Friday, July 26, 2019

Listen, y'all...

Okay, so I’m sitting here watching the Mueller testimony and it’s just making me kind of mad… I mean, I’m already mad, as stated previously, but now I’m mad at more people! I guess I should have said I am LISTENING to it, rather than watching it, as I have the screen minimized, so the thing about that is, I can’t see what party each questioner belongs to… until they start talking...!

Because you can tell from what they ask and how they ask it. That is to say, the Democrats read the guy’s report as an indictment of the president, and the Republicans read it as an exoneration… and each examiner has been questioning accordingly, seeking to pull out of Mueller validation of their own stance. One guy even kind of yelled at him for “perpetuating injustice.” These folks are supposed to be QUESTIONING Robert Mueller, but I don’t see any evidence that any of them care about the answers. No one is listening, are they?

Jim Lauderdale wants us all to listen...
I see a huge amount of the same kind of thing on social media… We post snarky status updates, share articles and pointed memes… But you know what we don’t do? Listen. Of course I can’t see what everyone’s doing when they see a political post… are they reading it and pausing to absorb it, researching the claims, validating the source, comparing it with things that they know to be true? Somehow I doubt it. I know I’m not. Not very often anyway.

He does Tai Chi in the video!
Well, I don’t post or comment much about politics, but I read some of the posts. And rather than pausing to consider each assertion, I’m more apt to blindly click “like” when a post confirms my prejudices or mutter “kook” when it doesn’t… That’s why, when I heard the song, Listen by Jim Lauderdale, I was cut to the bone. Click here to watch the video – check out his Tai Chi movies!

“You don’t know everything,” he tells me… “You don’t know lots of things.” Well, you may beg to differ, but I don’t really consider myself a pompous windbag. Nonetheless, I need to take in the basic ideas that Jim is putting out there:
If you believe you're always right / You’re wrong, and that's an oversight / Nobody's right that much of the time / If you've got all the answers, who's asking all the questions? / No one can get a word in edgewise
I wonder who Jim was thinking about when he wrote this? Maybe he was watching a congressional hearing… or maybe he was on Facebook! He might have even been in church! In many venues, I see a serious lack of humility—on both sides. 
Listen, listen, listen / Try not to talk for a while / Listen, listen, listen / Even though that's really not your style…
Maybe the humble folks just aren’t speaking up…? I guess this post isn’t for them… The hilarious thing is that when I first heard the song, I thought, “So-and-so really needs to hear this.” Haha! Physician heal thyself!! 

Anyway, I just wanted to put this song out in the blogosphere because it makes a fair point for our times… LISTEN, y’all.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Scrambled Eggs with a Massive Side of Spoilers!!

Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer would have a sort of weird physical reaction and fall down whenever he heard Mary Hart’s voice? I have a similar (though I don’t actually fall down) reaction to a person often heard on TV these days – I’m not going to say who, but it rhymes with Bonald Bump… But that’s not what this is about… 

See, a friend of mine had that same kind of “this is killing me” reaction when he heard about the movie Yesterday. Surely you know the premise of the movie – I’ve procrastinated in writing about this so long that you’ve probably already seen it… or at least the trailer

Just in case you haven’t seen it, stop reading RIGHT NOW, go see the movie and come back… because there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS, my friend… So, if you’re thinking, “I haven’t seen the movie and I’m not going to,” here’s your synopsis: A massive supernatural blackout occurs and when the world comes to, the Beatles never existed. And THAT’S what causes such a visceral reaction in my friend—he doesn’t want to even think about a world, even a fictional one, where that particular configuration of musicians making that particular brew of music never existed.
How's this for a massive spoiler?

It IS a disturbing thought, but I went to see it anyway. I love the Beatles, I’m always thinking about “what ifs,” and then there’s the star of the movie: Himesh Patel, the guy who used play the haplessly nervous market inspector, Tamwar Masood, on Eastenders! And I’m obsessed with that show!

