Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mumford & Sons & Me

This post isn't meant to be a review of Mumford & Sons. I'm not going to rate their music, or compare them to other specific artists. Instead, my purpose is to explain a little bit of my journey through the lens of their passionate vocals and fervent stringed instrument playing.

I don't know Marcus Mumford, and chances are that I never will. But in a very real way I feel as though my journey as been impacted by, and in some ways mirrored, his.

Two summers ago my cousin and I sat in a car, driving just outside of Washington D.C. My was at the wheel, and we were speeding in the dead of night after having watched a late movie. My cousin and I have always been close, but on this night we shared one of the most memorable conversations I've ever had with him. We spoke of family, the future, and life. As we conversed back and forth, a song I had heard often played in the background. Though I knew the song, I was unfamiliar with the artist. "Oh, it's Mumford & Sons, they're great." my cousin said after I asked what was on. He reached for the volume knob and turned the music up. We sat there listening, commenting on how great the music was.

That's my first memory of Mumford & Sons directly. Since then my love of their music has grown. I listened to their first album, Sigh No More, on repeat during my Sophomore year of college. My roommate Chris Welker and I jammed to Little Lion Man - he on the guitar, and I on the ukulele. We made do with what we had.

I got Babel on the day it came out, and with much anticipation I sat down and listened to the entire thing. Then again. And again. In fact, the week Babel came out, I didn't listen to much else.

When I listen to music, I prefer not to look up the lyrics right away. Instead, I soak it in. Sometimes I don't process all of the words during the first few listens. Then, all of a sudden, one day I'll make sense of the familiar song. And so it has been with  Babel.

Today, as I was listening to the song "Lover's Eyes" it hit me that through the course of the song it goes from a somber, almost depressingly dark tone to a hopeful, redemptive-feeling chorus of passionate lyrics. In the span of one song, I am taken through an entire range of emotions. Yet this sort of thing is almost common for a Mumford & Sons song.

Marcus' parents, John and Eleanor, are leaders of the Vineyard Church in the UK and Ireland. I attended the Vineyard Boise, a church from the same movement, all growing up. And in a real way, this influence shows in Mumford's music. There is an element to both albums that is spiritual, perhaps even faith-based, in every sense of those terms. Yet at the same time, the music has a gritty, raw feel to it. The band isn't afraid to drop the f bomb any more than they are to namedrop Jesus.

So is Mumford & Sons a 'Christian' band? No - not according to the lead singer. "I don't even call myself a Christian," he added. "Spirituality is the word we engage with more. We're fans of faith, no religion." (source:

As a good Christian raised in a Christian household who attended a Christian Homeschool co-op this statement immediately takes me aback. "What?!" says my mind, "Engaging with sprituality and not Christianity? Clearly this man is in need of Jesus. Spirituality without Jesus is like eating empty carbs. Filling, but ultimately detrimental." My mind does this because I have trained it to. I've trained it to judge others based on my preconceived beliefs of what is "right" and what is "wrong."

But over the past several years I have built a back door to this thinking pattern. I have begun to re-wire my mind. As anyone who has ever experienced it will tell you, rewiring is not easy. For me, it has been an intense process marked with pain - pain that I've experienced, and pain that I've felt radiating from the experience of others. My own pain stems from the death of my older brother, Nate. It has made me question everything. Other's pain has come from a variety of sources: those burned by the church organization, those who don't find a home in the Christian hivemind, and the Searchers who have found God in places I wouldn't think to look.

The back door is this: I have learned to ask questions. And that's where Marcus and I see eye to eye. In the second part of the quote mentioned above, he goes on to say, "We're just writing songs that ask questions. Sometimes the best way to go about exploring a question, things we wouldn't necessarily talk about in conversation, is by writing a song." 

I have found great freedom in questions. They allow me admit that I don't know everything. They put me in a spot where I am able to learn something new. They allow me to get closer to the meaning of something, rather than simply looking at it from the shell layer. And finally, they aid me in shedding my stubbornness in favor of adopting a more open-handed approach to my belief system; having beliefs and holding to them, yet keeping them in the palm of my hand, fingers open, so that I can constantly be examining them and maybe - just maybe - get a little closer to the truth.

Is Mumford & Sons preaching the gospel? No. They are sharing their journey, and every aspect of it. Fear, success, failure, love, pain, suffering, despair, joy - it's all there. They aren't playing worship songs, but they are being real and raw. Their music doesn't contain verses of the Bible, but they do contain verses of passionate and personal truths.

In a world of fake people - Christians and nonchristians alike - Marcus Mumford is being real through his music. And I dig it.
I'll end with lyrics from Mumford & Son's hit single "I Will Wait" which came out before the debut of Babel.

So I'll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies

But I'll kneel down
Wait for now
I'll kneel down
Know my ground

Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow

Cause I will wait, I will wait for you