The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. — Vatican II
My Twenty One Pilots obsession continues.
Someone recently sent me an interview with Twenty One Pilots lead singer, Tyler Joseph. He is so young. But what a remarkable depth. A poet’s mind, disarming authenticity. He truly shares the anxieties of this age, which styles him a powerful voice.
The interviewer asked him a fascinating question: what is the mission of Twenty One Pilots? From whence their lyrics, their musical style?
Tyler struggled to answer. He spoke of the numbers game that dominates the music industry — profits, number of fans. He admitted these tempt to distract him. But what really drives him, he said, is the idea that their music makes people think about life’s deepest and most universal questions. “If our music can lift up just one person, making their life better and more joyful, then that is the mission of Twenty One Pilots. I don’t just want to entertain people, I want them to think with me, to think about universally true things. I’m a seeker. I ask questions and hope they lead to joy.”
Their song Car Radio captures this brilliantly,
There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose
There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think
Precisely the definition St. Anselm gave to my life’s work, theology, which is fides quaerens intellectum, which I like to translate as “the quest of thinking faith.”
Unquestionably, there is a Christian worldview that inhabits their sounds and lyrics, but Tyler is exceedingly careful not to use overtly religious language. Being an inhabitant of our creed-averse culture, he creatively engages the challenge of trying to carry with him a “theology” into a diverse, splintered and radically pluralistic ethos. Faith “latently” informs their art, making TØP songs like fissures that compromise the integrity of the hardened walls constructed by an atheist, materialist, consumerist secularism. Letting some transcendent air in the room so we can breathe deep.
Or you might say they sing their music (deftly) into a culture comfortable only with an agnostic form of worship offered on “the altar to an unknown God” (Acts 17:23). There on that altar, faith can quietly lead us to contend more seriously with life’s great questions, to grapple with the rawest anxieties of our day, with an eye to hope.
When I went to the TØP concert with my daughters last year, I found my own faith stirred in a powerful way. It was truly an off-beat experience of worship for me, that left a mark for months afterward. All I could think of at the end of their concert, after they finished the song Trees, was the name for God coined by the 13th century Beguine, Marguerite Porete
There in the commercialized Smoothie-King Center in NOLA, the God made “far” by our disenchanted culture drew stunningly near. “I want to know you, I want to see you, I want to say, Hello.”
After listening to the interview with Tyler, I wrote a poem. It’s my summary of what I see to be their aesthetic mission. Dang, I wish they could read it.
Prophets of Zeitgeist
Canting angst, oracles of Zeitgeist
haunted by a restless Father’s Love
whirling about the cross of Christ
faith to life stitched, deftly spliced.
Rapping deep into a living Tree
facing the face of fear, whilst longing
to be found, kissed by Truth set free
love filial, of our gnarled humanity.
Though never preaching, evoking
a beauty that saves, invites, feeds
thinking into our within, provoking
hope, suicidal minds all-soaking.
Your words, incise, cut, make bleed
yet gently wound to heal and bind
our inscape to a life-giving creed
bruising none of each fragile reed.
Your igneous mission rings clear:
Dare us hope Up, out of the fear
into the peace of God, Unknown
Heart Whisperer, “I AM, here
weeping dry every falling tear.”