“The essence of America lies not in the headlined heroes … but in the everyday folks who live and die unknown, yet leave their dreams as legacies.”
― Alan Lomax
“The essence of America lies not in the headlined heroes … but in the everyday folks who live and die unknown, yet leave their dreams as legacies.”
― Alan Lomax
Your identity is a cross, stretching out before and behind you, and to either side.
Behind: your past. Your personal history, with God and with Others.
Before: your future. The innocence, the untapped possibility of what your life could be.
To One Side: your pain, your shortcomings, the lies you currently live under that obscure your vision.
To the Other Side: the Image of God, as you have been uniquely positioned to reflect, through your gifts, passions, and character.
You are perpetually at the center of the cross,
surrounded by Life and Death
and God is There.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
“So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’” (Genesis 32:30)
A large part of my ministry school semester is dedicated to learning and experiencing intimacy with God, particularly in the way we are invited to honesty with the wounds and curses of our past. An intricate part of the Father Heart is that God is in the liberation business, freeing we poor captives from the things that would seek to choke us and keep us bound to the violent patterns of the world, drawing us in to a new reality so that
we may reflect that heart into the very same world that proclaimed death over us.
There is a particular exercise, lead by my mentor and friend Dan Green, that culminates a week of learning to examine, relinquish, and adore that deals with the curses that have been spoken over us since we were children. Now, when I use the word “curses”, don’t take that to the place of witches and voodoo dolls. I simply mean words that were said that became a reality we have since lived under, often because they were spoken by someone we looked up to and sought definition/provision/protection from. Quite simply in the lesson, we divide the whiteboard into two sections; on the left side, we write “Things I Wish I Never Heard”. We invite the Spirit to take the students into their pasts to root out those words that cut them deep, and we ask them to write these memories on the board. ”The rocks begin to float,” as Dan is fond of saying. It generally takes a moment for the words to come, but once they do, you’d be hard pressed to get in the way. Curses flow out like bile, one recognition leading to another and another. Faggot. You were a mistake. Bitch. You’re worthless. I never loved you. Bastard. You liked it. (silence). Some are obvious and held in common by many; others seem so painfully personal that you know there is a story there, boiling just below the surface of some seemingly innocuous words.
And the Spirit takes us deeper. It’s astounding, coming to terms with the fact that most of have never been permitted the sacredness of honesty before. We feel like we must diminish or control our reactions to the things that were said to us or done to us, but in doing so we never come to terms with our abuse. Our shame meets our illusory power and we buckle under the pressure of trying to maintain composure. Society, and often the church itself, tell us that we must hide our pain in order to survive. We must not get angry. We can’t demand justice for wrongdoing. We can’t point the finger and say, “you did this to me”. All the while, and single word or touch in our precocious youth sets off a chain reaction of guilt, coping, medication, numbing, and transference. Add to that the expectation to change surface behaviors to “look” more christian (stop looking at porn! don’t drink beer! why are you looking at that girl!) heaps coals upon a head already scorched by guilt. We come to hate ourselves, our community, and God.
The Holy Spirit pierces through our need to diminish or contain our grief. He leads us by the hand into our pain, and asks us to confront it for what it truly was. Even as we lash out and vomit forth what has been bottled up for so long, He is so patient and tender in holding our pain through the process until we get it all out. One particular student came to the realization that his uncle sexually molested him from the time he was eight. He told his parents about it, but they chose to ignore him; they actually kept taking him over to his grandmother’s house, where his uncle lived. We all listened through a baptism of tears as he told us his story. His emotional reaction intensified as he continued to speak what he was remembering. He went from being dismissive, to disappointed, to full on rage. WHAT THE FUCK. WHAT THE FUCK WERE THEY THINKING. Finally, he stood up, lunged at the board, punched the words he had written that had unearthed this memory, and ran out of the building.
I promptly got up and chased him outside. I found him a total mess, weeping and heaving uncontrollably. All I could do in that moment was to hug him and say “it’s not okay” over and over, barely keeping my own emotions together in it. As the moment passed, I consoled him briefly and we wandered back into the classroom. Immediately, we encountered another of my students collapsed on the floor, convulsing and screaming under the pressure of his own curses. All the other students were surrounding him, holding him and praying as he yelled, “JESUS I NEED YOU! JESUS I NEED YOU!” And what does the first student do? He immediately jumps right in to hold his brother, interceding and lifting him up to the Healer. That, dear friends, is heaven to me. Confounding the powers of darkness.
