"I think we were made too pretty."Read More
Some business before getting into the meat of it. If you are uninterested in this sort of thing, you may skip to below the line: I must thank you all for the unexpected and overwhelmingly positive reception of last week's little article. I have received many encouraging feedbacks and emails and have seen it shared often enough to make it the most-viewed post on this page. You guys are awesome. I am planning on doing more things in that vein, including what is shaping up to be an Introvert's Manifesto and Ebook, though I must admit that some of my motivation for that is that I've always wanted to write a Manifesto for something and publish an Ebook on my website. But in all seriousness, most of the reactions that I got to see only reinforced the idea that there are a lot out there who feel the way that I do though perhaps do not have the platform to say the things that need be said. So stay tuned.
I have still not decided what I want this blog to be. I read a lot of them that are very advice-y and full of lists and such, and those seem to have the most traffic. Because lists sell, this is fact. They are the "pop" of the blog world - easily digestible, somewhat predictable, often crafted to communicate one little gem of truth which sits, shining (perhaps literally with glowy text or clever puns) atop the screen, rather than relishing the subtle comfort of a web of it. I also read a good bunch that are quite heady and cerebral and rooted in idea, which is comforting because this is how I tend to think. But these I have rarely seen be "successful" in the commercial sense - they are often a bit wordy, even for my taste (imagine that), and inaccessible. Surely there must be a blend somewhere of the two which is neither pedantic sentence-flexing nor traffic-pandering formula. Still, I wish to talk about God when I want and spill thoughts on Philosophy or have nerd moments about music or even do reviews of books and film and albums. But none of these are exciting and revolutionary like the Introvert's Manifesto or charges to turn off our internet on Sundays or to alter the ways we behave with one another. And still on top of all of this, I at no time wish to dip into something trite for the mere sake of acquiring many page views. I maintain the wish for this to be a place of thought incubation as I referenced in this post a bit ago, and with that I accept that both bloggy, list-filled posts and the heady stuff are necessary at times. I've been doing this long enough to accept that it is no longer me sitting in a corner talking to the empty cloud of internet about the random stuff of the day; but today when I address "the audience," it is no longer rhetoric to make myself chuckle, rather a literal breaking of the 4th wall, because I now have one of those out there.
What the paragraph above should say is "this blog is a curious thing and once I figure out a way to make conversation more than simply leaving comments, I will do it, because then we can get this think-tank going and perhaps I can step out of the way." Because I feel as though perhaps I am wasting your time already.
Because I had a rather lengthy aside at the beginning, I will make today's post just a little shorter than they have been in the past. I need to do this anyway.
I have been unutterably blessed for more reasons than I can count, but for these purposes we will focus on the following: that I have been born here, in a country of unparalleled freedom, to a loving and supportive family, in a time when I can access the thoughts of anyone who cares enough to write them down and when I can give voice to my own whenever I see fit. It is something that I take for granted entirely too often.
I cannot help but think that God chose this specific time to place me in, because I have been given access to the most marvelous minds the world has to offer. I can, at any point that I want, sit and read Stephen Hawking or Ravi Zacherias or TS Eliot; I can watch TED lectures about deep cave exploration or string theory or education research or marvel at "mathemagicians" and improv musicians and subtitled talks from mute people about disabilities; I can sit at a computer and continue a 55+thousand word, several-month-long email conversation with my dear friend in North Carolina or talk with anybody in the world at the touch of a few numbers on a cell phone; I can listen to songs recorded with a guitar on a laptop's microphone that is more evocative than one I'd hear in an arena with tens of thousands of people or I can listen to my favorite band through headphones and a device I hold in my hand. Friends, there is true magic in this world, and we can experience it every day of our lives.
However, and I think that this is true in most cases, we do not know how, nor are we equipped, to handle it. Just recently in our history as human beings, what you learned was limited by what you could experience firsthand, or what you could reason with whatever faculties you possess. Gone are the boundaries of knowledge and achievement that one solitary person or community was limited to. We have been presented the apple promising the Wisdom of God Himself and we have bitten hard into its bitter-sweet savor. We have been promised the possibility of omniscience and still cannot tear our minds away from it.
