Tag Archives: Mountain Goats

Us and Them?

Genre note: this blog post is about suggestions and questions. It’s about thoughts clanging around that haven’t found a way to resolve in some sort of palatable harmony. Like real life, it’s a mess of happenings and thoughts and interpretations and rightness and wrongness.

Now that the caveat’s behind us…

I’ve been thinking about “us and them” a good bit this past week.

It started with a blog post: There Is No They. I was wrestling with my own tendency, more broadly observed in others as well, to distance myself from the folks to whom I’m joined.

No, there is no “they” that is the Evangelical church, for example, that’s doing it all wrong. It’s we. It’s I.

Sunday I gave a little talk on sexuality for a church group. Again, I found myself compelled to give a word of warning: despite our tendencies to adopt such a posture, there is no “they” who fail to live up to the gold standard in contrast to the “us” who attain to it.

When we gather to talk about sexual brokenness and sin, there is no “they” about whom we are speaking. We are all people whose lives are touched in every realm by some measure of brokenness and shame, failure and guilt. This includes our sexuality. And it includes even people who have only ever had sex with the one spouse to whom they’ve ever been married.

When we talk as Christians about homosexuality, there is no “they” about whom we are speaking. We are speaking about us, Christians, among whose number and in whose body are gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered sisters(-)and(-)brothers.

No, there is no “they” that are the sexual failures in contrast to the “we” who have our stuff all together.

Yesterday in the car a conversation with my seven-year-old went something like this:

    “Who’s more important, Jesus or God?”

    “Well, Jesus shows us how much God loves us. Like that Bible verse we sing about.”

    [Insert the singing of John 3:16 here.]

    “Did Oma believe in God?”


    “She died.”

    “Well, this is die in a different sense. John’s talking about life as knowing God forever.”

    “So people who don’t believe won’t get to go to heaven and know God forever?”

What kind of “us” are we talking about, what kind of “them” do I want my 7-year-old to carry in mind?

I started thinking about how people act in the world–not just the love God part, but the love neighbor part. If only “they” lived down to the lists of vices that pepper the pages of the Bible, and if only “we” lived up to the lists of Spirit-empowered virtues.

In the middle of all this messifying of the world, I was driving home today and debriefing the Mountain Goats concert I missed by being in Cambridge at the end of June. John Darnielle sang 1 Samuel 15:23:

The song lyrics sit in tantalizing disjunction to 1 Samuel 15:23. A crystal healer who, as AKMA put it,

is not a maleficent enchanter dedicated to a degraded deity, nor a mere charlatan; he provides clothing and shelter for outcasts, and heals the sick. His account of himself sounds more like the description of the works of the Messiah in Matthew 11:1-6, on the basis of which one might (biblically) say regarding the healer, “Blessed is whoever takes no offence at him.”(“‘What These Cryptic Symbols Mean'”, BibInterp 19 (2011): 124

“They” are sometimes more “us” than we are–a surprise reflected in the scene of Matt 25 as much as anywhere. “Lord, lord, whenever did we?” “Lord, lord, whenever did we not?”

“Us and them” can be a dangerous and self-serving weapon. For the most part, even if not always, we might want to put it away before someone gets hurt.

Dungeons and Castles

As folks who have been around here (or me) know, I get my spiritual direction from the Mountain Goats. And I need it. Today, as I get ready to tell my own story at a gathering about “Navigating the Crisis of Identity,” John Darnielle posted this on the band’s website (language warning on his post):

I love literally everything about my life and I have this probably-dumb-but-what-the-hell mystical sense that if even one small detail of my life had been changed, then everything would be different now, and who’s to say that the things most dear to me wouldn’t have to be traded away in the bargain?


If there’s any point to this story, and I’m not sure there is but, it’s that the songs I sing, which are often about finding ways to call a dark dungeon a glittering castle & really mean it, have some of their genesis in me being a fearful young kid with just enough presence of mind to turn to music as an escape.

That’s what I continually learn from the Mountain Goats.

I can tell you that resurrection glory only comes by way of the cross, but he knows how to mean it better than I do. I confess the sovereignty of the God at work in the world, but with a chastened confession that wants so many things to have gone differently.

