Jonah Matranga is one of my favorite artists. His music has been influential on a wide variety of bands. His work in Far showed that it wasn’t a contradiction to bring together heartfelt lyrics and face melting riffs. And before Chris Carrabba was stealing hearts and gracing magazine covers and the Plain White Ts were in heavy rotation on every tween in America’s playlist (you know, the Hey There, Delilah guys?), Jonah’s work as onelinedrawing brought being a singer/songrwriter back into style in indie and punk circles. He has even been featured on a couple of hip hop tracks by Fort Minor and Lupe Fiasco.

While I am a big fan of his music, I appreciate his honesty and humility as a human being. I saw him perform to an audience of about twenty or thirty people last week at the Casbah and he sang with the same sincerity and passion as he does to a packed house of hundreds. Afterward, he manned his own merch table and stayed late into the night to talk with everyone who came. I had emailed Jonah a couple of weeks ago with some questions about his show — and he surprised me with a phone call the day before the concert. Although I was trying hard to hide my enthusiasm and play it cool, Jonah was extremely normal — just a friend reaching out to another friend and connecting. After his performance, we talked a bit about family and he gave me a big hug as I left.

One of the most fun parts of Jonah’s live performance is his wealth of stories. With a big smile, he introduced his cover of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back as being the roots of “emo” — not Rites of Spring or Fugazi. And before singing his song Tides, he described how a major corporation offered him essentially a hatchback full of cash to use this song in a commercial. In the end, he said, he turned them down — not out of some high and mighty, punk rock ethic — but simply because it didn’t sit right with him. These days, music is commercialized to the point of “indie” music being indistinguishable from mainstream radio in terms of usage in ads and sponsorships.

Jonah made a really good point during his show about the importance of honesty. Some bands “sell out” but experience a kind of cognitive dissonance about it, and so they try to rationalize or explain away what they’ve done. However, wouldn’t we all be better off with a little more honesty? If Apple wants to use your song in an iPod commercial or EA Sports in their next video game franchise — and the prospect of swimming in a vat of the gold dubloons these mega corporations are willing to pay is really attractive to your band — then just be honest about it. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, you don’t have to score scene points with anyone — just do what you do with integrity and honesty.

I think this really hit me hard because I’ve been struggling with my current ministry context. Please don’t misunderstand: this is a good church , I love working with the students here, and our church’s leadership loves the Lord and His people. But I can’t help but feel that I’m not being completely honest to my calling — the thoughts about ecclesiology, mission, creativity, friendship and community that have been brewing inside me for quite some time now. I’m living in that tension, and trying to discern where this road might lead — with as much honesty and truth as I can muster.

I love this line from As Much To Myself As To You by onelinedrawing:

As much to myself as to you
As much a list of questions as
A list of what to do

Mystery, doubt, confusion. This is the mess that so many of us live in — I’m just hoping that it leads somewhere soon.