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I have never pulled any punches when talking about what I think of music (see here and here and here and here if you're confused). It transcends culture and genre and ideology and language. It is the speech of angels. It moves us in the way that God does. Because of my thoughts on the topic, I have incredible frustration with our industry built around it. It is run by a love of money instead of a desire for expression. It is enjoyed by a culture obsessed with pedantics instead of one united by love. We argue about genre and judge based on sound. We discuss what is "good" and "bad" music as if everybody hears it the same way. It's a business now, and as such, it carries similar connotations. Artists who depend on it for their living have to create based on what their bosses say and based on what will sell.
The good news is that I am not the only one nervous about this - far from it, as a matter of fact. Organizations like Kickstarter are attempting to put the creative juices back in the hands of artists. Now, instead of looking at many thousands of dollars of production fees as proof of the necessity of signing to a label, they can make their fans their biggest fundraisers, accepting donations no matter how small with perks and benefits as they donate larger amounts of money. Not only are the listeners then buying the music, they are literally funding it as it's being made. Just like that, the control is away from corporal suits.
We are slowly getting back to the place where music is made for the joy of it. My thoughts? In a perfect world, music would be free. It's that simple. We wouldn't make music to get paid for it or to amass followers or to make a statement about how awesome we are for making music, but how awesome the music is for allowing us to make it. This, of course, doesn't cover the cost it takes to buy gear or pay for gas or to rent studio time or any of that, so of course it is just an ideological perfection... but I think that Kickstarter is on to something. What if we used the love of music to fund itself?
I love making music, and if I could justify quitting everything and just doing that for the rest of my life, I would do it happily. I'm not saying that I should or that I deserve it or that anybody would like it or that I'm half as good at making it as I pretend to be, all I know is that it is the easiest way I know to communicate with my Creator. That being said, I have been writing a massive amount of new material in a myriad of styles for a number of purposes here lately.
You can see sort of a running list of musical rough drafts here. Everything there is put out for the purpose of putting out music. It is all fair game being critiqued, ripped apart, criticized, enjoyed, hated, brushed over, ignored, whatever it is you feel like doing with it.
Also, a sort of new development, I have music available for download for absolutely free here. Of course, I'll accept donations, but all of that money will go straight back into music things for the sole purpose of putting out more and more music for free. It's a rather nice little cycle :) Feel absolutely no obligation to pay even a cent however, because my music is not about money. I just hope that through listening you can feel even a portion of my love for it.
I just don't think that I'm meant to be sleeping well anymore, and so this may end up being quite long-winded. I've been slacking off anyway. We have been given a frustrating place to call home and frustrating tools to deal with it.
This, I think, sums up this semester so far in a way that will be better off left alone than with whatever I tag onto it, even though I will inevitably grind the idea so far into the ground in hopes of trying to explain what I feel that every portion of meaning will be lost. Hence part of my frustration (which at this point feels rather circular).
We are all two parts, I think, and this frustrates me as well. We are empirical, in that we have arms and legs and we need to eat and if we don't have water we'll die and we CAN die and we can make more, slightly altered versions of ourselves with the help from somebody else. We can be classified into genus and species and named with fancy Latin words. We can perceive rapidly vibrating particles of matter and air and whatever else it is as color and sound. This portion of us is quantifiable. This part of us is purely animal and can be reasoned and proven through the scientific method and stands up very well in academic papers and in even things like Evolutionary Theory.
But we are something else, too, and I hate to use the word "soul" because it is such a loaded term (everything about this sentence frustrates me) but there is part of us that is most definitely not empirical. Knowledge is empirical, but we have the ability to discern. We can believe in something and we can doubt. We can listen to the cadence of wind between leaves on a tree as we lie on our backs underneath a sky pregnant with stars and think of that picture by Ansel Adams with the moon rising over the Grand Canyon, the feeling in the pit of our stomachs as we drive home from school at the beginning of vacation, and the smell of chocolate chip cookies cooling on a rack moments before getting a taste, all at once. That is not survival instinct. Emotion is not empirical, quantifiable, or describable. And that is very frustrating to me.
I have heard hypotheses for why these things occur as chemical reactions in the brain brought about by natural evolutionary processes and conditioned responses and genetic memory, in order to apply a logical train of thought to something that defies explanation, and I have to say they're only part right. It's saying the car moves because the tires rotate. Maybe emotion IS just our way of translating a chemical reaction, but then what is the chemical reaction translating?
This question frustrates me, because language can't cover it. The more enamored I become of words, the more I realize just how limited their scope is. The more I realize how limited their scope is, the more frustrated I get, because I can't shake the feeling that the vast majority of us on this planet are missing something important that can't be expressed with words even though we keep trying anyway. I wish we could take back all of the connotations every word ever has acquired and start from scratch. Because today if you want to talk about Joy or Love or God, people take away from it Happiness or Sex or Religion and we spend too much time defining terms to get anything useful done.
Why can't we talk about the quietest and grandest thunder you've ever heard reverberating off of your sternum and into that little place in your stomach where your emotion lives when a beautiful girl talks to you without explaining that you don't really hear thunder and it really isn't your sternum and this isn't some Freudian sycophantic meta-dream and it's not just your hormones acting up? Why have we turned to politics to avoid loving each other, and why do people take away from my saying politics Democrat vs. Republican?
I have been making more music than usual, I think for this very reason - because even when I try to describe my frustrations, I fail and get frustrated because of it. I must have started twenty posts in the past month, only to abandon them two paragraphs in. It isn't that I have nothing to say, it's that every time I try to say it words just feel... empty. Like I said at the beginning, we have been given frustrating tools to deal with this place. So instead of blog posts I've been throwing stuff like mad up here. I can't paint or draw or sculpt and I don't really understand modern art (not that I haven't tried immensely hard) and so often language fails me - so maybe what I have to say is better communicated with music.
This is why I love reading TS Eliot and Cormac Macarthy and Jonathan Safran Foer and John Keats (just to give as broad a spectrum as possible... good Lord.), among many, many others, because they all have something to say and they struggle around ways of saying it until it finally settles inside of you and looks at first like Beauty. It frustrates me that The Wasteland is perfect and and that the air in The Road is a better character than any that I've ever written and that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is what tears read like and that Keats died young and unsatisfied with his work, even though during his twenty-something years he accomplished more than most poets who write for 40.
And sort of I suppose to tie this all together, if that is even possible or worth it at this point, it brings me back to that dual parts of us notion that I mentioned earlier. If we were purely scientific creatures who answered solely to reason, I would have had nothing to say here because my frustration would have a name and words would suffice in describing it. Music and poetry and art make no scientific sense, and yet they make more sense to me than anything else. I know that for the sake of my grades and my degree and all that I'm having to suck it up and just do it (which frustrates me immensely), but sometimes I don't want to.
Science has a tough time explaining God, and that frustrates it. I think the trick is to stop trying to explain Him, though, and simply listen.
I apologize for the expanse between posts. It seems that life has picked up and time for frivolous scribblings to the simultaneous everything and nothing of the Internet has disappeared like wisps of smoke upon opening a window. Below you will find not a constructed argument for something in particular, like I normally try to do, but a jumble of words that have been stuck between my ears for entirely too long. I absolutely love my field of study. I am able to spend the majority of my school week around artists who, like Keats and Shelley, attempt to capture the Muses flitting about in the corners of our vision because they simply must. I get the opportunity to speak constantly with people who, like it is required of me, are required to think before they do so. I am privileged to exist in a bubble separate from the drab "real" world with people like me who are fascinated with examining the very nature of all that stuff out there.
