AS Published in CONVERGENCE QUÉBEC
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Hello Alex! We met for the first time in Western Canada more than 20 years ago, before the formation of your band and your international musical career. We lost contact afterwards and recently, I discovered Your Favorite Enemies and the community that was built around your group. Tell me about the vision that lead to the creation of the band, your community and your current activities.
I think that the foundation of who we are, what’s giving life to our projects and defines them, is first and foremost the profound friendship story that unites us, but also the big generosity with which we chose to offer each other love, which enables us to commune without any pressure neither any pretension. Without this love that forgives, heals and emancipates, as much personally as collectively, I don’t think that we could not only live as a community, but neither give life to common projects such as what we’ve been doing for several years already. I think that reading the singer Keith Green’s biography written by his wife following his tragic passing, has greatly inspired me in that sense. I warmly recommend the book.
Sometimes, we try to define in order to be able to understand. But I believe that the most beautiful gift that we could offer ourselves is to admit to ourselves what we truly are, in what we all have that is beautiful and divine, as well as what we have that is the most horrible and selfish. Once this important step of truth crossed, we are not only able to approach others with honesty, but are also able to receive them with sincerity. If there was a way to illustrate all this, I would be inclined to say that our vision is that of going towards others, as much as we admit having the deep need for others to come towards us, with all the awkwardness, the limitations, the paradoxes, the imperfection and the different baggage of life that we have and the consequences that this entails.
I’m often told that it takes a lot of naivety to believe in this form of selflessness, which is probably true. Can we be naive and lucid all at once? Maybe, but above all this, to love is for me, first and foremost, a matter of choice, as is the acceptance that although it is the “right” choice, if not the only one that we should take, it is nonetheless the one that requires the most personal commitment, because our nature is resistant to giving as to receiving this love, especially when we bear the marks of its wounds and have to live with the regrets of having hurt others as well. It is probably for this reason that it is more “simple” and “natural” to only think of ourselves and of the direct and unilateral benefits that this entails.
This is probably why I admire those who tell me that loving is easy for them. It’s a bit more complex for me as a commitment when I face the decision to truly embody what it means to “give of oneself”.
What is the campaign “Alive. Never Alone.”, and why did you decide to create this initiative?
It is following the suicide of a friend that I felt the need not only to address this reality, but also to invite people to break the isolation related to this affective distress. I needed to express my grief, to share my own struggles with depression and anxiety. I wanted to open the door on this subject which often intimidates us, to invite light on what it implies to address the opacity related to the guilt of foreseeing this one-way avenue and the judgment that also comes with admitting it. I wanted to discuss about what can lead us there or make us consider this choice as a solution… to reach out.
I consider this reality to still be very polarizing in our society. It is as taboo as it is perplexing of a subject. It is often this bewilderment and polarization that serve as an excuse for not wanting to address the issue or that end up becoming a psychosocial exercise meant to try to explain its nature beyond the love and compassion that the mere admission of its complexity should arouse. To receive the other doesn’t imply to have to understand him, psychoanalyze or evangelize him; it is about accepting him like we all need it at some point in our lives. This is what “Alive. Never Alone.” means.
I’m very sensitive to this question, having seen my father fight depression and having been a witness of his unhappiness all of my youth, before he became a Christian. It is a topic that, by its radicalness, has always divided the people who had the courage or the audacity to express themselves on this subject. Opinions are often as radical and fixed as the implication of this ultimate gesture. Can we have this type of struggle when we have faith, whatever it might be? Is it the ultimate act of cowardliness that we might do? Is it to take back the power over our life to take it? Is it a way to take control over our sufferings to abruptly end them? Is it the most twisted form of selfishness or an act that defies the hold of demons over one’s life, thus ending the suffering they inflict on the people you love? There are as many opinions as incomprehensions about the reasons inherent in the pain of the heart and soul. The debates only demonstrate our unease with what we cannot understand, explain, admit or condone.
In fact, it’s for this reason that “Alive. Never Alone.” is an invitation, not to debate, neither to try and comprehend, to explain or even to make peace with the question. It is simply to say that it’s ok to hurt, to fear, to feel overwhelmed, shoved by confusion, devastated by affective distress, as much as is the fact of feeling anger, hatred and confusion when facing the loss of a loved one in such circumstances. It’s once we break the taboo and isolation regarding those emotions that it allows us to receive, to be able to let go without having to bear shame, to feel weak, to see ourselves as pathetic, therefore hopeless. Receiving is not about convincing that life is worth living, nor is it about having to find solutions or demonstrate the nonsense of heartache, it is opening your arms. And when we open up our arms, it is not about renouncing to what we believe in or firmly hold on to in our lives, it is to look away, if only for a moment, to devote ourselves to others.
We live in an environment of constant pressure regarding success, an existence constituted of selfies made of false pretences, illusions and forced smiles, serving to counterbalance the implacable mirror of who we are and the fear of being seen by the other, which, if honest, feels the same devastating effects as we do. We are all somehow a little bit of the product of this reality and it becomes more and more heavy to bear when it happens to be the only connection we might have with life, the only measure by which we may evaluate who we are or who we are not. How not to lose contact with everything that is true, even honest, in all this? I evolve in this illusion and it overwhelms me a little more each day. I can’t say that I understand the other’s pain of living, but I can admit the ferocity of the one I have to fight with every day. It’s based on this that I invite to commune.
Your music is filled with great empathy. How did you come to have this empathy for people and how can we rediscover this essential quality in society today, in the face of the dehumanizing currents that polarize us and keep increasing the distance between us?
