Ben tells you what your ears should have noticed last month.Read More
Chris finishes his series on the state of Worship Music and the Church by asking things like:
"What happens when we start writing songs only to package them in a friendly wrapper and secure a marketing deal to sell records, book shows, and score some radio play? We commoditize worship. Selling our "Praise and Worship" should raise some questions about what, exactly, we are praising and worshiping."Read More
It's the age of talented people, which has an unfortunate byproduct: it's also the age of people who think that they belong in the age of talented people. This is the era of "you are wonderful and significant because you're you and you are an individual," but it's also the era of "we deserve the greatest" and "we deserve it now." These mentalities are hardly compatible. I here wish to address these things, because they've been weighing heavily on my spirit lately.Read More
Let church bells ring
Let children sing
Even if they don't know why, let them sing.
Why drown their joy
Stifle their voice
Just because you've lost yours?
The above quote is from the song "Church Bells" by Gungor, a band that enjoys all too much turning conceptions of cultural Christianity and worship music on their heads. They introduce my thoughts here nicely, because Michael Gungor is leagues more eloquent than I could ever hope to be. Also, I know for a fact that I will step on toes (because I've always been afraid of that in the past and stuff), and some third-party sources do nicely to refute the "but that's not how it's always been" counter than one loud-mouthed, snarky 20-something could.
Christianity is in a state of disarray today not because of the King it proclaims, but because of the people proclaiming Him. It conjures images perhaps of Westboro funeral picketers, money-hungry suits shouting religious cliches, belligerent and misinformed political arguments, philosophical lightweights trying to pick heady fights with people much more versed in their fields, low quality product being acceptable in the light of the producers' "great hearts," kitschy facebook statuses, and out-of-context scripture plastered as catch phrases. As a CHRISTIAN, Christianity turns me off, so it doesn't surprise me the looks I get when people ask if my band is a Christian one and I answer, begrudgingly, "yes."
I've written about music on many an occasion (Lovedrug, Bon Iver, Slash, and others I'm sure you could dig up if you truly felt like it), but it is something that somewhat defines me, so I feel like it's fair for me to give it one more go. A super brief overview of what some of the above things talk about: I abhor the term "Christian music." I also abhor the term "worship music." I don't believe that music is a thing which can be Christian, nor do I believe that it should be deemed "worship," because inherent in the idea of music IS worship. It's what music is, in its being. It is communication of something unutterable for the purpose of exalting one thing or another above everything else in that moment - it's just that in some situations (church, "Christian music," etc), God is specifically mentioned as either the recipient or the focus of the melody. Music may express worship of sex or money or fame or a woman or the spirit of creation, yadda yadda yadda. Now that we have that established.
The Part Where I Set Up Where I'm Coming From
I have the distinct pleasure of traveling with four other boys in a van across a fairly expansive territory, from flat Kentucky farmland to the southernmost border of sweet tea availability in South Georgia, setting up loud systems and bright lights and making it so that those leaving the shows experience the delightful buzzing in their ears that accompanies the exit of an appropriately volumed concert. And let me tell you, it is a privilege. We've screamed songs out in the middle of Traditional sanctuaries "tarnished" by our trusses and rugs and boutique amps and seen our Creator come down thick - not because of anything WE do, but because He moves when He's called. And sometimes it's just that He's easiest to see when we're shaken a little bit.
Now, I said this because we're often branded a "worship band from Chattanooga" so that some of these more, shall we say, set-in-their-ways churches, will allow us passage through their doorframes to play for their kids. Because there's something safe about "worship," and I find that very backwards. Entirely too easily, we allow worship (the musical branch of it. More on this in a bit) to be something to bring us pleasure - we quibble over genre, over location, over content, over hymns vs "praise choruses," and make it our business that if there is an aspect of "worship" that exists, we are professionals at arguing about it. So we have settled on making it as unthreatening a thing as possible so that nobody gets upset. We bring the noise down, ritualize the services, repeat praisey cliches, play vi-IV-I-V until the spirit falls, then rinse and repeat.
Or perhaps we read only from the KJV and sing only from The Baptist Hymnal and have Offertory Prayers after a hymn of introduction before we sing the first, second and fourth stanzas of "How Great Thou Art."
I don't have problems with any of these things. I absolutely adore Cathedralic pipe organs and think that hymns are some of the most beautifully penned and marvelously adapted bar songs in existence. I love services of music that stretch on when it just feels as though stopping the moment would itself be a sin. But I come strongly against the notion that either of these things are worship.
