On Saturday, I believe I saw the Colosseum.Read More
This is long and ashamedly rambly. I was just in quite a rambly mood today, I'm afraid. Please read it all, for I have several times and am not yet dead, but know that I won't be offended if you turn it off halfway. Not everyone can handle the burden of truth being poured onto them.** **That was purposely arrogant and inflammatory. I'm trying to catch your attention by being humorously cocky and reproachable right off the get-go. If that didn't work, here's some wisdom from Doctor Who, which should interest every single one of you:
"Have you ever seen monsters?" "Oh yes." "Are you scared of them?" "No. They're scared of me." - The Eleventh Doctor
Doctor Who and Introduction
It is without shame that I tell you I am veritably enthralled by the long-running BBC Television show Doctor Who. I cannot pretend to be a Who-hipster, for I was not alive when it started, nor can I say that I've been a member of the Whovian society for any long period of time. Quite the opposite, in fact: it has been only a few short months. But in these few short months, I have found myself doing very little besides reading profusely, writing (I figure now, while I have the time, means, and motivation, is when I should write that book), and watching the Doctor save the universe in countless situations infinitely more creative than my feeble mind could contrive, and in the meantime highlight the beauty of humanity and their intense dependence on something bigger than themselves.
In the section quoted above, a little boy caught in the middle of a crisis involving your run-of-the-mill otherworldy Who beasties is talking with the Doctor. He senses the threat and accurately gauges the immediacy of the situation, but asks, in a moment of seeking reassurance, about the Doctor's history of dealing with similar things. The Doctor, famous for having dashed alien hopes of universe-domination, foiled plans of genocide, and saved his numerous companions' lives time and again, responds with confidence and appropriate swagger, then characteristically smirks in the face of evil.
Confidence is praised nowadays; misplaced or inappropriate confidence is arrogance and foolishness. We see both in the lives of athletes, in the style of movie stars, in the words of introverted twenty-somethings on blogs on the internet. We are quick to call it "arrogance" in other people, but just as quick to call it "confidence" in ourselves. We are quick to think ourselves unworthy of either, and quick to overcompensate.
Perhaps it is that our mirrors are rather cloudy and dishonest. Perhaps it is our eyes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: I see a whole lot of loathing and so little efforts for improvement; I see a whole lot arrogance and so little preparation.
What This Is Not, and What This Is
I am not thinking today about image or self-confidence along those lines, necessarily, though those thoughts do come to mind. It deserves a whole spot of its own and is quite pressing, I'm afraid, though today is not the day for it. This is not about the back-end, or how you look at yourself in light of who you truly are, for that is only the second half of the problem. This is not about vanity or even necessarily physical things
What I am addressing is what I see when I look at the majority of my generation. I see a group of people content to be what the generation before them handed down, who can honestly say that apathy is a virtue. Who socially network rather than figure themselves out. I see a generation with access to more information and knowledge than any that has come before them, yet more ignorant than any about how to use it. I see boys seeing domination as strength and girls seeing beauty as worth. I see people who think doing something worthwhile means doing something worth Instagramming; I see people for whom thoughts are merely Tweets. I see an age of humanity defined by what somebody else has said rather than what they have worked for.
And I see so few confronting it. Too many of us see "comfortable" as a good thing. So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound.
We have lost all concept of self, because we have plenty of things to distract from it... and they are sneaky things, at that: the conception that you are what your Facebook says you are or that who you are is defined by your job. Instead of asking ourselves, "who am I?" we post pictures of ourselves and say, "this is who I am."
There is a discrepancy there, and it is extremely bothersome.
The Swelling Hurricane
I dropped a sentence a second ago as sort of preparation for where this was headed, as a gust to store up some energy in these sails. I'll say it again here: So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound. I spent a good deal of time in the Philosophy and Religion department at UTC (since I studied Philosophy) and noticed a particularly fascinating trend: that the grand majority of people involved in it were vehemently atheistic, both professors and students alike.
What happened is they started asking questions and seeking answers anywhere they could find them. And when they couldn't find them easily or the conventional answers of their small Baptist churches just wouldn't cut it anymore, they conceded defeat to the overwhelming pangs of despair. They looked at one group of people claiming Absolute Truth and saw a completely different group halfway across the world and 8 million people big claiming a completely different Absolute Truth and decided everyone was wrong. Or they succumbed to the problem of evil: If one of two contraries is infinite, the other is destroyed. God is infinite goodness; if there were God, there would be no evil. There is evil; so, therefore, there is no God.
The arguments against God are powerful and persuasive, indeed like monsters in the closet of an 8 year old are when it's dark and he's trying to sleep. But they're embedded everywhere, and we're trained not to fight them. We yell at characters in poorly written horror movies when they decide to go towards the creaking under the stairs or the moaning from the attic. We're embedded with a fear of evil and the desire to run when it's scary.
To keep a consistent theme, though: The Doctor tells us, "Never run when you're scared." (Rule 7)
There is a storm in the air, horesemen afoot, and the battle for belief is raging.
And we who believe are not winning.
The War Without a Winner (or, apparently, a study in alliteration)
Sam Harris wrote in his book Letter to a Christian Nation that it is religion, belief, "god" that has poisoned our world, incited wars, dumbed the people, and placated a mass of people to the point of wasting their lives chasing invisible friends and waiting on some future judgment that will never come. Christopher Hitchens calls belief irrational and destructive. Richard Dawkins calls God an unnecessary invention by people incapable of handling reality.
And more believers are believing them every day. The armies are being stacked in their favor, because believers are being convinced by faulty rhetoric that Christ and Reason cannot exist together. That metaphysics and God are equivalent, and that they have a place in haughty classroom discussion and nowhere else. But the thing is that the opposition is using recycled arguments to attack Faith, and Faith is using recycled arguments to respond. We're stuck in a loop with one side crying, "you're ugly!" and the other sticking their fingers in their ears shouting back, "la la la, I can't hear you!"
We've both become dull and insulting: the attackers of Faith have betrayed their god of Reason and the believers their God of Truth.