You see, the first student’s admission brought with it a thick, heavy spirit of truth that unlocked a whole mess of repression in the others in the room. We discovered that of the eight of us, five had been sexually molested as children. Every one of us had been cursed, ground in to the dirt, made to dance and perform, and stripped of our humanity. The uncovering of truth had left us all viciously raw as eventually we moved to the second portion of the exercise on the right side of the board. We wrote “Things I Wish That I Had Heard”. As many times as I’ve walked through this lesson with my students, I am consistently taken by how unfamiliar we are with the language of blessing in our own lives, the real tangible life-stuff. Many of us simply don’t have the experiences to say what we’ve always wanted to hear others say to us. After a bit of prompting, the students were able to throw out a few phrases that they knew were things God was supposed to have said about us from scriptures. No one seems particularly convinced, with the wall of curses glaringly hovering from the other side of the board. After a few more strained minutes, Dan suggests, “how about this?”
You could feel the collective exhale at seeing those words scribbled across the board. Yes, if only. If only someone had said they were sorry. If only someone had taken responsibility for what they said to me. For what they did to me. It’s not so much that we each wanted wrath-as-justice on our abusers, but that we desired mercy, for them and for ourselves. We wanted to be allowed our humanity as we allow them theirs. When I saw those words on the board next to the words-of-death, it hit me like a lead weight. That was the revelation of the cross. I’m sorry. I take responsibility. Jesus took upon himself, not only the sins we have committed, but the sins committed against us by others. Every word, every action, every wound, every moment of neglect and abandonment, he assumed responsibility for our suffering in such a way that we no longer have to live under their oppression. And as I felt the full impact of this revelation in light of the personal histories pain and abuse in that room, I began to weep. It was not fair. It wasn’t fair for him to take that wrath upon himself. He was so perfect, so spotless.
I’ve never been comfortable with this doctrine that insists God poured His wrath upon Jesus at Golgotha. To me, the idea that God is angry with us, and we’re lucky Jesus stepped in to incur his father’s wrath on our behalf seems contrary to the unitive character of the trinitarian God I’ve come to know and be known by. Yet Jesus suffering man’s wrath on man? I understand that. I’ve been on all sides of it. I have been broken under the hatred of another human being, and I have lashed out those very same wounds I have received. As it has been done to me, so I have done to others. ”Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).
SO. Let’s talk about forgiveness. Let’s talk about what happens when Jesus shows up. Let’s talk about Peniel, and how there were the twenty-odd years before my student encountered God face-to-face, and then there’s been every day since then. Let’s talk about how our lives have been spared, not by an angry god who seeks to hurt us, but by one who shows us our humanity so that we may be blessed.
I’m beginning a new series exploring the specifically American religious experience, from the earliest parish music and sacred harp songs to gospel. There’s a quote by Flannery O’Connor that has always intrigued me:
“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”
This project will continue on and build upon the aesthetics of my previous work, W(REST)LE. You can still purchase a copy of that here from Sunshine Ltd, and there’s a nice review here that sums up what I was attempting to explore.
If I truly respect him, I must betray him.
A few people have asked me my thoughts on the newest book by Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God. The timing was apropos, as this time of year as of recent often brings about criticisms and examinations of Rollins’ concept of “atheism for Lent“, where one endeavours to give up God for these forty days by focusing on the writings of Nietzsche, Marx, etc. I just read a blog which Rollins himself intends to respond to sometime soon, so it will be interesting to see what comes of this dialogue. To me, the most interesting reading can be found in the comments sections of various blogs and counter-blogs in the, shall we say, folk-theologian circles. The irony particularly arises in the at-times blind reactions of the Devout in such ways that they betray the intentions of the Teacher. The Devout spit, curse, and defend to the bone the sanctity of what they consume from the table of the Teacher from those they believe to be Detractors, but in doing so they nullify the message through their words and attitudes. I find this especially prevalent in those who allign themselves with more post-modern, deconstructionist thinkers, often in the emerging conversation. Their leaders teach the necessity of being critical and subverting the norms of any given theology and shaking of the ritualistic dead faith of the previous generation, and many scarf it down as pure gospel because it inadvertently justifies the pain and dissatisfaction they have with “mainstream/evangelical” Church. So they simultaneously defend a theology that if truly enacted would lead them to a place where they critique the new message as well as the old, rather than jumping on a new bandwagon for the sake of tribal identity.