A Turn Of The Screw (or of the volume knob, as the case may be)
Music is a people thing that has developed out of a need to express something we can't understand. Worship is the heart thing that needs to be expressed. So if we talk about having a problem with the worship this morning, is it that we were offended by the music or were you really just saying that we have a heart issue that we don't know how to communicate except through bitter refusal to clap when the long haired, skinny jeaned kids with guitars finally quit playing?
Another thing that irks me: worship/church/Christian music has become synonymous with "crappy." The joke when the Black Eyed Peas took the stage a few Super Bowls ago with their famously terrible live mix: "It sounds like they hired the church sound guy with a 'great heart.'" We show up at a venue and the people in charge say, "Oh wait, you're, like, legit." Or when they expect a "worship band" and then say, "we didn't expect it to be this loud. Can it come down?" Perhaps we'll start giving away earplugs.
A Story for Illustration, and Examples to Follow
One of my favorite stories that my dad tells me of Billy Graham: dc Talk has taken the stage at a Crusade and commenced rocking face. Mark Townsend and Brent Barcus are shredding, Toby and backup dancers are doing backflips off of trusses and subwoofers, and kids are effectively losing their minds in the throbbing pit in front of the stage.
Enter the tongue-cluckers into Reverend Graham's suite, relaying the above information as if it were the worst news on the planet. It was a far cry from George Beverly Shay indeed. I mean, people were sweating down there, for crying out loud. Billy's son Franklin leads him over to a window overlooking the concert and says, "Daddy, believe it or not, all of those kids down there didn't come to hear you preach. They came here because they knew dc Talk was going to be here and they'll put up with you in the meantime. God used that band to bring them here." Much to the ladys' dismay, the Reverend then stamped his approval on the ruckus happening on the stage, saying, "if that's what gets them to where I get to share God's word with them, then they're what I want."
Worship's not music, you guys. But if it must take that form temporarily, I argue that it should be loud and filled with the voices of people bent not on checking our worship boxes but on building a fire so big that the neighbors have to ask what in the world is going on.
(Caution: the music linked to below has been known to cause side effects of blown pacemakers, headbanging neck cramps, old people complaining about "noise," and tons of people getting saved.) Tell me that this isn't worship. Listen to Mattie preaching to a crowd who may not hear any sort of Gospel presentation, if not ever at least not at festivals like this. If you can't understand him when the band comes in, just google For Today's lyrics to "Agape."
Or this? "You find yourself helpless, grown. Christ is not a fashion, fleeting away," yells Josh Scogin at around 4:34 to a crowd who seems more pumped to hear it than probably your average church service which proclaims the same King.
Or this (lyrics only)? This is Oh, Sleeper's envisioning of God's thunderous reply to Satan's hubris-drenched challenge offered in their song "Son of the Morning." "From the armories the Angels sing. You will fear them when they lift their wings. They will sing to a world reborn - they will sing as I cut off your horns," screams Micah Kinard with a voice that echoes what I imagine God's will sound like when He says the same thing. \
Or this? (lyrics only) "Cause I'm getting sick - sick from all this turning, Driver, sick from turning on You." It's cries of a heart broken by itself and turning, dependent, back to the place where it can be fixed. Come on, now.
I don't mean to single out Metal music here, because I understand that it isn't for everybody (nor is it the only thing I listen to), but it gets similar reactions from the Church nowadays that dc Talk did once upon a time. The "it's just noise" argument holds no water - for noises are what were told to make. Joyful ones. And anyone who tries to tell me Norma Jean isn't a joyful noise actually means "I just don't like it" and has never been in the middle of a pit screaming their lyrics back at them. Because scream Christ's name alongside an auditorium full of people and tell me it isn't slightly more shiver-inducing than the old ladies we met this weekend who made quips about our hair in the House of the Lord behind our backs.
Your attitude matters is what I'm trying to say. Disagree, but for the right reasons. Do not make the mistake of thinking that Worship exists in a building and is best experienced in the key of E, but rather understand that Worship is a thing between you and your Creator, where you say "I'm done making this stuff down here about me and it's time You took credit for everything, so here it is." And for the Love, it is time for those making the things they're labeling "worship" to start doing it with excellence, because I can't imagine that tarnishing the rest of it brings very much glory to the Receiver.
