Ezekiel’s Eye tries to animate the bones
Can the word become flesh? Can inanimate bones take form as a living body? Can a new community in Christ be forged within a secular Land of the Living Dead?
These are questions Ezekiel’s Eye ‘– a guitarist and a drummer from Orlando, Fla. who are in search of a permanent bass player ‘– must answer night after night as they take their emo-punk rock praise and worship service to the suburban mega churches across land.
‘“Chapter thirty-seven of Ezekiel talks about a valley of dry bones,’” says Scott Wilson, the 30-year-old guitar player, singer and founder of Ezekiel’s Eye. ‘“God says, ‘Prophesy to the bones.’ I want to form the bones into a new community. We believe that our mission is to breathe life through our music into generations that are dead, that people think there’s no hope for. We believe we’ll raise an army of God.’”
Today, Wilson, drummer Daniel Powell, temporary bass player Shaun Combs and Stacy Wilson, who is the guitarist’s wife and the drummer’s sister, have trekked eight hours from Jacksonville, Fla. in their van, set up their gear, and sound-checked. The associate pastor at Cathedral of His Glory, Rev. Dennis Willis, is delivering the message at the end of an opening set by the Burlington hard rock group Absent Element.
It’s a bittersweet evening for Willis because this is the end of an 18-month run of ‘Sundays at 7’ Christian rock shows that the church produced as an outreach mission to spiritually adrift young people.
‘“Everything in here’s paid for, so don’t worry about breaking anything ‘– just don’t do it on purpose,’” Willis tells roughly 75 teenagers milling in front of the stage. ‘“If you want to mosh, that’s fine, but don’t get hurt. We’re not responsible. Have a great time. Don’t crowd surf; I don’t think there’s enough people.’”
Then he begins to pray.
‘“Lord, we’ve seen the fruits of Sundays at 7. We’ve seen the lives that have changed. Make sure that no one remains unchanged when they walk out this door. Let bondages be destroyed.’”
During the opening chords of Ezekiel’s Eye’s first song, Wilson flails around the stage, dispatching the kind of barbed and sweet punk-rock riffs Kurt Cobain might have played had he been saved. He sports a green T-shirt that says ‘Stellar Kart’ ‘– the thrift store kind that seems to indicate some kind of ironic post-modern stance ‘– and wears a short sleeve of tattoos around his left bicep. His heartfelt, emo lyrics are hard to decipher and except for the swaddling effect of the stage lighting and the peaked dome of the sanctuary, you might forget for a moment that this band is rocking for Jesus.
You watch Powell flail at his kit and Wilson bow up and slam down on the bridge of the song, and you feel you’re witnessing a ritual of catharsis and exorcism such as it has been enacted by rock bands over and over for the past 50 years.
The audience members look like any upper-income-bracket group of North Carolina high school students awkwardly finding their place and trying to figure out the opposite sex. Knots of boys with Beatlesque mop-tops and Afros shove each other lightheartedly as girls in tightly-fitted blouses with straight, long hair giggle and point. One of the boys wears braces and a metal choker necklace, metallic appurtenances that variously represent innocence and rebellion.
The boys energetically shove each other in the mosh pit and a couple rows of girls nod politely to the beat as the band plays. But between songs, the kids seem distracted by their own interpersonal dynamics.
After about five songs, Wilson introduces the rest of the band and himself ‘– ‘“I’m the guitar player. I’d like to think I’m somewhat decent. I know I’m not’” ‘– and in his typically modest and self-deprecating style asks for their attention.
‘“I want to share something with you real fast,’” he says. ‘“I’m not a preacher. I leave that to the people who can do it better.’”
He tells them the song they just heard is called ‘“My Everything’” because God is everything he could ever dream of. In what must be a stock testimony he talks about how his stepfather suffered a heart attack when Wilson was 15 years old. The boy and his stepfather had fought the night before and Wilson said to himself, ‘“God, I wish he would die.’”
As his stepfather slowly wasted away in the hospital, the boy reconciled with him, but was stricken with guilt nonetheless.
‘“The whole time I was thinking, ‘This is my fault,’ and I got really down on myself to the point where I tried to commit suicide,’” Wilson says. But he promises them: ‘“No matter what you’ve done, God will never fail you. You can say, ‘God, I want to focus on you and I want to do everything I can to please you.””
The kids receive the word as kind of a downer and don’t dance as boisterously afterwards.
Despite the novelty of Sunday evening praise services with loud guitars and mosh pits, the Cathedral of His Glory has in large part failed to reach very far beyond its own membership, which is one reason the church is taking a hiatus of about three months from the concerts to reassess its mission.
‘“It’s been attracting people that are already Christians,’” says 26-year-old Bradley Cobb, who describes his ministry as hospitality to the bands. ‘“The whole reason is to bring in the lost people.’”
Despite their longish hair, for the most part the kids look well scrubbed, well loved and safely held within the confines of affluent American Protestantism.
The church will probably start producing the concerts once a quarter and book acts with more drawing power to try to pull in a wider audience for its outreach ministry, Cobb says.
‘“We’re going to give our volunteers a break and give our pocketbooks a break,’” Willis says. ‘“With it not being on a weekly basis anymore, the infrequency of it and the excitement of it will bring more people.’”
The band plays their final song, and Wilson says, ‘“If anybody’s got any questions about God or anything, come and talk to us,’” before leaping off the stage and making his way to the merchandise table in the vestibule.
Cobb takes the microphone and counsels the kids to not be discouraged because the concert series will return in three months, but they’re already scattering.
‘“Stand still,’” he says. ‘“Let us pray. Lord, I pray that you bless them.’”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org