Fleet Foxes on the American Church

I am a huge fan on the band Fleet Foxes. Their lyrics, harmonies and ethos inspire me, and they frequent my playlist when studying, reading or writing. Their music is worth checking out, simply for its uncanny ability to transport you to another place momentarily to reflect, ponder or meditate. You can (should) get their music here:

When I came across the opening lyrics to their song “Helplessness Blues,” I couldn’t stop thinking about the extraordinary parallels to my personal experience as a product of American Christianity. If you are one of the readers of this blog located in the USA the message inherent in these words may strike you immediately. Even if you don’t attend church of any sort, I’m sure you’ll understand:

I was raised up believing

I was somehow unique

Like a snowflake distinct amongst snowflakes

Unique in each way you can see.

And now after some thinking

I’d say I’d rather be

A functioning cog in some great machinery

Serving something beyond me.

The referent that immediately comes to mind is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in which he speaks of the diversity of the “body” which is the collective group of individuals that together make up this thing we today call “church.” Fleet Foxes has spoken in two poetic stanzas of the great disparity that exists between two mindsets: one selfish in its individuality, the other selfless in its communality.

I won’t go into a long diatribe about the state of the American church at this point. But what I find most troubling about the church culture that pervades the USA (and is sadly leaking to other cultures) is that it has been infected in large part by a cult of individuality. The evidence is all around us, to name a few examples:

  • How many particularly adept and persuasive preachers are lifted onto the global pedestal of YouTube and their personal apps, whether they want that or not?
  • How much do Christian artists and producers crank out music by the shipload that feeds and speaks to the individual Christian’s “personal” walk, but has limited applicability to the gathered congregation?
  • How often does ticking the “personal devotions” box on our to-do list take priority over visiting one’s neighbor in person, asking how we can be of help to the tired and overworked children’s ministry volunteers, pushing through the pain of writing a check too large on behalf of those who are really in need?

The song above grants us two options: live for self, or serve something greater than me. The first option belongs to the system of this dark world. The second sums up neatly the privilege of being “in Christ.”

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