As I look over this before posting it, I am a bit displeased with the chunkiness of it, but choppy paragraphs just didn't seem appropriate for some reason. If you gut it out nonetheless, we'll be friends forever. Thanks for coming by, and I hope your Monday is spectacular! It's going to sound like I'm talking about music (which, let's be honest here, is nothing new), but it is going to be different, most likely, than you are used to thinking about it. Because "music," like poetry or art, has more to do than simply describe tonic qualities perceived by the ears as either harsh or soothing or catchy (just like "poetry" has more to do than describe characters arranged on a page in a certain format and "art" has more to do than describe paints and metals and film and whatever other physical things are associated with them).
Music must be something more than just sound, because there is something deeper than sound going on. Allow me to give you a hands-on example. Watch and listen to this without distractions around you and through headphones if possible (the quality is not magnificent, but it works surprisingly well for this sort of vocal piece) and let me know if you find yourself holding your breath at 1:39, when the frantic rhythm has stopped and the altos begin their staggered breathing suspension of the single note lofting above everything else. The thin wire which separates the sound from silence. Tell me if you settle a little more easily into your chair with the introduction of the melody at 2:20 and if you feel the tension in your chest while the chord structure changes when they sing "turn darkness into light." The punch in the face that line makes when separated by the first true break in sound. The petrichoric, post-thunderstorm resolution of the series of cadences that close it.
It's just a vocal piece, of course, but it illustrates things that music attempts to emphasize. Cadence, rhythm, dynamics, the whole lot of which is present in places that are not musical. A great number of art teachers and enthusiasts are going to tell you that their craft is not simply something to listen to with your ears or read with your eyes or touch with your hands, but something that resonates with us as human beings because it transforms abstract experience into concrete structure. Tension is something you feel in your gut; color and sound and clay have nothing to do with it. But artists have been finding ways of evoking that same feeling that you get when trying to decide between two equally wonderful or terrible things with notes and drum beats and paint brushes for centuries.
Think of a thunderstorm and tell me that God's not the most perfect musician. He knows when to make it thunder, crashing the dissonance down on our ears to provide a contrast for the rhythmic, intricate rainfall. Listen to the morning and tell me it's not the most perfect song ever composed. A quiet symphony of minimalistic beauty attacks us not with sound, but with lack of sound. A squirrel burrows into a tree over here, and the weight shifts under the legs of your chair as the house sighs, taking in the complexity of what is happening. It is immensely more difficult to compose nothing than it is to compose thunder, and God has demonstrated that not only is it effortless for Him, it's natural. Tell me it's not beautiful.
I'll tell you why I'm writing this. First of all, I'm tired of heady things like this being talked about without practical meaning. I've come to accept that though I often live in my head, I exist in a world that is pretty real, the very realness of which often negates overly dramatic philosophical debates. The practical bit is coming up in a second, I promise. Secondly, because I was directed to this article, titled "The Joy of Quiet" by Pico Iyer, by a friend. I implore you to read it, because it is marvelous. He talks about how once upon a time we celebrated all of the gadgets and technological advances we have acquired for the sole purpose of being constantly, 100% of the time, connected to everything. We have devices to listen to music wherever we go. We can talk to whoever we want whenever we want to. We can access the internet from our pockets. Mr. Iyer insists, and I agree, that this is dangerous to us as creative beings.
For how can there be music without dynamics, without rest, without swells, without mindfulness of the space around the "stuff?" Life is more than "go." Sometimes it's "just stop for a second." We are humans and life is art and we were created by an Artist.
The practical bit: read the above mentioned article and tell me you're not inspired to go without the connectivity for one day a week at least. It will be incredibly difficult to do, because it is nearly impossible to function in our jobs and activities without the things we've built our lives around. Make it Sunday, like I am going to do. I'm not saying to retreat into the woods and ignore everybody in your life for one day (as lovely as that would be sometimes), I'm saying leave Facebook alone for one 24 hour period of time. Keep the computer on sleep mode and read a book. Don't go buy coffee, stay home and make it. When you're driving, listen to the rhythm of your tires on the road, the click of your blinker, the swoosh of your windshield wipers. Turn your phone up and leave it in your room so that you are accessible but not attached to it at the hip.
For just one day, define the sound that is so infused in the busyness of your week by the silence of a day spent recovering from it. It will be our little experiment to see if we can define the thunder by the rain.