Here is the bottom line. Christians have become comfortable with their churches and their ideas that God is a exactly the thing that they imagine, so when something comes along and challenges the toy box they keep in their prayer rooms, they panic.
There is a fallacy in the study of logic called the Straw Man. It's basically as you would imagine: to "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. Unbelief attacks Christianity based upon the constraints it has put upon it. Based upon what Christians have made it. It attacks tradition rather than Truth, because Truth is contested only by fools.
Jesus said that His purpose on Earth was to bear witness to Truth, which is why the Jesus we have constructed that exists to ease pain and hug people crumbles under attack. Straw men have no backbone, no substance, and burn easily when touched with fire.
But Christians are doing little to counter it. Instead of arming ourselves, learning the things of God rather the things we've constructed of God, and worshipping Jesus as Truth, we trust in the easy thing - which is also the easy thing to attack, and the easy thing to lose faith in. With a faith in the same Straw Man that is easy to attack comes all of the terrible things we write eloquently to fight: we succumb to vanity and pornography and insecurity and fear and addiction the thought that our dirty pasts are insurmountable and we're not rescued by our god because he's warding off crows from crops. Misrepresentations of God are being attacked because misrepresentations of God are being followed.
So what are those of us who wish to counter unbelief to do? We must figure out what we stand for and then stand for it. We cannot be told answers, we must search them out. We can't be handed faith, we must work it out for ourselves with fear and trembling. We can't forget that something obtainable can be taken away, so we must grasp it ever tighter when the threat of its removal comes upon us.
We must stand with the confidence that we lack, because monsters won't shy from uncertainty. Confidence comes through preparation, and somebody who tells you that God will give it to you just because you asked for it is lying to you. God will do His part - He's told you that.
But the ability to fight a war doesn't come from lying in bed. We must take up arms and learn to use them, study the opposition's tactics to be able to counter them, and face the beasties in our closets atop their black horses and say, "I'm not afraid of you because I know you. You can't say something to dissuade me because I know what you will say. You can't take away my God because He gave you the Reason you think refutes Him."
Salvation is not through works - do not think that I'm trying to say anything of the sort. But it is true that the children of God will be known by their fruit. Take a step back and look at yourself. All aspects of it. Look at who you are at school, at home, on the internet, and tell me what is being glorified: you, your Straw Man, or God? It's one of the three, I promise.
Who do you carry that torch for, my young man, Do you believe in anything? Do you carry it around just to burn things down?
Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.
"You haven't a real appreciation of Newspeak, Winston," he said almost sadly. "Even when you write it you're still thinking in Oldspeak. I've read some of those pieces that you write in the Times occasionally. They're good enough, but they're translations. In your heart you'd prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words."
-Syme in George Orwell's 1984
What Words Are
I have an extraordinary interest in words, which makes it nigh impossible to enjoy things like news reports, political speeches, song lyrics, small-talk, and the vast majority of church sermons.
A word is the most potent poison known to mankind: it can disintegrate a man from the inside without so much as a mark on the skin to prove it was ever there. A word is the sharpest dagger that a human can wield: capable of backstabbing, dark-alley threatening, and trust evaporating; useful for flashing at oncoming threats and baring before impending fights. A word is the hottest fire to alight the torches of men: it can roast our enemies, warm cold hearts, light up cavernous rhetoric, and signal for help to anyone who will listen.
Yet we toss them around as if they were gumdrops.
Glance up at the top of this post at the quote from Brand New's song "The Archers Bows Have Broken" and notice what Jesse Lacey is saying: he conjures the image of a young man in possession of a fire, a weapon, if you will, capable of both harm and good, and asks "What are you doing with it? Do you just enjoy burning things down?" We don't let people drive who would be dangerous and destructive behind the wheel to those around them, yet we hand ill-suited politicians and celebrities and news agencies and filmmakers and religious leaders microphones and free passes into our homes without so much as bracing ourselves for collision.
We also forget that the same weapons that are used for attack are used to parry - we would rather cry in outrage than raise our well-prepared guard to block. We're an army upset that the other side has weapons rather than an army that trains to use our own.
Fall Out Boy puts it: "I am an arms dealer fitting you with weapons in the form of words." We sing from our childhood: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." We read that the Word of God is: "sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Aldous Huxley writes in Brave New World: “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
They're weapons. And yet we toss them like snakes on Sand Mountain and cry in bitterness when they bite.
Why Words are Dangerous
I mentioned that "Sticks and stones" little ditty above. It has always been a strange little saying to me, because honestly, sticks and stones hurt less and for a far shorter time than words do. Bruises heal, scars fade, broken bones are set again, but one mention of inadequacy haunts a man for a lifetime. One mention of "ugly" outweighs thirty mentions of "beautiful."
A brief lesson in something that interests me:
Take the word "tree." Write it, read it, speak it, think it. T-R-E-E.
We have learned that this arrangement of letters, when positioned next to each other, signifies some object "out there" in the real world. In semiotics-talk, the compilation of letters is called the sign and the object being pointed to the signified. Nothing about the tall, organic structure wrapped with bark, sitting atop a spider's web of roots and topped with slowly changing colored appendages is represented by the sign "tree." The word doesn't look like what we think of trees as looking like. It doesn't sound on our tongues how trees sound in nature. It doesn't smell of tree or taste of tree or feel of tree, yet we still link the two terms together because that is how wonderful brains are.
So words are more than weapons, they are (more innocuously or dangerously, I'm not sure yet) signs. It's not the word that holds any power. In fact, this is the part where I dismantle what I said before: words hold no power.
But they are capable of such destruction because of what they are. Signs are intensely more dangerous because they point to something inside of us that begs recognition in order to be effective. You can block physical pain, so I hear, after years of practice or repeated intense encounters with it. But the very act of comprehending words is enough of a crack in the toughest armor to let the flood in. They bridge physical stuff (sound waves, vibrating lips, facial expressions) and spiritual stuff (what keeps you awake at night in cold sweats counting revolutions of ceiling fans contrasted against an off-white stucco ceiling wondering exactly what they meant by "thunderously incompetent").