Specifically in terms of “atheism for Lent”, I get it. I think. We can assume the prayer of 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart that says, “God, ride me of God” as a way to tear down our idolatrous reductive ideas of who/what God is exactly, thus exposing the fertile soil for Truth to root itself and grow. In my own life, there have been many times where the ideas from the terrifying “outside” have brought me to a new place of understanding either through a rest or trauma found in exploration of the Unknown. Indeed, much of that journey over the past three years of my life has come from Peter Rollins’ work; his books, his lectures, his podcasts. We even had the honor of hosting him at our church in the fall of 2011 as he was switching gears to flesh out the newest book. His reorientation of definitions and process have transformed so much of what I had until then taken for granted. Yet, as we come to yet another lenten season, I find myself less enthused by rehashing this idea of taking up atheistic views of God and the World. The place of trauma actually for me comes from the other side of the spectrum, being confronted in my daily life and my theological perspective by the New Charismatic movement. Bill Johnson, Todd White, and others have caused me to walk that same path as Rollins has before, to allow the light of Truth to shine into the dark places of my own idolatrous thoughts and shake up the status quo found therein. What am I to do with these stories of healing, the proclamation of my value as a Son, the movements of the Holy Spirit in such powerful, daresay biblical, manifestations? Perhaps it is time we developed a “Charismania for Lent”, so that none of us become too complacent and smug in our faith.
So, here’s my thoughts on where’s Peter Rollins’ project has arrived with The Idolatry of God, for what it’s worth. I guess my particular critique as of right now focuses on this idea of looking to “God” for satisfaction. Much of this hinges on my recent thoughts on hope, which you can find in abbreviated form here. Essentially, that we find ourselves straddling a tragic gap between the despair of the world as we experience it, and the hope of heaven as we take it by faith. I think Rollins is speaking truth when he says that we treat God like some magical objects in the panoply of other objects that promise us instant gratification and the avoidance of pain or suffering. Often we treat God as a tool that is available for our true pursuit of What We Really Want, whether it be success, happiness, wholeness, etc. As Paul Tillich says, we all have faith in something, whatever that thing is that is the ultimate concern of our lives, the thing we chase after with a centered act of every part of us. And much of Rollins’ work has been untangling the mixed messages that have brought us to this place where God becomes idol, where we must confront that fact that we have made to little of [God], and that [He] hasn’t delivered, and that we aren’t happy or satisfied. But it seems to me that ultimately Rollins has become to ham-fisted in his approach to burning down the whole structure of religion; he’s thrown the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to the relational aspect of the divine. From what I can tell, he has worked the Personhood of God out of the equation so that God can be a perspective or a subjective experience that informs the rest of our lives. And I wouldn’t have a problem with that if he didn’t go about it in such a way that eradicates the former attributes. There must be a way to hold both understandings of God in a creative tension, that He is that which transforms our lives, yet is also a Person who desires relationship with His creation.
I would say that Rollins can be, at times, guilty of the very same thing he identifies in the fundamentalist: he needs to make the wrinkles of faith disappear. He needs there to be no God, at least not one that resembles the Person of traditional, historic christianity, in order to let go of the promises of faith and the inherent disappointment that succeeds them. He turns many complex concepts into binary arguments that deny the inherent tension to know God and be known by Him. In this way, he nitpicks the words of Jesus or the theology of Paul to prop up his Lacanian tradition, rather than subverting that process in the tradition of the theologian. Were he a philosopher in the footsteps of his hero Slavoj Zizek, he would critique religion from the perspective of philosophy (whether “from the inside” or “from the outside”), that would be something else altogether. And perhaps this is even the place for many, including myself, to cut Rollins some slack. We cannot expect our philosophers to also be our pastors, and vice versa. Perhaps it is unfair for me to engage with his work with the same mentality I would of, say, NT Wright or Jean Vanier or others who are more firmly planted in the pastoral vocation. But to choose what verses support his deconstructionist philosophy, devoid of the Whole, is to do the same things that he has accused the conservative veins of christianity of doing. Where they often choose to ignore doubt, ambiguity, and loss, Rollins forsakes relationship with the Trinity, the hope of the glory, because maybe it just seems too good to be true. Sometimes he makes God seem the enemy of Jesus in much the same way the previous generation told us that God hated us and Jesus stood up to this angry God and took our wrath upon himself. Where Paul speaks often of loss, hardship, and suffering of life, it was his understanding of the character of heaven that made those things worth persevering, not his admittance to this world being all there is. For both Jesus and Paul, it was the creative tension of transcendent experience, personal relationship, and steadfastness of faith in the face of apparent defeat that defined them.