It is a difficult thing to stop, this search for knowledge, and a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Our minds have not been built to grasp infinity and timelessness and unending streams of knowledge and limitless possibility, yet we have been put in a place where new things will never stop coming to our frame of vision. Our Universe, as far as we know, is infinite, and yet we continue to try to understand it in its entirety.
Some people despair in this. They see elaborate epistemic proofs which seem to eliminate the very possibility of knowledge. They look at competing, perfectly justified beliefs as muddying the concept of what is real. They see the power of Empirical discoveries negating the validity of Rational ones, and vice versa. The more our ill-equipped minds see, the more we dismantle our necessity for God.
Says the Preacher:
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with hearing, nor the ear filled with hearing. (Ecc. 1:8)
But see, He planned for this. After all, it was He who set eternity in the heart of man. It was He who created us creatures capable of reason and, consequently, of doubt. It is why He sent us something of Himself in a form we could wrap our human brains around, to rescue us from the what Wordsworth calls "the burthen of the mystery... the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world." There is a reason He calls Himself Truth, because it is Truth that we crave, and it is Truth we cannot reach using human versions of God's things - logic, reason, and the like. Moses was told to tell the people "I AM sent me." Arguably the most powerful words that could be spoken by human lips. His name is not "Prove Me" or "I May Be," it is emphatic. Final. Independent of my human shortcomings and unchanging in time, space, and situation. Universal. I. Am.
I am by no means devaluing the wonder of knowledge and discovery, in fact, I whole-heartedly encourage it. Live in a way that you are constantly confronted with the marvel of this place of unending beauty. Roald Dahl writes, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.” We are surrounded by it wonder, so long as we do not forget to look for it.
But just as oxygen is necessary for life to exist though an excess of it is lethal, so it is in this battle for understanding. It is perfectly normal to think of things that might be, for that is how we were created - to wonder at the heavens and try with all of our might to grasp things we cannot fathom - to think of things that might be so long as we do not lose sight of what Is.
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.
Since coming back from break, I have felt like a kid on roller skates holding on to an unravelling rope behind a train with a deadline to keep. I don't know what drowning feels like, but I can't imagine that the gasping, helpless breaths full of water feel a whole lot different. There is an onslaught of things coming up in my near future. Awesome opportunities. Papers, books, due dates, discussion questions, orchestra rehearsals, youth and college bands, tech weeks, opening night.
This train is hurtling forward, its incredible inertia dragging me along like the cans attached to the bumper of a recently nuptiated couple. (Yes, I make up words. Get off it.)
And all I can think about is this: not only is this train not the only one; not only are these tracks underneath the heating wheels of my rocketing roller skates not the only tracks; not only would other routes take me to the same train station, but there is no law that says I have to go to that station. Nobody even told me that I had to wear these skates or hold onto this fraying rope or expect to arrive somewhere at a certain time, I just assumed that this is what I have to do because everybody else seems to be doing the same.
I apologize. I feel slightly metaphorical this morning.
What I am trying to say is that I, like everybody that I know, am a fly caught inside this elaborate, encompassing, intricate, ever-expanding web when there is a whole field of grass around me and an entire sky of flight above me. I am the ball in a well-lubricated roulette wheel that is locked forever in its spinning, with people expecting me to land on their number and getting mad at me when I don't when there is a vast casino just over the wall.
I am completely missing the point, and perhaps you are too. Instead of kicking furiously and trying to get your groggy arms to coordinate and propel you to the surface, hold your breath for a moment. Feel the weightlessness of underwater. Stop grasping desperately at the rope connecting you to the thing you were told is your destination. Fly high enough to avoid the spider webs glistening with morning dew. Defy gravity.
This does not mean that I am dropping out of school and driving from city to city with my guitar telling people that I will play for them if they give me dinner. It doesn't mean that I will give in to the sometimes overwhelming and often stifling frustration of a city (state?country?world?) full of guitarists calling themselves musicians. I will not pretend to have it all figured out.
It does mean that I will find joy in the search. It does mean that I will lean more heavily on my Father's support and the promise of a plan.
It does mean that I will quit my furious struggle to surface and instead breathe deep the air that greets my lungs as my body floats naturally up. Instead of my white-knuckled grasp on the worn rope behind that hurtling train I will relax and trust the harness around my waist, and if the rope breaks I will feel the grass underneath my wheels and smile as I coast to a stop in the middle of an untouched meadow, chuckling as I watch the next train come.