***When I posted this, for some reason all of the html tags printed without opening and closing brackets and all of the text without apostrophes. So it looked like a mess. I have fixed most of it, but it was a weird problem that I've never had before, so if I missed anything I'd appreciate you letting me know so that I can fix it.***
I wanted to do something grandiose for my first contracted post not only of the year, but of, well, ever. Granted, it was something I imposed on myself and in no way has any kind of bearing on real life, but I still felt like it was kind of a big deal. So I've gone all week knowing that the deadline that I set in my last post was today. I sketched out the beginnings of some of those follow me as I try to figure something out posts and the I like to think about things like quantum physics even though I don't really understand it at all posts and the I want to make a list of the wonderful things of 2011 as we move into 2012 posts but none of it would flow.
I tried to force it. I wrote about forcing it. I tried to justify digging in the archives to find something worth reposting, but I felt guilty about that. I wrote about feeling guilty. I wrote part of my letter to men and hit a wall. Then I wrote about hitting walls. Then I came back to what I wrote about forcing it.
Of course, when I say I wrote about forcing it, I mean it came out like a bitter mix of poetry and yelling instructions at myself about how to escape writers block:
Just pound it out. Play until your fingers bleed, you need to change strings anyway. Play until the coating erodes and the callouses rip and one of you gives way to the other. It's like a drain that's stopped up, that's all. Play nonsense. Strum open chords. Pound that block away. Make it sound as dirty, nasty, offensive as you can. If music is what you're battling, write not music. Stomp every box and listen to the noisy, oscillating, overpowering signal hum amplified by the single coils and wait for the feedback. Turn it up. Make your ears hurt, make your speaker crack. Break something. De-tune as far as you can. Dogs had better be whimpering.
I seem to go back to music when things like this happen.
What you are seeing right now is a scarily accurate representation of how my thought processes unfold, which I find interesting, because I enjoy learning how other peoples thought processes go. I wanted to write about that.
I thought maybe an honest exploration of art and beauty, two things I think have lost meaning nowadays. But then I saw the trailer for The Artist that opened last year and realized that anything I had to say about art and beauty was fairly petty and irrelevant in comparison.
I wanted to make a list of things that I wanted to get done this year, but then I read about a man who threw 4,800 messages in a bottle into the ocean and got responses from most of them, and about this man who has taken a self-portrait every day for twelve years, through cancer treatments and paralysis, and all of the sudden my lists looked incredibly unimportant.
So I scrapped (or at least put on the back-burner) three or four pages worth of ink and hand cramps in favor of, apparently, these words telling you that I had plans to do something awesome and ended up doing some sort of meta-blog filled with things I could have written about. And then it hit me.
It hit at 12 o'clock last night, the night before the first day of my final semester of college, the night before the year that harbors touring opportunities and record label beginnings and graduation and promises of completed screenplays or short stories or poetry collections, on words embedded in a website that I just got done plastering my name across, just how much it isn't about me.
Justin Vernon sings in Bon Iver's song Holocene about vastness and sublimity. About the natural sort of sublime, akin to the interests of Wordsworth and Byron (whom you should know by now I adore, along with their contemporaries, more than any collection of literary period authors). The sort of thing David looked up at and asked, "who is this King of glory?" In the song, Vernon sings this line at the beginning of each chorus that doesn't punch you in the face, but rather settles quiet inside of the place that senses loneliness and houses doubt and interprets rhododendrons into the transcendent things Emerson saw them to be, and sits there until you can deal with it: "...and at once I knew I was not magnificent."
You have to hear it in the dark of a quiet room without people vying for your attention or pressing engagements looming over your head, because it is a thing of subtlety, as all beautiful things ought to be.
And once you hear it, you cannot un-hear it, but you wont remember until you're alone and listening only to what your brain has to say. You will realize that you tried all week to get something worth slapping your name on only to get frustrated and move on to wall-staring and coffee-drinking and creativity-avoiding because you can't shake that feeling that came all at once when you realized you were not magnificent.
This sort of realization isn't a bad one, I don't think, at least it isn't for me. I take comfort in the fact that it is not I who is magnificent, even though sometimes the self-worshipping part of me likes to try to convince me otherwise. I believe strongly in magnificence. I believe that it can be encountered and interacted with and marveled at and discussed and even argued against, though that doesn't make it any less real.
I even believe Magnificence has a Name to know.
Happy 2012, you guys. I'll see you here next week!
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.
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.