Is it idolatrous for us to say we know our Beloved? Or does our knowledge rather act as an icon, in that what we know and the way in which we allow for that which we don’t know to point to “the thing beyond the thing”, the True Identity of the Other. I know that my beloved cannot satisfy every whim of my desire, nor can she answer all my questions. We are remiss to seek validation in another person. But when I stop being so concerned with seeking relationship in order to get answers, to serve my real pursuit of self-gratification, I seek relationship because I was designed to do so. To know and be known. I don’t give up on relationships altogether if they disappoint me. One of my favorite quotes from Rollins is his definition of true love: “I never knew I needed you until I met you. And once I met you I realized I couldn’t live without you”. The desire for the Other comes as a result of something deeper than the need for answers or selfishness. It comes from the revelation of Love, a law that “knows no ‘should’”. This is the kind of relationship we have to the divine, not one where all our questions get answered and everything is fixed instantaneously, but one in which we find definition and purpose. The tension between the Reality of this World and that of Heaven keeps this relationship living and active. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen…”
This is the danger of not having a narrative theology, whether you attest to believing it but don’t allow it to translate into the way you live you life (as the fundamentalists do), or disavow it altogether (as Rollins tends to do). You are able to sift through the scattered testimonies of scripture to find the jewels that best suit your worldview, without needing to be confronted by the terror of those other perspectives that shake us up and challenge our notions time and time again. Yet that continuous invitation to conviction is the key to a faith that is Spirit-infused and alive. That is how can can work out our faith through fear and trembling AND approach God with freedom and confidence.
I could go on and on about this man and his work, the tremendous insight I have gained from his wisdom, how it has grown me in such beautiful ways, how I pass it along to my own students and community as a way to help them live in the midst of their own faith. But I cannot follow him into a tensionless world, where all the wrinkles of life are ironed out for a more comfortable, and ultimately too-grounded philosophy that betrays the meeting of God in the thick darkness, and meeting motivated by faith that leads to hope.
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23).
I love Star Trek. Unequivocally, passionately, I love it. Since I was a boy watching with my father, I have been enraptured with the franchise’s depth and enduring heart. You see, for me, science fiction (and I suppose art in general) is most arresting when it allows us to live in the midst of our own lives and the difficulties therein. By casting the human experience into a universe where just the right amount of suspended disbelief is encouraged, we can cast aside those things that would prevent us from engaging in the Big Questions. I recognized pretty early on that the fantasy aspect of the series enabled Roddenberry and his team to address the weighty issues of the day: civil rights, corporate greed, friendship, you name it. As the show became other shows and a series of films, Star Trek started to hit at the Really Big Questions: What does it mean to be human? What motivates us at the core? What makes life worth living?
Yet the real allure of the show to me is the way in which they explored these questions. Star Trek has a fundamentally optimistic worldview. Good always triumphs over evil in the end, even when things get really messy (Borgs, Dominion, Ceti Eels, Neelix’s cooking) or heroes compromise their moral fiber for a time. You knew every episode that good would prevail, not only to prevent evil, but to actually make the universe a better place to live. The whole mantra of the show typified this perfectly: “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
New worlds, new life, new civilization. New possibilities.
At the other end of the televised spectrum, we have the behemoth that is syndicated crime dramas. You know the type. Every couple of years some big shot thinks up a new way to recycle the tried-and-true formula of the mystery murder. Sometimes they use numbers, sometimes they commune with spirits, sometimes they ride bikes. Whatever the gimmick is the plot is always the same: there has been a grisly murder, and the protagonists have 23-43 minutes to figure out whodunnit. Why these shows are so popular is another conversation altogether (maybe our morbid curiosity with death?), but they make apparent that this type of thinking contains a fundamentally pessimistic view of the world. Yes there are good guys and bad guys, yes there is usually resolve within the allotted timeframe, but not in the same way we find in a show like Star Trek and its ilk. The drive behind the shows are not about stepping into the open possibility of life and seeking newness, but merely attempting to slow down the [inevitable] decay of the world. The heroes are trying to figure out what already happened so that some weak sense of justice may be carried out. The world is not a better place by the time the credits roll. Humanity just hasn’t imploded as quickly.
Ah, you say, this is all very well and good, but what does this have to do with the Kingdom of God, Ryan? Are you to insinuate that heaven is like the Star Trek universe, in which we are all basically good, working towards perfection? And that CSI:Miami typifies the defeatist attitudes of the World? Perish the obvious thought.
I don’t see this dichotomy in entertainment as merely the abstract theological difference between the Kingdom of heaven and the Empire of said World. The far more sinister, and indeed far more applicable conversation is to identify this within the Church itself, and indeed within our own hearts.