I suppose that if were somebody critically analyzing a story of my life, they would note the strikingly literary symbolism of the piano in the UC. I have written about it before and firmly believe that it inspires this deep kind of thought that transcends the petty issues of school, much the way the music from its ivory keys wafts above the meaningless conversation of sorority girls and fraternity brothers below it. It incited a train of thoughts that left me with a pen in my hand, shakily scratching out thoughts as they came to me in the little journal that I keep in my backpack, full of half-completed thoughts and rambling sentences and things I am sure I always meant to come back to. What follows is the SparkNotes edition of the thought process I was having. For words cannot do thoughts justice.
I began to trace a trend that turned knots in my stomach, for the drastic implications of it. I was reading, reading, reading, occasionally stopping to listen to the once-in-a-while student enticed enough by the empty instrument to meander up and touch the keys. They would piddle for a moment before launching somewhat absently and self-consciously into whatever melody was occupying their minds. Some players were more skilled than others, but all, despite the level of their piano proficiency, made music, no matter how simple, and nobody who was listening really even stopped to notice. For the moments that somebody was playing it, it filled those gaps in conversation between best friends, lovers, and classmates, alike. It is a simple, somewhat philosophical tool meekly presented to all who care notice.
However, the thing that got me thinking was that none of these players were female. Not one girl played her song on an instrument that, at least until recently, had been regarded by many as a girl's instrument. It made me wonder why, and the scary train of snowballing thought began.
'Perhaps it is some sort of liberal feminism kicking in on a massive scale and making girls not want to play it for that very reason,' I thought. 'The conformity to something stereotypically "female" to satisfy some oppressive and subversive "masculine" influence somehow influencing the expectation of their decisions... In a strange reversal of roles emasculating the male and having "unsexed" (to quote Lady Macbeth) woman scoff at their feeble unconscious attempts to fill the gender gap.'
But I doubted it. I tossed several theories around and discarded them quickly, no matter how sublime a grandiose uprising of "woman" against "man" would seem to an English major constantly in the throes of analysis. What I decided upon was far sadder than what the theories of liberal feminism cast on my heart - because it is far more difficult to counteract.
I have had conversations about parts of this before with Reagan and others, particularly about, for lack of a better term, the "clothing crisis" sweeping the country. About how if women want to stop being treated like objects they need to quit blaming it on the misogynistic male and start dressing like something whose brains are not in their chest. **(Note: My lawyer would like for me to note that I am in no way shoving blame for the treatment of women as objects on the women being treated like objects.)** I looked around me and saw the terrible reality unveiled, like the curtain of Oz pulled back, as to what "woman" had been reduced to (by an equal amount of effort from both parties): a grotesque mix of makeup and show.
This is what boys expect. This is what girls see that boys expect. So that's what we get. No girls went up to play the piano because the ones that were in the UC this morning were less concerned with playing music and more concerned with making eyes at any boy who walked by staring at their chests.
But even more unfortunately, this isn't even about rampant sensuality or sex icons or cleavage, it isn't even limited to girls. This is about the deplorable state of our very identities. Who we are has been lost to a culture consumed with the idea that in order to be validated, you must be "attractive" and you must have sex and you must spend every waking moment in somebody's arms or in somebody's thoughts or else you are a waste of breath. I've never seen an ad that tells you to spend your Friday night reading a book.
And so arrived my train at the station. I was suddenly sullenly aware that this is what people have been reduced to. We are nothing but Peacocks flashing our colors. We are nothing but crickets chiming a mating song as we rub our legs together and wait for somebody to notice. We, boys and girls alike, cake the makeup on to cover up what we are because we're more comfortable being who we think people want than somebody who still secretly thinks that Pokemon is cool. We are the revelers at the masquerade while the Red Death flits unknowingly from room to room, all of us stopping to notice how great a job he did on his costume.
I cannot imagine the toll that such vanity takes on our souls. I cannot see how, as a person, it is possible to develop while you are painting over who you are. It is clear as day to me why we have such a dependency problem - because you can't be alone until you are comfortable with yourself.
There is no makeup strong enough to shield yourself from your own eyes.
>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.
>About a month ago I sent out an annoyingly large number of mass messages telling people to give me their addresses and I would write them letters.