To reference the second quote above: It is not the word fire which burns, it is the thing that the word "fire" points to. But the word, after a good long time burning your hand in flames, would surely bring up some painful memories.
**Ignore this paragraph if you feel it is too off topic. I won't make it long. I think that it is a fun thing anyway (and I must work some understanding of God into all of this. That's the reason I write these blamed things anyway.) We humans are nothing but words, I think. Sure, we can punch one another and go to war and whatnot, which are quite physical acts, but I believe that we are not but signs to a higher signified. It's in the very beginning of the Bible - even the people who read it and get bored with it get to this part: "Let us make man in our image." Remember it? That word "image" is more appropriately "icon," which is nothing but a pointer. A sign. We were created with some kind of significance that points to the thing being signified. We were created to be little word-vessels that, when other vessels see us walking about and interacting with one another, they say, "God." But I won't ramble about this. Feel free to ask and I'd love to explain my thoughts on it :)
Why I Will Endorse Them Anyway
This is easy: I will endorse words because words are some of the most beautiful things we possess, and that is not just the English nerd in me speaking. Words accomplish more than we would ever give them credit for because a great number of people who are quite skilled at using them are also colossal, raging imbeciles and give things like "rhetoric" and "persuasion" dirty connotations. Words communicate to the soul, they pass instruction, they call attention to things not in the room and which have never before been seen: "It's around the corner about two feet down underneath a green box." or "The picture I'm talking about is the one where she is in the flannel shirt in her back yard and she leans towards whoever was taking the picture with this smile that fills you from the inside and makes you want to miss somebody."
Words are powerful little things not because of what they are, but because of what they represent. They can tear down governments and stop wars before they happen and tell somebody that they are loved. They connect the stuff of the brain and the soul with the stuff of the world, making it so that when I have a thought, I can share it with you. They can let you see me, and not just how I look, but who I am.
Of course, they can trick you too, or be as empty and vapid as the wind. You've heard it: "actions speak louder than words," and apparently a picture is worth a thousand of them. I wrote a short poem about them not too long ago which tries to address this - because things like words can't be captured simply with prose about them. They're half spirit anyway.
Syme and the champions of Newspeak (The Ministry's brutal shorthand) in 1984 lambast what they call "Oldspeak," which is simply English as you're reading it now, with its "vagueness and shades of meaning." It encourages thoughtcrime (crimes against the government that are thought, not acted upon) because they are precisely what enable it, and by ridding the language of all traces of words related to thoughtcrime, it could be eliminated altogether. Think of it: harboring something so deep-seeded and crucial to let out but not having the language to do so.
Silencing is the highest form of imprisonment, for it muzzles the soul; verbal is the hardest abuse to forget, for our spirit heals slower than our body.* Take away my liberty, that's one thing - but take away my voice and I am suffocated.
Verse yourself with the attributes and capabilities of words and suddenly slogging through political drivel and consumer culture is cake. The vast majority of preaching nowadays is exposed. Literature comes alive and bad literature becomes appalling. Interactions become more meaningful because you begin to abhor small-talk and flippant remarks and useless brandishings of what can be beautiful things now made profane.
Develop your voice or you waste it and you disrespect people who have sacrificed to give it to you. Build one another up, because the same tools that rip apart walls can construct sanctuaries. If you can, speak for the voiceless, stick up for the innocents imprisoned, and combat slavery wherever you find it, even if all you know how to do is yell loud enough to gather a crowd.
Share your heart with fire and it will be heard.
*I am not saying these things as an expert in any way on abuse or imprisonment or the atrocities of human against human unnecessary violence. I am drawing only from what I have been told and from my own experience, which is, thank God, extraordinarily limited. Being shoved in lockers and pygmy traps and eating pre-licked french fries and being called "freak" and other silly hardships hardly compare with the scope of what people have put other people through. My point is not that you forget the violence, it's the insistence that you are worthless that's harder to shake than it is for the skin to heal.
Camp ended yesterday. I thought I was going to be prepared for that moment all summer long: when we shut the gate on the cage containing all of the stuff we used this year and drive back jubilant that we all survived and kept the sickness banging at the doors to our bodies at bay with Emergen-C and sheer willpower. The ride back was, instead, silent and strange. After all, how do you end something like this?
This summer, I've: Played music in front of 3,500+ students and their leaders. Taught Bible Study to 167 hurting kids for a week at a time. Built 214 yards of wooden fencing. Hung 3 pavilions worth of fascia board. Dug 4 8x8 drain trenches. Moved a middle school out of one building into a brand new one, which we cleaned and painted. Door-to-door mowed an entire neighborhood. Seen 30 camp staffers who couldn't be more different literally become family. Walked 3 boys and 2 girls to the feet if my Savior so that they may glimpse for the first time just how inadequate they are and just how adequate He is. I've seen the shivers of sinners' first realization of the stakes of it all. I've watched the options being weighed - the recognition that life change isn't something that comes with no cost, and the laugher and pure, inescapable joy after the decision had been made when they realize that the cost is absolutely worth it. Lived for 2 months straight in a state of pure exhaustion, so that every morning was a battle to get up and do it again - and learned what it means to say "Christ is my strength." Escaped from my academic, heady mindset and experienced the world and God in ways books just can't grasp.
And I just don't know exactly how to handle the end of something like this. Don't get me wrong - I cannot WAIT to get home. I have missed my city, my family, my friends, those who, because you carry them in your heart, you carry home with you. But I don't know how to leave this either.
