I went and saw Sedona today and I liked it a lot better than the Grand Canyon. I think the Canyon is just too big to get any sense of, especially if you just stay on the rim, so it’s hard to really feel strongly about it. But Sedona, man, you’re right down among the huge rocks and the scale is easier to comprehend. The drive in and out of Sedona is strangely a lot like the North Carolina mountains– lots of winding roads and evergreeen trees– but there’s a sense of something different about it, and then all of a sudden you come around one of the bends in the road and there are all the Red Rocks just looming in front of you. It’s incredibly majestic and the views are so special. I decided to go up to Cathedral Rock, the most famous big rock around Sedona, and the lady at the visitor’s center told me “it’s pretty strenuous, it’s a climb rather than a hike.” Man, she wasn’t kidding. The first half was easy and then all of a sudden it’s actually climbing up steep bare rocks. I didn’t make it all the way up because I ran out of water, but I made it pretty close. The views from up there are the kind you really can’t get anywhere else. It’s like when I wrote about driving through New Mexico yesterday–it just takes your breath away and substitutes total wonder, silence, and stillness in its place. It’s impossible not to feel at one with the universe in a very real way from up there.
Today was also the day that the new mewithoutYou album came out. I can tend to facetiously exaggerate when describing something, but I’m not exaggerating this time when I say I think it’s the ultimate realization of what guys like Larry Norman were trying to do when they started Christian rock music, before money and greed got ahold of it. This album is a totally new thing in Christian music. For one thing, it’s thematically different than probably any music that’s ever been released on a Christian label. If you know mewithoutYou at all, you know they’ve always been sort of on the fringes of the Christian industry, writing honestly about doubt and God and love. But this cd expands on all those ideas and opens it to parables involving animals and food; in fact, anthropomorphised animals and food populate most of the album’s songs. For the past few years the band has been touring in a bus run on cooking oil and dumpster-diving for food or having potlucks at their shows, and it comes through on this album. There’s a real sense of how these guys feel about the natural world.
Another thing that makes it so different from other Christian music is that this is surely the first album released on a Christian label that’s largely a Muslim work. The liner notes talk about how many of the songs were inspired by Islamic teaching (and the songwriter and his brother were raised in a house that followed Sufism, a type of mystic Islamic faith), and one of the songs was inspired by the Tao Te Ching. There are also songs taken pretty much straight from the Bible, but this is a cd full of conversation about other religions. The last song on the album is titled “Allah, Allah, Allah” and is written in Arabic script on the liner notes; this song is about how God can be seen in everything, from every person to every blade of grass, and uses the title Allah for God. It inspires the listener, at least it did in me, to think about Christian/Jewish/Muslim history and how all three faiths are borne out of a belief in the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and Ishmael).
This album speaks about food, animals, God, love, forgiveness, and faith in a way deeper than any other Christian album out there, and the music is as brilliant and beautiful as anything else out today. This shouldn’t surprise people who have liked mewithoutYou for years, but for this kind of thing, no doubt the first Islamic Christian album, to be released on a specifically Christian label and be carried in Christian bookstores…I am being honest when I say I think it’s the best Christian album ever.
(I should say, for clarity, that the album is not really a Christian-themed album. It’s a pluralism-themed album if anything. I just mean it’s the best album ever released on a Christian label. Strange that a not-specifically-Christian album is the best ever.)