Anyway, in Yesterday, Patel plays Jack, a discouraged, failing musician who miraculously retains his memory of the Beatle’s music despite the blackout… When he realizes that no one in the world has heard of the Beatles (only of beetles) or their songs, he begins performing them, passing them off as his own, and becomes 1. friends with Ed Sheeran, and 2. crazy famous.

So that’s the set-up. I don’t know if I can weave my reflections into a well-ordered essay, so I’m just going to say a couple of things I’ve been thinking… 

1. In the beginning of the film, we see Jack struggling to become a successful musician. He nearly quits, saying that he might as well go back to teaching. There’s also a romantic component with his manager, who is played by Rose from Downton Abbey… She loves him, but he’s put her in the friend zone. 

Himesh Patel as Tamwar Masood on Eastenders
Then this miracle happens and WHAM! Jack’s got everything he ever wanted! A successful music career! Famous friends! Worldwide adulation! It’s probably a cliché, but I’ll say it anyway: so often, when we want something so bad, and finally get it …. it’s just not that great. And we find out that what we already had was pretty darn amazing. When I was young, all I ever wanted was to be thin. Then I finally got it, and … well, it actually was kind of great … but it also almost killed me. 

That said, sometimes we need to get what we want to find out what we need… which might be something that we already have, or we might realize that there is something we should otherwise be pursuing. In my case, I thought I had to be thin to be loved, but I learned through all my troubles that I already HAD love! From my family, my friends, but most of all from GOD HIMSELF. Now He's a worthy life pursuit!

In Jack’s case, he already had 1. Rose from Downton Abbey, 2. great friends, 3. a close family, 4. fun making music. He had also already had a meaningful career. Don’t get me wrong I KNOW how hard teaching is… I’ve seen the toll it takes on people. But it can also be very helpful and worthwhile… sharing yourself with kids, coming alongside them in their formative years. But of course, our society would have us believe that unless you are a rock star, a millionaire, an incredible athlete, or a CEO or something… you’re not a success. In Yesterday, Jack gives in to this falsehood... for a while.

2. Make no mistake – I LOVE the Beatles. I will never grow tired of listening to their songs–except maybe Across the Universe or The Long and Winding Road—but this film operates under the assumption that the songs themselves are the totality of what made the Beatles a phenomenon. YES, the songs are just… so good… but it was more than that! It was that four good-looking boys with great chops, amazing stage presence and saucy personalities showed up right when we needed them! It was those dapper suits and charming mop-tops! It was having George Martin to help them put their ideas on record... It was all things converging to create a great sonic boom in our culture. So… if a regular joe just came in and sang the songs…? Would it be the same? I don’t know. That’s what I’m asking.

3. In his journey, Jack manages to meet an actual Beatle… and since I warned you about the spoilers, I can tell you that it is John… who is, without the burden of having been a Beatle, just a guy… An artist. A hermit. ALIVE. Bill and I discussed why they decided to portray John… Personally, I think they chose John because he’s the one we most want to see! His life was beautiful and painful, his death was tragic… and even if this alternate world lacks certain key elements – ie. a huge catalog of fantastic songs – it has John Lennon in it… living a life that’s subtle and peaceful. Isn’t that what John wanted? Peace?
A world without the Beatles? No thanks.

4. Since we’re spoiling things, I’ll tell you that Jack eventually decides not to profit from the songs that everyone is digging… and thinks he wrote… because… well, because John told him he knew he would do the right thing. And because Jack knew that the songs didn’t belong  to him. Of course they didn’t belong to John, Paul, George and Ringo either in that reality, but a world without them was unthinkable… so I guess they kind of belonged to the world. 

In our reality, I'm not actually sure who they belong to, but… no matter who holds the piece of paper, they kind of also belong to our world. They’re part of our LORE… They are in us and all around us all the time. I guess that’s why my friend doesn’t want to think about a world without them. It would be like losing a part of himself.

("Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs…" were the original place-holding lyrics for Yesterday.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Is it too late to write about Pulp Fiction, y'all?