Greetings from the haven of academia. But in here we are presented a different class (or, if we are seeing the big picture, a different aspect) of problem from the outside world.
We fight wars in here with beasts possessing mouths so enormous they can guzzle you in their sleep. The more I think about it, the more I realize that these beasts are everywhere - I just happen to be able to see the front line a little bit clearer through the windows of a Philosophy class. Where I am if you don't believe in something you'll end up believing in nothing; if you don't bring a gun you'll be taken and not even held for ransom.
Here the gates are wide and every road leads to paradise. Here there exist nights where one moment you stare into infinity packed so dense that even the pillow under your head is pregnant with meaning and the next moment unrational equals unfathomable.
Here we spell God R-E-A-S-O-N.
Immanuel Kant articulated it as the battle cry of the Enlightenment: "Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own reason!" And I wholeheartedly agree with him. In Acts, Paul went into the centers of intellectual prowess and "reasoned in the synagogues every Sabbath" (Acts 18:4). Isaiah implores, "Come, let us reason together" (1:18). God instilled in human beings from the very beginning the ability to use His divine skill of reason by creating us in His image, hereby setting us apart from the rest of creation. Reason is the essence of our humanity, an enormous road block in the construction of evolutionary theory, and the echoes inside our hearts of God Himself.
But here's the catch: instead of using it to find God, we use it to try to find meaning. We forget that meaning is a human explanation of a superhuman existence - in that sense a human construction. Meaning is the desert of the real. In using human applications of Divine characteristics to find human constructions of Divine realities, we are but dogs chasing our tails. Frustrated, existentially lost and intensely desperate dogs.
I am not sure what all I am trying to say, or if there is even a point that I am trying to make. I'm leaking out all of these words that represent the heart of what I have been thinking about and which has been keeping me from writing about lack of sleep or books or whatever it is this blog is for. I've been reading everything from French Aesthetic theory (if you've ever read Derrida you, I'm sure, understand) to Environmental Rhetoric and have been writing next to nothing, and for that I apologize. HOWEVER - if you would like to respond to me in any way or construct arguments against everything I say or tell me to write you a clever ambiguous haiku please do. Sometimes it feels like I am talking to myself (I know I do, but that is beside the point).
I'll post soon with something a little less frustrated and a little more clear and perhaps less (ok, it won't be less) rambl-y. In the meantime, dare to be wise, friends. And, in the words of the brilliant Catherine Bolden, use your powers for good.
We depart for civilization in 6 hours and all I can think about is how dark it is in this room and how Andrew is in the bunk across from me hogging all of the sleep. Or: what is vacation, a place to get away or a place to get alone?
Or: what I need is fresh air and I need to dig words out of that dusty place I threw them when we got here. For some reason.
Words are stubborn when they've been wadded up. They crinkle a little in their unfolding and you have to flex them back and forth for them to be of any use. Go figure, you don't call for a week and all of the sudden they're mad at you like you did something wrong. You tell them you just didn't need them right now because you're trying to unwind and take a breath before the train hits again and they get all defensive cause they feel like you're using them. You forget that words have feelings too. And trust issues, I think.
I tell them, let's take a stroll, because we need to talk, and I figure the humidity would help with that.
I step outside and I can smell the ocean. I can feel on my skin the sticky hot Atlantic wind and the salt in the air makes me thirsty. When the air conditioner kicks off behind me I can hear the steady rhythm of the waves crashing to a meter that seems asymmetrical at first, but on longer listen is just a complex set of hits stretched out over an ambling, slow, incredibly steady tempo. We are waltzing, that sound and I. We're going nowhere in a hurry.
And now I'm asking something different. Something about what keeps sleep away. Something about what brings it in the first place. Something about the nature of things that comes alive on still hot nights like this.
I always related to Thomas the most, I think because I know I would have been the one trying to call Peter and the Beloved one out on their excitement until I actually put my hands in the gaping, miraculous, saving holes. I can look back on him and frown and ask him "how could you" when really I should just look at myself and mutter the very same words. Ask myself if I believe simply because I have seen, or vice versa. The curse of looking for reason and knowing that until you find it there will be sleepless nights. The pain in that place you can't touch when belief sometimes feels like a listing sailboat after a changed wind. When you wish you could be Elijah and call down fire from heaven not so much for proof but just to see something wet catch fire.
Sometimes even just for the proof, I suppose.
You can drown in your unbelief, and it does feel like drowning. Gasping, groping, frantically kicking your feet until your hands slide upon something already being rocked gently to sleep by the tide. When finally on the surface you realize that it is the surface itself that snapped you awake. Just when you started to think that your whole world was underwater and enslaved to wet, you burst to the surface and your lungs ache for more of whatever it is up here that just tastes so good. You realize there's way more up here than there was down there and you can see better too.
You can hear, somewhere in the distance, those waves pounding the shore being heard by a boy sweating and swatting flies on a porch in South Carolina.
The funny thing about them is that as they roll over the sand they pay no mind to us. We can build sand castles to try to stand in their way but the water won't have it. We can try to drown out the sound with music but they crash all the more. We can film them and stick them in a spotlight and draw attention to their beauty but they pulse humbly. We can mock them with barriers but they will power through them mightily.
They are constant. The same when husbands get fired and when brothers die and when babies are born and when teenagers get pregnant and when empires fall and when songs are written and when animals sleep and when it rains and when boys want so hard to just believe as fierce as the sea but let reason get in the way. These waves operate separate from reason. Blame it on rotating planets and spinning moons and shifting continental shelves and trade winds all you want and the waves will be there when you crawl back to simply see them. They represent something that goes on despite us. One way in a long list of ways God can shake us up to refresh our belief. One thing in a long list of things that proves that there is something besides us and our petty human problems.
They are beautiful to taste for a soul crying "why".
I believe this is all the thought I am allowed on this sticky summer's eve before my skin becomes fodder for a thousand hungry insects who will bite me no matter the vigor with which I question them.
I swear I can be the most long-winded person ever. I really need to quit being so wordy. Eh. Perhaps next week. If there's anything Americans love, it is handouts.
(Have no fear, I am not about to get political. There will be a point somewhere below this)
There is this very strange psychological condition that goes into the system of consumption that is so engrained in our American culture - that price = quality. I was talking with my friend John about a business venture he's trying to start where he's building custom, incredible quality, fantastic sounding (I've played one) guitar amps to try to get his foot in the door of the boutique guitar gear world. We were talking about how to price them, and we had two thoughts: one, completely drop the bottom off it and sell them as cheap as costs and labor can allow so that whoever wants one can afford one. It could spread with Walmart fervor as soon as people realize how cheaply they are getting a product of immense quality.
The other thought was the complete opposite: load it with all of the premium parts money can buy and shoot the price through the roof to put it in the hands of a select portion of the market while at the same time creating a brand image of finest quality tubes, transistors, body, tone, and therefore the finest quality amplifier. The jacked up price would put it in a price bracket along with BadCat, Matchless, Dr. Z, and a whole slew of long-established, globally-recognized, top-of-the-line guitar amplifiers. All because of the price.
Why was this second option even considered, much less favored? Because as Capitalists we associate price with quality, especially in the guitar world. And the car world. And the breakfast cereal world. In the America world.
(This is not my point either. Stay with me.)