*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 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
>Class today got cancelled, so I have a few hours of "free" time. I am not entirely sure how to grasp that notion quite yet, so I am doing this instead:
A few updates first:
THANK YOU to everybody who has taken me up on this letter-writing project/extravaganza/nonsense, because you are all awesome. I have sent about 15 of them and the remaining 30 or so are coming just as fast as I can, what with it being exam week and all. Have patience, because everybody who gave me an address is getting a letter :)
In other, completely unrelated news (this is in reference to this post here, near the bottom), I will post down a little farther an video of portion of the aforementioned musical endeavors just for your viewing and critiquing and laughing pleasure. Yesterday I posted an only slightly more processed version on my Tumblr in mp3 format just to listen to. I have made slight slight changes in the lyrics since then but otherwise it's just an even more stripped down version.
It is about snub attitudes and soaring egos and any kind of prima donna polluting the air we breathe, and it is written from the first person because I believe we all fit in this category, with special emphasis on me. It's this "Godless grandeur" that the song sets out to combat, for it only leads to the "crumbling descent of Rome."
Yes, early versions were written specifically about English majors.
There are many more ideas in the works, this is just the first that has been kinda fleshed out. Over Christmas you can probably expect a more full demo but for now this will have to do :)
If I am just a stuffy, hard-headed, egotistical hypocrite, I assure you that is not my intention, but please tell me if I am. As with anything on this blog, if I am in the wrong I know how to hear it, in fact I expect to be called out.
What You Say In Your Sleep.
Criss cross past each other on the lawn
Pretending we're junkies, pretending we write good songs
Shoving our armchair philosophies
On wishing-well, 8-ball hypotheses
Erecting monuments to our vanity
Our treatises elaborate and unforseen
Pay no mind to our Godless grandeur
The web we're building is done
We'll topple your agency
in the dead of night
We'll use against you
What you say in your sleep
Legislators holed up in a motel on the side of the road
Scared of falling down how far we've climbed
No wordsmith rhymes can save us now
The burden of splendor amassed before us,
Again repeating the crumbling descent of
Rome and our buildings, our sculptures, our land
We'll fall inside and crawl back out
And pay no mind to our passing grandeur
The web we're building is done
We'll topple your agency in the dead of night
We'll use against you what you say
In your sleep, we'll topple your agency,
In the dead of night.
We'll use against you what you say in your sleep
>I wrote a while back about Identity and this is in no way intended to step on the toes I established then. Just to cover my bases :)
I in no way intend do define who I am by what I do, because I find my identity with Someone bigger than whatever accomplishments I could ever hope for on this temporary earth. However, what I do I hope to craft to reflect the magnificence of the God I serve. Right now I'm not talking necessarily about those minute-to-minute decisions, thoughts, or actions, because it is in those ways I will never be perfect and therefore in constant need of a system of checking. Without forgiveness and that mindset of always striving for perfection in the most Divine sense of the word, the rest of the thoughts I'm about to lay out hold no weight. This is the next step above the moment; in fact, it is a way of escaping from the moment.
The most appealing of traps in which we build our homes is that on which countless poorly written pop-rock songs / indie-romance films dwell: live for the moment, because once it's gone, it's lost forever. By that same logic, the argument contradicts itself at its core, thus making it a logical fallacy; for if not seizing the moment means that you might miss it and have it be gone forever, then doing everything in your power to make that moment yours means as soon as the moment passes your efforts were for naught. No, I submit that this is the reason for the emptiness that plagues our country (and even our world). Everybody who takes this advice has to constantly fill the void left by the moment which leaves as soon as it arises and makes them stuck in a cruel game of catch-up. Just like Zeno's example of Achilles and the tortoise, once locked in to that method of thinking, you can never actually catch up to the tortoise, because once you finally get to where it is, it has moved again.
The only way to escape from this flawed ideology is to not follow Fall Out Boy's advice (as crazy a notion as that may seem) and look past the moment. It takes some heartache and frustration to realize that the moment isn't all it's cracked up to be, but very little convincing to realize, once you're there, that you are capable of so much more than what one tiny snapshot in time can offer. Yes, prototypical Church-Answerer, we set our sights on Jesus and the example he set for us. That is all well and good, but I'll tell you this: you won't get there.
I'm not being Frankie Thunderstorm here either, because what we don't seem to realize is that this is the point. We can't do it.
Kinda makes you feel small, you say? It should. It should make you feel incompetent, lowly, some might even call it worthless, powerless to live up to such a magnanimous example set before us. It's ok to not be good enough.