So… summer, movies… The sweaty gloopiness of your typical North Carolina in summertime is easily defeated by a two-hour refrigeration period in the chilly darkness of a movie theater… Especially when it's a gorgeous historic venue like downtown Durham's Carolina Theater

Built in 1926, it's been beautifully renovated, but retains the grandeur of … you know… a movie palace from another time! They show current films—leaning more toward foreign and artsy films—but we come for the special stuff... older films, campy films, action films, horror, noir…  My friend Todd is also there sometimes, so that’s a nice bonus… And it’s fun to introduce our budding filmmaker Bill, to learn about the classic genres. Most recently we took in the super-hip, insanely funny, 1994 crime movie Pulp Fiction. 

Is this movie appropriate for a 15-year-old? Probably not. And I do feel guilty about taking mine… on the other hand, amidst all the drug use, violence, and foul language… well, it really is a morality tale, isn’t it? Maybe all this stuff has been said before regarding this crazy masterpiece, but I’m going to give you my thoughts anyway.

If, after all these years, you haven’t seen it, well... I’m actually not able to give you a plot synopsis. Sorry. It boasts a fractured timeline, and I really don’t think I could give it justice. It’s about two well-dressed criminals just doing their day-to-day crime stuff, and also about a boxer who is supposed to take a fall, but doesn’t, and also about the criminals’ boss. And the bosses’ wife. And the boxer’s wife… and a dealer and his wife… And these two other criminals. See? It’s just too complicated! I can’t do it!!

Anyway, throughout the film, the characters are confronted with choices… one man must decide to behave honorably toward his boss’s wife. Another man makes a choice to rescue a man who has been trying to kill him… a choice that works out for him, but, honestly, could have gone either way… I guess it is the nature of morality tales to highlight good and evil, which as humans we must choose between every day–just in smaller, less gory ways.

At the center of the film are two criminals—Jules and Vincent—and their choices. Both have chosen the criminal lifestyle, and carry out their daily duties as a matter of course. But one day something happens—a guy empties a large pistol point blank at them, but misses them entirely. “God came down from heaven, and stopped these ************ bullets,” Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) says. Vincent (John Travolta) considers it a fluke, and goes about his business, but to Jules, it’s a turning point. 
Jules: We should be f***in' dead, my friend! What happened here was a miracle, and I want you to f***ing acknowledge it! 
Vincent Vega: All right, it was a miracle. Can we go now?
Yeah, Vincent doesn’t care… the moment of divine intervention rolls right by him. That night, when he chooses NOT to act inappropriately with the boss’s wife, it is not out of respect for the divine. It is merely self preservation—as we know, from an earlier discussion of a rumor that the boss had thrown a man out of a window for messing with his wife.* 

On the other hand, Jules considers their near miss an act of God—proof that God is paying attention and cares about his choices…? Jules takes it as a sign that he should change his course. Maybe Jules was set up for this… Maybe a guy who likes to quote Ezekiel 25:17** before “popping a cap” in someone’s ass is already thinking about God. Here’s a pretty hefty quote from Jules that explains the whole thing: 
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you." 
I been sayin' that sh*t for years. And if you ever heard it, it meant your ass. I never really questioned what it meant. I thought it was just a cold-blooded thing to say to a mother****er before you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some sh*t this mornin' made me think twice. Now I'm thinkin': it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that sh*t ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin, Ringo. I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd.”

See, Jules is aware of God, has His word in His head, so … when he experiences what he perceives to be a miracle, he knows exactly where to look… and suddenly the sheer … relevance of God’s words causes him to consider what they mean for HIM personally - where HE fits in God’s design. Until now, he has taken on the role of God as the dispenser of justice, but now, he’s not too sure…

So that later, when a couple of petty thieves try to rob him, he comes out with this:Normally, both your asses would be dead as f***ing fried chicken, but you happen to pull this sh*t while I'm in a transitional period so I don't wanna kill you, I wanna help you.”