I wrote around 40 letters. I wrote until my hand cramped. I wrote letters at 4 in the morning when I couldn't focus on the tasks at hand after the jittery stage of a caffeine rush had passed and the achey stage had set in. I wrote until I had no more words left to say. I wrote letters to 5 different states, to people I hadn't talked to in at least ten years, to old friends, to new friends, to family, to strangers. I formulated an Aristotelian logic proof about the existence of Santa Clause, condensed high school into a page and half of rambling, and stream-of-consciousness'ed about everything from the weather to my heart-wrenching obsession with Lovedrug. I filled blank pages with pieces of me and sent them on their ways. I may have even made somebody smile.
Although it may sound like it, this is not about me - something I have been working on quite hard lately. On the contrary: this is the nature of people. We live in the Facebook era, where connections are infinite but people are disappearing. We are reduced to icons. To thumbnail pictures and those parts of our ourselves we choose to share. I am no longer me, I am what the internet says about me; moreover, I am what I have TOLD the internet to say about me. We are forced to present ourselves as flawless to fit the flawless standards thrust in our faces, so we leave out the parts about how we sometimes get sad for no reason or we crop our bodies out of our pictures or call makeup beauty.
After we are all done creating these images of ourselves, we communicate through devices and with mere empty words with other people who have constructed hollow conceptions of themselves, making it not human contact but just contact.
Welcome to the desert of the real
to the great purge of humanity
to we who are not ourselves
So the stark interruption of ink engraved into a blank page, handwriting exposed, bits of our souls clinging to the ridges and wrinkles and tactility of the paper laden with character and passion intervenes in the terrible aforementioned procession. It bypasses all projections of who we want people to see and lays bare in a way only matched by coffeeshop conversations the intensity and beauty of who we are. It is as personal a thing you can do for someone in this day of anti-personal connection. It is, by today's standards, imperfect, and therefore perfect in its imperfection. We have a long way to go to reverse the heavy weight of conceptions and false perceptions of beauty, but if everybody started writing each other letters, I can't see how it'd be a bad start.
>I am sitting in my chair in a towel, because I am waiting to get a shower until the clothes in the dryer are done tumbling so that when I am done they will be warm and dry and ready to cover my cold skin.
I bought a cd today too. It is a departure from my musical tastes of late (meaning primarily that it is not Lovedrug), and I welcome the departure of style if anything just because it is new material and it is a switch and a temporary break from the monotony that has become my minutes, hours, days, weeks. It is scary how fitting the title of this album "Disambiguation" is.
I perhaps do my topic disservice by restricting it with that "my" above, because I think I meant to address a broader audience than just my busy self.
Go to school for 20 years. Get a job. Do not live on the street. Walk on the sidewalk. Make enough money to eat. Give the rest of it to the establishment created by us. For us. That has forgotten about us. Complain about something and then realize how pointless complaining about that thing is, because it's done and you can't change it. Fall in love. Create. Recreate. Retire or die. Now repeat after me: I am free.
I think that the most compelling evidence for the existence of God to somebody who is in search of it is the system in which we are trapped. The little box of earthly, physical existence. Rich or poor, old or young, we are in chains, and I dare you to find somebody who would disagree with that. We are enslaved to time and to desire and to passion and to lust and to love and to sin. Each and every one of us. But just like there can be no dark without light to be the contrary, no rich without poor to be the opposite, no high without low to compare, the mere fact that we are enslaved means that there exists freedom.
But, since there is nothing earthly that we can do to break free of these chains, that means that there has to be a spiritual key to the locks. It must exist outside of time, because if it existed within time, it would eventually decay or rot or turn to dust. It must have no beginning because that would mean it would have an end. If all we know is the here and now, there must be an unhere and an unnow.
This is nothing new. Solomon knew it: "Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity!" "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun." Since the literal dawn of time the disconnect between us and God has been both the proof of God and the burden on His heart. Because the presence of the physical means the presence of the non-physical, or else physical would be nothing. It would have no alternative. And we know that this disconnect is the burden of God's heart because of the lengths He went to restore it. We live among sin. He dwells among perfection.
Beauty is not beauty without un-beauty. Pain isn't pain without pleasure.