When our “faith” is hopeless, we only seek to put band-aids on all the things that are wrong in our lives and the lives of those we purport to minister to. We naturally gravitate to a practical theology that offers a grim outlook on the world, and a negative perspective on what it means to be human. We even become preoccupied with, even obsessed with, brokenness and evil.
At the heart of this hopeless outlook is our misunderstanding of what “the gospel” is. Perhaps it was the alarmist reactionary streak in certain strands of Western christianity that transformed the core message from identity to guilt, but regardless of the source, so many of us grew up under the thumb of a message that sought to control and hold us down under the glaring eye of an angry God who is holding back his wrath until the appointed time. Indeed, this message has been repackaged over-and-over in our culture to suit those whimsy of people who think that God’s love and its repercussions for humanity are simply Too Good To Be True. So we learned the best we can hope to achieve [usually by our own merit] is to maintain the “blank slate” that is the forgiveness offered us at the crucifixion. We struggle to hone in on the sins in our lives and throw ourselves into a masochistic legalism, where we beat ourselves trying to rid the body of sin. We re-enact the role of the flagellants in medieval Europe, but our new instruments of torture are far more subversive than cords and whips and that stripy spikey leg-wrap thing.
If “the good news” was “Jesus died for your sins”, then we spend or time dealing with sin in our lives, contending with guilt and shame until we can bring ourselves to that clean slate. Life is about maintaining zero, and spending an enormous amount of time and energy focused on the flesh. Additionally, it matters very little what Jesus said or how he lived his life; we see the Virgin Birth and the Crucifixion/Resurrection as the whole sweep of the story. And I’m not suggesting we devalue the cross, or elevate Jesus’ teachings and praxis to a place where they eclipse the transformational work found therein and Christ becomes merely another philosopher in the pantheon with Plato, Confucius, et al. But what does Jesus say is the good news, before he ever climbs Calvary? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”, and with it, woven into it, revelation of intimacy with Father, our identity, our inheritance. More than a clean slate that brings us to zero, but a new world in which to live. So we seek to make that a reality in every fabric of our being. The cross then becomes the vehicle through which the good news is fully realized in a broken world. If we grasp this, we stop simply living by the mercy of God, and start living by the grace of God.
Sometimes it seems culture is so rapidly consuming of itself that we’re headed in to some sort of artistic quantum singularity, an ouroboros-like feedback loop that will invariably consume itself and nothing will be left but a few broken 7″s and a headache. Or maybe I’m just getting nostalgic in my own age, which prompts me to write a sentence like that. Ouch.
2012 was the year my nineteen-year-old self snuck up behind my twenty-eight-year-old self and gave him a high-five. Not only have I been drawn into recalling those precocious years of my youth, but several old ghosts from that time period reared their heads and put out new music this year. So I’ve decided to order my year-end list on that scale. Here goes:
TOP RELEASES THAT MADE ME MISS COLLEGE:
1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor- “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!”
I was kicking myself for not being the first one to hear about this record. I know, a silly thing to get possessive over, but GY!BE have probably been the most important band to me over the past ten years, if not my favorite. Few have done more to shape my aesthetics and my politics as this ensemble. A mere two weeks before its release, the band announced the first new recorded music since 2003. Suitably, I made the decision to rectify the mistake of last year and go see them live. The album and the show were both exactly what you’d expect from Godspeed; familiar but never quite comfortable. At first, the drone pieces seem a little too long, and the full tracks verge on relying to heavily on the formula of the past. But what I hear below those initial impressions is a band completely independent of its own expectations, seeking authenticity in a culture that tries to simultaneously lionize and violently deconstruct its heroes. This is irony-free music in an age that has no bearing to what it means to be genuine anymore. As some other review brilliantly observed, GY!BE are more about the emotional window through which we peer at the world than the subject matter itself. Allelujah! is, for me, a welcome reminder of those initial raw feelings I first got holding the artwork from their masterpiece Lift yr. Skinny Fists in my hands a decade prior.