In a morality tale, there is normally a clear demarcation of good and bad—although it’s a little skewed here. Jules and Vincent’s behavior is violent and capricious, and their conversation is vulgar, but they are goofy, and they say hilarious things and they are so handsome in their suits... so we somehow feel sympathy for them. It’s a good reminder that good and evil are not always so easily recognized.

In this story, both men are criminals, but good and evil are defined by the choice each man makes when he confronted with the Divine. And, like in wisdom literature, where the good are rewarded and the bad are punished, each man receives his due. Well, we don’t really know what happened to Jules in the end, but we do get to see Vincent gunned down in spectacular fashion… and Jules isn’t with him.

It all reminds me of the story of two thieves on the crosses beside Jesus:
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied to him, "Amen I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:39-43)
I may not be a thief, and I may not have ever shot a guy just for looking at me wrong... but I have done plenty of crappy things... so this is a great message for me. It’s really good to know that, God wants us to be with Him in paradise… and has made a way for us to get there!

*There is a point in the film, where, after Vincent does something particularly careless and vile, he says: "Jules, did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits that he's wrong that he is immediately forgiven for all wrongdoings? Have you ever heard that?" So, he can't acknowledge God... but wants to be forgiven? I guess that's normal... we want grace, but we don't want God to be in our business too much...

**The verse he quotes isn't actually Ezekiel 25:17... it's more of a mishmash of a couple of verses in the Bible... just FYI...

Tuesday, July 2, 2019



I’m still here, y’all… I know you thought I’d forsaken you, if you thought of me at all… but of course I haven’t! Although my posts are so far apart nowadays that each one has to sort give you an update on what’s going on with us, right? Well, not much is going on right now - it’s summer, and we live in North Carolina, so we’re hot. (Gee, I’m not sure—is the globe getting warmer? OF COURSE IT IS!! DUH!! Not to get political or anything…)

Anyway, we’ve been seeing a lot of movies, which is one of my favorite things to do. I love the new-fangled theaters with recliners and real food and craft beers, but I also still love a crappy old theatre with no crazy perks, just musty seats and stale popcorn smell… because really, the movie’s the thing!

I love sitting in the cool darkness watching a story unfold. I love watching the pretty people on screen, their acting prowess, or lack thereof… I love sizing up the costumes… (Bill says when we watch a bad movie, my comment is always, “I liked the costumes.”) And most of all, I love when something in the film reminds me of God. That’s really what makes a movie a work of art for me. 

My theory of art involves the expression of self, but also the conveyance of truth, beauty and … otherness? And Who is more true and beautiful and other than God Himself? And when we create, we do so in imitation of our Creator… God made us in His image, so His creative impulses are in us as well.

Okay, moving right along… In June we saw Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. You can easily watch it yourself—it’s on Netflix, but Tom, Bill and I were fortunate to see it in on a big screen at the Rialto in Raleigh. It’s an amazing film… part concert/backstage footage, part “documentary.” That’s in quotes because if you look up the word “liar” in the dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of Bob Dylan! Although… I would say that he’s more of a storyteller than a liar… He’s building a world for us and we’re into it – “Hey Mister Tamborine Man, play a song for me…”  

Watching the film, if viewers are not completely hoodwinked, they are left trying to separate the wheat from the chaff—that is, to figure out what they can believe. The filmakers interview (among others) a cinematographer, a congressman, a concert promoter – all of whom are actors telling stories. Heck, one of these folks is an ACTUAL actor – Sharon Stone. They interview Dylan himself, who says enigmatic things like “One thing I can tell you about Ramblin’ Jack: he’s a a better sailor than a singer—he can tie a bowline, a clove hitch, he could tie a rolling hitch—all blindfolded. If you’re ever on a boat or a sailing ship, you would rather have Ramblin’ Jack there as a sailor than a singer.”

