Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Eschatology of Leaving Eden

Yes, it was schtick.

But it was serious schtick. And since we had to move on quickly, I thought an explanation was fitting. Oh, in case you weren't there, Tuesday we tracked through Brandon Heath's new record, Leaving Eden, with the artist in our studio, revealing our favorite songs, sharing our enthusiastic perspectives on them, looking for any opportunity to get a rise out of Brandon or the audience.

My first favorite was the title cut. So was Carmen's. We decided to arm-wrestle for it on the air, she emoting her straightforward enjoyment of the "Oh" moments surrounding the bridge (literal lyrical "Ohs," a detail that would fly past most of us; not Carmen), I emitting my professorial perspective on the theological dimensions of the text. I think I said something like:

Brandon, I love how each scenario in the lyrics paints a picture of the eschatalogical tension that characterizes the Christian life, the tension between the now and the not-yet, and further, how the thrust of the song as a whole points toward the eschatalogical fulfillment of Eden as the New Heavens and the New Earth under the metaphor of "going home."

Well, I probably wasn't as clear as that, since Carmen was snorting, Dave was crying foul after the first use of the word "eschatalogical," and Brandon was
thinking "I could have been anywhere today..." And, despite the fact that it's believable patter for me, the verbosity and pomposity were schtick, shooting for shock-value, which I seemed to squarely hit, judging by the reactions of my partners. But underlying my pompous performance, I was entirely serious. Let me get past the radio stuff to unpack what I said and why. We should start with Brandon's lyrics. Here's verse two and the chorus:
People are losing their homes to hurricanes
Old lady living next door forgot her own name
Teacher is hiding her Bible, but at least she's got a job
My local Salvation Army just got robbed

Feels like I'm leaving Eden
Feels like I'm leaving Eden
It's like I'm further away with every step I take
And I can't go back
‘Cause I'm leaving Eden

I'm going, going home

Let me speak plainly: I love this song! I think the music is great, Brandon
delivers it with passion, and I even like the little "Ohs" that Carmen pointed out. But even more of my affection is reserved for what the song (secondarily) teaches.

Now, I know Brandon didn't sit down and say, "I want to write a song that teaches so-and-so," but still, the song comes from a perspective that is rich with insight into the Christian life. "Leaving Eden" is full of snapshots that portray life in a fallen world, broken, on the other side of the Garden: waving to a stranger who doesn't wave back, natural disasters, loved ones with Alzheimer's, a culture hostile to faith. This is the world in which we live. And like the best biblical wisdom literature, the song doesn't try to "fix" those dimensions of fallenness with a simple platitude or principle. Instead it portrays a God-given tension, the in-between state in which every Christian is called to live and walk by faith.

That in-betweeness is what I have in mind when I talk about "eschatalogical tension." Eschatology is the study of last things, things like the apocalypse, judgment day, the
new heaven and new earth, etc. When Jesus showed up, the disciples all thought that's what He was there to bring. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," he said! This is it! Rome will be overthrown. The righteous will be vindicated. Everything is going to be set right. Uhh... not exactly.

The kingdom of heaven, and thus the Christian life, is like a... well, it's like a pregnant woman, or like a baby growing to a mature man, or, better yet, it's like Jesus taught:
like a man who planted good seeds in his field and then had to wait for the harvest. That's the Christian life. We are, as Luther said, like the crucified Jesus between Friday and Sunday, feet suspended between heaven and earth, already heirs of eternal life but having to go through the cross to get there. That's what the song portrays.

Even the little bridge-thing that uses "home" as a picture of fulfilled eschatalogical expectation serves to reinforce the present tension of living in the in-between!
And then, the shameless reference to Dorothy clicking her heels together ("There's no place / no place like home"). Well, it's a ready allusion, wouldn't you say? Aren't we all hoping to find a way back home that will undo the effects of the whirlwind and put things right? That universal longing is what the song evokes for me.

We need more Christian songs like this, songs that draw out the longing for heaven, for ultimate fulfillment, yet leave us in the tension; songs that refuse to take us by some desperate construction down the yellow brick road only to find some poser behind a curtain. We need songs that reinforce the reality of the Christian life and encourage us to face the realities of the historical, biblical fall and its consequences.

Some folks who know the Christian music audience well would say "Leaving Eden" is not a good song for radio, because the message may be too figurative, and the "solution" to our problem is not presented clearly enough in the four minutes and four seconds of space the song fills with its images of brokenness and alienation. I disagree.

The hope is in acknowledging our problem, recognizing its source, or as Brandon discussed with his counselor, "grieving Eden," an idea that became the seed of the song and the record's title. When we get to the source of our pain we are driven to the answer. That's how the law of Moses leads us to Christ, serving as our tutor, pointing to its own origin and end. Eden is the genesis of repentance: when we finally acknowledge that we are by nature children of wrath, and the deepest source of our problem isn't our genetics, our environment or our lack of self-esteem, we can break free from the chains that hold us bound to sin, the fall and its consequences. But not fully. Not yet.

"Home" in the song is a picture of eschatalogical fulfillment. It's the place where everything Jesus came to start, to inaugurate, will be complete, finally finding its (and our) Divine Design. Did you ever notice that the Bible begins with creation and ends in a new creation? It begins in a garden and ends in a city, the New Jerusalem, the fully populated city of the redeemed. All that was broken will be whole again, and better. We who trust in Christ will be there, every tear wiped away, relationships healed, no guilt, no hiding. "Leaving Eden" points us to that fulfillment.

As Brandon says, "I can't go back," but that's okay. We don't want or need to go back to the Garden. Home, for the Christ-follower, is through Christ, following him in the daily-death of the cross (which gives context to our suffering) into his kingdom and ultimately to the fullness of the harvest, the banquet feast, the consummated marriage, the reason for leaving Eden;
our the ultimate salvation and end.

To hear the entire conversation with Brandon, click the link below: 

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