2. Sigur Ros- Valtari
Honestly, Sigur Ros’ last album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was a bit of disappointment to me. Mostly I think it is because I expect too much of the guys. When it comes to innovative bands with staying power, we simultaneously demand evolution, yet throw tantrums when it’s not “like the old stuff”. Sigur Ros is that band band for me; Radiohead less so. Valtari, however, was the album I’ve been waiting for these gentlemen to release for nigh on eight years. Since 2002′s ( ) I’ve found their EP work to be the place where Sigur Ros were freed up to experiment and take their time constructing slow-burn ambiance that has few peers in terms of a well-worn tapestry of sound. This year’s release seems to be a mature band not fighting what it is they do best. It took several listens to even distinguish between tracks, which is no band thing for a band that has always been in tune to providing an in-depth listening experience over mere entertainment. There are rumours of a new album very soon that is to be a dramatic change even from what they have woven together here, and I look forward to seeing what they are capable of as they enter the upper eschalons of post-rock as elder statesmen of the beautiful drone.
3. The Locust- Molecular Genetics from the Gold Standard Labs
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat, as it’s not new music per say, but a collection of all the Locust’s early work before their Anti- debut Plague Soundscapes. It also rounds out nicely three releases from my favorite three bands of the past decade. What I love about this compilation is that it tracks the Locust’s evolution from a scraggly hardcore band in 1995 to the progenators of noise-weirdness that put them in such company with such luminaries as Lightning Bolt, Black Dice, and Pink and Brown. Plus, at forty-four tracks, you feel like your get your money’s worth. Highlights for me are the deep deep cuts “Flash’s Theme” and “the Perils of Believing in Round Squares v2″.
4. Brian Eno- Lux
Thus far, I’ve only been able to stream this album through various host sites for a day or two, but hey, it’s Brian Eno. His past couple release through Warp have been interesting (A Small Craft on the Milk Sea and Drums Between the Bells, both collaborative records), but I feel this is Eno is his natural state. His attentiveness to the details, the smallness of sounds has always attracted me to the more ambient works of his solo career, and Lux finds it’s place in that oeuvre quite comfortably. I read an article recently about how the relational lobe in our brain shuts down when we feel threatened, forcing us to abandon human decency for animal reactions to fight. Eno’s work at it’s most profound level has sought to overcome these chemical functions and bring us to a place of serenity that surpasses our original programming. As with many of Eno’s releases, you feel as though there is more to the album than just the music, even if that’s all you have to go by. This will be my writing music for 2013.
5. Aesop Rock- Skelethon
I don’t exactly remember which hip-hop album was the first to really grasp me and burrow itself into my noggin, but I can tell you that Aesop Rock’s opus None Shall Pass was the one that stuck with me the most. Perhaps all the experimental, indie-whatever rap that I had listened to prior was to prepare me for this man’s singular genius. Needless to say, Aesop’s contribution to this year’s musical parade serves as a bookend to the past release as a brutally honest autobiography. Divorce, record label collapse, and mental breakdowns all contribute to an album rife with deep, deep introspection. Indeed, save a couple sung verses from Kimya Dawson, this album is solely Aesop, a rarity amongst rap albums. He puts you in his head, leaving you to decipher the countless twists and turns of imagery and word by yr lonesome. This is a thick musical journey.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:
The Mountain Goats- Transcendental Youth
I can’t imagine another musician who has been so consistent in his output over the past ten years as John Darnielle. Yet another fantastic album full of fleshed-out characters and beautiful turns-of-phrase, all conveyed in Darnielle’s signature nasal bleat.
Deerhoof- Breakup Song
Deerhoof are the perennial soundtrack to Hanna-Barbera cartoons and sunny days for me. There is not one aspect of this band that I don’t like. Monolithic rhythm section. Perfectly tuned dual guitars. Tiny little japanese girl vocalist. Just the right amount of noisiness and pop. Highly recommended.
The Sea and Cake- Runner
1997′s The Fawn has consistently been one of my favorites records since I discovered it in the used section of our store in St. Augustine. For some reason I never kept up with their output since then until recently, and I can still say that the Sea and Cake are still one of Chicago’s best bands of the past decade.
Mount Eerie- Clear Moon + Ocean Roar
To be honest, I haven’t fully absorbed these two releases from Phil Elverum’s Mount Eerie just yet, but what I have heard is pretty grand. Another stupendously consistent songwriter and musician.
Nick Zammuto’s solo record didn’t make much sense to me at first. I loved the now-defunct Books, and expected something in the same vein as their musique concrete vs. freak-folk cacophony; there is an element of his previous work here, but Zammuto is far more a rock-oriented affair. Not to say its conventional by any means. He still retains the nostalgic sampling of his previous band’s output, but his guitar takes a front-and-center position here. After several listens and watchign them open for Explosions in the Sky, it all made more sense.