That said, another quote directly from Dylan pretty much gives it away: When asked why they wore masks and white-face on the tour, he said, “When somebody’s wearing a mask, uh, he’s gonna tell you the truth. Uh, when he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely.” So… the music is what’s true. And… it really is. Watching those stunning performances by incredibly talented musicians dressed in boho 70s duds and masks and whiteface, all I could think was, “Bob Dylan is a BAD ASS!!” It’s filmed pretty close up, and his performance is ferocious… and, to use a quote from one of his own songs, “Every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin’ coals...” It was all just so gorgeous… I couldn’t look away.
I think that one reason he undertook the carnivalesque tour—playing small venues with a bunch of other people—in an attempt to step away from his massive celebrity… to be "one of the band." Even so, the film shows how other people treat him like a king… like a god. Dylan is not a god, and he knows it! Nevertheless, early on, underlings are told to refrain from constantly asking him what he wants or if he’s okay. “He’s a big man, he knows what he wants.” And later, Joan Baez, tells how she approached craft services dressed as Dylan and experiences the sort of fawning and worship reserved for the man himself. (Of course this may or may not have been a true account!)

Toward the end of the movie, they tell the story of the Ruben Hurricane Carter, the subject of Bob’s song “Hurricane.” Carter was a black boxer wrongly jailed for killing three people. Bob’s song eventually helped to free him, and the two became friends. Bob says that when Hurricane would ask him what he was searching for, he’d say, “Well, Hurricane, I’m searching for the Holy Grail… I’m gonna search until I find it, like Sir Galahad.” And while he was surely like a knight in shining armor to the man who was freed from prison, Bob knows that there is something much bigger to find.

Soon after, the movie draws to a close with Bob and Roger McGuinn put their heads together to sing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” together. It’s… blisteringly intense… they look at each other in a wide-eyed, forceful way that makes you wonder if 1. they’re on drugs or, 2. they're daring each other to knock first… I can’t really say if they’re on drugs… but… I do know that somewhere down the road, each man found Christ… And that’s both truth and beauty to me. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Number of Things

This post is named after this 1980s
Chapel Hill hardcore band, even though
it has nothing to do with them. I always
loved this album cover though!
If you are reading this, I thank you… from the bottom of my crusty old heart. It’s been really hard lately to put thoughts into words and words onto a page, for many reasons. I keep thinking the blackout is over—I write a blog post, but then I just snap right back to where I was… busy, blank-minded and bummed out. 

Actually, bummed out isn’t all that accurate… I mean, I AM bummed out about SOME things, but not most things. In general, I’d say I’m pretty content. And blank-minded? My mind isn’t so much blank as… muddled. I have a LOT of things going on in there, but they can’t be nailed down into cohesive thoughts. I thought maybe the best way to proceed is to just tell you what’s happening and some of the things I have on my mind… If you’ve read any of my past posts, these refrains will sound familiar, but it’s where I’m at.

Pumpkin spice...
it's not for everything.
1. Remember all those times you wished I would stop bringing up the menopause that loomed large on my horizon? Well, this is the last time, ‘cos that ship has sailed. You don’t have to hear about it ever again, and I can no longer blame my many failings on it. As menopauses go, mine was fairly mild, for which I am thankful.

2. Fall. Pumpkin Spice. Boots. Jackets. Jackets that I leave everywhere I go – because here in the south you never know if you’re going to need one or not. What’s the temperature now? Will the A/C be on? Will it be cold when I get out? Crap.... where the %@$!*! did I leave my jacket? (Okay, so maybe that part of menopause where you can’t remember stuff is still with me... or maybe that's just an excuse!) Anyway, despite the trail of jackets I leave behind me, ain’t fall grand? Especially after the greasy hotness of a southern summer?

Bill's new school! We love it!
3. Bill’s new school—Durham School of the Arts. We couldn’t be more pleased. He’s been working hard and he hasn’t complained once… Dare I say… he LIKES it? Let me tell you, my friend, if a 14-year-old boy likes something… well, THAT is something approaching a miracle! Along with all the standard stuff like math and history and all, he’s playing guitar every single day and learning digital design…  What’s more he KNOWS how good he’s got it. I’m so thankful, y’all… What a blessing.

