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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

20 Years of Dischord

20 Years of Dischord
Various Artists
20 Years of Dischord
It’s hard for me to imagine my musical upbringing without Washington-D.C.-based Dischord Records. While I was too young to know about or appreciate Minor Threat in their heyday, I was exactly the sort of kid who had Fugazi and Dag Nasty lyrics scrawled on my bedroom walls. I also vividly remember sweet-talking my underaged self into the Mercury Lounge in New York City in 1996 to have the opportunity to have Lungfish destroy my hearing for several days following. And when I finally moved to Washington DC a couple of years later, Q and not U were just starting to make the local rounds. I got to see them and the likes of Faraquet in the following years, usually as openers for The Dismemberment Plan.
Minor Threat
Now that I’ve been living in the mountains for a few years (and haven’t seen a DC show in nearly as long), it felt just a little bit strange as I found myself pulling up to the Dischord house in Arlington to deliver a letter-press from my neck of the hills back to Washington. During all the time that I had lived in Arlington, less than a mile from the Dischord house, I never once had reason to stop in. Now here I was, punk-turned-hillbilly, delivering 150 pounds of lead and iron to the house where some of my earliest musical influences were born, so that they could hand-print flyers to coax a new generation of kids to come out and see bands that I have never heard. After a fair bit of grunting, cursing, and finger-smashing, we’d moved the letterpress into the Dischord basement. The guys at the label wanted to compensate me somehow for my trouble. Did I want a CD or something?
Thing was, I didn’t even know what Dischord was doing these days. Too long in the mountains. “Do you guys have any sort of comp with the current bands on it?”
And so I found myself the proud owner of 20 Years of Dischord, the Dischord Records 20th anniversary box set. As it happens, not only did I not know about fantastic bands that Dischord currently has signed, but I also didn’t know about fantastic bands from Dischord’s past that I had missed along the way. This compilation is knock-out good, with too many great tracks for any of them to particularly stand out. I do know that I need to track down some albums by Circus Lupus and Smart Went Crazy. I also need to make sure that I don’t get so caught up in old-time music as to forget what else is out there.
A big thanks to the guys and gals at Dischord for the complimentary compilation, and a double-big thanks for making such a great comp in the first place.

The Kingdom of God

I’ve remarked before that I would gladly attend seminary if I thought they were in the business of admitting atheists. It’s still true. I find theological issues fascinating; often even more fascinating than questions of “mainstream philosophy”. I think that’s probably because “mainstream philosophy” isn’t very mainstream. Almost nobody professes any knowledge of or interest in philosophy. But a majority of our society identifies as religious — despite knowing almost nothing of the Bible and nothing at all about theology. So I almost never turn down the chance for a theological discussion when one comes my way.
Lately, I’ve been corresponding with a friend who has the dual distinction of being a terrific thinker and rhetorician as well as a devout Christian — a combination sadly rare amongst people I encounter these days. She is also, thankfully, not too afraid to talk about it. She sent me the summary of her Bible study last week, a discussion about the “kingdom of God”, and how it relates to the idea of community. Basically, it was an effort to equivocate the two as something existing in the present, manifest in the hearts of Christians participating in the community of faith. My response got much longer than I intended, and is reproduced below:
OK, a few quick initial thoughts on what I’ve seen from you thus far:
First, you start off by wanting to talk about the “community of God”. Failing any good texts for that, you instead move on to “kingdom of God”, and talk about that instead. Fair enough. But then you want too easily to go back and apply lessons learned back to the concept of “community of God”. And I wonder if you can really do that. It may be splitting linguistic hairs, but you’re already splitting linguistic hairs by dwelling so seriously on the present tense of the verb “is” in the book of Matthew. So I feel that it’s only right and fair to point out that “community” and “kingdom” mean two very different things. I daresay that’s especially true when you’re talking about Jesus addressing an assembled Jewish audience living beneath a Roman occupation army. Here you have a people who left slavery under an Egyptian Pharaoh, established their own kingdom with their own proud history of kings, and were now living once again kingless under a foreign military power. So when Jesus talks to the assembled Jews about the “kingdom of God” (and let’s not forget that he was spitefully mocked as “king of the Jews” during his execution), it seems unfair to equivocate that with the “community of God” as embodied by the early Christian church — a decidedly kingless and underground anarchic collective. I think that, at least to a Jew speaking to a Jewish audience, “kingdom of God” would have meant something very specific, probably implying a militaristic hierarchy as they had in the past. It’s hard to imagine the Jews understanding it differently, anyway. So while understanding the kingdom of heaven to be manifest in the vessels of human interaction (a la “community”) may be convenient after the fact, I don’t think I buy it on the face of things — at least not in the context of the passage from which you’re working. It needs a richer explanation that takes into account the actual historical/Biblical circumstances. Kingdom and community are perhaps not at all the same thing in a biblical context, and their differences are bound to be interesting.
Which brings me to my second point of skepticism — I’m instantly suspicious of an exegetical “close reading” of the New Testament gospel. While certainly the tenets of Christianity rest on the spirit and in some cases the letter of the New Testament texts, I have serious doubts that drawing theological conclusions from things like English verb tenses has significant value. Let’s not forget that the New Testament wasn’t written in English. I’m told that Biblical Hebrew has only two verb tenses; Greek has something like seven , but they don’t quite correspond to the English tenses; I don’t know anything at all about Aramaic. So are you sure that you’re willing to hang matters of theological consequence on things like verb tenses translated into English in the seventeenth century by forty-seven different scribes working by committee under the oversight of King James — who, it might be added, certainly had his own vested interest in how the “kingdom of God” might be interpreted, and its possible effects on the kingdom of man? (Perhaps you aren’t working from the King James here, but the question is valid for any other translation, as well. Comparing the validity of translations, especially with regard to the political interests of the translation’s benefactor, is itself an interesting and complex topic…)
I am not, of course, trying to discourage you from seeking answers to the particular issues in front of you. On the contrary, I’m trying to encourage you to seek more interesting answers — answers that take the historical facts of the church into account, and don’t simply approach 2,000 year old orations as if they were uttered last week in modern English. I think you’ll find that the community of God is quite a bit richer in detail than the abstract divine mystery manifest in human vessels at which you hint.
Whew. That’s more than I meant to say. I’ll admit that I find the topic fascinating — although undoubtedly for different reasons than you. Press on with it, and tell me to shut up when necessary 🙂

I may be an atheist, but hopefully it can at least be said that I’m an atheist interested in helping to turn the Christian faith in America away from the profit-driven killing machine that it’s become, and back into something of which Augustine or Jesus himself could actually be proud…