This is where so many people professing to be Christians get it so wrong. We were not created to live up to a Divine example, we were created to bring our Creator delight and praise and adoration. Part of that delight does happen to be attempting to be more like our Example every day, but that's not the whole of it. It's knowing that we, in ourselves, will never be good enough, and even with help from God Himself, the point of our bodily forms is that we will mess up (note: this is NOT a free pass to sin. Please do not take that from this) and when we realize that even though we have defiled the name of our Creator He loves us anyway, and we worship Him for it.
The point of this blog, finally.
All of this in mind, we craft our worship out of everything that we hope to be. Striving for perfection is, in its most innocent and basic sense, our act of worship. One aspect of this that I want to touch on quickly is (don't die from the shock that I want to talk about this) music.
It frustrates me to no end, to a point beyond what words can describe (though I constantly attempt to describe it anyway), that we have created this "genre" of "worship music." Music IS worship. Words are not beautiful, for they are simply signifiers of grander ideas, but music... music transcends communities and beliefs and traditions and locations and stages of life and everything physical that separates us both from other humans and from the Divine. It creates, wordlessly, emotions followed by thoughts followed by a primitive connection, in its most foundational sense.
So WHY do we call this bland, formulaic, monotonous category of supernatural connection worship?
Because it's easier. It's easier to reuse melodies that have proven successful or chord progressions which we know work than it is to craft something so wonderful, so pleasing to our God's ears that we share the joy with Him of listening to something that he breathed life into follow His example and craft right back to Him. Perhaps it's that those gifted to create such expressions are more in love with traditions or expectations than the God who created it all. Maybe they're just lazy.
Let's re-learn that worship is a lifestyle. That if we are not searching for perfection like our Heavenly Father is perfect, we are insulting Him every time we slap His name on something that is mediocre.
Let's craft everything we do with such passion that our hands shake. It's a process that takes much longer than a moment can offer.
>I was a witness to something last night which I will here attempt to describe.
I saw a literal wall of Marshall cabs, for starters.
I saw a man in a wheelchair wait in line, weave up a handicap ramp, and sit with anxious expectation with a large top hat on his head for the opening act to be over so that he could see the hero, whose visage he wore on his shirt.
I watched a crowd of people go nuts for a band who killed it, even though they didn't know any of their songs. Simply out of courtesy/response to awesome music.
I saw on a stage five people, all of whom were over 40 years old, playing to 1,100 people, aged anywhere from ten to 65. One of these people, Saul Hudson (more famously known as Slash), a founding member of Guns n' Roses (whose music I don't necessarily enjoy, although it is impossible to deny that they invented rock music as it is known today); who has played in front of stadiums with the largest audiences recorded in recent history, played roughly 300+ shows a year for the past 30 years in two world-renowned bands and several smaller ones, who has toured the world several times, smile a genuine smile when he looked out at the crowd of people watching him.
It was as if he were performing for the first time. He was relaxed, poised, and the definition of every image the term "rock star" conjures. He jumped around onstage as if he were 20 years old. He's 45.
I saw Myles Kennedy, 41, also a seasoned music veteran, being a pioneer both on the modern rock scene as well as the transformation of Jazz-rock fusion as we know it, step back from the mic as the crowd was singing a portion of a very well-known song, as he does every night of the week on Slash's world tour, and close his eyes. I watched him mouth the words "This is so awesome" followed closely by an undeniable "I love this." He wasn't saying it to anybody except himself. This was all the reminder he needed to remember why he does what he does.
The same as the grin that crept up on Slash's lips as he peered subtly over the edge of his signature aviator sunglasses and looked at the faces of all the people who made him who he is. It didn't happen often, because he was, for the most part, completely enraptured by the music filling the room.
I've been in the presence of "up and comers" who think that they are the best thing that has ever happened to music while they are on stage. I've watched them play so devoid of passion and heart that it almost makes the notes go as flat as the sound.
And then I saw this. With a drummer that played for Alice Cooper in his heyday, a singer who has toured in 4 bands and done his part to bring Jazz back to the mainstream, a bassist who has starred in films as well as played music in the studio with little people like, oh what's his name... Ozzy Osborne, a guitarist who knows enough to play enough in the background to hold a song together while letting someone else receive the entirety of the limelight, and a seasoned rock star whose name is known by a hundred million people who pioneered Heavy Metal but still managed to break into a slow, 3/4 blues jam play music with more passion than I've ever seen anything done. They made it sound fresh. They still got high from the adrenaline.
