cigarettes and disheveled uniforms
Oh I never, no I never saw the Lord
There is no special treatment here. The existential bar scene of "real conversation" and #TrueTalk are not the answer to "Is God here?" These thoughtful questions are asked with honesty only to a point. The real presence remains absent from even these buildings and practices.
So where is David Ramirez to find the Lord? There are two important ways to answer this question. Let's quickly get to the first.
The first practical answer falls in line with Ramirez's question. Where is the physical location to find the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it a church building? If so does it matter what denomination the church is? Does it matter what the building looks, feels, or smells like? Does it matter what is actually practiced in the church? Ramirez's lyrics point to the search for Christ in buildings and practices. Though these are important they do not contain Christ.
The answer lies in the reformational distinctions of a healthy church: 1) preaching of the word and 2) proper administration of the sacraments. Though a teaser from Ramirez's new album discusses the sacraments it is noticeably absent in this song. Yet, Christ is most present in the church when the sacraments are performed. Evangelicalism, in particular, has gotten wrapped up in church buildings and practices without the traditional "word and sacrament" motif of the reformation.
It is not enough for a church to say it "preaches the gospel." For the word "gospel" can mean any number of things. It is crucial to have a theology that affirms the means of grace. Jesus taught the disciples on the road after His resurrection. But it was solely in the breaking of the bread that Jesus was made known (Luke 24:30-35). I find it silly that the one thing that makes Jesus evidently known is most often neglected in evangelical worship.
Reformational theology states that Christ Himself is present and offers Himself in worldly means. Quite literally then, a faithful child of the Reformation would answer Ramirez with "Christ is in the word and sacraments." I would go a step further and say "Christ is in the sacraments." These are temporal places that can be identified, but they also transcend church building and denomination.
However simple the above answer might be, I would like to make things more confusing. The answer then is not the physical location of where we find the Lord but the historical location. By this I mean where in the historical story does the "lost soul" find Jesus? Is it in the manger? At His baptism? On the cross? Or in the resurrection?
The quick solution from Scripture would be the resurrection. This is how Paul encounters Jesus. But we should not be quick to normalize the conversion experience of Paul. The appropriate question remains since many "conversions" occur throughout the ministry of Christ. He is recognized by John at His baptism. He is recognized by a Centurion at His death. So where is Ramirez to find the Lord?
Frankly, I do not now. I think an over emphasis of the cross has often led to poor incarnational theology. Emphasis on the manger has led to a poor theory of atonement. A heavy focus on either tends to dismiss the necessity of the resurrection to justification (Rom 4:25).
If I was to fight for an answer I would require a connection of two types of answers. The answer simplified would be "the Christ met in the sacraments is the Christ met at conversion." This is neither the baby Jesus nor the crucified Jesus. Christ in baptism and the Supper points heartily to the cross with an emphasis on resurrection. Only the resurrected Christ, it would seem, can be found in the sacraments.