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During August and September 2011 Northern Irish worship band Rend Collective Experiment and American speaker Shane Claiborne toured the UK. Sam Hailes caught up with Rend and Shane in Southampton to find out more...
The first thing you need to know about Rend Collective Experiment is they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Sitting down with the five core members of the Bangor, Northern Ireland based band, I ask them how they would describe their music. “Three out of ten”, Gareth jokes.
There’s plenty of messing around that takes place when the collective get together. Do they want to cheer some Christians up? “Yes, definitely”, Gareth replies. “You look at worship music and a lot of it is so intense. But it’s just an experience, it’s not a practical outworking of the gospel. We are quite reactionary to that, and in some way we’ve shot ourselves in the foot because we sing a song like “Movements” which is about commitment but we’re all smiling and some people don’t get that.”
“Movements” is the first single off the band’s debut album, released in December 2009. Chris, the band’s lead singer, explains how the song came about. “It’s centered around the lyric: Whatever hits [whatever happens] I’ll keep making movements to you. It’s a song about commitment in the face of suffering. At the time it was written there was lots of things going on in the collective community. When you are in your 20s you start grappling with adult struggles. Movements is just a really fun response to that. It’s trying to express the joy of following Jesus whilst also acknowledging the cost at the same time.”
The band combine elements of Indy, Pop, Folk and Electronic styles of music into their songs. “Someone described it as Mumford and Sons meets Hillsong United, which I think works quite well. The best way we can describe our music, as much as we wouldn’t like to, is to just call it the genre that it is, which is worship music,” Gareth says.
Marketed as the next big thing for Christian music, and having recently toured America with Chris Tomlin, you’d expect the band to be reveling in their success. Their debut album 'Organic Family Hymnal' has been very well received and fans are eager to hear fresh material from the band. “Literally dozens of people have the album and maybe 20 of them would give it 7 out of 10. So it’s been fantastic,” he says.
What’s in The Name?
Rend Collective Experiment was born out of a student movement called Rend. “We all started seeking God together and we saw a lot of things happen. We saw people’s lives changed. After about five years a lot of people weren’t students anymore and went and did other things, but the band carried on.” Gareth explains.
The first part of the collective’s name was taken from the Bible. “’Rend’ means to tear apart. Isaiah 64:1 is a prayer that God would rend the heavens and come down, to be near us and real to us. Joel 2:13 is a call from God for us to rend our hearts and not our garments, which for us means don't put on an outward show, but be real and authentic. We call that organic,” the band explains.
Rend claim to be more like a family than a band, and are doing everything they can to avoid being seen as "special people on a stage." As a collective, the members of Rend want to emphasize the importance of working together and being in community.
Finally, Will explains the word experiment: “There’s aspects of believing where we don’t have all the answers. A lot of things are ongoing dialogues even within the band. The journey of faith is like that. Plus, bringing everyone together, it’s not a regular model of doing band, so it’s an experiment.
A few minutes after our conversation, the five core members of Rend Collective Experiment would lead hundreds in worship, before author of “Jesus for President” and “The Irresistible Revolution” Shane Claiborne would speak. Dubbed “The Upside Down Kingdom Tour”, each of the eleven meetings (including one at popular festival Greenbelt) had been designed to provoke Christians to practical action in their communities.
Shane has been preaching messages of non violence and simple living for a decade. The 36 year old served alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta and has written seven books. But Shane doesn’t just preach a message, he lives it. A self described radical and activist, Shane makes his own clothes and lives off very little. “Everything in the world teaches us to move away from suffering but God is inviting us in love to enter into suffering. The very story of Jesus coming into the world is about God entering the pain and the suffering in our world,” he explains.
For Shane, the true message of Christianity has been neglected. “We celebrate the birth of a homeless baby by buying all this stuff for people who already have everything.”
Shane shares the story of his friend halfway through his talk. “She was an education assistant and top of her class. She applied for this one teaching position that 300 people applied for. She went to her professor and said ‘I got the job!’ and the professor said ‘why would you take that job? Your one of the best teachers we have, you should be going to the toughest schools, that’s where you’re needed.’”
Shane realizes his message is far from ordinary in today’s Christian culture. “I know that there are people out there who say I was such a mess, then I met Jesus and everything came together. For me I pretty much had my life together, met Jesus and messed everything up,” he laughs.
The message of The Upside Down Kingdom Tour is clear. Jesus calls us to live radical lives. Both Rend Collective and Shane Claiborne understand that worship is never completely about the music. It’s about action. “People ask me ‘how was the tour?’, I always say: ‘I don’t know. Ask me again in 6 months,” Shane says. The Upside Down Kingdom Tour may have been a success in human terms. People came to all of the 11 dates, and went away challenged. But the test comes when the music ends and the stage lights are turned off. Who will put their faith into action?
Gareth from Rend Collective summed this up at the beginning of the evening when he told me: “The goal we’re aiming for is to encourage the church and bring them closer to God rather than give them the warm and fuzzies!”