In the middle of all that brooding and questioning, there’s often the sense that I know who I am, what I should be, what I should do. But here, too, life is a jumbled contradictory mess. Who is this “I” whose story of identity crisis will be told tonight? I’m not sure I’ve seen yet.

And the Mountain Goats remind me of that as well:


I’m not normally one who gives much thought, time, energy, or money to augmenting his wardrobe. Over the past year, however, I have found two exceptional pieces of clothing that demanded purchase.

Both are t-shirts.

First, in honor of my breakfast making, E’s obsession with, and Halloween dressing, as Darth Vader, together with E’s choice of an “I am your father” Father’s Day card, there was this:

Then, in honor of… well.. my singular focus when it comes to music, there was this:

I commend them both for your consideration, and for your further insight into the man behind the blog.


tMG Church 4-14-2011

When the Church of the Mountain Goats gathered in Baltimore on April 14, pastor John preached a phenomenal sermon.

[Here, jrdk is being a bit tongue-in-cheek, please don’t write the management complaining about his ecclesiology. –ed.]

After the song Damn These Vampires (which does use the word damn, but really, if you’re going to wish for God to damn something shouldn’t it be the forces of darkness that destroy people’s lives?), he introduced the next song as follows:

This song is about how if you have survived some personal trauma–which I’m afraid that the great secret of life is you have.

That’s the thing. There’s a line that’s either Salinger or Beckett I’m not quite sure, but it’s “You’re on earth, buddy, there’s no cure for that.”…Beckett…

What binds us, especially those of us who get really into music, is that we share some kind of wound. And we sort of come to shows or write songs in order to open the wound back up and watch it bleed awhile. And sort of… and hang out together and say to one another, “It’s ok that it looks like that. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”


At the same time you harbor a dream of being like the normal people who you imagine exist who probably don’t–right so… And you think, “O some day I will be free of this wound that I carry. This song is called, “Never Quite Free.”

If you listen to it, there is riotous cheering when he says that the great secret of life is that we all endure trauma; there are shouts when he talks about gathering to open the wound and watch it bleed. They cheer when he says it’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Take note, young preacher: the celebration comes, in large part, in the gathering sharing the brokenness together. The great preachers don’t pretend to hold it all together, to have the perfect embodiment of easy answers.

The great preachers acknowledge that the brokenness of the world is their brokenness as well.

Also note: he preached his sermon in 1 minute, and 1/3 of that was an illustration.

ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω

Music FYI

I know that you are worried.

Does Kirk listen to anything other than The Mountain Goats?

To set your minds at ease, here is a list of other music I’m currently digging in my non-Apple-product MP3 Player:

I am enjoying them all, but not yet ready to evangelize for them as I am for the Goats.

All Eternals Deck

For the past several weeks, I have been streaming All Eternals Deck at every opportunity. The new Mountain Goats album is officially released today for us consumers to go about our business of consumption.

So go get it. $5 to download the whole thing. Seriously. Get on it.

This album continues the musical trajectory from both the last Mountain Goats album, Life of the World to Come, and John Darnielle’s side project, “Undercard” which he produced under the rubric of The Extra Lens.

What I mean by this is that Darnielle’s songwriting has increasingly moved from being so lyrically driven that the music hardly matters to richly orchestrated music that is, itself, a voice in the song.

Like all of Darnielle’s music, the songs on All Eternals Deck repay careful listening and attention to the lyrics. On the one hand, this album’s entrance into the world of vampire mythology can be heard as simply playful riffs on a fad that I, for one, hope will pass without much more ado. But upon closer inspection, these songs aren’t ultimately about vampire bites and some sort of demonic antipathy for the song Hotel California (although the latter is a particularly amusing moment).

Wooden idols. Aviator shades. These are trinkets from Crusades. Hmmm…

As with Undercard, Mountain Goat regulars will be pleasantly surprised at the varying styles of the songs on this latest album. High Hawk Season is throw-back in its harmonies and vocal accompaniment–underlaying typical Darniellian lyrics.

So, even though I still think that We Shall All be Healed is the greatest album ever produced, All Eternals Deck is a must-listen for all Mountain Goats aficionados, and a great entry point for folks who want an entree into the work of one of the greatest lyricists of the current generation of songwriters.