Wednesdays in the World - The Tradition of Sufjan Stevens

Many of you May have noticed a quote on the front of your bulletin this week. (For those of you who weren't there, it'll be there again this week...) It was a quote from Sufjan Stevens' "In the Devil's Territory" from his album Seven Swans. (Worth buying if you don't own it... he has alot of other good stuff too...)

If you've never heard of Sufjan Stevens, don't fret. You're not alone. He's a quirky songwriter that might be one of the greatest post-modern troubadors yet. If you didn't know better, you'd assume he was on drugs (his last concert tour consisted of an entire orchestra wearing butterfly wings). His songs are weird, sometimes with ridiculous titles (like the "To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves an Inner Tube, Bath Mats, and 21 Able-bodied Men" which yes, is really a song title.)

But how is this related to worship? Well, Sufjan might not come out and say it... but his songs sure do. They tend to be allegories of his spiritual journey, or pictures of The Savior. He has remarkably good theology buried in orchestras and banjos and songs about Illinois. It's artists like him that are the new hymn writers. He writes of of his own depravity in "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and of his journey from slavery to freedom in "Chicago". His songs are poems, hard to understand without thought (which in pop-music is pretty rare) and beautiful snippets of a life with God.

The bottom line for me is this: Sufjan redefines what worship music is. I tend to get stuck in tradition, such that tradition itself becomes the thing worshipped. If you don't sing "Come Thou Fount", then I can't worship. Some churches have organs, some have drums, some dance in the aisles. They each have their own traditions. Especially at Christmas. You wouldn't believe the angry mobs churches get for trying something out of the ordinary during December. I'm right in there, with my torch and pitchfork, calling for someone's head for thinking about singing "Silent Night" without candles. I love my traditions. But Sufjan reminds me- he makes me pause and say, "Maybe God is bigger than my traditions.... Maybe God can be worshiped just as well in a song by someone wearing butterfly wings."

This Advent season, I'm thinking about traditions. And I'm trying to think about them less. Maybe then I can think about the reason for the traditions more.