I believe that it’s the admission of who I am and the profound needs that it creates. I only have a few answers, no solution, but I realized the emancipatory power that lies in admitting it to myself, freeing myself from certainties and absolutes to make room for listening and sharing. This honesty allowed others to be for me what I know I will never be able to be for them, and this is not only freeing but it allows a genuine sharing with the other. At least, it is for me.
I couldn’t wait to ask you this next question, since one of the goals of Convergence Quebec is to encourage Christians to seek the good of their neighbor because of their faith. What we notice right away when spending time with your group, is that you seek to communicate hope through everything you do, whether you have the chance to “present the Gospel” or not. How do you see God working through you in the contexts in which you operate?
In fact, how is it conceivable that a person does not present the Gospel if she embodies it? I have fought this pressure a lot in the past, because it is often the result of ambitions linked to the vision of one or others, or even to our need to please and to be perceived in a certain way by others. It created in me a very conflictual connexion with the institution that is the Church. Not the people, not faith, but the segregation of this so-called institution, where the culture of appearance and the sectarianism of pretension, as much as the shackles of wanting to be included, inevitably come with the relationship with the institution. I feel a profound unease with this elitist dimension of the Church, all the management of differences, which is in the end the reflection of the human nature. This intrinsic need to project the image of piety and holiness makes the institution in my opinion totally dehumanized, obsolete and marginalized from the basic needs of each in the face of the increasingly disorienting turbulence that we observe in our daily life. Is this a severe look strictly based on personal experiences? Undoubtedly, but it nonetheless remains necessary to look deep down into oneself when “inviting” the other.
I know that it is the type of perspective that deceives, but this inner conflict in regards to the cannibalizing culture of the Church said as “cool” brought me to systematically refuse to associate myself with it in any way throughout my career with the band Your Favorite Enemies. The shame wasn’t regarding my faith, but about the instrumentation of it, for organizational purposes rather than empathic ones. It is only very recent that I started receiving invitations of groups or Christian outlets as the blessing that it should be. Because for me, the true nature of the Gospel is the incarnation of it and this incarnation is to love the other no matter who it is, what he or she represents, believe or not.
Some people find it hard to imagine how I can say that I love gay friends, that I am a human rights activist, and that I don’t hesitate to use my voice to have them recognized and defended. How happy I am to say that I have Muslim friends whose integrity inspire me, just as I have pastoral friends whose dedication and compassion amaze me. That the person who has considerably contributed to who I am today was a man who devoted more than 40 years of his life to the people of Central Africa without ever looking to him and to the recognition that comes with having had an impact in an entire country, as much as the fact that love has been what has transformed my father from the self-centred egocentric alcoholic that he was into a man promptly willing to help the ones in need. All those people had the courage to incarnate who they are and this is where lies the true testimony and power that flow from it. To be, rather than pretend and appear. I believe that this is the challenge of our time.
My father taught me to be proud of being able to say what I think, to the condition of being ready to assume who I am, not out of a need to defy structures neither to undermine conventions, but rather because breaking free from religious pressure took me time to admit and realize the prejudices they endorsed and thus validate the hypocrisy of the conditions to which I submitted the incarnation of variable criteria of this love in my life and towards others. What, in the end, never really was but the reflection of this total lack of love regarding what may have indisposed or bothered me. I now agree to say that to love unconditionally is difficult, if not more often than not impossible, but when we’re honest with ourselves, I believe that we’re becoming able to incarnate the good that we want for the other, whatever it might be, without any expectation, without implied proselytism and without any false pretext. For me, this is where the nature of the Gospel resides… to love, period.
However, in regards to seeing this love being at work in the context in which I evolve, it is first and foremost to accept its paradoxical nature. We tend to see the entertainment world in which I’ve been evolving for more than 15 years as the refuge for darkness, where the outrageous lifestyle of some inevitably become the prerogative of others who are part of it, while it’s not so. Fear and incomprehension always give power to what doesn’t have any by definition. Is it our fascination with this environment that has us seeing it this way? Maybe, there’s a glorification of the individual in my environment, to the same measure by which we all feel the need to look up to our heroes, and this, whatever the environment in which we might be evolving. It is our nature that great need to love, to be, to feel, to be recognized and to make others feel, to be considered, seen as special and unique. Again, it is only to be human and to attempt at navigating in what makes it its profound and complex identity.
There are beautiful stories and there are horrifying ones as well. There is a great generosity of heart, but also shameless abuse of vulnerable people. There are magnificent commitments towards social justice and a deep hypocrisy related to the privileges enjoyed by some because of their special status. It is to the image of the environment in which we live, but I believe there is a growing openness regarding the invisible and the intangible as well and this openness comes from the love that we offer to others. There are exchanges, communions, admissions and liberations as well. I see it because I’m not different. I’ve got my struggles, my falls and relapses, my false-pretences and my illusions, as much as I have frustrations and regrets as well, but I know the redemptive essence of forgiveness and the power that resides in being welcomed, forgiven and loved… and as I recognize what I am, the invitation ain’t a theological debate or a platform for pretending to know but only the humility of being who you are and sharing the reality of it.
What would you say to a person who desires to have an impact for the good of her neighbors and community but who doesn’t know where to start?
I would tell that person to be herself because that’s what really matters in the end, to be honest as much with others than with ourselves, because what we have the most beautiful to offer is this sensitiveness towards what it means to be human. I believe that this is what people who admit having the desire to commune need or wish to share. Less arguments and more open arms. More compassion and less absolutes. At least, that’s how I see it. To love without expectation or condition is the ultimate invitation.
Write to me to let me know what you have thought of Keith Green’s book.