4. Those are some of the good things… but lest you start to think my life is unrelentingly awesome, here are some things I am struggling with: meal planning / cooking, making / keeping our house looking presentable, having a lower salary than last year, trying to find a new client, figuring out what to get Tom for Christmas, how best to participate in taking care of my elderly mother…

For sure the Christian life
should be chock full of love
and mercy. Also, this is a good
movie if you haven't seen it yet.
5. And yes, I’m still struggling with current politics and the church. A couple of the leaders at our church are more conservative than I am, and It’s been hard to hear when these views pop up occasionally. It’s really made me feel detached from the church I’ve belonged to since the late eighties... I don’t go around spouting off about it, but listening to others has let me know that I’m not alone… and that helps. I’ve flirted with the idea of finding a place to worship Jesus that is more in line with my political views, but in the end I decided to remain in this imperfect community. Aren’t they all imperfect after all? And even though our conservative uncle has the mike right now, our church is and has always been made up of folks of all kinds, united by their love of Jesus. They have always been kind and loving and have done a lot to minister to me, to each other and to the world around them. They are, for better or for worse, my family. No, of course I’m not married to them, but dissolving our union would be more heartbreaking than simply just “going to another church.”

6. This discordance I’m experiencing has been hard, but it’s also kept me from becoming complacent and … sure of my “rightness.” Again, it would be tempting to switch to a church that always tells me what I am already thinking, wouldn’t it? Instead I listen to my conservative uncle and ponder what he says. I dissect the conclusions he’s drawn from the Bible, then read the Bible myself—and maybe some other reputable commentaries—and draw my own prayed-over conclusions, which may or may not be the same as his. Because of this push and pull in my brain, I’ve been given the occasion to really think about sin and redemption, love and social justice and what the Christian life should look like. 

Soul Asylum, y'all.
7. If you’re waiting for me to tell you what the Christian life should look like, well, you can keep on waiting. If you want to have coffee or a beer and talk about it, I’m available, but the only thing I know for sure, is that there’s a lot of love and mercy in it. I mean, there has to be… if you’re going to put up with me. If I’m going to put up with you. 

8. The song that goes with this post is Soul Asylum's New York Blackout. I don't know what THEY meant by it, but I always think about St. John of the Cross's "dark night of the soul" ... where you just feel blinded and shut out from God but you just keep looking for God... because just because the lights are out doesn't mean He's not there. "In a New York blackout, it's so hard to see / All the angels that are looking after me.... And I may never escape this darkened city / Still I'm trying to find you in this blackout." 

9. I honestly don’t know why I felt the need to put this in list format… it doesn’t really work, but maybe I’m just trying to look organized when I clearly am not! Also, with a list you can just end the tirade with the last item and not have a summation or anything. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

She said the answer was...

The Velvet Underground
Despite my disgruntled-ness (see previous post), I am striving to maintain my habit of communing with God of a morning, via prayer and a little Bible reading (I'm disgruntled with some of God's people, not God Himself, right)? And lucky me, I’m in the middle of the book of Romans, which… well, it’s a beautiful book – in fact, people say it goes a long way toward explaining what Jesus’s life and crucifixion meant for us… IF you can parse it out, that is… I’ve been reading it for, like, 30 years and I still have so, so many questions… Anyway, here’s what I read the other day:
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
And I took a sip of coffee. And another sip of coffee. And I thought, “Huh?” I mean, it’s lovely and all, but what does it mean? Any attempt I make to paraphrase it line-for-line is just a mess… Which is a shame, because I feel like understanding it is the key to something I’ve been wrestling with for a while. 

And that is… How are we saved? By our faith? By our works? or both? I mean, of COURSE faith, not works… that’s what they teach you in Protestant churches… but if the church people believe this, then why is there so much emphasis in church on our (and everyone else's) activities?

I mean, like it says in the passage above, because of Jesus’s death, we are FREE from the law. But then it also says we should be free from SIN as well? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not sinless. I guess that’s why I struggle with this – because if salvation has anything to do with how I ACT, then I’m doomed… 

King David—dancing with his head up high.
And then there’s that part about being “released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code?” What IS this “new way of the Spirit?” HOW CAN I GET IT?!

