I don’t often think very much about metalcore music.
If I’m listening to it (usually for this job), it’s kinda hard to think at all, brain-rattling as it is. And when I’m not listening to it (usually for everything else), I can’t seem to remember what I’m supposed to have learned from it while I was listening to it.
But I’ve spent a lot of time meditating within this supersonic subgenre this week. I ran across something that sprang from the core of metalcore, if you will, that speaks clearly and strongly to life and our faith—the very faith we struggle so long to work out with so much trembling and fear. And I wanted to share it with you.
Many of you will likely not know immediately who a singer (er, growler) named Tim Lambesis is. Tim was the founder and frontman of a Christian rock band for many years. And not just any Christian rock band, but a band that earned itself a position as one of the most influential musical acts (whether secular or Christian) in the genre known as metalcore. The band is called As I Lay Dying, and we (here at Plugged In) have for years praised its lyrics for elevating Christ and His truth in a very dark musical corner.
Adam Holz wrote of the band’s Powerless Rise album, “Say what you will about metalcore—it’s too raw, it’s too loud, it’s too savage—Tim Lambesis and Co. have crafted an album that crackles and detonates with prophetic potency. It’s impossible to miss the band’s call to embrace a life of sacrifice on behalf of others—a biblical message spliced into a snarling renunciation of materialistic excess.”
Then, abruptly last year, Tim was arrested for soliciting the murder of his wife. (The “killer for hire” he talked with was an undercover cop in California.) Tim was convicted and sentenced to prison. And in his only big interview since his conviction (with Alternative Press), he spoke out about the things in his life that drove him to the point of pursuing murder. 1) Discarding his faith and turning to atheism. 2) Sexual infidelity. 3) Divorce and alienation from his children. 4) Anabolic steroid abuse. 5) The internal culture of his own band and the external culture of the music world he inhabited.
It is against that backdrop that he says something that is utterly true and utterly profound in a way I was not expecting, and in a way that applies so well to all of our own lives and journeys, even though they rarely push into the same sort of extreme territory Tim’s did:
I was a philosophy major in college. I thought it was something I’d enjoy that would help me grasp what people are thinking in order for me to help people better understand Christianity. I thought I would learn how to defend the faith. I was naive.
I ended up touring, so I finished it up through a distance study program. I switched from philosophy to religious studies, as they wouldn’t let me do philosophy via distance learning. I’d get three pages of the traditional evangelical conservative point of view, then three paragraphs or sometimes even just three sentences from the atheist perspective. But even in just a few sentences, I’d think, “This point of view makes more sense,” even when it wasn’t being well represented. In the process of trying to defend my faith, I started thinking the other point of view was the stronger one.
The first time I cheated on my wife, my interpretation of morality was now convenient for me. I felt less guilty if I decided, “Well, marriage isn’t a real thing, because Christianity isn’t real. God isn’t real. Therefore, marriage is just a stupid piece of paper with the government.” I thought of myself as super-scholarly at the time. “My academic pursuit has led me to this.” I was sincere to a certain degree, but we all hear what we want to hear to justify our actions. I interpreted the evidence how I wanted and felt it was intellectually dishonest to consider myself a Christian. I felt at best I could consider myself agnostic, and at least I would consider myself an atheist. That was my original twist on the whole thing. I read a lot of stuff from the people who are now more popularly known as the “Four Horsemen” of the atheist apocalypse [Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett].
The emphasis is mine. And that is what I’ve been thinking about so hard: That our spiritual philosophy and theology is all too often driven by our own desires and proclivities rather than letting the Truth truly guide us and, ultimately, set us free.
Also of interesting note are things he said about his band and the guys in the bands he’d been hanging out with:
We toured with more “Christian bands” who actually aren’t Christians than bands that are. In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands. I actually wasn’t the first guy in As I Lay Dying to stop being a Christian. In fact, I think I was the third. The two who remained kind of stopped talking about it, and then I’m pretty sure they dropped it, too. We talked about whether to keep taking money from the “Christian market.” We had this bizarrely “noble” thing, like, “Well, we’re not passing along any bad ideas. We’re just singing about real life stuff. Those kids need to hear about real life, because they live in a bubble.”
And more meaningful from a personal relationship perspective, related to how we all can speak into the lives of those we’re close to, he said this:
[My bandmates] were all pretty aware of what was going on. But none of them called me out on it. Looking back, I wish they had been like, “Yo, dude, is this really how you want your life to unfold?” I understand it was awkward. “We know he’s cheating on his wife, we know he’s going to end his marriage, we know he’s on steroids.” They all definitely knew I had [strayed] from my marriage and at least some of them know about the steroids.
He says that only one of those men has even tried to visit him after his arrest.