So with all of this said, the part about God I mean, it should be no surprise to us that without Him life would be rather miserable. Without the assurance that there IS beyond this, I cannot fathom the shattering hopelessness that would accompany our steps. They would only see the horrid pattern described above. School.Job.Family.Kids.Love.Loss.Death. and they would feel extraordinarily trapped. Herein is the beauty of my Savior, the Messiah, the promised and received Christ. Because He dwells not inside of this wretched box, but rather His father is the one that holds it. And I can't get outside of it except through His arms...
Don't you see? If it were up to me, the highest I could ever get in the vast span of eternity is how far I can run. Whether you accept it or not, the same principle applies universally: the give and take; the idea behind there being no light without dark permeates literally everything. It has to, because things only mean in juxtaposition. God doesn't need your support to exist. You can deny it all you want but your belief or lack thereof is not what keeps Him around.
Rather it is His existence that keeps your disbelief around.
I believe that everybody has had one of those weeks.
I am referring to the weeks where you are constantly in the throes of a struggle against gravity and defeat and generally being bested by whatever situation you find yourself in. You fight against your eyes as they tempt you to close and shut your body down, but you know deep down that this is not possible. People are counting on you, expecting things of you, looking to you to provide the hope for them to be able to make it through their version of what Alexander appropriately titled his "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day," and you can feel the weight physically on your back. You'll find the aches come only when it is most inopportune and you'll feel the pangs of exhaustion creep over your synapses exactly when the last thing in the world you need is to be lethargic. This is a fact of life, a facet of Murphy's law that proves over and over again to be irreversibly true, but nonetheless no easier to bear.
You will find yourself frustrated by the most elementary of problems, like no more sweet tea in the pitcher, leaving you to make more, or that you accidentally bought cheddar cheese instead of American. This frustration with petty things will lead you to question your sanity and, if indeed this portion is true, make you suddenly viscerally aware of your more jaded, cynical alter ego that pens your most vivid creations and causes connections with your audience beyond the capability of your mild-mannered normal self. You then realize that you are better off as this alter ego because you are more capable of doing better than the person you were born as.
There was this story of a monk that urged his followers to carry with them everywhere they went two equal sized rocks. He asked them to smooth them out and make the edges pleasing to the touch and the surface spotless and blameless. On the surface of one rock, he made his followers chisel the following sentence: "I am but a speck of a person in a speck of a planet in a speck of a solar system in an infinitely expanding Universe." This rock, it would appear, applies to situations such as the ones described in the previous paragraphs. Our problems, in an existential sort of way, do not matter in the slightest little bit, and make no trace of noise in the vast expanse between the stars.
This monk recognized this, however, and though he knew that in a cosmic sense it was fundamentally true, he made his followers inscribe the other rock with a simple, opposite message that is possibly the most fitting piece of advice that is sound, encouraging, and quite frankly, tear-inducing. When you find yourself in that battle to keep your head above the water, with the weight of the entire world riding on your back and forcing you to the dirt below you, take out the other rock that this monk made his followers carry probably for situations exactly like those. It reads: "Everything, big or small, grand or petty, beautiful and breathtaking, was created with me in mind."
>There is something that has been bothering me over the past few weeks, and is something that, for the simple fact that it bothers me, will irk most of the people around me.
I do not pretend to be a great musician, but I believe that I have earned some sort of credibility to kind of know what I'm talking about if I critique or praise or point out details of a certain work of music. I'm not a music snob and I do not worship one genre or one musician more than they deserve, and I try to take my influences from all reaches of the universe of musicality. I don't automatically change the song every time I hear power chords or punk rock riffs, I don't turn down the volume when someone starts screaming, I even sit through, and enjoy, opera. I have playlists on my iTunes ranging from "Oh! So Epic" to "It's Happy Cause It's Poppy," "Techno School, Pt.1," and "Christmas Songs." I don't hate Jack Johnson, I believe that a little bit of Hardcore is good for the soul, I think that the piano is the only instrument that can, at any time, make you feel like you're in love, and I can't wait to learn how to play the banjo. I have learned every major, harmonic, melodic and natural minor scale, conqured the church modes, grasped transposition, studied Bach and Beethoven and Buxtehude, and played Gospel Blues with Jamaicans.
