We’re currently recording some of our favorite covers. We’ll mix and master them over the summer and then give them all to y’all for your listening pleasure. We’ll have at least eight songs on there, and maybe a ninth if we’re efficient. Get excited!
I like to think that I have a relatively personal way of doing theology. Even though the arguments I make will ideally remain universally applicable, the personal, individual- or group-level application is something I always try to make shine through in my treatises. Still, a lot of what I write on here is pretty abstract and abstruse at times, so the blatant narrative of this particular piece should be a nice change of pace. Also, this is particularly rough and quickly written, so my apologies for stylistic awkwardnesses.
During my senior year of high school, some of my friends in my class decided to form a band and play some shows. They were called In Case of Fire, and they were the coolest. I was more of a fan of theirs than I should have been, for all of the bad vicarious reasons. Although I didn’t play an instrument at the time - I was just learning bass guitar - I wanted few things more than to be in a band. The idea of working closely with people who were your friends to make art, and, on top of that, being able to make an impact on the lives of people you didn’t know via putting on a good show seemed like a noble goal to strive toward.
The reason these notions were so appealing to me is that I didn’t have a lot of friends during high school, and the few that I did, I had because I did some kind of highly institutional activity with them, like debate. My notion of friendship was thus something like “someone to do activities with.” The concept that relational contact might be an end in itself didn’t occur to me. Of course, activities set up by institutions such as the school would always be less friendship-creative, in this way, than activities my peers and I organized on our own. The latter seemed more authentic. Bandmates seemed like the kind of purposed friends who would be indispensable, irreplaceable, to each other, due to their shared mission. This is how I was going to make good friends - I was going to make myself indispensable to something they wanted. Of course, now this sounds like what it is - the creepy, oddly purposed ramblings of an underinformed high schooler.
I wasn’t in a band during high school since I couldn’t play any instruments or sing well enough to just do that. When I received my housing information for college, I immediately looked up my roommate on Facebook, and lo and behold, he had a band. 2 other people I found on the Internet who were living close to my dorm room within the building also played instruments. So naturally, one of the first topics of conversation between me and at least a couple of the guys was the possibility of starting a band. Of course, nothing was particularly serious in our discussions; we were just a bunch of kids about to start their first year of college and do all kinds of strange and new things, so we talked about anything and everything. Still, the band was one of the deepest desires of my heart, and while I became preoccupied with other things as my college career got underway, the impulse to make myself indispensable through co-creation remained strong.
An outflowing of this impulse was that, spring quarter of my first year, I auditioned for a role in a play with University Theater, a musical which my roommate also was acting in, called Nowhere Town. (Start with the institutional relationships, turn them into self-determined activity relationships. At least, that was basically how I thought.) I had become pretty good friends with my roommate over the year without doing almost anything that he did on campus, except for residential activities. Anyway, the show was not particularly good or well written, but the people I met, alongside whom I acted, were so great that we had a peculiarly fun time with the show. Many of them were particularly musically talented, and at a couple of parties we would break out the instruments and those who could play them would, and the rest of us would sing along.
This jams-attitude persisted after the summer, in which I went home, and the fall, in which 2 of the Nowhere Town girls whom I had become close to were abroad. When winter arrived and everyone came back, some of the guys and girls from Nowhere Town started getting together for jams once a week at a regular time. I was unaware of this until one day, by a stroke of providence, I passed one of the guys, who was carrying his keyboard, in the hallway and asked him what he was up to. He mentioned that jams had become a regular thing and told me he was on his way. No explicit invitation to come participate, but I’d gotten good enough on the bass, through playing for my church and my InterVarsity fellowship, to contribute, and I was sure no one would be opposed to my tagging along (I was, after all, a pretty good institutional friend, for being one). So I grabbed my bass and amp from my room and followed him down to the music rooms.
Jams continued for the next couple weeks, and we realized that some of our songs sounded pretty good, so one day one of the girls asked, “Guys, this kinda sounds like a band. Want to play a show? Off-Off [a campus comedy troupe] needs a preglow.” I had forgotten how much I had wanted a band, but the want was still there, and I had found people I genuinely loved being in community with and who were willing to have me along for the ride. Of course, by then I had already made friends, and the band came out of our friendship, not the other way around.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that the following year has been the best of my life. I played eight shows with the band over the course of the year, and we had too many rehearsal-jams to count, and every time it was a highlight of my week. But of course, all good things must come to an end. This spring, two of our members are going abroad for the quarter, and this summer two are graduating and another is moving away after having graduated. So, until the reunion tour, it doesn’t seem like Gutenberg and the Illuminators have much of a performance future left.
We played our last show last night. About a hundred people showed up, which is a lot given how much our friend-groups overlap. I was surprised by how entertained everyone was, and we had a good crowd for almost 2 hours of music. We were on our game for the most part, not that it mattered, since everyone was singing along and/or dancing to certain numbers. But this - the ability to show a bunch of people a good time, the creative camaraderie among a few friends - summed up everything I wanted out of being part of a band.
And I realized, if this was as good as life got, in and of itself, it wouldn’t be enough. See, Augustine had a very good point, when he remarked that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. There is a way to do things, such as playing in a band, that is intentionally aimed at the glorification of God, and there is a way to do such things in a way not intentionally aimed at such. And I have experienced much more fulfillment in activities aimed at the glorification of God (which can be any activity not in contradiction to the law of God, depending on how you go about it).
Don’t get me wrong. I love my bandmates and they are some of my best friends. I love the band itself and think that our purpose in doing what we do is worthwhile, and there is nothing I’d rather be doing with the time that we play together than that. I think what God is showing me through my experience with the band (a good portion of which is non-Christian, by the way) is that fun things on their own merits are fun but unfulfilling, while fun things built into the structure of my mission as a servant of God are both fun and fulfilling. That’s part of seeking internal integration around the good, as Aquinas put it.
I’ve had as much fun as I could possibly hope for with this group, and at the same time the group has given me the realization that the desires of my heart that God chooses to grant me are and should properly be subordinated and incorporated into my desire for Him. This is where my desires are reformed into things that are actually good for me. I’ve gained a much better understanding of what friendship is through my interactions with these guys and girls, and it seems that I had wanted for the wrong reasons something that turned out to be very good for me. It’s important that God’s plan doesn’t just include His followers doing the right things; that’s legalism. What God wants is for us to truly want, to love, the right things. Instead of loving the idea of coercing people into liking me, I’ve learned to love people for who they are, made in the image of God, and as figures of Christ to us (Matt 25:40).
That (along with all the killer jamz) is how my bandmates have blessed me. I look forward to our glorious reunion in 2030, and all the good times I’ll yet have with subsets of y’all.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift his countenance toward you and give you peace.