It has been proven in countless case studies that I have read in various advertising and economics classes that brand loyalty and the price = quality association that this is how our brains have been wired in our ingenious Capitalist system. So it is interesting, then, how obsessed with "free" we are. Pulses quicken, hands become hungry and whet with the desire to obtain whatever it is that will be given to us at absolutely no monetary or physical charge, regardless of the quality of the item. Really, regardless of the item. I'm guilty of it too! It is embarrassing how many books I will never read I have taken out of the "free" bin at McKay's until I realize that I have no need for them and reluctantly resist the urge to take what is given to me and eventually place it back in the basket. When something is free, we disregard quality almost immediately and snatch up whatever is being given away, knowing we can at least stash it on a shelf in the basement.
The Information Age So if the above is true, and my experience has told me that it is, what does this say about us who are consumed in the Information Age, more importantly, the Free Information Age? A large group of people bent on acquiring knowledge through whatever means necessary. They'll listen to whichever voice gives it to them at the least cost to them: whoever is funniest (requiring less effort to remain alert), most interesting (requiring less energy to get excited), and most accessible (requiring less energy to search out truth) is the one who gets the audience. They are the tap to the dried sponges of the masses. We are by nature looking for something to believe in and so when the most eloquent and the most captivating come along with a viable option with enthusiasm and incredible intelligence to back it, before you know it you have the Third Reich and an army of passionate robots ready to follow their leader.
Knowledge is the most dangerous word in our language, simply because it has become incredibly unstable. Its roots get all tangled and people get confused about what is real. Pretty soon the point of knowledge is winning arguments or making it look like you deserve those Buddy Holly glasses and ripped jeans and the tattered copy of "On The Road" that you keep in your back pocket. Enough people start flexing what they call knowledge about what they call truth and pretty soon everybody's twisted versions of what truth actually is don't add up. So then they start believing that there is no truth, because everyone's ideas are all floating around in the most vast of wastelands supported by nothing but their assurances of "Trust me: I'm right."
It surrounds us. I did a case study in a class on Propaganda (which was far less conspiracy-theorist than you may think) on the way that news is reported by mass media. I took examples of news stories covered by international corporations and used only the largest names in the industry: Fox, CNN, MSNBC, BBC and Al-Jazeera, and found that it is next to impossible to just get what happened. Everybody decided to spin the story their own subtle way using emotional language, sly omission of details, selective inclusion of interviews, etc. It reflects our culture which is more interested in hearsay than in truth.
Knowledge is often associated with opinion, which it is not. Knowledge is often associated with emotion, which it is not. Knowledge is often associated with wisdom, which it is not. "Knowledge," writes Foucault, "is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting."
We must not be receivers of it, we must be searchers of it. I don't know how it became acceptable to take something as you hear it and recite it again in the future as if it were fact or to assume credibility. How often have librarians been pounding it in our heads to check our sources and how often have we been too lazy to even FIND sources for what we say? For crying out loud, there is an entire site devoted to people who have taken stories from The Onion and become outraged that PETA is now murdering meat-eaters or whatever.
Finally: The Point Paul tells us to do do this exact same thing in 1 John 4: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." He is talking about matters of Spiritual things (where it is infinitely more crucial to not accept at face value a single thing that you hear), but a more broad application still fits: we must test everything that we hear, read, see, learn, discover.
It is a dark time for belief in anything; one where a lot of people like to believe that there is no such thing as Truth, where it takes less effort to say "I do not believe" than it does to say "I believe" because it means you'd have to think and tremble and spend nights awake in cold sweats. Belief in God comes after knowledge of God, which we will not be ready for as long as we are accepting our hearsay handouts. It is common knowledge that most of the secular world sees Christians as shallow-minded incompetents incapable of thinking for themselves, and in a lot of cases they are right. We fall into the trap of listening to words from books and pulpits and immediately accepting the ethos of the speaker and taking the words as truth.
I am so happy that my pastor constantly tells us "Please do not take my word for it. Take what I say home, check it against Scripture and determine that it is truth that way." He meets with teams of people after preaching to make sure that every little thing he says is accurate. He encourages an environment of searching, for he knows without struggle for the knowledge of important things, you will never retain it and therefore never apply it.
True belief cannot come from blind acceptance just like victory cannot come without struggle. How then can we be content with mediocrity?
Since apparently I've been on this "how is it you can't see what I see" kick, we'll keep going with it. It is disgusting how much of a sucker I am for good writing. When I read or see or hear something that just drips with lexical fluidity or a fresh voice or an appropriately complex story made to sound as simple as a front-porch fish tale, there's a small nerve inside my heart that gets caressed and rubbed back to life. People are unknowingly drawn to these sources of deep emotional warmth without realizing why, and can easily pick "good" writing out from "bad" simply because something makes it stand out from the abyss of modern culture.
There's a touch of something Real to it.
Obligatory Header Number One: Contrasting Examples In my line of thinking, good writing (and good guitar tone... but that's a different story altogether haha) reflects God, whether it means to or not. I drafted something like twenty sentences before settling on that one, because I figured there had to be a more eloquent way to put it... but I don't know that there is, and I think that the point of this post is to explain why.
I recently read the entire Harry Potter series over the course of like two months, and it only took me that long because I had a thousand other things that I should have been doing. Also because I drug out the last few chapters simply because I didn't want it to end (a technique I learned from my Grandmother). Because I'm a man, I don't cry at stupid things like dumb books </burly voice> but if I did, it wouldn't be because of any particular character that JK Rowling crafted or any exotic location she dreamed up, it would be because of the grace she employed in using "ordinary" circumstances to tackle heavy subject matter. It was the ease with which she dipped you into her imagination and the clarity that drenched her language. It was the fact that I disliked Harry's character, which I think was deliberate on her part, but found myself still rooting for his cause and touched by the loyalty of his friends despite their disapproval of his methods because they rooted for the same cause. It was the way that she had the entire series planned before publishing the first book.
It was the way that she demonstrated excellence at her craft.
For the complete opposite side of the coin and the source I will use as my second example, I recently played through, for the first time, the game BioShock. I started it out of curiosity because I had read a review online and I could get it straight from the Mac App store. What I found was a terrifying vision of a very possible future completely consumed with image-making, genetic alteration, and obsession with physical perfection. Where aesthetic is god. And this story captivated me.
Because my readers are less likely to be familiar with this than with Harry Potter, I'll side-chain briefly to give you the lowdown on what this game is about and why it is interesting. Hang on, because it gets kind of sci-fi. Years and years ago, Andrew Ryan, the embodiment of Ayn Rand's idealistic philosophy called Objectivism, built a city at the bottom of the sea where creation and self-perfection could be uninhibited by moral and social boundaries. He harvested stem cells from sea slugs that could be used to genetically modify specific parts of whoever ingested them. People gained the ability to produce electricity, fire, ice, etc. from their hands. They developed telekinesis. They thickened their skin, sped up their legs, strengthened their minds. But, like the businessman that he was, Ryan, completely controlled the supply of these gene "drugs". The rich could afford them and the poor became junkies for the stuff and like that a class war was waged. The city fell to the overwhelming amount of people fiening for more, called "splicers", and, in the alternate, dystopian, steampunked history of 1960, the story of BioShock begins.
Unbeknownst to the majority of those who play it, it is a story drenched in the terror of a Godless society. The imagery is abundant: the genetic modifiers are called Adam. The tonic you need to use more of the Adam is Eve. The city is appropriately called Rapture, and the welcome banner to the fallen Rapture reads: "No gods or kings, only men". The consequences are clear and the horror is palatable.
