Every New Day

Matt Harris
Final Paper
Dr. Meehan
5/6/13

Every New Day

The church I attended growing up was a small one of fifteen to twenty families. The most prominent memories are of our meetings in the “Diplomat Building”, the third floor of an office building above a Remax real estate office. Regardless of its rather Spartan characteristics, it served out purposes well. We were a small church and had Sunday worship services in both the morning and evening. The first Sunday of every month was a “fellowship meal” in which we all brought food, sat down and ate together. While there was no grass outside, as kids we found entertainment running up and down the handicapped access ramp, playing different versions of tag or jumping off small ledges. But the thing I remember most about this environment, as hospitable and welcoming as it first appeared, was how carefully you needed to tread in order to be held as a godly Christian. I remember specifically the time I didn’t respond properly to a woman giving me instruction. I said “okay”, not yes ma’am, and it cost me.
The most prominent memories were the rules, and watching your step as if you were on thin ice. Having the utmost respect for your elders and the pastor was, without a doubt, crucial to being a functioning member and child in the church society. One could commit no real, moral infraction and still be looked down upon based on their actions. There wasn’t forgiveness, either. One could “be forgiven” but they wouldn’t ever really live down the infraction. After the first one it was easier and easier to do something wrong, too, because you had a history.

* * *

Five Iron Frenzy is a Christian ska Band founded in 1996. They produced several albums before disbanding in 2003. Their Christian-inspired rock with a brass twist and satirical lyrics was an instant inspiration to me as a Christian growing up in a Christian environment. Unbeknownst to me at the time, their music was extremely political. Their lead singer, Reese Roper, has several songs that put down Americans and Christians specifically. The very first song on their first album “Upbeats and Beatdowns” is titled “Old West.” The song is catchy and fast, incorporating brass instruments into a somewhat heavy guitar. The lyrics, however, aren’t exactly positive:

“West or bust, in God we trust, let’s rape, let’s kill, let’s steal.”
We can almost justify anything we feel.
Climbin’ up that ladder, more brownie points for me.
I’ll work my way to Jesus, just you wait and see.

What Five Iron Frenzy’s lyrics hit on in this passage are more than true throughout vast circles of Christian society. Too many feel they must show outward signs of their faith, and disregard Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” I wanted to live this way, a way in which every new day I was forgiven and assured of my good standing and the grace from God. And while the Bible constantly renewed that feeling within me, many of my peers and also adults within the church constantly made me feel as if I wasn’t sufficient, or that my place was always below them because I simply wasn’t as godly as they were.

* * *

Another vivid memory of my church was the Sunday afternoon lunches. On the Sabbath days not vacated by Fellowship meals, families would often host other families for lunch after the Sunday service. We would often stay the entire day in someone else’s house, or have a family over to ours for the entire day. What should have been time of fellowship amongst believers became a pressure-filled situation of striving to be perfect hosts. I still remember my dear mother feeling under the gun to impress our guests with the very best food, china and accommodations. I remember thinking “this shouldn’t be what lunch with friends feels like.”
But what was worse about potentially hosting a family without the best results was to not ever get invited to other people’s events. Feeling as though we were always hosting families but never invited at some times felt like always passing a ball in soccer but never having it reciprocated. The love of God could wait, we weren’t sophisticated enough to come to their house for lunch. God forbid someone should see them mingling with the likes of us.

* * *

Five Iron Frenzy didn’t stop with lyrics about Christianity. Their lead singer, Reese Roper, was rumored to have run in the Democratic primaries in Denver, Colorado. Reese went on to write other songs about world events, but specifically ones about the USA. “Old West” condemned colonialism of America and the killing of Native Americans. “A New Hope” dealt with the Columbine tragedy:

Amy’s going back to school today
Elation, jubilation stream from her face
Did the halls smell of gunpowder still?
What made the human mind dark enough to kill?

It was hard to believe that while I was worried about saying “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” and whether or not my friend’s dad thought I was a good kid, people were being murdered needlessly across the country on a daily basis. It was as if my problems paled in comparison to everything going on in the outside world. It wasn’t a song that lashed out at the killing of Christians, but the pointless massacre of innocent lives.