But I can't bring myself to classify Contemporary Christian Music as.... good music. The reason that this bothers me is that it has that label slapped on it, the same label slapped on me and on everyone who strives to be a "little Christ," and it hurts me to know that His name is associated with something that is not solid. Yes, the lyrics of most of today's CCM are bold, Christ-centered lyrics that can be incredibly powerful, but they are backed by a shocking lack of musical demonstration. I do not have a problem listening to songs that consist of only 4 chords (punk rock has a special place in my heart), all I ask is that you do it well and with a twinge of originality and passion. I accidentally turned on J103 the other day and was blown away by how each song ran into each other, with the only separation between the same chord changes being the sound of the DJ's voice. We have mistaken well-produced for well-written, and as the icing on the cake, we have slapped Jesus' name on top of it.
The last time I checked, Jesus never settled for mediocrity. We serve a God that created an entire universe teeming with life and beauty and color and innovation and vast enough to leave nothing but incredulous bewilderment at the onset of attempting to comprehend it all, and the genre we associate with him is filled with nothing but similarity? Somehow, that seems blasphemous.
This is not to say that there aren't exceptions to this rule. Like every rule, there are bound to be exceptions, and I do believe that they are rising up daily. But sometimes, for one reason or another, they have decided that selling out to a cheap style is a worthy use of the gifts they have been given.
I realize that many are going to disagree with everything that I've said, because what I have are mere opinions and there is no way of convincing someone that opinions are fact. I realize that some people enjoy CCM, and to those people I say keep it up! It does good things, and is encouraging to a large number of people, filled with lyrics of hope and inspiration and joy. If this person is you, then keep listening to what you are listening to, but just... don't be afraid to branch out and listen to some other styles of music. For the most solid lyrics and some of the best musicality you can find, check out As Cities Burn or Edison Glass, Emery or Brave Saint Saturn, Mikeschair or House of Heroes... I just said these off the top of my head, and if you would like a list of some easy alternatives, just let me know and I'd be glad to help you out :)
What I'm trying to say is let's not settle for a simple chord progression simply because it's easy to play. Why use just watercolor when oil is available? Why play on gravel when there's a court just over the fence? Ok. Done with stupid analogies. My God is one that doesn't do the mediocre. My God is the one that created the diversity that we have represented all around us, the inspiration for ten thousand songs.
>Impulsivity is the essence of who you truly are underneath all of the crap under which you attempt to bury everything you want to change about yourself. The beauty of spontaneity is that it nullifies every mask you can wear, every persona you can adopt and every thought you can filter, becoming the truest essence of self you can acheive.
I know people who don't like this philosophy, because they believe that man needs to wear these masks to hide the inherent ugliness underneath, to "clean up" their image or to make a publicly suitable version of themselves. The root of this is completely true, because every one of us is congenitally evil. We are all human, and part of the deal with being human is that you are going to mess up almost every minute of every day. So many have come around through the years with the solution to this problem, aligning chi, doing their good deeds, following pillars of faith, obsessing about chastity or simplicity or meekness or any number of things that we have quite literally worshipped throughout history. None of these things are bad things, but none of these things will save you from the wicked existence you are born into...
And I digress.
Because none of these things will save you, we are, each of us underneath these masks, the exact same person. We are all on a level playing field and all have the same potential for greatness, and all share the common love of a Savior who sees beyond colors of skin and cash in wallets and educational backgrounds, who asks only that you accept this free gift, merely a part of which is restoration from all of the flaws we possess, quite literally a replacement to the ugly underneath all of the gilded grandeur.
I say all of this to say that every action that people perform throughout their days is one stemming from a deliberate thought process (if not in that moment, previously) and is, therefore, a powerful insight to who they are underneath all of the paint.
I was thinking about all of this today through a bunch of little situations and some off-handed comments pointed my direction and I came to this little realization that I don't think I'm taken seriously most of the time. Probably my fault, I know, because I enjoy thoroughly making those around me comfortable to be in my presence though not necessarily because of me, but because I try to take the pressure off of them to be a certain person or to impress me or anything. Unfortunately, this comes across as arrogance and, as a result, I'm just another voice in the clamor.
So here I am, saying I'm going to do all I know how to do to get some of that respect I want to deserve. Respect as a thinker? Musician? Writer? People Person? Comforter? PokeMaster? really whatever I can get, I suppose. There's part of what's under this facade: that underlying yearning to be respected for something. What about you, my 7 faithful readers? What's under there for you?