How Gamers and Nerds Got it (Partially) Right
Both of these stories, completely opposite of each other, can be used to illustrate what I'm talking about. I think about the intricacies of these creations, neither of which was written by people who claim to know the same Savior that I do, and, without meaning to, they both demonstrate qualities reminiscent of my God. Rowling and Ken Levine accomplished something most Christians pathetically overlook - excellence and intricacy. By pouring themselves into their creations, the final results were beautiful. By laboring over minute details which are simply packed into the Potter series, Rowling accomplished a masterpiece. By telling "simple" stories soaked to their roots with passion, they related the mundane to the supernatural. The story of persisting for good in the face of unspeakable (literally... they couldn't say his name) evil and the futility of playing God were told with fresh voices and beauty.
I am not going to turn this into another criticism of "God-culture" because 1) with the exception of a few areas, the content being produced has improved dramatically and 2) we are not here to create culture. What I am going to do is claim "popular culture" as yet another place we can see shadows of the face of God.
Go to the art museum downtown and get lost inside the level of achievement by the most diverse collection of men and women possible and tell me that you aren't overwhelmed with the presence of the Creator who gave those artists their brushes. Read Keats' Great Odes and simply try not to realize that when he is talking about the Spirit of Poetry (or the Nightingale or The Grecian Urn -- "Beauty is Truth"), he's getting at the very nature of God, and then feel sad that he never realized it himself. Surround yourself with city hippies and bands who just love playing music and tell me that the constant amid all of the chaos isn't the Source of music itself.
What I am going to do is claim that you don't have to be in a "Christian" environment to praise Christ. What I am saying is quit trying so hard to act like a Christian and instead act like someone grateful for an infinite gift they have been given.
While there is one very specific, narrow way to actually get to God, what I am saying is that today's age of agnosticism is unfounded, needlessly stubborn, and perpetuated by the blind. Unfortunately, I think that the same thing can be said about today's obsession with mediocrity.
Almost exactly two years ago I was in Grant Park in Chicago with just under a hundred thousand other people finding myself quite a small, insignificant cell of an overwhelmingly complicated, breathing organism named Lollapalooza. I only pretended to know half of the bands that my fellow music loving Chicago travelers were so excited about seeing as we charted our days from stage to stage with highlighters, being sure to hit all of the acts we absolutely had to see or else the world would surely collapse, or something like that. It's like registering for classes."We'll have to leave Fleet Foxes early to catch the beginning of Coheed" or "Would you be ok with seeing only half of Animal Collective? of Montreal is at the Vitamin Water stage and I hear their finale is awesome" or "No, Hamilton. We cannot miss Snoop." And so on.
For those unfamiliar, a brief description of Lolla. There are somewhere around eight stages spread throughout Grant Park, between 50 and 100 bands, six headliners, three days, and the palpable promise of unexpected, out of place revival.
The resonance in your stomach as Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra cries "Oh God, I need it, for I was wrong again. Take me to the River and make me clean again. Oh my God, make me clean again, and oh my God let me see again"
The purple clouds painted behind a skyscraper skyline silhouetted by a massive, orange-glowing orb that no longer hurts your eyes to watch skirt impossibly far down until it disappears as the backdrop to Ben Harperplaying slide guitar in the city that has its own kind of blues.
The spark of this brief reminiscence: Friday was miserably cold. The rain started promptly at noon and let up just before the headliners took the stage that night, leaving the ground muddy and trampled by both feet and gaping, gathering puddles of filthy water. There was a grave-chilly breeze sweeping like the unwelcome arms of the angel of death off of Lake Michigan that all but stole the heart from inside of us. But the crowd packed like slimy sardines in front of the stages and sang anyway.
We were at the Playstation Stage, because that is where the crowd had swept us. It was off track from where we wanted to be, but outside the throb of people was where cold dwelt, and in there at least we didn't shiver. On the stage there were little stagehands like scampering minions ensuring all of the equipment was good to go before the band began playing. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver walked out first, humbly, barefooted. He carried a guitar in his right hand and a stool in his left and sat before the microphone and in a tone that brought warmth to all who heard it said "Thank you guys for standing out there in the rain. We are Bon Iver and we'd like to play some songs for you."
What happened then was one of those things that exists beyond coincidence. Justin sang the opening melody line to Woods (love this version) and the rain slowed to a drizzle for a moment before stopping completely. You could watch the crowd's heads look up momentarily and smile before watching the rest of the band members walk up to their mics and add in the looped, sweeping, haunting, awe-striking harmonies that gives the band its soul-aching sound. The crowd echoed back at Justin's beckoning, "what might have been lost" at the end of The Wolves (Act 1 and II) (around 2:36), but besides that, they were captivated in uncharacteristic silence and drenched not in water anymore, but in magnificent, melodious, devastatingly beautiful sound.
I begin this short section with what could be a step in an Aristotelian Logic proof when it is actually a proof in itself:
Love has been horribly mistreated lately, mostly because it has been portrayed as something that exists in its strongest form between two people, or between somebody and God, or between somebody and anything at all . Mostly I submit that it has been mistreated because we have inserted ourselves into it, profaning perfection. How can we, with straight faces and hearts that do not break from the heaviness of the defacing of something beautiful, even say that we are worthy of Love? How did we arrive at the conclusion that Love is sex or feelings or friends or any exclusive category to which we can assign it? Why do we not teach "God is Love" as it should be taught: that being without God is being without Love? If He was telling the truth (as I'm fairly sure he was) when He called Himself Love and the ultimate reason that we are here in the first place is to find God, delight in Him and bring Him joy, how can we flippantly toss "I love you" around anymore?
How did we forget that "I love you" means "Together we are touching this thing that is much bigger than we are, and we should delight in that, because it is so much more important in delighting solely in each other?"
When Love lights on the shoulder of a human being, it is more beautiful than words or music could describe, but it has an effect, I assume, similar to the tranquil transcendency of Bon Iver during that break in the rain. Connecting with Love is connecting with God Himself, so the only way you can find it is by looking for Him. You can burn your dating manuals and Cosmo relationship advice, because anything we conjure - even what we call love itself - to try to mimic the existence of God will ultimately disappoint. You will find yourself in a world that has what it calls a love crisis when it's not a love crisis at all. It's simply what happens to our substitutes for God when we hold them up to the light.
Where you can find it I needn't address this, because the answer isn't limited by your search terms. Perhaps God will stop a rainstorm and sweep you up in sound to say "Hey, remember that I invented this, so connect with me." Maybe you'll see a stranger walking out of McDonald's with coffee and biscuits for a man with spiders nesting in his dreadlocks and God will remind you what acting in Love (in Him) is. You'll find it in everyday things that are beautiful in ways that are bigger than your tasks or debts or deadlines or your broken heart. Pretty soon you'll see God as the constant on the graph and we are the erratic heartbeat, only occasionally blipping high enough to see Him.
Edit: I urge you not to take this as a piece of new-age nonsense or a defense of the increasingly common and frustrating idea that finding out who God is is sufficient. I laid awake last night with this (perhaps) irrational fear that I could be construed for making a case for Universalism or that we can make a connection with God without going through Jesus first. If I come across that way, I assure you it is not my intention. Honestly, I was simply trying to offer encouragement to those who have been where I have or who have been plagued by seasons of doubt or questioning or borderline disbelief. We are so easily caught up in things of man and so quickly drawn into the political or philosophical realms that have been created around God that we forget to see God for who He truly is.
