Break The Cages
"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.