Oneohtrix Point Never+Tim Hecker- Instrumental Tourist
Oren Ambarchi: Audience of One, Raga Ooty, Sagitarrian Domain, Connected
Om- Advaitic Songs
Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II
Converge: What We Love We Leave Behind
Matthew Dear: Beams, Headcage EP
Jack White: Blunderbuss
Max Richter: Reworking of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2012
Baroness- Yellow and Green
BEST RECORD FROM 2011 THAT I DIDN’T HEAR UNTIL THIS YEAR:
Apparat- The Devil’s Walk
RECORD FROM 2012 THAT I STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH:
Death Grips- The Money Store
You are constantly surprised when you realize, time and again, that confession and repentance are the key to unity with God. Why is this the case? And why is it not natural yet, a process of life as integrated as breathing or drinking?
You once had someone close to you, with tears in her eyes, ask, “will it always be this painful? Is it always this hard with God?” With a heart broken open, you told her it gets easier, that the process of telling the truth to God and allowing Him to move in healing slowly becomes more familiar and transpires more quickly. At some point it becomes a welcome ordeal, because it means freedom; the benefit outweighs the pain. And you hope yourself that those words are true.
Confession invites you to stop lying and live in the truth. As a whole, redeemed person your lived-in admission of your weakness is at the core of your true strength. Repentance no longer means to you, “I’ll promise to do better”, but rather, “I’ll acknowledge today my need for your loving guidance, lest I think I can do this on my own”. Your mind is being transformed from one of illusory independence to one in constant need of the Person of Jesus.
Later in the day you recognize you aren’t quite the same person you were when you woke up. You’ve changed a little bit more; you’re living more comfortably in the new skin He has wrapped you in.
Faith will lead you to the place where your mind, heart, and soul will gradually accept confession as the beautiful window to freedom-in-weakness that it really is.
The pain of confession and repentance is that the change-over does not come immediately. You often get off your knees wondering if it made a difference, wondering if you really meant it. It’s not until your admission of weakness sinks back into your unconscious self and leaves the pertinent matters of the day to the conscious that transformation truly occurs. You’re not looking for it anymore. You don’t seek the reward of a good performance, but rather you have let your faithfulness stand for itself without needing to be propped up by results.
“And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)
The lights of this world are but a dull reflection of the Truth, the Light of God. You should know your light is just an approximation of His light.
But this is okay.
You choose to let that light shine a little brighter, day-by-day, until that time as the glory of God is fully revealed. You can’t do it on your own.
Does a candle understand the sun? No, but it does bear a resemblance. So too, you resemble Christ. As he draws you in, you reflect his image ever more than the day before this one. It is his good pleasure to send the Advocate to help you along the way.
Trust that the day is coming when His light shall be fully revealed, in you and through you. You will live out of such a place of accuracy that worship will become effortless. There are all sort of little lamps in this world (Genesis 1:14-18) that may appear worthy of your worship, whether it be people or ideas or emotions or religion itself, but trust that His is the Truest. He is the source. His light will consume your light, and you will be brought back in to completion. Back to fullness. You will be what you were always intended to be: a little candle consumed by the sun.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by the pretty lights of this world. It can be easy to think them the best, most glorious source for you to attach yourself to, but you will find they burn out soon enough. There is only one flame that won’t ever burn out, and it is available to you right now.
I had the honor this past semester to take my students to Poland for our mission trip. We are associated with a small church upstart there in Warsaw, and our primary goal was to spend time with them, encouraging them and aiding them in what Father has called them to be in their city.
One of the main things I wanted to do while in Poland was to visit a Nazi death camp. I knew, in certain terms, that the specters of nazism, communism and a institutional catholicism still haunted the Polish people, and I wanted our team to have a first-hand experience of what happens when a “big idea” is pushed and twisted in such a way that individuals can divorce themselves from responsibility to the larger atrocities. We headed out to Lublin and the most complete camp still in existence, Majdanek. It was a harrowing moment; everything is almost exactly as it was when the Russian troops descended on the camp on July 22, 1944. The nazis had no time to destroy the evidence of what had taken place there over the previous three years.
I knew the process of walking through this place would not necessarily be an easy or enjoyable one, but I wasn’t sure how to receive what i stood in the midst of. We often tend to filter our own experiences through an anticipation of how we’re supposed to feel, and I wanted this trip to be one that was pure and honest. Perhaps the most powerful revelation for me was walking down a pebbled path between the barracks, hearing my own footsteps crunch in the wet stones, and realizing I was walking where these nazi soldiers had walked. Young men, not so different from me. Caught up in a big idea. Snowballed in lies until they couldn’t sort through the reality of what they were doing. I was overcome with sadness as I realized that the same spirit that drove them to partake in such an oppressive and destructive regime was also in me. It was uncomfortable to say the least.