I just wanted to say that perhaps it'll take you packing close to hippies and headbangers listening to a band who doesn't know they're singing about God to realize that finding Him is less of a task than we make it out to be.
So I wrote this post early this morning in a fit of unsleepyness at the end of a discouragingly long span of time since my last. And I figured that the middle of a "fulfilling requirements" class in between work and work was a fitting time to publish it.
Got sick of the marching band and lost my head I am the straw that broke the camel's back Sometimes you gotta let it all out
I see you talking but I don't hear words I'm just a gerbil in the wheel, caught
Sometimes you gotta let it all out
I finally got to see Lovedrug a while ago in the dingy basement of a record shop in Nashville. Michael Shepard and I spoke for brief moments next to their merch table (which he was manning) where I told him that he and his band inspired me and that he should keep fighting the good fight and that I would buy and have bought all of his cd's from eternity to eternity and all of that cliché nonsense that he has surely heard a hundred times before.
Phase 1: Inspiration Riding Triumphantly on her White Horse I watched and listened that night to songs I'd memorized as if they were new; I was inspired all over again. I wanted a James and a Thomas and a Jeremy to be equally as passionate about the things I am and to be pumped to play in a basement half full of 50 people who knew every word to our songs and to realize that's more special than an arena full of people who had just heard them on the radio before. I wrote and prayed and began looking for these people who could get excited with me about nerdy things like tone and music for the love of it and songs that were songs, not regurgitated formulas for a twisted commercial version of success (look at how hipster I sound right now).
Phase 2: The 100m Hurdles Nights like those are beautifully dangerous. They create a little bubble in the passing of time where you neither become tired nor regain awareness of the still-turning world outside of it until it pops. It lingers like remnants of a dream in the recesses of your chest so that you remember specific feelings rather than actual events that took place.
It takes a minute to readjust your mind's eye to reality. As it refocuses, people for a minute seem horrific like trees because they did not exist for the hour and half previously. Work reappears from the happy fog. The night air loses its shine and becomes humid and closes its gentle hands around your neck so slowly you can't feel it until it is too late and already choking you. You still have all of those papers to write.
However, the dream is still fresh in your muscle memory. It has embedded itself in that place where you won't and can't forget it, for it is all that tethers you to the moment that was suspended before you set out on your drive back to the desert of the real. But all of the sudden, upon arriving back home, the music will just have to wait until you turn in that portfolio and change that projector bulb and write those chord charts and collect that paycheck and run that mile a day in the spinning tire in your cage next to the water bowl and food bucket atop the bed of pencil shavings.
Phase 3: The Gerbil in the Wheel Months go by and you can't even so much as type words on the internet or scratch them out with a dying pen on paper. You can only hum other people's melodies. You never even pretended that yours were better or even good but they were yours. Stephen Crane captured the feeling perhaps better than anybody:
"In the desert I saw a creature, naked, bestial, Who, squatting upon the ground, Held his heart in his hands, And ate of it. I said, 'Is it good, friend?' It is bitter -- bitter,' he answered, But I like it Because it is bitter, And because it is my heart."
But eventually you can't even partake of it, for all of your running on the wheel. For all of your changing of projector bulbs and fetching coffee grounds and showing up at class not to learn but to be counted present and your checking your pockets for the words that used to flow through you but now dangle like the carrot in front of a donkey tied to a mill.
And all the while your legs, and your heart, pump furiously.
Phase 4: Dawn A thought occurs to you: the wheel only keeps spinning because you keep running. Your schedule is full but you take a chance anyway and all of the sudden you get new music (still not your own, but it's a step) and new people with whom to play it. People playing who love to play and people listening who love to listen. Your cage still functions without your constant treading on the rungs of the wheel and plus, now that rhythmic squeak from the joint is gone. You realize there is more to be attained.
The wildest notion appears as well: you don't even need that wheel in your cage. You just ran on it because it was there and now you question that decision in the first place. Don't get caught up with jogging on the treadmill if you want to run a marathon. If you were created to color, don't be content with the 12-pack of crayons. Don't even be content when you get the 200-pack with 12 shades of purple and twin sharpeners in the back. Don't be happy just because you get a bigger wheel - for it is still a wheel.
Horribly overused by teenage girls on Tumblr but relevant nonetheless:
"If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced." ~Vincent Van Gogh
We were created by a creative God to be creative, not complacent. Complacency is a slap in His face. You were given something that you love to do, so for the love of Him who gave it to you, do it. Don't write because you crave fame, write because unless you write you feel incomplete. The same goes for crunching numbers and hugging strangers and feeding orphans and smiling and teaching dogs how to jump rope.
If we focused half of our attention on the things we were created to do than we do on comparing ourselves to everybody and everything around us, think of what we could accomplish. Beauty cannot be found in magazines, it must be pursued. Beauty is felt, not seen, and anybody who tries to say anything else is sadly lost to a generation full of people trying to be something that they are not.
I have heard people who claim to love the same God I do tell me they are not good at anything because they can't draw pictures or play the piano or make a really really good milkshake like somebody else they've seen. They are envious not of possessions but of love. They have fallen into the trap that says unless people are listening they are not successful... even though the people they envy couldn't care less if people are listening or reading or tasting or not. We must stop treading our squeaky wheels in our cages and being content with it and we must start doing what we love because we love doing it, and we can feel the Almighty smile when we get it done. Play your guitar not so people can hear you, but because you must play it.
I can't help but think that God would feel closer to us if we'd quit running our individual acts of worship by people first.
It is somewhat traumatic when you arrive at the realization that people, in the most general sense of the term, suck. We have slowly lost our sense of self somewhere in the technological age, in which we can pick and choose what we want people to see with the rest hiding under our metaphorical makeup that we sloppily cake on in the morning to avoid showing who we are. Our phones are extensions of our brains and our cars are extensions of our feet and we begin operating under the assumption that our worth comes from the number of friend requests we get or the number of people who tell us we're talented or how long we can go without having to sit in silence and listen to nothing but ourselves.
Because we are uncomfortable with who we are, we have to find comfort in other people, even if the interactions we have with these other people are shallow. It is absolutely mind blowing that, from my junior year in high school until a month ago, I spent hours daily looking at information and pictures and thoughts from people I cared nothing about and hoped that they were doing the same for me. I cannot believe that I found validation in the fact that I had something like 800 people were my "friends," even though MAYBE 100 I had ever even spoken to and most I would have gone out of my way to avoid.
This "socioholism" is a dangerous mindset to contract, because as soon as we start projecting our sources for self-worth onto other people or onto the amount of group activities we can do or onto the number of parties we attend, we are taking our self-worth away from....ourselves.
Furthermore, we are surprised to learn that people do not act rationally, selflessly, trustworthily, etc. and take it personally when the teeming masses of sinful, horrid creatures around us act in their sinful, horrid ways. Everybody does. I do. You do. We walk as if on a sea of nails so we will not shatter the carefully constructed images we project. We'll say things we don't mean in order to alter some opinion you may be forming of us. We'll fake a smile and promise to hang out just to make the encounter which we forced in the first place appear to be less awkward than we both know it is.
We'll do everything that is a byproduct of a society so wrapped up in image making that our fragile outer shells will eventually crumble because of the hollow cores within them.
Somewhere along the way we learned that if you're not going out at night, you are an outcast. We learned that disconnection is undesirable. We learned that unless you text her every five seconds, she will forget about you or get over you or cheat. We learned that having an off night means you need to organize a slumber party. We learned that every connection you have ever made needs to be maintained.