Let me briefly talk about something that has changed (or is in the process of changing) inside of me. On the first day of each week, after everybody has registered and we break from the first worship set of the session, all of the students follow their track leaders to a room for 2 an a half hours of ministry track and evangelism training. It's awkward, of course, because nobody knows the other people in the room, but it is the most crucial part of the week, because it sets the rest of it up for success or failure. We did the activity, right? I gave 6 kids notecards and stuck them on one side of the room and moved everybody else to the other side. On each notecard I had written two things: on the front, something that others see about them, and on the back, something they know about themselves. The holders of the cards only knew what was written on the back, so I made then wonder what exactly was on the front as the rest of the group walked by them and scoffed. All one boy knew is that he had an abusive father and that everybody who read the front of his card wanted to punch him in the face. Another only knew she had parents that didn't take care of her and everyone walking by told her to just go take a bath, already. After the non-card holders finished walking by the card holders, I made everyone tell them what was written on the front of the cards. "You shove kids in lockers," they tell one boy. "My father beats me when I get home," he says.
"You look an smell like you haven't bathed in a week." "My home was destroyed and my family was killed in the Tornadoes last year and I've been living on the street," comes the answer.
"You never go to church." "My parents persecute Christians."
And so on. I make a point that we don't know what's written on the back of these people's cards, and that no matter how gross or maddening the front is, each of these people needed love. Then we move on. But I couldn't move on.
My heart has been broken lately for the broken. Rage has been kindled against injustice in every form. Sex trafficking, domestic abuse, movie theater massacres, these Westboro nutjobs who just won't go away, date-rapists, preachers bent only on making money, elitist, introverted writers/musicians who hang out in Nashville coffeeshops and pretend they have their crap figured out and that the rest of humanity can just burn... I've wanted to bleed them slow that sell humans as slaves, to break the knees of every father who beats his children, to make cowards behind masks who tear-gas and open fire in rooms full of innocent people beg to be spared. We live in an age that celebrates vigilante justice because we CRAVE justice and we see so few fighting for it. But I was confronted this summer with the realization that I serve a King who IS justice. Who tells me, "vengeance and recompense are mine." Who commands me to love those people I hate - for that is my role, and I have to trust that men who molest little girls will get theirs as He sees fit.
It was like this: if a twelve year old who bullies children smaller than he is needs love more than he would ever admit, how much more to the most despicable of creatures need it? Also: who am I to judge what the back of anybody's card says? Who am I to assume that any action done by another man is anything but some semblance of a cry for love and understanding and a plea for a shoulder to cry on or a voice to say, "I know, man, but there's another way?"
If my enemies are the enemies of justice, what am I to do with my King's reminder that I am supposed to love them? Or: what if early Christians felt the way I have felt against Saul, who murdered their own kind in the coldest of blood?
As a philosopher (not in the pretentious way, merely as a lover of wisdom), I love engaging in discussion about justice. What it means, how it looks, etc. But as one who is sick of roundabout reasoning and the disappearance of definition upon its examination, I have learned this summer that the only way to escape this endless cycle if heady talk an conflict and unreadable consensus is through love. An the only way to have this kind of love is through the knowledge of an relationship with the God who calls Himself love.
Imagine with me a world who saw Christians not as this Westboro nonsense or as Fox News enthusiasts or as terrible tippers or as high-horse riding, Bible face-punchers or as picketers or as condemners of "sinners" or as all of the things my people have been (deservingly) labeled, but as people who stood together and loved the unlovable (think of how difficult that is) and prayed for mass-murderers and rapists and wife beaters and forgave anybody who slaps us or those we love in the face. What if we left the judgment and justice to the One who separates wheat from chaff, goats from lambs, and treated everybody as not beyond redemption, as WE have been treated?
Imagine what that kind of body could accomplish for their King.
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.
>The only lamplight at the end of the street
I am in the process of developing this little thought process and thought that I would let you readers into the mix. I have accepted the fact that anything and everything said or written will be taken, twisted, perverted, warped, changed, misquoted, interpreted, searched for ulterior motives, chopped up and fed to the dogs that we call American society, but it doesn't really make it any easier to swallow; I am tired of also knowing that there is nothing that I can do about it.
The object of today's little discussion is one that would make what Conservatives heroically refer to as "The Founding Fathers" (to fall to an abhorred cliche) roll over in their graves: the first amendment to the Constitution. This is, for those waiting in their traps to ensnare the cynic inside of me, the sentence that declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." This is a statement that was written in excess of 300 years ago, so, like any proper reading of an old text, demands an aspect of understanding of the context surrounding the words.
Still buzzing from the high of rebellion and the insatiable need for reform, a panel of men assuming leadership positions in the infant country recently dubbed the United States of America felt the need for a few addenda to the newly written Constitution. Sparing you the boring details, nothing about the words has changed to this day, except for the people for whom it was written. The fledgling nation at the time was in a state of heightened unity, following the split from their mother country, and they were all breathing the fresh air of "freedom," in a time when it was more than a buzzword passed around by Fox News. This amendment was an assurance that the Government would not establish a nationwide religion, would not pass a law stripping you of yours, gave you the right to report whatever you wanted, and said that you could peaceably gather together for whatever reason that they wanted. It demanded a unity between the governing power and the body being governed, the very basis of the Republic that had been created.
The amendment still stands today, and is one of the major (and, arguably, few) things that separates us from a totalitarian society, thank God (Although it's interesting to note, as Noam Chomsky said, "In the totalitarian society, the leader says 'We're going to war' and everybody marches." Makes you think, huh?). What I don't think these men had in mind when they penned the first amendment, however, was the extremes to which it would be misused 300+ years down the road. It assumed a measure of fairness, of justice, of what was right in the eyes of the people, for it has always been "We the PEOPLE." If they had known that after the Monsanto situation with Bovine Growth Hormone being found in the milk we drink causing the unsettling consequences of it being ingested by humans and Fox News brushing it off that the court would rule, because of this amendment, that the media is allowed to say anything they want, even if it is a lie, it surely would have been reworded, at least. If they knew that because of this amendment, pornography distributors would drop materials off at schools and fight for their rights of "free speech," they surely would have thrown down their fuzzy wigs in disgust.
