God and Guitars

sevendaycloseThe concert space at the church was called the Shalom Zone. My friend Daniel and I made merciless fun of the name, mostly because we didn’t know what it meant and thought it sounded stupid. It was one of those Christiany things that I put up with and he didn’t. Daniel, who isn’t named for the biblical prophet but the Elton John song, had let his Catholicism lapse as badly as his habitually overdue video rentals, but my faith wasn’t so easily lost.

So there we were at age fifteen: a Christian concert. This was a world I didn’t belong in; I lacked the cheerleading enthusiasm of one half of the crowd, and the sanctified rebellion of the other. I was just a guy who liked music. But I kept coming back. Even though I related to the people around me about as much as I did to the kids at youth group, which is to say not at all, I was always eager to relate to whomever was on stage. Because someday I planned to be onstage myself.

Beside us, a middle-aged man wearing a moustache, a leather jacket, and a green mohawk shouted, “Rock for the Flock!” He raised his fist. “Jam for the Lamb!”

“Biker or punk,” Daniel said. “You can choose one, but not both.”

Before the show, a pastor got up to pray. He talked about the city, the homeless youth. I didn’t really know there were homeless youth here; Spokane was barely a city as far as I was concerned. It was just my house, my school, the video store, and some fast food restaurants.

The pastor thanked God for the venue, asked for God to bless the bands. To an outsider, it must have looked ridiculous, but we were used to this sort of thing. Except then the prayer changed direction.

“We’ve got kids who are dropping their pants for ten dollars,” the pastor said.  “But what really pisses me off is the people who are doing that shit. Paying little kids to drop their pants.”

I wasn’t sure if this was even a prayer any more. It was prophetic and angry, and I was getting confused and excited. Sometimes at these concerts, the audience would start a cheer: “We love Jesus, yes we do, we love Jesus, how ’bout you?” I didn’t even go to high school football games, but at this moment, when this pastor was saying “shit” and demanding justice, I was almost ready to cheer.

Then a band called Seven Day Jesus took the stage. They explained that their name meant that following Christ is something that you shouldn’t just do on Sunday. I liked that, but even more I liked the fact that they didn’t preach beyond this. They just played the hell out of their set.


The Hunger, Seven Day Jesus’ 1995 debut, is not cloying like so much music marketed to Christian teenagers. There are hardly any moments of pious self-assurance. Instead, the songs are desperate: “Oh / Please don’t die,” lead singer Brian McSweeney begs in the opening track “A Time to Heal.” He’s clear that “only one thing can heal the hurt inside,” but doesn’t seem to know how or why.

The title song is a confession of faith, and in the liner notes he includes an epigraph describing “the unexplainable urge within every human that drives us towards a closer relationship with God.” This unexplainable urge, this inconsolable longing is everywhere on the record, from the soaring vocals and guitar lines to the wide-eyed, soul-searching words.

There is one cringe-worthy lyric on The Hunger, though.  “Delightful You” asks a seemingly heretical question about God’s paralysis by human inaction.  “Do I tie your hands / with disbelief of man? / Do I gag you when I ask you why?”  The singer comes to the conclusion that the only thing he can do to solve his dilemma is to “kill the doubt.”  McSweeney repeats the mantra:

just kill the doubt
just kill it
just kill the doubt
just kill it
just kill the doubt
inside of you

It rings hollow on an album full of questions. Did he believe that killing doubt is that easy?


Even at age 15, when I was rocking out to this record, I knew it wasn’t easy, and I had to wonder if the singer was trying to convince himself of something that’s all but impossible to believe.

When I first encountered them that night at the Shalom Zone, Seven Day Jesus played beautiful rock and roll, an especially tender version of that loud/quiet/loud style that was so prevalent at that time in the history of popular music.

“And now I’m standing at the cross, deciding where I’d like to go,” McSweeney sang. He had the sweetest high voice.

Then the band got quiet, and then they went silent. After one dramatic moment, that sweet singer screamed out a lyric, screamed like I had never heard before. The band joined in, bodies rocking and swaying, playing a distorted interval that cut into me, stabbing at my soul in a way the best music always does.

Somewhere inside, my heart began to understand things I hadn’t even begun to think about yet, like who God is and why He in His mercy created electric guitars.

Joel Hartse writes about pop music for newspapers and magazines, and is a graduate student in the Teaching of Writing program at Humboldt State University.