* * *

I specifically remember, one by one, feeling liberated of aspects of my life that helped me with personal growth and brought me out of my shell. It began with my move to a private Catholic high school. I wasn’t Catholic, I belonged to a Presbyterian Church, but the school’s swim team was very good and I received academic aid to go there. Transferring to DeMatha Catholic High School would look better on a college application, and increase my chances. I vividly remember the immediate reaction of some of my friends, especially those within the church. While our friendship wasn’t “cut off”, everything felt different. I was no longer homeschooled and therefore felt as though I was “part of the (secular) world.” Regardless of this slight feeling of alienation, I loved the school. The brotherhood there came around full circle for me after college and provided me a job in teaching. The athletic fire kindled within me burned through college and afterwards, helping me to many achievements in the water.
Next I left my smaller swim team, the team I had been encouraged to join by the higher-up families in the southern-aristocratic church. Either members of my church or my homeschooling co-op populated a good portion of this tiny club team. While the coaching was very good, and the facility accommodated my needs, the team was too small and there weren’t enough swimmers my age or at my level to challenge me. I had moved up ahead of my peers, in both the church and the homeschooling co-op, and needed to go to a more competitive club to continue fulfilling my potential. I moved to Rockville Montgomery Swim Club in Silver Spring, Maryland and immediately dropped time in my major events to put myself at a national level and receive college interest.
These two moves were crucial to my continued understanding of religion as well as towards my personal calling. They also helped me to see another side that I hadn’t known existed. Both the school and team had their fair share of people within it that believed differently from me, and at first I was the missionary, trying to win the “brownie points for God”, but I later learned to keep things to myself unless necessary, and listen to other people to learn something from them. The major thing it did, however, was reinforce my personal faith in what I believed in. I saw the other side, and even saw how some people rationalized their personal beliefs, but it only made me more and more secure in what I believed.

***

It seemed that Five Iron Frenzy continued to write very political lyrics, even towards the end of their time together as a band in 2003. They released an album “The End is Near” which was their last studio album. Many of the lyrics were inspirational, targeting those feeling alone in “Something Like Laughter”, talking about the beauty of God’s creation in “It was Beautiful”, as well as internal dilemma and goals in “New Year’s Eve”. They also hearkened back to the older albums in which comedic songs appeared and “resolved” some conflicts created in earlier albums, the most major one probably being a conundrum involving not knowing the owner of a pair of pants in the lead singer’s possession. A very gripping song from this album called “American Kryptonite” cleverly blends national problems of greed and gluttony with Christianity. It talks about “Trigger finger clicks remotes/ his carbohydrates slowly bloat.” The bridge portion after the second chorus features Reese talking as a guitar strums along in the background:

It was like the Manifest Destiny all over again, except, instead of taking and consuming everything in their paths for God, they did so with the same sense of fervor and entitlement for their new god… themselves…

While one could easily draw gluttony into the picture with the words “consuming” and “carbohydrates” in previous lyrics, the song could very easily be applied to many aspects of problems with the country in general. It could even be applied to leaders of churches that claim to be out for the benefit of their congregation while really trying to better themselves. Five Iron Frenzy wasn’t afraid to denounce these types of people and identify these problems within the Christian community, and something that stuck with me was how Christians should focus on bettering themselves personally within their creed rather than blasting others or trying to weild their power for selfish gain.

***

About two months into my freshman year at Kenyon College I received word from my parents that we had left the Presbyterian Church. We had attended the church for about fourteen years in which my dad had served diligently as an elder. Among the many other services we had rendered for the love of God and the church, we had donated a library that cost nearly five figures. The devotion we had to that church, the love towards those that we worked with and the amount of time we put into trying to make it a godly place ended with a disagreement amongst my father and the pastor. To go into details of the disagreement would be a waste of time, but it was something that would not be resolved. It was “us or them”, and “them” being the pastor and his family, they obviously won out. We said goodbye to everyone and announced that we would be heading over to a new church a few cities over.
My reaction was very mixed. I imagine I would have taken it much harder had it happened a few months prior to my departure to Kenyon, but since I was in school and moving out of the house almost permanently, it didn’t hit me too hard. I regretted the fact that we left because I had made good relationships with a lot of the adults and families in the church and regretted the fact that a rift would be created, but I had gotten wind of disagreements as early as three years prior to our departure, and wasn’t extremely surprised to hear that the argument had culminated.
The move instantly had results on the remaining relationships I had within that church. Since we lived in the neighborhood with many members, I still saw them at the community pool in the summers but since I was a head coach and manager there, there weren’t many difficulties. Cutting ties with this church seemed to be the final straw that I needed to pursue my potential as well as establish my personal Christian faith. Changing schools, teams and churches gave me new perspectives and helped to appreciate who I was and what I believed.