In an extremely long winded way, I think I am trying to say that I am sick of all of this "I'm protesting because I'm a free thinker and I have the God-given right to do so" mentality. For goodness sake, stop having your Tea-parties and your Gay rights marches and stop holding up your signs that say "Bush lied, men died" and put Clinton's Blue dress situation away and quit announcing that you save the whales in the uncharted regions of the Pacific and stop being fooled by all of the absolute nonsense that is political divisiveness. It's that time where absolutely nothing that you see on TV or in a movie or read in a book or a magazine or hear on a special news report, no matter how "fair and balanced" they pretend to be, can be accepted at face value, yet we live in a generation where everything is accepted as it comes to us. We have not just the power but a mandate to test everything we see and hear, whether it be from a teacher or from the pulpit, and anything less than that is cheating yourself and making a mockery of the One who gave you, among all of the animals that He created, the power of reason.
In an age when very little can be trusted, I find it all the more necessary to trust what we know is valid, not speculative or slanted. Throw away your political views, your religious affiliation, your divisive attitudes, and understand that it is completely illogical to believe that those things are the end-all to your existence. What were we created for if not to bring an Eternal God praise and adoration, to the end of time? Surely the mess that this world finds itself in, this competitive capitalist dogma and period of moral sludge, is reason enough to believe that when we try to do things ourselves, we fail. The more we stop believing in God, the closer we inch towards absolute destruction. As soon as you put your trust not above, but in the talking heads on the screen in front of you or in the man behind a podium with the Seal of our country at his back, the true horrors of what we can become unfold.
I remember distinctly one night as I was partaking in the joy of bottomless coffee and a texas bacon steak melt from Waffle house spotting a man sitting by himself in a booth and striking up a conversation with him. I don't like it when people are lonely, and this man looked lonely indeed, so I set out to fix that loneliness by giving him somebody to talk to. I told him hey and that I'd seen him there before and introduced myself as Hamilton, to which he replied that he was Steven and he was always at this Waffle House. We began to talk about the graphic novel he was reading on his computer screen and I told him that I hadn't read many graphic novels but that I immensely enjoyed the graphic novel that spawned the movie "Watchmen," which I had read around my freshman year in high school. He shared with me the joy of the art of comic books and graphic novels, which moved to his love of computers and on to his passion for learning.
This was a valid logic, I told him, because I recognized the frustration with things that could not be explained. I asked him what about ghosts, to which he said absolutely not. I chuckled in agreement and asked him what then about aliens, attempting to test his logic. "I see no reason why I should believe in extraterrestrial life, for it does not pertain to me at all," was his response. I pondered a second at this and asked him how, in an infinitely expanding universe where we are but a cell in the skin of the fabric of existence, he could reason himself to believing that no life exists anywhere else. I took no side, but merely questioned the logic with which he arrived at the definitive conclusion, as per his previous stance of only believing in things he could see or reason himself to. He acknowledged this thought with a nod and told me "what you want to believe, I'll be the last to stop you."
I knew exactly where he was headed with this and then asked him "so what about God?" At this, he immediately froze up and physically turned away from me. "I see no reason why I should believe in God," he said. I continued to ask, gently and without probing, another series of logical questions to try to get him to realize that his hypotheses had gaping holes in them, but he would have none of it. I assured him I was not attempting to convert him to a God-fearing citizen or bring him to the side of Christianity, but to merely have a conversation that stretched both my beliefs and his lack of them. He eventually excused himself from the restaurant and, with somewhat of a perplexed tone, told me he didn't think that "you people" (talking about Christians) knew how to think. I smiled and thanked him for the veiled compliment and offered to buy his coffee, but he refused, paid, and walked out the door.
What he said about Christians not thinking made me wonder for a minute just what it is we're called to do. I know that we are to trust and have faith and believe that God will be the guide to our path, but I think that in no way this excludes us from figuring out these things for ourselves. We are called to "test the spirits and see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1) and we are to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phillipians 2:12). I have seen the same trend that Steven referenced with Christians taking and accepting at face value everything they are fed, whether it be by a Preacher or a thinker that they respect or a friend who seems to have sound logic. I think that doing this completely perverts what we are expected to do, for the more comfortable we get in another's doctrine, the less it becomes our own. Salvation is not a topic that is corporate, it is a personal issue that is only attained through the personal recognition that Jesus is Lord and that He is the only way to God. We know that we are to follow Jesus as the Disciples did, but this means something completely different for everybody, as it first starts with belief. In order to have belief (as elementary as this is), you need to believe, and you cannot believe based on something that somebody told you. It needs to keep you up at night and bring you to tears in the car and force you to shut off all of the music and noise and motion and distraction around you so that you can focus your mind and heart on the God who will do anything but scream at you. Sometimes He will be cryptic and sometimes He will be vague, and other times He will be completely silent... Jacob wrestled with God in the desert all night, and only after that He was blessed. Nothing about this tells me we are to sit back and choke down what we is put in front of us.
>I sit with my chick-fil-a and water at a table surrounded by boys saying "Bro" and girls wearing pink sweatshirts adorned with Greek letters. Guy number one brags about how he could drink guy number two under the table and sister number one shoots me a dirty glance to tell me that my flannel shirt, jeans that have ripped from extended use, and unwashed hair are not welcome in their cafeteria. The boy across from me making it obvious that she is with him through gestures that I recognize from psychology as subconscious fear that this kid with his notebook open and a book of Shakespeare next to Dickens' Hard Times will somehow steal his sororrity girlfriend.
Of course, I recognize this and egg him on by looking up every few seconds to see him staring at me.
The University Center at UTC has been described to me as having three parts: Greece, Africa, and Everywhere else. Greece is a pit right in the middle of the dining area that is housed by makeshift banners from frat houses talking about thinking about rushing and a poster saying that Sigma Gamma Rho wishes the student body a happy Founder's Day and one from the SGA that congradulates freshmen for their hard work this semester, encouraging them to keep their heads up. All of these encouraging banners are supposed to describe the throng of arrogance and exclusivity sitting among me, for Greece is the only section that had seating available for a kid trying to do his homework.
