Sunday, November 3, 2013

Victory begins on our knees (or "Five Iron Frenzy and the Walls of Jericho")

I've written before of Christian music, both worship and popular. I've grown up with it: I've listened to music that shaped my theology, and I've listened to music that made me want to bash my head against the pew. And one day, several years ago, I listened to Five Iron Frenzy and everything changed. 

In a few short weeks, it will be my enormous pleasure to review their first new CD in ten years, Engine of  a Million Plots. And as I've never written a music review before, I figured I should probably take some time here to hash out my feelings for FiF as a whole, before attempting to talk about one album in particular.

Because it's actually kinda hard to explain why I love FiF so much. The first album I ever listened to was the last one they ever produced (until EoaMP), and from the first song on the CD, I could tell that here, here was something strange and wonderful indeed.

There was a quality that struck me immediately, though it was hard to define. It was brash and bold, daring and defiant. Just the other day I realized that there is one word that perfectly defines it. Five Iron Frenzy is brazen, in every sense of the word, with the shameless and unmuted defiance of brass.

And this brazenness struck a chord that has never ceased reverberating. My head was already full of Chesterton at that point, and the songs of FiF have always embodied a certain passage from Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
"To the orthodox there must always be a case for revolution; for in the hearts of men God has been put under the feet of Satan. In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell. For the orthodox there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration. At any instant you may strike a blow for the perfection which no man has seen since Adam."
From the theology of Cannonball and A New Hope, to the social justice of Fahrenheit, The Day We Killed, and American Kryptonite, almost every song rings with the glory and bravado of the horns that marked the end of Jericho: When horns were blown and voices raised as the ancient stronghold inexplicably crumbled. Every song is a rebellion and a revolution: Every song is fighting for a perfection that, though lost, can be found again. But undercutting the brazen tone is the acknowledgement that while victory is assured, it must begin with the victory of the cross, which often looks (and feels) an awfully lot like defeat.

And the key to the album lies in the simple fact that this victory does not come to the strong, to the wise, to those who have it all together. As On Distant Shores proclaims, "Mercy falls on the broken and the poor." Is is this mercy, this undeserved and unmerited mercy, that is the foundation and substance of Christian victory. The bridge, in particular, is haunting. You can find the song itself (complete with lyrics) here: But here's the bridge:

And off of the blocks,
I was headstrong and proud,
at the front of the line for the card-carrying highbrowed,
With both eyes fastened tight,
yet unscarred from the fight,
Running at full tilt, my sword pulled from its hilt...
It's funny how these things can slip away,
our frail deeds, the last will wave good-bye.
It's funny how the hope will bleed away,
the citadels we build and fortify. Good-Bye.
Night came and I broke my stride,
I swallowed hard, but never cried.
When grace was easy to forget,
I'd denounce the hypocrites,
casting first stones, killing my own.
You would unscale my blind eyes,
and I stood battered, but more wise,
fighting to accelerate,
shaking free from crippling weight.
With resilience unsurpassed,
I clawed my way to You at last.
And on my knees, I wept at Your feet,
I finally believed, that You still loved me.
 The victory of the Christian is not found in our own deeds (thank God!). It is not found in blind battle, in who cast the most stones: It is not found even in standing under our own power! 

That is what makes Five Iron Frenzy truly amazing. Their music illustrates the simple, foundational truth that the victory of the Christian is found on our knees, in the desperate acceptance of the mercy of God. The bold defiance of FiF and the victory of the Christian, the brazen horns and the fall of Jericho, begins and ends with an acknowledgment of insufficiency. It begins and ends with falling to the ground and asking, "What does my Lord say to his servant?"

In closing, Five Iron Frenzy is awesome. Seriously, they're the best. Go buy The End is Here, and when Engine of a Million Plots comes out, buy that too. And to sweeten the deal, I'll give you my own personal guarantee: If you don't like it...well, I'm not gonna pay for it or anything, but I will ridicule you for having such poor taste in music.

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