***

I recently attended a Five Iron Frenzy reunion concert on April 13th, 2013. They came to the Virginia Theological Seminary to headline an outdoor Christian festival featuring other, smaller Christian bands. They easily drew the biggest crowd, and by biggest I mean a couple hundred people were in attendance on that balmy Virginia evening. The weather couldn’t have been much better. While the sound wasn’t working properly for the first three songs, FIF still performed with all the vigor and energy that I had known them to use. Of the nine original members, eight returned to the original lineup for the reunion. They played their biggest hits, many with Christian lyrics. Their message, however, was different than in the past. While they were playing at a seminary, Reese mentioned that it was the first “Christian venue” they had played in a while. Reese’s message towards the end of the concert was one that Christians should heed, and while I can’t quote it perfectly, the main concept was focusing on “loving people, regardless of who they were or what background they had.” His message wasn’t one of being preachy or even condemning sin and evil, but reflecting God’s love to everyone. This particularly struck me because I realized that a lot of the preaching that I heard growing up was very judgmental. The outside world was “evil” and to be avoided for extended periods of time. Upon further, personal reflection, it seemed to me this was the best way to live as a Christian in this time period. Practice your set of morals and beliefs, and show God’s love to everyone, regardless of their creed. The reality is that God’s love won’t shine through by trying to “beat the sin out of them” or pelt them with tracts and pamphlets saying “convert or die.”
What was the best about this concert was that it came about twelve years after I first began to follow the band. Ever since I bought my first FIF album (which was actually their fifth), I was a fan. I had all of their albums on disk as well as some merchandise. Furthermore, throughout hard times of my life or big moments I would always find comfort in either their lyrics or music. Through all of my changes, whether it was school, swimming or church, the band was always stalwart as my favorite one. My musical tastes changed throughout the years, but Five Iron was always a popular go-to for any situation. Seeing this concert and listening to them play all of the songs I loved growing up was surpassed only by meeting the band personally and hearing their new mindset towards performance and Christianity.
I certainly didn’t want to write this paper to bash Christianity. On the contrary, I believe in it wholeheartedly and think it is a beautiful ethos by which to conduct one’s life. It is encouraging and God’s word provides fantastic advice for everyday situations, even centuries after its writing. I personally feel God every day in my life, directing my steps and blessing me with countless gifts. I am however just beginning to comprehend the other side of things, and am interested to further talk with those of different faiths and upbringings. While I know my faith will constantly be reinforced, I want to take Five Iron Frenzy’s concept of love to all people and use it in my every day life. My old church, despite the flaws, had good preaching and a congregation sincerely devoted to God. Their belief system and mine were similar, but the way in which they carried out their callings was not. Christians need to constantly look in the mirror, not because the world tells us to, but because Christ does. Our job as Christians is to reflect God’s love for the sake of Christ. In the end, according to Christianity, everyone is an “unclean soul” in need of God’s forgiveness. Church is not a caste system or aristocracy meant to control its members or gain power.
To conclude on a personal note, the song that constantly brought me “back to the drawing board”, especially in tough situations was called “Every New Day.” The song was an extremely hopeful one, calling upon God’s grace and ability to make everything seem new. The final lyrics are positive and embody Christianity in a nutshell:

Healing Hands of God have mercy on our unclean souls once again, Jesus Christ, light of the world burning bright within our hearts forever. Freedom, peace, love without condition, without a beginning or an end. Here’s my heart, let it be forever yours. Only you can make every new day seem so new.

This is the gift God has given to believers according to the Bible, and in light of a gift such as this, it is our job to reflect this love, this forgiveness and humility towards everyone to reflect God’s love. This last portion of “Every New Day” appeared again on their final album at the end of the song “On Distant Shores”, and is the song with which they conclude most of their shows. It’s an enduring message that compels Christians to constantly examine themselves in the mirror, and live their lives according to God’s will and not their own.

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