Africa is what the layman refers to the upper crest of the bowl known as Greece as, and for reasons that are obvious but never stated. A fear of being ethnically or racially insensitive floods the thought processes of most people, so it surprises me that I was actually told that the predominantly African-American section of the UC was known as "Africa." They can't really get mad about that, I suppose (although they would try), because that's what they've been trying to be called for years now. AFRICAN-American. I sound very cynical and for that I apologize, I just find the issue of racism sketchy and infuriating and perpetuated by people who know less about the issue they're discussing than they do the history of their own culture (I'm referring to black AND white people here, for those quick to judge).
The rest of the UC was described as "Australia" although I don't really understand why. I see no Dingos or Boomerangs, I mean I don't even see any Alice Springs Chicken, so this CAN'T be Australia. No, I'll simply call it "everywhere else," for that is what it is. This nondescript stretch of people contains every other stereotype that isn't already represented, which I suppose would form a big, conglomerate stereotype. "We are everyone else."
But the pianist behind me sees none of this. He cannot see this, because he is hidden behind a tall backed upright piano, and he cannot hear the sounds around him, for the sounds of his emotions are running through his fingers and onto the faux-ivory keys. I cannot describe to you the symbolism running through my head with the genderless, raceless, body typeless person playing softly, as if under his breath to block out the chaos of the cafeteria around him.
>All play and no work has made Hamilton a very dull boy. I need a season to get here that involves me wearing something other than sleeves, jeans and socks at all times, because my skin needs to breathe, otherwise the paranoia cannot escape except through that conveniently placed hole in my head called my mind. You know that phenomenon up in Alaska where it's dark for months at a time? I have a feeling that horror movies happen daily up there, not because of some incessant amount of poorly scripted carnage but because without light, the darkness that surrounds the people seeps literally into the pores of their body, as vinegar will dissolve through the shell of an egg to achieve homeostasis.
It's funny, I've begun to notice recently a few truths about mankind (there will be exceptions to each rule, of course, and I am not in any way ruling myself out here but bear with me): We are, each of us, full of ulterior motives. Smiles are (for the most part) forced, as we are afraid to share our thoughts because we deem them either inappropriate or we recognize them for the schemes that they are. When we have something on our minds but we don't want to acknowledge it, instead of saying "yes I have something on my mind but I really don't want to talk about it yet," we say "nothing." Some might call this category "lying," but that might offensive to some.
The next thing I've noticed is that it is literally impossible for everybody to be happy at once. Compromise has become a four-letter word and a worst-case scenario. I'm talking both about the secular world and the Christian world (which may speak to a different problem, but that's a different rant entirely), as division happens in the church as much as anywhere else you could imagine. You cannot please both your friends and family, you cannot excel in school and work, you cannot focus on creation and retention without shifting your focus back and forth, unavoidably neglecting one or the other. It is not a malicious neglect either, but a necessary and absolutely inevitable neglect, and one that will probably be taken personally...
Which leads me to the next point, that man is the center of his own universe. This is the reason that we are incapable of agreeing with each other, because if we were focused on something other than ourselves for ten seconds we'd realize we are smaller than the most minuscule part on a massive technical contraption. I'm trying to take my own advice here, and I realize it's hard, but I also realize that it could be the solution to all of the problems countless causes and support groups are trying to fix. Think about it: if we really were thinking of somebody other than ourselves, we wouldn't need to assemble teams to take food to homeless people on the street, we would spend less time explaining why that guy is wrong and more time inviting him into our home when it's cold outside and loving him despite his opposite beliefs. But getting every person on this earth to think of somebody other than himself is impossible, and so crime rates will rise and murderers will be set free and no amount of money we throw will stop a war, as has been predicted since the beginning of time.
Perhaps I'm just bitter today. Perhaps I've been doing this thing where I can't seem to please anybody because I'm trying to please everybody, for I cannot choose who I should try to make happy and who isn't worth my time. I want EVERYBODY to be worth my time and I want the people I'm not looking at for the second to understand that it is not that I'm looking away from them, I'm looking at somebody else, for there is a huge difference. I only have one set of eyes, and I have a thousand staring, waiting for their turn for that contact. Perhaps I was just overwhelmed for the moment.
>It blows my mind how drained I get during the school year. I have lost that spark of creativity, although I can feel it peeking out from around the corner, waiting for the smoke to clear from the decimation of my brain by papers, exams, drama, and stagnancy. I don't believe that it has completely gone away, but rather that it simply can't stand all the nonsense it has to put up with throughout all of the formulaic essays and encroaching deadlines that are (unfortunately) synonymous with life. I can feel my knowledge growing and my wisdom expanding and my general thirst for enlightenment becoming more and more unquenchable each day but I have noticed a simultaneous decline in outlets for it. I funnel all of the erudite energy into four papers due within a week of each other and I find it completely sapped. I understand why Thoreau had to disappear into a cabin that he "built with is own hands" to create his musings at Walden, why Kant found excuse to shut himself in his room for weeks at a time as an excuse for his physical deformities, why Poe resorted to maddening fits of drug-induced hysteria to draft some semblance of a cohesive story or poem or whatever he was writing.
On the upside, I had a series of conversations over the past week over vats of coffee and abundant shivering in the recently onset cold of Chattanooga that gave me hope for the reinstatement of the drive I had not three months ago for this album in production. I also am in talks with the roommate for creating in the first week or so of Christmas break the perfect work environment for writing the most epic masterpiece of our century, filled with sticky notes and devoid of personal hygiene, regular sleep patterns, and inhibitions of creativity. Perhaps I'll journal through that experience and share it, but for the most part I feel kinda bad about leaving you guys in the dark as of late, but I shall validate it in my mind with the assurance that you are all as busy as I am.
And I am open to suggestions about new formats for this thing, instead of a clump of words. Should I express these things in iambic pentameter to allow for ease of reading and comprehension? Haiku? Sonnet? Should I record audio versions and speak them over a background of soothing harpsichord melodies? Should I take up photography?
Should I become the leader of the Free World?
