Let’s just get it out there: I love Mumford and Sons.
In fact, as a 30-something pastor of a church in suburbia, I am a walking cliche when it comes to my musical tastes. U2, Mumford and Sons, Macklemore, Bon Iver, Explosions in the Sky, Coldplay, the Civil Wars, and Gungor…because I’m picky about my worship music. The only way I could be more cliche is if I preached from a stool wearing a shirt from the Buckle with thick glasses.
And I have thick glasses so the cliche is nearly complete.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I was really excited to go to the Mumford and Sons concert last week. It was everything I hoped it would be. It was some of the best live music I’ve seen. Ever. Taking horrible videos on your cellphone and bragging to your 3 year old son awesome.
At one point during the concert I stopped and looked around. Thousands upon thousands of people in one place to hear four guys sing. Thousands of people clapping and raising their hands and dancing because four guys are singing. Thousands of people joining their voices to thousands of other voices to sing along with four guys singing one song.
I thought to myself, “We are a part of something more than just watching and listening and singing and playing. We are a part of this very moment.”
It’s pretty astounding when you stop and think about it.
People often come away from concerts like U2 or Mumford and Sons and refer to it as a religious experience. I’ve had many Christian friends describe their experience at a concert as worship. Now, they don’t mean to, but the comparison is blatant if not subtle: this is better than church. Exclaiming “That was worship!” is a not so subtle way of saying something else was not.
I have no doubt that concerts are, in fact, a type of spiritual experience helping people get outside of themselves. That is what music does. Music moves us and calls us and creates a response in us like few other things can.
But I’ve stopped thinking of concerts as religious experiences. If concerts are religious experiences then they are pathetic religious experiences. A concert has the ability to get people outside of themselves, to lift them up and take them somewhere. It causes men to throw their hands in the air and clap and sing. This is why we love concerts. We love their ability to make us deeply united to what’s happening on the stage. That’s what’s magical about a concert. To truly experience the concert one has to let themselves go and participate with the performers to make the music. The concert only works if we, the crowd, participate. The joint participation of performer and spectator transforms each; the spectator is no longer just a spectator and the performer no longer a performer. Together, in a dynamic back and forth, we are moved into the moment together.
But that’s all we are a part of. Once the music is over and the lights fade the moment passes. The cigarette and marijuana smoke linger more than the moment itself.
That’s why concerts make pitiful religious experiences. They terminate on themselves.
I stood in the midst of 30,000 other people who had coming looking for something. Some had come looking for an escape. Some came looking to forget. Some came looking for an excuse to go numb to what they were feeling. Some came to laugh, some came to cheer, some came to simply come. But everyone came. And everyone came looking for something.
Everyone who came looking for something got something, but the something they got lasted only for the moment. Once the moment lapsed they were left needing and wanting once again.
If concerts are a religious experience, they are in that they connect people to something larger than themselves. You aren’t experiencing the moment alone, you are experiencing with other people collectively. That collective experience connects you to one another in a unique and powerful way.
But I do not believe people simply want to be connected to something larger than themselves. I believe people need to be connected to something larger than themselves. I think people need that concert experience where they transcend beyond themselves in the moment becoming joining something other than, and greater than, self. This, if anything, is the religious experience of the concert.
But concerts are a horrible larger than self thing. Because it ends.
For the Christian, the church is the thing we connect to that is larger than self. It gives us a sense of purpose that is greater than just our individual lives. It connects us to something that transcends the moment and extends back through 2,000 years of history connecting up to eternity. This is why I believe the church is God’s plan for the world. Church is supposed to be the ultimate transcendent, larger than life experience.
So, isn’t it interesting that church is looking more and more like a concert? Everybody who has gone to a concert knows something special happens in that moment. Christians know the transcendent connection is what church is supposed to be like. But we’ve moved to copy the concert. We mimic the lights and the fog and the band and the sound and we hope it produces the same high as the concert.
And it does! For the moment. And only for the moment. And when the music is over and the lights fade it passes. Just like the moment at the concert.
It’s why I think concerts make horrible religious experiences.
No, a concert isn’t a religious experience. Sitting down and quietly breaking bread and passing the cup is a religious experience. Breaking through pretense with a small group of people to hear the deepest confession of deep crying out to deep is a religious experience. Gathering with a small group of people to pray is a religious experience. Being with another person as they experience the truth of no shame and no condemnation in Christ Jesus is a religious experience.
No. A concert is just a frickin’ riot.
Photos © Sean Molin/ConcART Photo.