Well, that day, as I was pondering this between coffee sips... the answer came to me like a message from God… through a song by the Velvet Underground. Seriously. The specific bit that kept invading my head space was this line from their raucous tune Head Held High*:
…the answer was to become a dancer / Hold your head up high”
I’m not really sure I can explain why this is the answer to the confusion aroused by my reading of Romans 7. It just IS, and joyfully, hilariously so… That is... don’t sit around mulling over your sins—you’re free! So ACT free!

Be yourself! Be a Christian! Be a lover of people! Be a healer of the world! Be a pray-er! Be like David, who celebrated the return of the ark to Jerusalem by a public dancing display that was so vigorous that his wife was embarrassed! Be like Jesus who ate and drank with tax collectors and prostitutes so that they would know God loved them! Be like Paul who wasn’t ashamed of the gospel or afraid of public opinion or death or snakes… Be like Sophie**, a beautiful young cancer patient who wrote a poem that says this:
Be loud
And move with grace
Explode with light

Have no fear…
In other words: You don't have to live like a refugee!
I guess the best practical analogy I've ever heard is this: Imagine that the Christian life is like being married to your soul mate. After the ceremony, would you just go back to your old single-life apartment, keep eating Lean Cuisines, dating, and doing whatever you wanted to? 

Of course not! You'd start acting married! You'd move in together, eat together, merge finances, do life together! It might be hard to get used to at first, but over the years, you'd get the hang of it!

And I'm not talking about one of those creepy abusive marriages where one spouse is abusive and the other one is always walking on eggshells—afraid of what's going to set the jerk off... No siree, this marriage... – well, it's to a Person who is ALWAYS faithful, will ALWAYS love you, and will NEVER leave you—no matter what! Heck, He's bought you with His own blood! 

He thinks you're the bee's knees, the cat's meow, the cream in His coffee, the bubbles in His champagne. He doesn't want you to be creeping around worrying about the rules... He wants to take you dancing! Dare I say it? With your head up high!

*I can't make you, but I strongly urge you to listen to the whole song (here) — it’s awesome. It’s so wild and forceful… Just HAPPY! And FREE! You'll be dancing before you know it!

**I’ll tell you more about Sophie later because it’s a story worth telling. You can read the whole poem here.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Wine in Plastic Cups

In June, or maybe earlier, magazines and newspapers always publish an article pushing books for “summer reading.” As if I might have more time in summer to read than other times... I guess the book recommendations are for beach trips and maybe plane or car rides…? Whatever the case, I can’t say I have substantially more time to read… sadly...

Nonetheless, I did manage to eye-gobble a fascinating read in June: A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories by Chris Stamey. Chris Stamey is this cool guy who lives here in Chapel Hill, but has been all over the world performing and recording music. He first came to my attention in the 80s when he was in a group called the dB’s. (Alexa calls them “the deci-bell-ess” before launching into one of their gorgeous, shimmery power-pop numbers like Neverland or Ask for Jill. It's in your best interest to click on these links, y'all.)

When I was a young gal trying to be cool in NC I heard tell of the famous boys from Winston-Salem, Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Will Rigby and Gene Holder. I had no idea they were actually living in New York at the time… Every time i drove through Winston-Salem, I would get goose-bumps thinking, “This is where it all happens!”

So this book that I read is by one of the members of the dB’s — but that’s not all he’s done! He stayed in the group for a couple of years before he set out on his own as a solo artist and music producer. The book chronicles all this, while giving fascinating detail about the structure of the songs and the technical aspects of recording. I have to admit that these parts went mostly over my head, but I still reveled in having a peek inside the music that I loved when I was young. Heck, I still love it—that’s why I know what Alexa will say when you ask her to “Play music by the dB’s”!

I would also like to say that Chris (I feel like I can call him Chris because of the length of our “acquaintance”) is the man behind one of my favorite Christmas albums, Christmas Time. He’s really the man behind of a LOT of records: check out this partial list.