Now, I speak with slight hyperbole, as usual. I am not saying to sever every one of your connections and confine yourself to your den and a chair and a mound of books written by old dead men. What I am saying is that unless we can, as a society, forsake this gripping necessity to constantly be around people, we are not going to be comfortable with ourselves. Until we are comfortable with ourselves, we will derive our worth that SHOULD come from ourselves from other people. These people will do exactly what it is people do and let you down, which then leaves you feeling empty.
We have to learn to fill up the space inside our shells with something that is far more complex than the social scene. You have the option to be delivered from all of the nonsense that comes from the drama of other people. How can we be comfortable with our Savior when we can't be comfortable being away from the throng of careless people surrounding us?
You have the strength of choice inside of you. Forget the hurtful things that somebody does (whether they mean to or not) - that's getting upset because a hot stove top burned you - it's going to happen. Instead, know that you were given an option the second Salvation came to the world: either stay here and get your worth from the myriads around you that are constantly in flux, or get it from that special place He puts inside of you.
*Warning* This is long. It is, I hope, thought-provoking as well. I suppose we'll see.
For the first time in my life (excluding my remarks about the impossibly catchy and brilliant melody of Paparazzi), I will say that Lady Gaga was on to something. For nowhere near the first time in my life, and equally as far from the last time in my life, the contents of this post may elicit anger from some.
This is my worried face.
It is no secret that I can be somewhat of a hermit occasionally, leading me to be behind on some popular trends and fads and whatnot. I spend time reading books by long-dead authors, obsessing over grammar, staring at walls, altering sixth chords, ignoring phone calls, writing papers, disintegrating slowly into acute and undiscovered forms of madness, and wishing I could do things like pogo stick professionally or own an invitation-only private island. So I was surprised to find out that Lady Gaga had a new (it is new to me, ok?) song out (that apparently came out last September? wow.).
I had no choice but to listen to it. I simply had to.
In the song, Gaga sticks up for her fellow weirdos, challenges racial discrimination, discourages conformity, blahblahblah something bland and generic like the rest of her pop Contemporaries. However, as I was listening to it, I couldn't help but think that the song is not driving at these pro-social messages. I, like Gaga, would love to see this generation raised without the crippling dependency on the approval of others... but her point is different.
"Don't be a drag - just be a queen," she says, blahblah "because God makes no mistakes." Ohhhhhhh ok. I see what we're getting at here. This isn't about racism or individuality, this is about being gay. Or, how does she put it? "No matter gay, straight or bi, / lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track baby."
Gaga isn't to blame, because I have heard this excuse more than any excuse in the book (or lengthy pamphlet.... people's excuses are rapidly lacking the ingenuity they once did) for any number of actions. It is the perfect justification: the ultimate shifting of blame away from yourself - "I was born this way."
I think that we have confused "made" and "born".
Ignoring the grammatical differences between implied actors in each of these cases and approaching it purely from a) a logical point of view and b) a spiritual point of view, we can go ahead and say that Gaga's argument can absolutely hold no water.
Logical If I were the totalitarian dictator of the entire world, the first thing that I would do is require a basic working knowledge of logic proofs. We would eliminate all of the needlessly idiotic statements coming from important and imbecilic people, alike, and help Hamilton's headache wane just a little bit. Oh, if I had the words for the gratuitous logical fallacies encapsulated by this excuse. It is "born this way" that would cause the crumble of society as we know it if we listened to what we were saying. I won't even talk about murderers, rapists, child pornographers, cop killers, drug dealers, sociopaths, etc. who can all claim the same thing, because I am conscious of people taking what I am saying out of context. I don't want somebody to quit reading or ceasing their rational, calm thinking about the subject because I just equated their homosexuality with the Manson killings.
But hear this: in a way I am. You can't pick and choose the people for whom your excuse works. If "I was born this way" works for homosexuality, so should it work for murder and lust.
I was born a liar, a thief, a self-obsessed, self-indulgent, self-worshipping idolater. But I wonder how many people would excuse me if I walked around snubbing my nose at people, spouting absurd lies and doing whatever brought me pleasure because of my obsession with myself if only I started saying "don't worry about it, I was born this way." Would they try to amend the rules to allow me to slam heroin in the streets as long as I wasn't hurting somebody else? I mean, it is my right. I was born that way.
Of course not. But here is where I might lose you, if I didn't already, because it is my transition to the next point.
By establishing a distinction between degrees of heinousness of crimes, we are, necessarily, saying that we believe in some sort of a moral order. A moral order cannot exist without something against which to measure it... a moral law. A moral law cannot exist in solidarity, because it necessitates a contradistinction between "good" and "evil," where one cannot exist without the other. Finally, in order to establish what we see as "good" and what we see as "evil," there must be what Ravi Zacharias calls a "Moral Law-Giver," or something to qualify the relative degrees of what we are seeing.
Spiritual This brings me to the clincher, the basis on which I believe we should be living our lives. We have the single most historically and archaeologically backed document in existence that posits page after page of insight into the nature of this Law Giver. The perfect good. The absence of all that is, what we call, evil, although it is not an entity in itself but rather the total absence of good. The same way as dark is the absence of light. The same way that cold is the absence of heat. God can be countered not by reasoning, because reasoning from humans is tainted by human imperfections, nor can He be countered by science, for science cannot even agree with itself. Within this document, this collection of insight, are very specific things to which we must be held accountable. The moral law given by the Moral Law Giver. And believe it or not, every one of the "evils" I have mentioned above is on that list.
I possess those evils. You possess those evils, and they, in a manner of speaking, possess each one of us. But were we made that way? No. We were not created by God to do evil, because God, the embodiment of all that is good, is incapable of doing evil, just as a candle is incapable of producing heat. It is not a limitation on God, it is an attest to the nature of things. Just as we do not question the limitation of a flashlight because it is incapable of producing dark, we do not question the limitation of God because he is incapable of producing Evil. Because evil cannot be produced.
We were, however, made with free will. And where there is free will there is the option to walk either in the light or the darkness. So we were not made this way, but rather we were, as Gaga so eloquently reiterates, born this way. Hence my saying she(?) was on to something. But it cannot be, as she said, God who made us this way.
God did not make us murders, liars, homosexuals and thieves. But he made each of us capable of being all of those things so that we can put aside ourselves and our selfish nature bent on reproducing as much evil as we can and look to Him instead.
It is that act of self-denial that Christ demanded at the cross. Deny your addictions to pornography. Your propensity to anger. To hate. To lust. To homosexuality. And take Him instead.
We were born for that.
I have such.a.hard.time.dealing.with.stupidity. I contemplated leaving that alone, making those words the only ones you read in the entire post, simply to encourage thought and interpretation the way that modernist poets do with their words. But that drives me crazy too. William Carlos Williams, I don't care how much "depends upon your red wheelbarrow," you made a generation of people who don't know how to write think that they can be poets by splotching words together haphazardly. Ahembobdylanahem.
No, I couldn't leave it at that. The single, condemning statement that would draw attention to my cynicism and lack of faith in humanity as a whole would inevitably incur comments about the hypocrisy of my broken up sentence and would therefore nullify the entire process of thought I intended.
