We have an announcement, and it is an announcement of three parts.
(With apologies to The Name Of The Wind for the above sentence.)
1. We changed our band name!
Jackie and I spent the years 2008 to 2014 working on the debut album for a band that had no specific name. The first batch of songs we recorded was burned onto CD-Rs and handed around as "Jackie and Matt LeFevers", or maybe Untitled Worship Project (I don't really remember). We brainstormed a few different monikers over the next few years but never did anything with them and eventually, as anything does that you work on for that long but don't name, we just developed a shorthand way of referring to it. "Hey, I wrote a new song for the praise record," I would say, or I'd post some studio pics of my brother Zack "recording drums for the praise record". I don't totally recall when the three words became capitalized but I know there was a sort of collective shrug to it. "I have no good ideas for a band name for the praise record. Why don't we just call it The Praise Record?".
Things we didn't anticipate at the time included:
-making upwards of four records as The Praise Record
-achieving any success whatsoever
(More on that second bullet point in just a moment.)
We thought that (because of the next two things I'll announce) this was a pretty good time to name our band for real. Hence, Map & Compass. We've already retconned the covers of our last two albums to have the new name, but went ahead and left the original 2014 debut under The Praise Record, as we feel our topic matter and material made a noticeable shift in between.
In other news...
2. We have a song published through Convergence Music Project!
The church we lead worship at (One Church in Chandler, AZ) is part of a growing network of progressive, open-minded Christian churches. These various churches around the country are open to questions and doubts, affirming of LGTBQ+ and gender equality, and generally seeking (to use Brian McLaren's phrase) "a just and generous Christianity". Speaking as a worship director, it's very difficult to find good songs that embody those values, and the dissonance of singing upbeat modern worship songs with regressive, theologically unsettling lyrics is a huge part of why Jackie and I are writing the songs we write.
Another person who's noticed this vacuum is Bryan Sirchio, founder of the Convergence Music Project. Launched last month, CMP is a network where progressive Christian churches can find songs that align a lot better with their values. For the first time ever, one of our songs is going to be published and distributed! Our song "Break The Cages" is part of the very first batch of music available through the service, and we're very proud and excited to be partnered with CMP and the other artists who are passionate about making church music like this.
I'm even more excited that there is a venue for this kind of music, because...
3. We've got a new EP in the works!
That's about all the news I have on that front - we have no release date in mind or anything. I'm just really excited about this batch of songs and looking forward to getting several more open-minded church jams out there in the world. (Folks from One Church may have heard a few of these creeping into Sunday services already.)
If you have read all of this - thanks for reading all of this! It's a pretty exciting time to be a band called Map & Compass.
September 23, 2016
"When any sector of the Church stops learning, God simply overflows the structures that are in the way and works outside them with those willing to learn."
"Is your god really God?
Is my god really God?
I think our god isn't God,
If he fits inside our heads."
-As Cities Burn, "Clouds"
Even back when our beliefs were a little more unquestioned and orthodox, Jackie and I have always been inclusive Christians. I don't think there has ever been a point when I thought being gay was a sin, or that everyone except a specific flavor of American Protestant Christians was going to hell. But the first dozen songs we wrote for The Praise Record were written while serving at a fairly straightforward church, where we played fairly straightforward worship music. They are good songs (I think, anyway) and they don't say anything in their lyrics that I would regret now, but I wouldn't categorize their themes as "progressive" per se.
Joining One Church (tag line, "Questions and Doubts Welcome") a few years ago gave us our first real experience of completely inclusive Christianity. It was one thing to quietly admit, among friends, that I'm not convinced my warm-hearted, selfless agnostic friends are going to hell, another thing entirely to worship right alongside them and hear the pastor tell them that they belonged. It's one thing to be interested in other religions, and to read the Bhagavad Gita out of curiosity; another thing to invite a Muslim imam (more than once) to speak at your church. One Church didn't make me progressive so much as it allowed me to finally stop fighting it, and relax into a wider stream of love and acceptance that matched what had already been hidden in my heart.
When we went to write another batch of songs in 2015, we didn't want to make the exact same type of worship music everyone else was making. I wanted songs we could sing in church, with guitars and choruses, that didn't hide an undercurrent of toxic theology in their lyrics. I didn't want to sing about how our God loved people exactly like me, who believed the things I did - I wanted to sing about how God loved everyone.
One of the first of these new, progressive worship songs was "Break The Cages".
There's a scripture verse that used to reassure me and then came, over time, to really grate on me. In Isaiah (45:23) and then echoed in Paul's letter to the Philippians (2:10), it's said that one day "every knee will bow" and "every tongue confess" the sovereignty (in Isaiah) of God or (in Paul) of Jesus specifically. I used to really like the universality of that "every", but eventually this all started to feel a bit smug. Are we saying, as Christians, that at the end of time, everyone else will finally admit what we already believe? That we have the truth locked down right now, and fully understand it, but later on everyone else will finally come around? That strikes me as a self-satisfied and almost certainly dangerous way to think.
I was trying my hand at writing a song about our complete inability to understand God, about the idea that a Being vast and mysterious and powerful enough to have created a universe would be impossible for humans to fully grasp and put names to. I came back to this scripture verse for some reason, and finally had a thought - what if the knees that are bowing in awe are not "everyone else's" or "the non-Christians" but ours too? Maybe this verse doesn't have to be about some future "I told you so" to the other folks but about a moment when all of us will behold the creator of everything and every one of us will realize our words and beliefs and dogmas were incomplete and inadequate?