Anyway... in one part of A Spy in the House of Loud, Chris begins a chapter thus:
How does one write a song? I remember seventies ads for Prell shampoo that showed a pearl floating through the amorphous goop. And I used to think songwriting was like that: You had to have something loose inside you, something rattling around, and you shook it up and then followed it around and took dictation.1
And I was thinking, maybe writing blog posts is similar? And in case you haven’t noticed, the pearls in my amorphous goop haven’t exactly been rattling around… or maybe I’ve failed to shake them up… or follow them around… or take dictation… or all of the above!! In my case, it’s more like… what once might have been a pearl rattling around in there has festered, becoming something gross… like… a rotten egg… or a piece of actual crap… And when I try to take dictation from it, well… crap begets crap.

My salvation (literally) is that I also have an actual pearl in my amorphous goop… And it’s the Gospel—ie., "the pearl of great price":
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.2
It’s in there, and It’s always worth the effort it takes to shake, follow and dictate from… It seems harder now—for a people-pleaser like myself, anyway—to present the gospel these days, what with the weird Christian support for you-know-who.* But if I believe the gospel is true, that it actually saves people, and that it is worth selling everything I own for... which I do, then don’t I kinda have to share it? 

So here I am, holding the gospel out for you to consider, as taken from the classic verse in John’s gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I have alluded to this verse a buncha times, but always after I’ve given some intro—a song, an anecdote, a movie reference… I tell the basic story (or ponder aspects of it)—that Jesus loves you and died for you, but I put a spin on it to try to express it in a more relatable way.

That is, I do the job of a “producer.” Like Chris Stamey, who takes a song and helps the artist determine how it should sound. In Chris’s book, there are many passages about producing songs like this:
I had some ideas first, specifically for the machiney groove, the “96 Tears” tap-tap-tap of the Ace Tone, the verse’s chords, and a few key lyrics. Peter and I quickly fleshed out thee ideas right before the two of us demoed it… In addition to helping with several of the lyrics, he was the one, I think, who came up with the three-bar organ hook, with a high G drone that rubs first against an F-sharp and then against the F-natural. The sound wasn’t complete without running the organ through an Orange Squeezer compressor, an obscure, dinky, lo-fi metal cube – heard previously on the guitars of both “Reeling in the Years” by Steely Dan, and “Sultans of Swing,” by Dire Straits—which exaggerated the natural “vacuum cleaner” wheezing tones of the organ.1
So I’m taking the gospel and without altering it's basic information, giving it some shimmer and running through an Orange Squeezer so that it maybe sounds good to you—or at least less stodgy… Especially these days when you might not be in the mood to trust Christians. 

Chris has another place where he says that, at least at one time, he thought about records as aural cinema, and said he considered a song a script for making a record… that is, only part of the equation… “You might even argue,” he says, “that the new aural moviemaking worked best if the song itself had come out of the oven only half-baked, if it left a lot of room for production.”1

Well, my friends, the gospel of God is anything BUT half-baked! It’s the beginning and the end of love and truth and glory... It seriously doesn't need me to add anything to it! But I think that’s part of the beauty of this thing He’s set up… He could just show Himself to everyone, but instead, He wants people to see His love and choose Him. And He lets silly people like me share His gospel... put our spin on it and spread it around… It’s like the line from the dB’s song “wine in plastic cups” … Yeah, I may be a cheap plastic cup... but, my friends, it’s WINE I'm serving!! 

*Okay so that's what the rotten egg/piece of crap is... I already hashed it out in some posts already: here and here and also tried to make sense of it here. I'm still working through it, but… the more it rattles around in there, the more bitter I get about it, and it sorta gums up the works... like in that episode of Broad City where Illana is unable to have a satisfactory sexual experience because she's so upset about, again, "you-know-who." But I refuse to let him have that much power—that he would stand in the way of the gospel? I think not!

1Stamey, Chris. A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories. University of Texas Press, 2018.

2Matthew 13:45-46