I went to a church service on a Sunday night in June – but couldn’t quite figure out what the religion was.
I wanted to experience first-hand a Mumford and Sons concert. I like their music and their rise has been almost meteoric, from unknowns to superstars. The Ottawa show, their first ever here, sold out in less than an hour, 17500 tickets.
Now I get it. The show is a communal event, a shared religious experience. The question is: why?
I have been to rock concerts that would also classify as religious experiences where the band would usher the audience into the presence of God. The most obvious example is U2, but there are bands in the Christian subculture (Switchfoot immediately comes to mind) also able to replicate that experience.
Most concerts don’t go there, though it may seem at first glance that there are similarities. I have seen performers engage the audience fully – Bruce Springsteen and Paul. McCartney for example. But those shared experiences involved cultural memory and musical ecstasy, not religion. Mumford and Sons cracked open Heaven’s door a little. And then slammed it shut in the audience’s faces.
This is a time of theological confusion for our society, and Mumford and Sons are providing the soundtrack. The songs reflect our alienation from each other, amidst a yearning for something better, if we could only figure out what that could be. They offer a hope for the future, or maybe not, without offering any suggestions as to how to cross the chasm that separates us from God. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
There’s no doubt the journey is important. In order to get from one point to another you have to move. Staying in one spot leads to stagnation. But always traveling and never arriving is no life either.
I’m not sure I have ever been part of an audience quite like that one. The band didn’t exhort those in attendance to sing along, it was a spontaneous outpouring of song. This was not a rock music performance but a choral celebration. Everyone, it seemed, knew the words to every song, and they weren’t shy about joining in.
Marcus Mumford knows better. Maybe that’s why the songs connect on such an emotional level. As the son of two pastors, Mumford is cognizant of what Christianity has to offer. You can find videos of the band covering hymns on YouTube. I don’t get the impression from his lyrics though that he wants to make a commitment. Mumford offers glimpses of the divine, but seen through a glass darkly. There are questions, but no answers. I’m not even sure of there is a nudging toward answers.
We live in a culture that is dominated by alienation. True community has been lost. We wander alone and wonder if there isn’t more to life. No-one seems to have answers. We feel the ongoing for something more, but coupled with that is a distrust of the traditional. The distance that has built up between God and humanity is reflected by the distance between people.
For 90 minutes Mumford and Sons manage to bridge that gap. They bring people together with a common purpose. There is a sense of belonging and shared experience.
I only wish the vision being presented was a little clearer.