>In these past two weeks, I've seen things that words cannot do justice. I've seen a group of Jamaican people being nothing short of shining lights in a culture that does not accept the message that they are trying to preach. I've seen a youth group who spent months working day and night to earn enough money to take a trip, but donate every penny to their church's building fund instead, without being prompted. I've seen firsthand the power of satan and his attempts to interfere with anything God is trying to do, and I've seen God send angels to battle on His behalf and shoot down all of the devil's evil work. I've seen older kids befriending younger ones and raising the up to their level and including them in the group, despite how unpopular it may be.
I've seen mountains so grand they disappear into the clouds above and I've seen expanses so white it stings the eyes, broken up only by the peaks of rolling hills. I've seen the vastness of cornfields across the midwest and realized that somebody has to work all of that ground by the sweat of their brow to provide things we can get in a five minute trip to the store. I've seen skies turn purple behind Chicago high rises with the sounds of slide guitar soothing the ears of over 70,000 people. I've felt the scorching heat of the northern sun and the cooling breeze refreshing the land coming off of Lake Michigan. I've seen a group of people giving away thousands of gallons of water to thirsty crowds when they could have been selling it at 2 dollars a bottle, and I've seen fire trucks hosing the masses to prevent heat exhaustion. I've heard a multitude screaming the same melody as a man with a microphone with fists in the air or their hands clasped tight around a lover's. I've felt the rush of sharing a common unforgettable experience with complete strangers and the connection that any peron from around the world can feel with music and those listening. I've compared the cheap buzz of beer in the hands of irresponsible youth hiding in a corner to the bone-chilling cries of passionate lyrics driven by drums and guitars and amps and the hard work of people who will never get recognized for it.
I've felt the heaviness of the distance between two hearts that are connected by longing and the palpable excitement that accompanies coming home. I've tasted on my tongue the joy of getting excited about something that is, to some, petty, but others, sublime. I"ve felt time rush by in a blurr of jumbled experienes and images and emotions, and I've felt it crawl across the barren interstates in Kentucky.
And I've looked at all of this, the majority of which cannot be documented with anything but firsthand experiene, and been perplexed that someone could believe that it all just happened.
>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.
>When I used to look at this day from the past, I imagined that by the time I hit 20, I would have all of this... stuff figured out. I saw 20 as a milestone of sorts, as that top of the hill after the battle of the teens and a kind of plateau before another climb towards middle age. I understood that I'd have issues to work through in High School and all through those awkward teen years, but I saw myself emerging at the end of the tunnel a different person than I walked in as. A man who understands things and has that general adult-esque knowledge of how the world works and how to fix problems.
I can honestly say that this is not how life works. Life is not dissected into stages, but rather it is one long stage that is timultuous and ever-changing. But I've been doing a lot of changing through the past year or so, and have managed to scrape together some semblance of a list of how I have "figured it out."
notice a pattern?
I honestly don't think that we're supposed to figure out everything the first go-around. If we figured out all of this mess without much of a fuss, what would be the point of celebrating old age or getting excited about birthdays or rejoicing in making it one more day?
Some things I have noticed, though, is that there are certain patterns that keep popping up that drive home the facts of life, and if we can grasp these, I think that the rest might come a little easier to our weary minds.
Love exists. It is the most perfect of all things we humans are capable of feeling. It can drive us to extents that were previously unreachable by our normal standards and cause us to behave in ways that our status quo would never allow. Love is what distinguishes the mundane from the sublime and is what takes the ordinary and makes it beautiful.
Another thing that I've noticed/learned is that nothing is as big a deal to anybody else as it is to you. Sympathy is a word that encapsulates what we have invented to use in situations where we need people to think we care just as much as they do. We may feel strongly about another person's situation, but nothing is ever as big a deal to somebody else as it is to that person, really no matter what the situation. The other side of this is that we think that everybody cares about all of our issues just as much as we do...
Segway into point number three: we act not for others, but for ourselves. This is why it surprises us and touches us so much when we see somebody legitimately act out of love not for himself but for others. We splotch up our selflessness and feel better about ourselves because we spent a week among the less fortunate, but turn our heads when a homeless man asks for money on the street, validating ourselves by whispering to our conscience, "he'll just buy booze with it."
I am not saying that I am exempt from anything I have said, and I am not trying to preach or even guilt trip anybody to do anything differently with their lives than they're doing now. I've just been thinking lately about how there's more to this game than people realize most of the time, myself included.
Ha, I've never taken so long to write one of these things, so it's probably all over the place. Perhaps one person will get something out of it though. Goodnight friends :)
>Sometimes it takes sitting in the dark of my room listening to my playlist on iTunes that I have spent a tremendous amount of sweat and effort making perfect called "Oh! So Epic" and indulging in great conversation with new friends to realize just how good I have it. I'm listening to everything from A Day To Remember to Emery to The Classic Crime to David Crowder to freaking Yellowcard to Django Reinhardt to Dogwood to The Early November to Edison Glass...even some Fall Out Boy thrown in for good measure. ahh.
I'm moving in with Matt and Ryan very soon to what will soon be the sweetest duplex that has ever happened. The creative energy that will be contained within the walls, if bottled, could provide Coca-Cola with enough material to advertise every new product they come out with or revitalize between now and when soft drinks are replaced by holographic representations of delicious thirst quenchers.
I'm also going back and forth between iTunes and this new track that's happening, the third track in the sequence of 12 that are going on the new record. This one is called "Swine," and takes place at a very specific moment in the main character's life. I am straight up jazzed about this track, because it is taking very drastic turns and is pushing me musically and creatively, not to mention stretching my boundaries at mixing and part writing.
Sometimes, it takes the most innocent and routine things to bring about incredible change. Today, it was the rain interrupting the heat that has been scorching our land for the past week. It has put people's minds at ease, it has quenched the thirst of the ground beneath our feet, it has moistened our dry spirits. It's very true: there is nothing quite like a summer rain.
>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?
>I would like to take a moment this morning before I leave for work to discuss something that will probably make some people mad.
