As our world spins slowly, our lives spin with it. We fold in our heads and roll across time, picking up bits from all the earth that we roll over. We are formed by everything. We are stung by shimmering bees, stabbed by bits of broken glass. We are fed in the homes of people we don't know. There's a slow-banging Drum that keeps time with all of this.
As Christians, we are moving – we have to. Our very identity as Christians require that we be moldable, that we change, becoming more and more like who we were always supposed to be. Just as the face of God moved over the deeps in the beginning of time, we continue to move. We tuck in our heads and roll, and we become bigger and thicker. We are in exodus, and slowly rolling home.
This rolling, sticky tradition is what drives the music of the psalters. In its ten years of existence, the group – don't call them a band – has travelled the world in their biodiesel bus, exploring the dynamic of exodus. They have spent time in Turkey, working with Kurdish refugees; they have lived among the poor in the shadows of the Iraq War; they call the slums of Philadelphia their home, when they feel like having one. But like any true artists, the psalters see that exodus is deeper than mere physical wandering. Exodus is a spiritual rambling, too, an inability to take any root in the world and find something worth loving. It is the effects of the Fall that are trapping us in our individualist bubbles, unable to pop out and engage anything that doesn't satisfy our strict emotional diets. And so it shouldn't be surprising that psalters are just as at home playing for Christian kids at Cornerstone as they are playing in the streets of some Eastern European ghetto.
The psalters sound like everything; sound sticks to them. One could make a list of the instruments being played in any given song – and it would be quite a list – but maybe it makes more sense to list places these songs have come from. We hear Russia, Canada, and all of Africa. We hear France, the southern United States, and Bulgaria. Drum machines are pasted underneath tribal chanting. In “us vs. US,” a twelve-minute long sound collage of swelling string sections frame a series of people – human beings, the vibrations of the souls of myriad creatures, most of whom are American – are culled together. Martin Luther King, Jr. bellows about the foolishness of American pride, radios fade in to “Proud to be an American,” George H.W. Bush talks about Hussein and oil and war, his son talks about weapons of mass destruction, and God's name is taken in vain by bureaucrats and talk show hosts in ways that have nothing to do with the word “goddamn.” There is violence. The result of all of this is a form of empirical terror that our government doesn't want to fight; this is the terror that tells us that the Hands of God are controlled by America alone, that the flow of foreign oil into American cars and the flow of foreign blood in foreign streets bring good glory to God. We're a cold kind of foreign on our mountaintop, the psalters seem to be saying. Moses and MLK wouldn't have wanted to lead us into this land.
And this is the beauty of what the psalters do. Whether intentional or not, their mélange of cultural music serves to “de-other” foreign cultures, both musical and otherwise, to an American church that so desperately needs to realize that despite its chain stores, it doesn't have the market cornered on Christianity. Rather than leave us in the despair of our sin, though, the psalters – like all of God's prophets – leave us with a message of redemption. Because of their faith, the psalters' music refuses to rest itself in sorrow; because they are in exodus, their music is smeared with the dirt kicked up in their journeys. Their live shows reflect all of this – imagine a small room with sweaty walls, everyone jumping up and down to the constant throb of tribal drumming, the swoon of violins, the chants of Benedictine monks, the swirls of sampled vocals and rattling drum machines. And everyone is caught up in rapt, full-hearted worship of a God big enough to bring all of this together. We've been chewing at our own arms, gnawing at the veins and arteries because we're bored and don't feel anything, the psalters tell us. It's time to start feeling again.