If I'm outing myself as kind of a universalist, that's okay - I was a little afraid to show the rough draft of "Break the Cages" to anyone at first for fear it had gone too far that direction. Now, a year later, when I went to edit a lyric video for the song, I actually decided I hadn't gone far enough, and I chose to double down on that theme visually and depict people and places of all faiths trying to meet God (or whatever they call Him or Her) in their own contexts, with the tools their culture gave them.
Anyone who thinks they completely understand God and what God is like has a frighteningly limited view of the Divine - myself included. A mind that created quasars and dark matter and the things that live at the bottom of the Marianas Trench is too astonishing to be contained by any set of words we drape Them with. Which is not to say the words we choose don't matter - I think they matter a great deal (I said "Them" a sentence ago, not "Him", and I did that on purpose because I think it's important). But if one of our first reactions to thinking about God isn't complete awe and mystery, we might want to think about why that is, and if we're trying to keep our Creator in a neat box (or cage?? haha) for our own convenience.
by Matt LeFevers
Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday, or, according to Wikipedia, "Thursday of Mysteries", which is definitely the name I want to bring back!). Nobody I have ever met can define the word "Maundy", and even after reading Wikipedia's etymology paragraph three times I still don't know what it means. Whatever it's called, the Thursday before Easter commemorates the Last Supper, the tipping point in the gospel narrative where excitement and expectation start sliding into horror. That dinner, with its cryptic instructions for communion and its heavy foreshadowing (Jesus already knows, in all four gospels, that he will be betrayed) is a last spot of warmth before things fall apart. Immediately after, the action moves to the garden of Gethsemane.
The events of this evening, as written in the gospels, are a stunning example of dramatic irony - Christ knows what is coming, as does the reader, but the apostles have no idea, so everything he says to them reads as bittersweet, a secret farewell that they don't pick up on. Jesus withdraws in order to pray his wrenching prayer that he be spared what is coming, pleading for a way out of this, and while he is experiencing one of the worst nights of his life, his closest friends keep falling asleep. You want to shout at them, like movie characters making poor decisions on screen, but of course they don't know this is their last night together. When Jesus returns and rebukes them - "Why are you sleeping?" - I don't imagine it as angry. I imagine it as the frustration of someone who needs support, needs comfort, and has to ask for it without really explaining why.
When Jackie and I sat down to write about the Garden, six years ago, one thought we kept coming back to was: how do we know this story? Jesus goes through his agony off to the side, while the men who would one day bring us the gospel stories (whether directly or through retelling them to their own disciples) are fighting sleep. Did someone overhear their Lord's desperate prayer? Did one of the apostles witness some of this, and only later come to understand what it had meant?
We decided to take a bit of creative liberty and use Peter as our viewpoint character. The blustery, fiercely loyal man who had, a few hours ago, been told he would betray his Savior, and refused to believe it. Was he laying there, struggling with this idea, as Jesus cried? Did he witness an angel comforting the Son of Man and wish that he was strong enough to have done likewise? And when Jesus asked why they were sleeping, did Peter do as many of us have done at one time or another and lay still, letting the question pass without answering?
There are many human moments in the "Thursday of Mysteries" - Peter's insistence he would stand by Jesus no matter what, only to fail when the chips are down; Christ's heartfelt prayer to be spared this fate but humble willingness to accept it if needed - but I think the quiet, accidental failure of Jesus's friends to stay awake with him is moving because I know I have done the same. How often does someone reach out and we miss the significance until later, until after we've dismissed it as another ordinary night in a series of ordinary nights? You and I know how the story ends, and so the apostles seem kind of dim-witted and infuriating to us at times, but living this tale without the benefit of 2,000 year old spoilers, would we do any better?
Listen to "In The Garden" below!
by Matt LeFevers
There's a saying that art is never finished, only abandoned. George Lucas disagrees with this saying. Since the debut of Star Wars in 1977, Lucas has used each change of medium (film to VHS, VHS to DVD, theatrical re-releases) to modify his trilogy, resulting in a panoply of changes over the years, some met with decidedly mixed reactions from fans. For better or worse, I feel a deep kinship with Lucas on this. If you have the resources to do it, it's difficult to resist periodically updating your work, adding new ideas as they occur to you, things you wish you had thought of the first time.
Last night, Jackie and I George-Lucased a couple of the songs on our debut worship album. The record has been out for a little over a year, but only in the last few months have we been able to really start working these songs into our church services - road-testing the material, so to speak. One of the changes we made was to add a couple of lines to one of our oldest songs, "Eternal Life".
Easter is coming up, and with it, an increased focus on the resurrection. Even those of us whose faith is marbled with a certain amount of skepticism and doubt may turn our thoughts to that moment when one of the earth's fixed, immutable laws was broken and a man returned from his tomb.
Of course we look at its story, the blood-and-sandals who/what/when/where of it, but we also look at its meaning. If there is an eternal life - if those "who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake [...and] shine like the brightness of the heavens [...] like the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:2-3) then the only reason that is so is that one specific person did so first. When we sing "Eternal Life" on Easter, I wanted to acknowledge that "the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man" (1 Corinthians 15:20), that the living and then dead and then more-than-living man named Yeshua or Joshua or Jesus set a precedent.
It's one small line, but "You arose so we could follow" grounds our whole meditation on what eternal life might look like by reminding us of the one example we have of it, the One who blazed that trail for us. So, this Easter season, we retconned our song to make it better. Hopefully, unlike Greedo shooting first, our change won't make anyone upset.
Listen to "Eternal Life" below!