The bus ride back to Warsaw was not a joyous experience. In my attempts to fall asleep, I found tension building within me. I was still wrestling with my experience in Majdanek, I was fighting frustration at my team for [what I selfishly perceived] was their attempts to shut out the reality of the concentration camp and pretend life is dandy, and I was frustrated at myself for my own inability to overcome my bitterness and selfishness. Eventually I began to dialogue with Father about all these pains I was grasping so tightly, trying to ask for forgiveness yet remaining unwilling to let it go. Have you ever found yourself in that sort of tension? I was keenly aware of the theological answers to my disillusionment, but I could not will myself to fully hand it over to Him.
There was a girl sitting next to me on this bus. She was young, probably in her early twenties. From the moment I sat down I hadn’t once made eye contact or even looked at her; from what our friends told us that sort of thing is not as culturally acceptable in Poland as it is in the States. As we were nearing downtown Warsaw and I continued hash out this internal battle, there was one peak-of-a-thought that escaped through the cloudiness to God: “Lord, what do you want to say to this girl?” It was just a squint of a prayer in the midst of my selfishness. But God is faithful. He immediately gave me an image of this young lady knitting a woolen hat, not unlike the one I was wearing at that moment. Right over the image I saw the word COMFORT. Needless to say, I did NOT want to share with this girl. The prayer had been an accident, I wasn’t in the right mental space to minister to a stranger. ”Okay God,” I said, “if this is something you want her to know, then you can communicate it to her through the Spirit, and I’ll know it’s real”. Silence; nothing happened. Hmm. There was an anxiety building within me, almost like it was filling up my spine. I have learned over the past year to translate that feeling as genuine revelation of the Spirit and not my stuff. I spent another 20 minutes or so going back-and-forth over whether I should say anything to her, all the while struggling with my personal hurt of the day. Finally, I drew up the courage to say something.
“Excuse me, do you speak English?”
“Are you a christian?”
“Has God ever spoken to you?”
Sigh. “Well, I was just sitting here asking Him if He had anything to say to you, and he gave me this picture,” I described to her what I saw. “I think He wants you to know that He’s gifted you with a strong ability to comfort others. Even in small things, like a word or your presence, you carry a powerful spirit of comfort. And He loves to watch you step in to that. The most insignificant things you may do to comfort others delight Him.” I paused. “Is that weird?”
“A little bit.”
“yeah, that’s weird. I’m sorry. But just think and pray on that.” I went back to staring holes in the back of the seat in front of me.
Two minutes later we arrived at our stop. I quickly gathered my things and exited the bus, but as soon as I did, I felt this tremendous release of anxiety and self-deprecating frustration. As I spoke of it to my friend Jozef about it, I recalled this profound epiphany my dear friend David has spoken of in his sermon a month prior. At the end of the gospel of John, Jesus appears to his disciples as they are fishing. After a miraculous catch and some breakfast, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Peter replies. ”Then feed my lambs,” Jesus says. Again, Jesus asks the same question, and Peter responds with the same statement. “Then feed my sheep,” Jesus says. The third time Jesus asks him, Peter is hurt. ”Lord, you know all things. You KNOW that I love you.” ”Feed my sheep,” Jesus says a final time.
David said this was Jesus actively forgiving Peter for his denial on the advent of the crucifixion. I first I didn’t make the connection outside of the number three, but then it hit me. Forgiveness is not simply a few nice words and a clean slate. True forgiveness from God gives us opportunities to demonstrate forgiveness. To sit in it as a way of life, to swim around in it and breath it in. To be saturated by the reality of forgiveness. Jesus was forgiving Peter by giving him a mandate to love those who desperately needed it. To respond to his forgiveness, not as a way to earn it, but as a way to experience it to the fullest.
God forgave me on that bus ride to Warsaw, and it wasn’t through simply making my frustration go away, but by providing an opportunity to administer His kingdom into the world. It was through feeding one of His lambs. That revelation has transformed my understanding of His forgiveness and grace. I was empowered by the Father Heart to release my idolatrous expectations of His children and share love in some small way with a complete stranger.
So when you find yourself overcome by wretchedness, inadequacy, frustration, petition your Father. Don’t simply ask for forgiveness, but ask for an opportunity to exercise what that forgiveness means in a tangible way. It is your willingness, not your ability, that qualifies you. May God forgive you, and may He continue to forgive me.