We here in middle to upper class America have somehow developed this mentality that our standard for happiness is the correct one, and should be the standard of happiness for everybody worldwide. To these people, I offer these questions:
1) Why would anybody want to be held to the principle that happiness is equated with physical, tangible, burnable things? Why would we place our joy on the shoulders of something that can be ripped away from us as easily as it can make us smile? Why is it when we don't have our computers for a week we feel an emptiness in our lives that cannot be filled until its return? If money is what makes us happy, how can it be good when we have to make up excuses to not give it away? "Oh, that man is clearly going to buy drugs or booze with it." Do not misunderstand me, I'm not saying that it is right to give what you earn to the first person that asks for it (this is a topic for another day), all I'm saying is don't lie to yourself about your reasoning for being stingy.
2) Why would anybody want to be a part of a society where your status is determined by the neighborhood you live in, the college you go to, the grades you make, the computer you use, the restaurants you frequent, the girls you date, etc. I have met more brilliant people in Waffle House at 2 in the morning selling their paintings to get enough money for bus fare than I have listening to the complaints of people who are affluent enough to be able to whine that their steak isn't rare enough. I have heard the ideas of more intelligent thinkers who are addicted to heroin or meth or are working 3 jobs to pay their half of child support while waiting tables at Denny's than I have sitting in a class of people society has deemed "high brow" in an intellectual class at an expensive university. I have learned more about God from watching a child play in a pool than I have from 90% of the people that I meet in churches.
There are more, but I'm going to have to leave soon. I think what I'm trying to say is something that has been stated and overstated for years, and is, at its core a message of love. Something you can hold is something that can be taken away from you, so it is pointless to place your trust or joy in that thing. Find love though, and you will see that nothing can take it away from you for anything in the world. Find God and let me know not when you lose Him, but when He loses you.
>I spent my morning being serenaded by ...In Shallow Sees We Sail and playing Tony Hawk's skater 63 or something like that with KB. For the original xbox... Outdated, I know, but I don't have the gazillion dollars necessary to just give in and get the 360.
What am I even saying?
What I'm trying to say is that this is the perfect morning, the kind that I have referenced before in this little blog thingey, but honestly it deserves mention again. A good morning is key to having a successful day, and by key, I mean I don't think that successful days are possible without great mornings preceding them. Sleep that extra five minutes, get to work five minutes late, and spend the rest of your day five minutes behind, and just try to tell me that you had a great day. Or, you could get up a few minutes early, make a pot of coffee, listen to the birds harmonizing with the quiet of the breeze, the swaying of the leaves complimenting the glinting sunshine off of what's left of the dew coating the grass, and tell me what could possibly bring you down.
I think that this quiet time is among the most crucial moments of any Christian's life, and honestly anybody who misses it is, for lack of a better term, missing out. We all need to be less hassled, less in a panic, more open to paths that may divulge from the one we planned out. God only knows what you'll miss if you're more dead-set on your way than one somebody bigger than you has in store.
>For so many people, change is something that terrifies them to a point of debilitating hopelessness, and for good reason (at least to them). With change comes the inevitable uncertainty of what comes next, whatever that "next" happens to be. Perhaps a "next" place to live, a "next" car, a "next" paycheck, a "next" girlfriend, a "next" best movie in the world. These are all important things to certain people, each holding a place of unparalleled preponderance in the daily lives of the individuals that hold them up on their undeserved pedestals. The word "next" implies an almost unilateral view past the present and into the future, it infers an almost tunnel-esque vision into what is yet to come.
The thought of a junkie looking for his next fix conjures the image of a desperate man or woman who can do nothing until he obtains that fix. Again, the power of "next."
The problem with this word, despite the (?)positivity of constantly looking forward is that the present is simply nonexistent. I've never been much of a marathon runner myself and I doubt most of you have either, so imagine with me a runner on that final stretch of their grueling race, at the crest of the final tumultuous hill along their quest of endurance. The peak of the white banner signifying the end starts waving in his field of view, and all that stands between the agony the runner has endured thus far and the sweet and welcome relief of rest is a comparatively measly 100 yards. You tell me what this runner is focused on - the people that have flooded out of their houses lining the streets, the vast number of volunteer workers who have given up time and money to supply water, tables, powerade stations along the side of the course, the signs of encouragement held up by friends or family members running alongside them, or are they focused on the next steps their legs are going to take, how many of these next steps they need to reach their goal?
Do not get me wrong. I wish I could know for sure and I greatly respect those who do know, but I imagine that the sole focus of the runner at this point is on the banner waving ahead and the weary legs beneath their exhausted body. All surroundings, all implications of that runner's "present" are nothing but a blur, even an obstacle, in reaching their final goal.
Please please do not get me wrong or misunderstand me by thinking I'm telling you to live in the moment only, because that person is more supremely misguided than the one focused solely on the future. I do, however, believe that it is necessary to constantly be aware of where you are in the present, because there is no other place you can possibly be. You cannot be in the future. You cannot reside in the past. God has given each of us the GIFT of free will, a gift that can be used neither in the past nor the future. It is a the gift of our choice NOW.
A gift... or a present, if you will. Of course, we are to use this gift for His glory, but even that is left up to us to decide. But how can you be expected to use this gift of the present in the place where you are if you're trying to live in the future?
I guess what I'm trying to say, as trite and horribly cliche as it is, is stop and smell the roses. Recognize who it is that has gotten you where you are and be freaking thankful for everything that you have, because, as the government is proving daily, what you have can be taken away so quickly. Safety is nothing more than a fleeting warm spot in a freezing cold ocean; comfort is a word thrown around to represent what takes us off of our feet and down from our guard; hope has become a catchphrase thrown around by politicians of the right and left wings alike.
Love is a term used more frequently by 8th grade girls than married couples of 30 years.
Be sure you know what it is around you that stimulates your mind, that inspires or leaves you awestruck, that gives and takes away, understand the fragile line between life and death, and take all of the steps towards the only one that can make both life AND death as meaningful as anything you could possibly imagine.