I am tired of unfounded arguments on topics about which one is not nearly as familiar as he claims. The rap guru critiquing musical taste. I am tired of people who don't care to put in the effort to make sure they mean "your" when they say "you're" complaining about not being taken seriously. The bizarre illiteracy of the texting generation. I am tired of people legitimizing in any way they possibly can murder, theft, immorality. The rationalization of evil. I am tired of people pretending like the other side of the argument has no truth whatsoever. That all left-wings are Socialists. That all right-wings are Anarchists. That all those in the middle are unstable. I am tired of arbitrary dismissal because of age or social status. Do not lump all 21 year old college-going males in with frat boys at a kegger. Do not assume that just because I am not paying for rushed decisions I have made like you are that I don't possess the wisdom to avoid them.
I am so tired of the irony of my saying all of those things. Because just as easily could somebody out there be talking about how tired they are of 21 year old bloggers thinking they have things figured out.
I don't have things figured out. And what just ripped me up this morning was Proverbs 24: 17-18: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased and turn away his anger from him." It is not that I necessarily have enemies, per say, but I just take for granted the humanity of every single person on this planet. Here I am with bitterness in my heart against somebody who arbitrarily dismisses me because of my age and their supposition of my inexperience, when what they ACTUALLY are is a person who is probably dealing with the same stuff I am.
The question I have been asking myself: "Who am I?" not in the existential, what-am-I-doing-here way, but the practical "who am I to judge?" By the nature of the words on this site, I am expressing what I believe to be true. If everybody else in the world is doing that too, even if they are empirically, unflinchingly incorrect, who am I to harbor enmity in my heart?
Does this mean that I don't think we can do better? Absolutely not. Max Bemis put it: "You can do better, you can do better, you can be the greatest man in the world." Especially from people who call themselves believers or who attach my Savior's name to their motives or actions should we expect perfection. Which we will never get.
I would love to see a revolution of rational thought sweep the world. People would stop arbitrarily hating each other and fighting each other and they would recognize that there isn't a person on the Earth who isn't as screwed up as they are. Perhaps it should start with me. Or with you.
Maybe what it takes is the recognition of your own faults, which are many, to make you quit the incessant bickering with which you have been accustomed.
If my degradation of others is a product of elevating myself above them even though I am the chief of sinners, just imagine what would happen should I reverse it!
*Apologies to those subscribers who got an early version of this that accidentally got sent out this afternoon. That's the last time I try editing something on my phone. The surgeon general, with his useful occupation of slapping labels on things generally addictive, cancerous, and harmful to your health, should have warned us about this.
It starts out humbly, innocently.
You indulge initially because of the insistence of your friends. They promise it will make you look cooler. They assure you that you'll meet more people because of it. They guarantee it's fun. You oblige, log on, and immediately sense the overwhelming universe you have just stepped into. It's over your head at first; you suppress the initial resistance to its probing, intrusive questions about the intimate details of your life. You experience the rush of your first internet connection and from that moment are hooked.
Because of its overwhelming nature, for the first few weeks you are fine limiting yourself to getting on only after dinner or before you go to sleep. You haven't yet established a network or strong emotional ties. The color scheme hasn't yet engrained itself in your subconscious. You haven't yet learned to turn off the "chat" feature because people don't really use it yet. You are fine breathing deep the complex web of connectivity and letting it settle in your lungs because it doesn't yet pose a threat to you.
Pretty soon you are at work or at school and a moment approaches you subtly on your lunch break where an email pops into your inbox telling you that so and so has offered to expand your social network by one. Not yet by instinct but by choice, you click the link and are awed by the simplicity of accepting his request. There is a sleek redirect to the home page where your neighbor is inviting all who care to view it a series of pictures of their new living room layout. Or their dog jumping through a sprinkler. You chuckle at the innocence and go about your day.
Soon, however, the occasional lunch break check-in turned into the habitual lunch break check-in. You find yourself keeping a tab open on the home page to wait for the chiming notification of somebody appreciating your wit while you write a paper about something you don't care about. You get text messages sent to your phone every time somebody pokes you. You download the free Android app. Sure, you wouldn't twitch if you were ever disconnected from the constant stream of information about people's personal lives... but you are never disconnected. You can quit whenever you want.
Facebook becomes your standard for communication. There's no need to talk to somebody that you meet because you can just friend request them and then read all about the things they want you to read. You can prepare your face to meet the faces you will meet.
We confuse who we are with who we project that we are, making it quite difficult to cope with the flaws we so blatantly try to hide... which is even more disturbing than the idea that we are addicted to a website or can literally sit and look at the same page with anxious expectation of the smallest little change. Or that we know open gossip better than ourselves.
Sure, I believe that, like just about everything else in this world, there is a time and a place for things like Facebook. I have gotten in touch with some long-lost friends (and I use "gotten in touch with" very loosely), saved myself some effort in relaying mass messages, even promoted this blog. However, is it worth those good things to lose myself for hours clicking through page after page of people I don't like to read things I don't enjoy about topics I don't care for?
I weighed my options, considered the fact that, in all honesty, Facebook just doesn't matter, and clicked the "deactivate" button (It's amazing the guilt trip they get you to go through upon clicking that button, by the way).
Perhaps the lovely, inspiring Reagan Nolen said it better than I could: "I am tired of having Facebook tell me who a person is and what they are all about. It’s time to actually get to know the world."
If you heartily disagree, decide to cut the cord yourself, or think I'm just a crazy, delusional kid blabbing on the internet, feel free to discuss. I would love to hear from people, no matter what you have to say :)
>I pause in the middle of writing a critical essay on a Joyce Carol Oates short story to take a momentary return to something not school related. When I say "in the middle of writing" I mean I've been sitting here trying to write it and have been highly unsuccessful and am therefore going out to get coffee after this. And Krystals.
I wanted to write about some of the big things that have recently been going on. Things with echoes farther reaching than I can fathom. God things that I love. Funk things that I hate. But I couldn't really do it quite yet, because it's all still so new and so in the moment and so over my head and overwhelming that I haven't processed it enough to make it coherent to anybody except for me. And the moment you start understanding me in my moments of babbling incoherency you should get yourself checked out, because you have surely been drug into the grips of insanity.
Speaking of insanity, I now have 4 (well, 3 and a half) songs written for the project I hinted at like 4 months ago. My projects seem to last a really really long time.
It's tricky, their layering, because they are poetry disguised as music. They are music disguised as poetry. It's poetry in the Romantic sense of it, for it is grasping at something sublime which I, myself am unable to express.
That being said, the video posted below is the song beginning the project. It's just me and an acoustic guitar, which means that there is so much more to come in the final recording that this is really just a preview. The finished product may bear only slight resemblances to the skeleton laid out, but it is a skeleton indeed. And you, dear internet, are my poor man's publisher, editor and most apt critic.
The song is called Nightingales. It deals this concept of a God struggle, the "fear and trembling" Paul talked about in Philippians. Even if none of this ever takes off the ground, it is at least therapeutic for me and about the only way I know how to say it. Words aren't enough. Music isn't enough. Together they really aren't enough either, but I don't really know how to do anything else.
So bear with me through the roughness and perhaps it will be polished come the end.
Rest for the weary, burdened, and alone
Open arms awaiting your return.
If only you’d return
Rising together, we guillotined the king,
Erased the promulgation that destroyed who we have been.
Now we’ll be who we have been.
Our freedom: inspiration, (though) from our outstretched, broken arms
Bereaved by the deceased who made his home among the stars.
But Your eyes were in the stars
We’re nightingales in daylight, we’re sheep in wolven skin
And still we wait in hiding to draw the hunters in.
