The Gospel According to Arcade Fire

It might be a bit too revealing to admit, but one of the proudest moments of my life had to be a few weeks ago when a favorite band of mine called Arcade Fire won this year’s Grammy for best album. Personally, I have been a fan of this band since their last album, Neon Bible, came out in 2007, so I was beaming with as much personal accomplishment as any non-affiliated wing-nut can properly claim when this year’s The Suburbs was crowned king over other worthy entrants, even risking life and limb besting Eminem’s work.


Of course, I am not alone in recognizing the genius of this particular album (which you can snag in mp3 form for $5 at amazon: Go ahead and type in the name of the album and you will have no problem finding plenty of reviews by more qualified musical experts, not the least of which is their interview in Rolling Stone last summer. I am also sure you can find somebody with more personal experience than I have discussing the brilliance found in these sixteen tracks. At least you can find somebody else who has seen them in person (unless you count television appearances and Austin City Limits as live experiences). In your interests, dear reader, I will stick to what I have known and seen.


There is one song that hit me as I was listening to the work again this morning. It is a uncharacteristically quiet and calm song toward the end called “Wasted Hours.” This song is a great example of front-man Win Butler’s mastery of the English language, a skill that may be easily lost amongst the slashing guitars, screeching violins and hurdy-gurdy machine (or whatever you call that). This is a simple song that encapsulates the story of the rest of the album, as well as throwing in its own unique and powerfully emotive offering.

The song tells the simple story of growing up amidst an economic boom, with cities, streets, neighborhoods and, of course, suburbs, which Mr. Butler has seen abandoned in the midst of economic hardship and modern expansion. The song begins with a type of freedom. Children sitting inside, looking outside at a summer day, wasting hours imagining the adventures life has in store. The wind (didn’t Jesus have something to say about the wind and the Spirit?) would take us where it would go. Our lives are not our own but we still have a sense of adventure and freedom.


The next verse of the song has us building roads (or better, watching our fathers build roads- Mr. Butler was born in 1980). After they built roads, they built the town and we grew up a little bit. Now the children are only to be seen sitting in school buses staring out the window, longing to be free.


Now the chorus:

Wasted hours, before we knew; where to go, and what to do

Where to go, and what to do; wasted hours, that you made new

And turned into; a life that we can live

That chorus will make a bit more sense in a minute.


Now comes the third verse. We have grown up. The suburbs surround us, man-made “wildernesses”, which have become “endless”, and “stretched out thin and dead.” We have trapped ourselves, the song suggests, in a concrete cage from which there seems to be no escape.


Can you feel what the song is conveying to us? Ever just wish you were “anywhere but here?” Do you ever feel like you are watching the “life you live disappear?” Finally, the song gives us the point.

And now I see, we’re still kids in buses longing to be free.

I know we all feel like that.


So many of us are dissatisfied with the life we have been given. Why does my life have to include working at a job I hate? Why does my life have to include addiction? Why does my life have to include so much pain? Why does my life have to include financial difficulty? Why do I feel trapped in my own life? We all have such a question. All of us. Each and every one of us has been struggling to be free since our first mother ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden. There is a great dissonance between us and God. Freedom eludes us for the simple fact that we want to be free on our own terms and that will never happen.


But there is so much gospel in this song. Look back at the chorus. Do you see it there? Who is the one who makes all things new? Read Revelation 21:5 if you need a refresher. Jesus is the one making all things new. Our lives will be controlled by dissonance, bitterness and slavery until we submit to the one who turned our wasted hours into lives that we can live.


It is Jesus, through his becoming man, living for us, dying for us, raising to new life for us, praying for us and finally coming back for us, who has bought freedom for us. He has bought us hours that will no longer be wasted- that’s what the word “redeemed” means. In trusting Jesus we find that our lives are in his hands. His Spirit, like that wind we used to see and long for, will move us where he chooses.


This is real freedom. Freedom on his terms.


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