Although the Mae Shi have recorded my favorite Miley Cyrus cover ever (It's so good! It is! The video's not, though – sorry. Warning: WILL GET STUCK IN YOUR HEAD) and a hilarious parody of Christopher Bale's meltdown (lol), I think that much of their music is very important. They join other Christian musicians who form rock bands but don't call their music "Christian rock," not because their music is any less Christian, but because their music does not belong to a world of easy-peasy worship songs. There's no "fall on your face with your knees to the rising sun" to be had here. Instead of showering listeners fine slurry of platitudes and beatitudes, the Mae Shi creates songs that question, sometimes harshly, the current state of society and Christianity; or that educate the listener on aspects of the religion; or that give personal testimony of God's strengths and religion's weaknesses. From Mae Shi's song "Young Marks":
I was born
to potential and limitless grace
with the flashing of light
it was gone when the smoke cleared
cast in ash and powder
I was raised to obey and respect but
at the edge of the lake
was dead and disruption
when the water splashed across my back...
I wasn't chosen
I didn't choose the path
my heart's not built to hold his love
I was schooled
in a place of tradition
but something was missing
in faces of classmates
eyes declared too blue, too deep
The Mae Shi's lyrics do what Christian musicians, as Christians and as artists, should be doing: discomforting, challenging, thought-provoking. They've moved past the rock songs that do little more than assert strength of the artists' piety. And by doing so, they've become ministers to a new group of Christians – those who, like me, are not satisfied to merely bend over and watch the older generations poison their minds and hearts with their enema bags full of dogma.
The Mae Shi are not the only ones. In fact, they're my latest fling in an ongoing music fetish. Before this, I have fallen in love with the now-defunct Pedro the Lion and Half-Handed Cloud (HHC's song Animals Are Cut in Two is quite possibly the most upbeat song ever written on the significance of Old Testament animal sacrifice, and proves that I wasn't the only one paying attention in Theology class). While they approach the issues in different ways (both lyrically and musically) and for different purposes, this growing group of artists recognizes and accepts a complexity in Christianity that has been ignored for years, perhaps even millennia. They look at their own confusion and bottle it. Note that Pedro the Lion's beautiful ballad "Priests and Paramedics" (a very nice live version) doesn't say whether the priests or the paramedics are correct. And even after performing very pessimistic pieces, these artists can still take comfort in the old, solid hymns (Pedro the Lion also performs a very peaceful version of "Amazing Love"), or in embracing feel-good messages – The Mae Shi sells shirts that proclaim, "I'm glad you're alive" – because isn't that what Christianity is about, too? In the end, it is this wandering that makes me trust them. I wonder if they realize that their faithful uncertainty makes them more disciple-like than surety.
In a time where the word "Christian" is fraught with implications of bigotry and ineptitude, and where "Christian rock" means playing electric guitar to the same old hymn books, these artists have found a greater depth of meaning and perhaps a wider audience for Christian ideas (not to mention a place in my heart) by venturing outside the pale. Mayhaps we of the flock could learn a little from these preachers.