The Neal Morse Dichotomy

I was debating whether to post this here or on my music-based blog (shameless plug), but as it’s of a more personal nature, I think it belongs here.

During our weekend away, we had a brief walk around the nearby town of Oswestry and browsed through a handful of charity shops. In one of them, they had no less than 3 CDs by Neal Morse: Testimony, One and ?, and I bought all three.

Before I carry on: a little bit of background. Neal Morse was the founder of and chief songwriter for Spock’s Beard, an American Prog Rock quintet. He was also one quarter of Transatlantic, a Prog supergroup who, in 2000 and 2001, had released two awesomely epic albums: SMPTe and Bridge Across Forever. By 2002, I was quite well-versed in Neal’s works, and his latest album with Spock’s Beard, Snow, I still rate among his best. Shortly after that album was released, Neal announced he had become a Born-again Christian, and was leaving both Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic to concentrate on more spiritual music.

By the time I’d started going to church a few years later, the three aforementioned albums had already been released, and they kind-of became my soundtrack to those times, although Testimony didn’t get played much due to it’s length and intensity.

Looking back, it seems as if my appreciation of his music increased the frustrations I felt whilst playing in and leading the church’s music group – here was someone who allowed himself to be inspired by all areas of his faith, and yet there we were playing contemporary songs that carried the same old sycophantic themes. I felt we could do much better – we could use our talents to inspire and enlighten – but there was always a strong sense of resistance coming from the more established and experienced members of the group. I was, in effect, the younger new guy with all these new ideas – I should have just known my place and shut the fuck up.

Today, my spiritual life is a lot different to what it was back then and, while the music on these albums still makes excellent listening, I’m finding the lyrical themes incredibly difficult – especially on One, which analyses one’s relationship with God. The album paints a somewhat bleak picture of those who have distanced themselves from the faith:

The mind got large, beyond it’s station
Took full charge of his destination
Became a God of his own creation
Everything was his

— from “The Man’s Gone”, Track 2 of One (2004)

The image of someone wandering alone, without a god to guide them, is prevalent – implying that life is meaningless without God, or that a life not devoted to God is a life devoted to sin. I find it rather difficult to process the dichotomy between the individual and the collective – the thought of being part of “one mind”, and having all our senses surrounded by some kind of “God filter” is rather scary to me now, having worked hard over the past two years to try and reconnect with my true self rather than the faux-Christian I once was. Sin, to me, was never analogous to evil – it was a combination of your natural imperfection, inexperience and ignorance (in short, nobody’s perfect) – and the Christian interpretation of sin that I was taught smothers all of that with a liberal amount of guilt and shame. Education and practice, not repentance and apology.

I don’t know – perhaps, if you’re looking for a meaning to your life, God is something of an easy answer as it comes with clear instructions on how to obtain that ultimate prize in the afterlife. Without the God filter on, my head works harder to interpret, analyse and reflect on experiences.

It’s not easy, but it’s by no means bleak or lonely either.

It is what you make it.

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