20 Minutes with David Lee Bozeman
Fr. David Lee Bozeman is the lead singer and guitarist of Luxury, a rock band formed in the early 1990s at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. Luxury has recorded five albums: Amazing and Thank You (1995), The Latest and the Greatest (1997), Luxury (1999), Health and Sport (2005), and Trophies (2014). Bozeman, his brother, Jamey (guitar background vocals), and Chris Foley (bass) are now priests of the Orthodox Church in America. Bozeman spoke with Benjamin Guyer, a writer for Covenant and a lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Visit Covenant for a review of Bozeman’s latest EPs, The Majesty of the Flesh and Mother of God. Bozeman’s music is available for purchase through Bandcamp.
Ordained: April 1, 2012
Currently reading: James Michener, Hawaii; Metropolitan Nikolaos, When God Is Not There; Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
Currently listening to: My most recent purchases were Big Thief, Capacity; Damien Jurado, The Horizon Just Laughed; Nils Frahm, All Melody; The Caretaker,Take Care. It’s a Desert Out There …
Favorite poet: T.S. Eliot, of course.
Favorite guitar, amp, effects pedals: I’m not a gear guy. I always borrowed whatever was available. I just traded in a Fender Bassman I had for 22 years. It was really heavy and loud. Currently, I play a ’72 Fender Telecaster (reissue) through a VOX AC-10. I also play an Alvarez acoustic, which is really lovely. I have some pedals but I don’t really use them except for the Boss Digital Delay. I don’t really know what I am doing with the stuff, which is why I don’t play too much on the records. I’m the singer.
What drew you to the Orthodox Church?
The liturgical worship of the Church. My upbringing was in a mainline evangelical tradition, which I never had any problems with. In college, I experienced the evangelicals moving in a different direction, more toward non-creedal, non-tradition, non-order. This didn’t appeal to me so I faded out, more or less. Friends of mine began exploring Orthodoxy, and with my first exposure to the worship, I was radically interested. I felt like I had a language and a tradition for what I always believed. I think the death of Christianity in the West is mainly due to lack of proper liturgical worship, among other things.
Radical individualism and the push for a “personal” relationship with God leaves no room for ecclesiology. Everything is so self-centered, it seems. And when things become so self-centered they become relative. Instead of a church and a creed to which people conform themselves, we have individuals who possess beliefs which may or may not coincide with others’ beliefs and which can be expressed in any way that person feels. No one has to change or be changed. It is a kind of new “sola”: sola persona.
Are you pointing to a specifically American cultural problem? Is it generational? Is it simply a matter of sin?
Culturally, and all I know is American culture, we have moved radically toward self-identity and egalitarianism. Christianity is all about uncovering one’s true self as you unite to Christ. The more you become like Christ, the more you are truly yourself. That message does not get expressed at all culturally. Instead we are encouraged to be individuals without any paradigm, which seems to be leading to extreme narcissism and loneliness. I do believe that misses the mark.
Do you think differently about music, including rock music, now that you are ordained?
My tastes haven’t changed much. I don’t like most of what I hear, but I never have. I am very picky. With my own writing, certainly I have a new kind of care that I should take. I like to be provocative but I have to be thoughtful of the kind of provocations I make for the sake of the community that I serve. I still haven’t figured out how to write about faith in an authentic way. The only thing that seems authentic are the struggles and doubt. Above all, I want to write about joy, but that is the most difficult. The most joy I ever experienced musically was seeing the Flaming Lips live. It was palpable and authentic. So, I try to capture that.
Perhaps this is where worship fits in? Your Mother of God EP doesn’t strike me as inauthentic but as quite the opposite — it strikes me as devotional, and devotion comes from the heart. Worship seeks transcendence. Surely that is authentic?
The Mother of God EP was topical. It was a Christmas record and something I had never thought of doing before. They certainly are not liturgical songs, but they are informed by living life liturgically. I suppose I only think of worship in terms of liturgy. Liturgy is illuminating and transfiguring. It may be transcendent, but that seems to be more of an emotional response, which I rarely experience. In liturgical action, I am doing the thing I was made to do, and that is authentic. The longer I live this way, the more authentic I feel. That informs how I write music, but I don’t ever think of my writing as worship. It is confessional.
The lyrics for “The Majesty of the Flesh” are quite striking. Going back to figures like St. Athanasius, the Orthodox Church has consistently affirmed the goodness of both the material world and human embodiment. What is the relationship between sensual pleasure — in its most extreme form, hedonism — and the discipline (askesis) of the body necessary for genuine spiritual growth?
This idea that the body is essentially good can’t be overstated in today’s culture. Certain Christians, it seems, gave up this idea long time ago in favor of dualism. Dualism is a system which promotes the “spiritual” and degrades the “material,” which has consequences across the entirety of our lives. Everything is affected. We close our eyes and imagine God rather than look at the icon of Christ. We are ecologically unsound. We cremate our dead and hold “celebrations of life” rather than funerals. People hate their bodies and at the same time do everything to indulge themselves physically.
When I wrote about “The Majesty of the Flesh,” it was an attempt to remind myself that our bodies are essentially good and that bodies do have the capacity for being essentially glorified. Now that doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it. That is the ascetical tradition of the Orthodox Church. We fast and stand in prayer and deny ourselves at certain times to, first of all, understand the degree to which we are ruled by the flesh.
Once we begin to see that and start down the road of repentance, then we begin to bring our bodies into alignment with our heart, and we hopefully begin to give thanks to God for our flesh and to glorify God with our flesh. It is not a struggle against our bodies or the desire to escape our flesh, but a struggle to save our own skin.
Your first label, Tooth & Nail, helped to significantly redraw the line between Christian and mainstream music. What are your current thoughts on Christian rock? In particular, does it have a place in the Church or should it pursue the mainstream?
I know virtually nothing about evangelical music. It was never an interest of mine and I never had to listen to it. For the most part, what I was familiar with wasn’t very good. I grew up on 1980s alternative music essentially — Depeche Mode, the Smiths, the Cure, etc. When Luxury started, that blossomed into exposure to the punk scene and bands like Fugazi and Shudder to Think were a major influence on us musically.
I was also becoming Orthodox in college, so my lyrical writing was somewhere between the sassy side of British alternative and the burgeoning theological questions related to Orthodoxy. Signing to Tooth & Nail was the result of easy access to that scene and the fact that we were impressed by what Brandon Ebel was putting out. The world of T&N was somewhere between the real world and the “evangelical music scene” and that, it turns out, is a tricky place to be. The result for us really was that we didn’t fit in either place. And that’s where we have been ever since. Is “Christian rock” still a thing?
You not only write music but poetry as well. What are your next artistic projects?
I’ve tried to write poetry and short stories. I’ve even outlined and begun a novel. I haven’t carried through with most of it. I write songs and I try to keep fresh lyrically. That’s probably sufficiently vain.