They felt every emotion a performer should feel and it translated over to the absolutely captivated audience, and you could tell, be it by Slash's uncontrollable smirk or Myles' whispers of overwhelming awe which he never meant for anybody to see.
>I was floating around the halls of Facebook the other day in the midst of one of these weekly fits of insomnia in hopes that the dull monotony of seeing the same pages over and over would lull my brain into a few hours of rest before rising for a busy day. It.was.so.hot. in my room, despite the fact that the AC had just been turned on after not having touched it hardly at all since Ryan moved out. I lay on top of this concoction of covers draped over my bed, my face still wet from my having doused it with freezing cold tap water, and I figured that the quickest way for me to lose all will to remain awake was this tactic of boring myself to tears. I would force my eyes to want to close.
I am positive that you relate. Jumping straight to the point, I had visited the profiles of literally every one of the people dotting my friends list when some words caught my attention. One person I knew posted a lyric from this old hymn that is just timeless in its beauty. As a brief side note, do not for a second assume that I am one of these reckless youth who despise all things Organ and choir just because I happen to play the electric guitar and I appreciate music some people affectionately call "noise." I am a firm believer that at heart I was born in the wrong generation. People have forgotten how to be eloquent and all traces of civil talk have turned into what I admit is an appalling sort of vernacular. I prefer to read authors who are dead simply because I think that the language is far more powerful than what is published today (not to author's faults... it is simply that there is a diminishing appreciation for things that were once considered beautiful).
That said, I went on to read what some people had commented on this lyric. There was lament on the diminishing use of Organ in church music, and though it had a tinge of personal attack on my church, I could have let it slide in conversation. People are entitled to the things that they love and it is valid for them to be sad to see them leave. I know that if music turned entirely to synthesizers and drum loops I would certainly be sad to see guitar being used less and less, and so I have no problem with this particular person wanting to see it return. What came next, however, made me read it again, just to make sure that I had the entire message. I searched it for sarcasm or irony or tongue-in-cheek, but unfortunately there was none to be found. This is the part that caught me off guard: "So sad that the church is going the way of the world with its music. How can they justify it?"
I couldn't help myself by chime in, because it was an opportunity too great to let my sarcasm rest. I have an enormous problem with calling music "worldly," because music itself is not a thing of this world. It transcends language and experience in a way that nothing of this earth possibly could. I have heard compositions in foreign tongues and immediately been of one mind with the writer, whereas had he written a book or made a speech all I would see is stagnant ink on a page and all I would hear is a series of repetitive but nonsensical consonants. If try you tell me that music is a worldly thing, I will submit that you know nothing of heaven. I have heard more beautiful sounds coming from two guys with sticks and buckets than I have in any elaborate and glorious building ever constructed by man. I guarantee you that David, the most famous worship leader ever, did not have an organ or a piano, but a harp (which had strings, by the way, and probably sounded a little like a guitar). He was all about joyful noises, drums, clanging cymbals, and even dancing naked, so do not even try to tell me that stoic, stuffy men in suits who mouth words printed on a yellowing page are more holy than a crowd of people literally losing their minds, being enveloped by "noise" so loud and a spirit so overpowering that there is no room for distraction from the focus of the night. I plan on spending the rest of my eternity in a pit of people throbbing, kneeling, bowing, dancing wildly and singing so loudly before the Throne of God that, were I in my earthly body, it would collapse from exhaustion.
I will repeat myself, which I do not do often. If you try to tell me that music is of this world, I will tell you that you know nothing of heaven.
I'm not sure what the point of this one was. I will save this pent-up rant on tradition worshippers for another day when it isn't quite so pretty outside. Perhaps I was just looking for an outlet for this small amount of frustration. But you should tell me what you think about all of this!
On another side note, there has been a significant jump in readers over the past month or so, and I am tired of just writing about these little rabbit trails in my head. I would be more than happy to explore submitted topics or questions or musings that you guys have, whether it be if Left 4 Dead 2 better or worse than the first, who would win in a battle between Chuck Norris and Himself, why Mary Shelley is awesome, why I can't wait to get Xbox live back, etc. I am an open book. You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), comment, text me, whatever. I'd like to hear from you! Ok. Go outside. It's far too pretty to be trapped within walls like I am today.