I fell inside, I felt alive, I fell in love all over again
I felt this side of feeling alive and I fell in love all over again
My inhibition fell aside and I fell in love all over again
I fell inside, I felt alive, I fell in love…
But the shadows creeping down the hall,
My purloined bravery’s defeat,
The way I saw them climb the walls
Forced me to retreat
Face down, under cover, where I’ve seen this all before
The monsters stretch their claws from within our wretched souls
*Edit: Youtube was being extraordinarily difficult to deal with, so click here to see the same video, just in a different location.
*double Edit (I never do this): I recently posted a slightly more produced version here
>I often wonder why I never get in regular, normal people funks. Why can't I just get upset about something somebody says or consumed with worry or become anxious about a test or filled with regret or jealousy? Those are far easier to deal with. And articulate.
Instead I am wrapped up in these earth-shattering, perception-altering, "everything-around-me-is-an-elaborate-ruse-disguising-something-bigger-than-we-can-realize-while-occupying-these-bodies" existential funks. It's not every day. Some days I can push it from my mind and think about something happy and fluffy (so fluffy!) and fleeting and find some sort of gratification in it, but other times I look around at things people do and words we say and cliches we repeat and clothes we wear and habits we form and obsessions we create and the absolutely pathetic attempts we postulate to accomplish something meaningful.
It is a difficult thing to put into words, because it's deeper than words. Words are part of the problem - they are nothing but signifiers pointing to a more abstract signified that we can't really prove matters. It's more of a sinking gut thing: everything is going to burn, I am going to die, and even the most indestructible thing we can think of, time, will stop.
We are force-fed a desire to consume which has been carefully crafted by something more ominous and designing and evil than corporate heads. We are inundated with guilt for not giving money to the next big cause. We hear news about the riots in Egypt and the woman who shot her children because they were disobeying and the teenager who killed his parents and chopped them up and put them in the freezer and the statistics about poverty and the dwindling job market and the rising taxes and the (gasp!) threat of companies forcing you to pay a la carte for internet so they can turn a profit and the imminent nuclear war and on and on and on... not because that is reality but because it makes the commercial market with people smiling and holding products like cheeseburgers or diamond necklaces seem like THAT is the shining beacon and end-all of happiness that you can obtain in this life. Thus begins the cycle of realizing that "oh wait, it's not that new gizmo that makes me happy, because 2.0 is coming out next month, and that is what will really do it for me."
But I'm not done. Then I think about just how good we have it here and how our squabbles are petty compared to people who, say, don't have things to eat because everything around them is rubble. Somebody dealing with their sister having killed herself. Breast cancer. Malaria. AIDS. Insert cliche world problem here.
And I'm covered from head to toe, from home to school, from wake to sleep, and even during sleep, with stuff. Insert subtly superior American "I hurt for the world when I see how good I have it" sentiment here.
"It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind."
You cannot tell me that you believe that this is it, that in the light of eternity our goods amount to chaff in the wind and our problems span the sea. If you can see, like I do, that what is going on is bigger than humans could possibly contrive, that what we care about is nothing but a series of icons that point to literally nothing, then you understand the funk. It is a difficult thing to shake, because all the things we use to shake the burden of our "problems" are pointing straight to the problems that we are dealing with ourselves.
* I have to be careful with this next part. One thing that I despise the most is trite, vapid, cliche language that talks about my Savior.
What we live in ("the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air" "sons of disobedience" "vanity" "Desires of the flesh" -- Ephesians, Ephesians, Ecclesiastes, Galatians, respectively) we have been saved from ("But God, being rich in mercy... made us alive together with Christ.") as soon as we have accepted it.
Everything above that asterisk is the best that you can ever hope for without Christ, because apart from the incredibly simple, beautiful alternative to a vaporous existence, it all goes away and you are stuck as the marionette on a paper stage. We call Him Savior (some of us out of habit) because that is the best way we our frivolous human words can describe Him.
If you only ever read one more thing I have to say, I want it to be this: this solution which I just presented will cost you your life as you know it. Everything that you are will change. Being rescued is a choice that you alone can make, but know that nothing about who you are will ever be the same again. You have the option to say no. You have the option to say yes.
You can email me or Facebook message me or Twitter or whatever, and I can help you find the right people to talk to, because I don't even pretend to have all of the answers. But if it is answers you are looking for, I promise you they exist only in the Savior I just mentioned. And I promise you they are more beautiful than whatever you've seen before.
I was charged with reading this dreadfully boring book called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn in one of my World Civilization classes. If my memory serves correctly through the fog of the book's massive inability to hold attention (much like this blog?), it was basically his dissertation paper that he had bound and packaged and delivered to only this particular professor's doorstep in a glowing basket of joy, because, as far as I know, he is the only person who has ever taught it in a school setting.
That is how exciting it was.
I was tired of learning the history of the telescope and I was tired of hearing about mitochondria and I was sick of all of these people insisting that they were absolutely correct and the pinnacle of knowledge of the day only to have some punk like Galileo barging into your sanctuary insisting that the Earth moved around the Sun instead of all of creation centered right smack at the Vatican. The unmitigated gall.
This one story intrigued me, though. It was not so much the "Scientific Revolutions" portion of it rather than its broader implications. After doing much research, he decided to pay the ol' heads of state a visit. He stated his research and divulged his theory that the Earth is revolving around the sun, rather than the other way around. It was literally so shattering that he was forced to recant his heretical philosophy under threat of torture and death (the Church back then was apparently pretty big on irony), to which he purportedly muttered under his breath, as I quoted earlier, "E pur si muove."
Italian for "Nevertheless, it moves." A legendary statement from one who saw the truth of the situation despite the majority shouting the contrary and, although he caved to save his life, held that conviction to continue on to be one of the most famous scientists and thinkers of all time.
The book was about advances in science and regime changes and it droned on and on about the topic with more specific examples than Elin Nordegren can cite against Tiger Woods, but all I could do was think about the implications of what I was reading.
If every time in history we have believed, for whatever reasons we choose to state, that we are unshakably, undoubtedly correct with our complex theories on anything at all and we are proven wrong, what does that say about us today? In the age of the epitome of thorough knowledge? What if we have gotten so wrapped up in the way that we perceive things that the Truth (and yes, that is a capital "T" Truth) slips right by us, unnoticed, going about its business as it always has?
I will deliver yet another turn of the screw with this: if even the mostly secular scientific community can see it in our perceptions of the physical world, how much more important is it for us as Christians to beat it through our thick skulls that for a thousand years we have been missing the point?
What if we're so busy interpreting that we forget to live? What if we're too busy boycotting abortion clinics to love on the girls shaking with fear and tear-blurred vision who are trying to hide themselves walking in? What if we're so busy defending our "God-given Constitutional Rights" to own a gun that we overlook our God-given Mandate to love God before anything else, and then take that love and love each other with it as well?
Am I saying that I am the example by which you should live? By all means, no. Of all the ill-tempered, arrogant, most undeserving people of Divine grace that occupy this world, in the words of Paul, "I am the foremost."What I am saying is that I should try even harder than everybody else to follow the example set for me.
There is absolutely, definitely, concrete Truth that exists in this world, and it is probably not in the places that we think it is. It's not in our rules or our currency or our imaginings about how things should work or in our ideas or in our education system or in our denominations or in anything we can imagine that has been constructed by human hands. It became flesh 2,000 years ago, died, and is the only thing that hasn't given up on our race as humans yet, despite our best efforts to twist it around to fit it into our little boxes.
Best of all, it has a name.
Together, with Him, we can discover how to be black lines in this world constructed of gray paper.