Thursday, November 12, 2009

"The Dao of St. Paul"

After the tsunami of fandom that surrounded Third Eye Blind's success with post-grunge, 3-chord, guitar-driven, pop-rock became a slow rolling wave, I allowed myself to explore the some of the deeper tracks on their first self-titled album. I was way wrong about those guys; I've been a fan ever since. Stephan Jenkins is a respectable (ok, maybe not morally respectable, but respectable in the professional sense) lyricist and producer. I love subtle--he does subtle well. When the Blue album came out, I was hooked. I waited 4 years for Out of the Vein and was not disappointed. So I was a little surprised when I missed the release of Ursa Major back in August of this year. We were in the middle of a move, it had been six years since their last release, and the album was released on a smaller label, so it was off my radar screen. I gave it a listen two weeks ago, and was blown away by track 10, "The Dao of St. Paul."

A note for my fellow Christian readers: There is much that you may find offensive in the 3eb set-list. I mean, Jenkins is an honest-to-goodness current-generation San Fransisco hippie. That's why I love the lyrical and artistic quality of 3eb, but its also the reason I choose to skip some tracks.

That said, "The Dao of St. Paul" is a beautiful moral diamond in the rough. I know that some theologians will find much over which to object in the concept of this song. "Dao" (or Tao), is not necessarily consistent with Christian moral teaching (even though C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, uses the Dao ("Tao" in The Abolition...) as a synonym for the Natural Law, as described by none other than St. Paul in verses like Romans 2:14-15). But, this song picks up on a particularly Taoist thought in the the book of Philippians--rejoicing in suffering. In Taoism, rejoicing in suffering is an echo of the highest morality (we reflect the true nature of things by existing in the tension of good and evil). In Christian thought, however, suffering and evil are things to be conquered in the future by the source of all good--i.e. God (Romans 8:24; Revelation 20:3-5).

The 3eb song picks up on this Taoist theme in the writings of Paul and applies it to a romantic relationship. I think Jenkins misses the point of Paul's rejoicing. Paul rejoices in the fact that there is something beyond his suffering--Complete Joy revealed. The person in this song, seems to rejoice for the sake of getting along in life. All that said, the choral ending of this song is beautiful. It ties all of these themes together--eastern Taoism, failed relationships, Christian virtue, complete joy revealed--and sets them to music. Perhaps that's what Lewis found so promising in the concept of Tao--it draws near to the good, even if the good cannot be explained; it seeks, in this world, that which is beyond this world; it gets close to God, even if it comes up short.

As we live our lives, I hope that you will not stop drawing near when the song resolves. I hope that you will continue to rejoice in hope long after the choral ending. I hope that you will not come up short in seeking, in this life, that which is beyond this life. I hope that you will find the source of Paul's rejoicing--his hope in God's grace through Jesus.

Ladies and Gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, and potential edification, "The Dao of St. Paul."


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