Genesis: ‘all the movements you started to make, see me crumble and fall on my face’ – coldplay

I swam the primordial deep

you crossed the creek
and wrote a song about it,

and as I drowned there in the sky,
the water-worn firmament,
stars caught in the corpulent seaweed,
and saw then in the distance
I was more afloat for a moment or so

you climbed a tree
and called it a mountain

as someone asked I move Karakoram
by shear will of faith,
while I believed still in the crushing might
of the old black gravel until I saw Sisyphus
                            and laughing,
and I was happy for a moment or so

you took a sip of wine
and called it Christ

but, oh, good God, for too long
I’ve been drunk on that blood
chugging down your guilt and mine
until by the broken spear of the god of grief
he who
                                   would heal
and I withstood my pain for a moment,

that all in all is this:
that I guess your creek could’ve been your abyss
that your tree, perhaps, your Everest,
or that the drink you drink could bring you bliss,
but from here I’m moved to think, you think
your world’s a little rougher than it is.

When Surface-Level Religion Meets a Psychology of Depth, or Why Camp (or Something Like It) Should Replace Church

Tomorrow morning, thousands of families will pack into their cars – some wearing their Sunday best, others in jeans and a t-shirt – and head once again to a church service like the one they went to last week. For some, there’ll be a choir decked in robes, lighting of the advent candle, a scripture, a message, a few hymns. For others, there’ll be a praise band, hands raised in the air, a worship leader, a projector-and-screen displaying stock images of a pretty waterfall behind the scripture message. A pastor will speak. Some of them will deliver a message that’s tough to hear, challenging perhaps, but quickly forgotten. Others will preach a message of nurturing love, of taking care of your own, a message patting the congregation on the back, and everybody will momentarily feel a tiny bit better about themselves as they walk out the door to go back into the “real world.”

In most cases, church as it works like this really does help people maintain their status quo. Had a bad week? The pastor might legitimately say something that speaks to you. There’s a good chance that a song you hear or a scripture that’s been read could bring you out of your funk or at least provide a different perspective you hadn’t considered. And this has been well-documented in the field of psychology. People who attend church, by-and-large, are healthier psychologically than those who live fully secular lives in the same culture. After all, “optimists are healthier” and religion and ritual promote reasons to lower stress, not to mention the power of a social support group that religion often provides.

But in maintaining the status quo, if that’s the unseen goal of “church,” there’s a lack of concern for any continual, real depth – that is, any confrontation that brings about self-awareness. A good movie can challenge you or bring you out of a funk, especially if you see the movie with a group of consistent, caring friends. But it won’t necessarily demand that you look within yourself to answer the question, “Who am I?” or “What about myself should I change?” And, similarly, modern American religion doesn’t either. It’s too often a system of staged complacency. After all, if church today functioned to bring people to true repentance and forgiveness (of themselves and others), to self-actualization, there would never have been a need for the field of psychology to develop in the first place.

But think about it: It seems more and more that modern psychology can and does succeed where religion has failed on an epic scale. The honesty required of, say, an AA meeting or of any form of therapy does what church never could quite get right – but only for those with the courage to admit they needed or wanted the help to begin with, only for those who were ready to ask the tough questions. Otherwise, therapy is just as useless an endeavor as religion. No one overcomes an addiction, as an example, without surrendering their will and truly wanting the help to overcome it, but those who do surrender and overcome their addiction are able to do so because they were able to confront the worst of themselves. They find the courage to confront their own suffering and self-destruction.

All of us, at the core of our depths, will find – if we go looking – similar suffering and attempts at self-destruction. We need not be addicts to know there are things about ourselves we do not want known, things we do not talk about, usually. But isn’t it kind of absurd that exploring those ugly depths is precisely, in the field of psychology, what brings people to healing, but it’s as if we are conditioned to fear that exploration instead. And church has not historically been a place that fosters or encourages us to delve into the worst of ourselves with any sense of honesty, largely because of our fear of shame and judgment. Instead, we just sing a song or read a paragraph from a Gospel and expect that to do it justice. Theologian Paul Tillich writes about this when he says,

We are always moving forward, although usually in a circle, which finally brings us back to the place from which we first moved. We are in constant motion and never stop to plunge into the depth. We talk and talk and never listen to the voices speaking to our depth and from our depth. We accept ourselves as we appear to ourselves, and do not care what we really are. Like hit-and-run drivers, we injure our souls by the speed with which we move on the surface; and then we rush away, leaving our bleeding souls alone. We miss, therefore, our depth and our true life. And it is only when the picture that we have of ourselves breaks down completely, only when we find ourselves acting against all the expectations we had derived from that picture, and only when an earthquake shakes and disrupts the surface of our self-knowledge, that we are willing to look into a deeper level of our being.”

Tillich calls this deeper level, depth itself, “the Ground of Being,” or God. And I’m moved to agree, but the glimpses I’ve gotten of that depth have not been easily, nor painlessly, uncovered. And perhaps more importantly, I can’t claim to have a solution for the way we miss this in religion, for the way the modern church is overcome with fear of this self-honesty. I don’t think it works exactly for pastors to become shrinks, or merely to send their parishioners to them (though I think the latter should happen more often). I don’t think that it’s helpful for us to simply and suddenly expect people to start being honest with themselves or with others, or to demand as much like an intervention. But the status quo will be what does religion off, if religion is to die… the way it appears to be slowly dying.

So what must change? If I had to guess, too often in the church, the reason people seem to fear plunging into that depth (and, Tillich would say, finding God there) is because they don’t know each other. In therapy, the relationship between the therapist and the patient is built on trust. In church, especially larger ones, small groups, Bible studies, Sunday schools, etc. help build that trust, but the nature of why people attend creates large gaps in it. When you see someone once a week, not always consistently, and you don’t know why they’re there, the likelihood that you’re going to feel comfortable opening up – and finding resolution for – your deepest, darkest issues is pretty nil. That’s not to say it never happens. I think summer camps and retreats work to build more authentic relationship. I’ve seen firsthand a group of kids who didn’t know each other at all on a Monday really love one another openly and honestly and learn to love themselves by Saturday. It’s simple, really. Put people under the same roof for any length of time and, after they’ve endured the trials of that experience, you’ll eventually create trust – that is, an authenticity that will allow people the safe space to delve deeper into who they are. In other words, if religion is to learn to do what psychology is already besting it at, it’s going to have to start to look a whole lot more like camp. I don’t mean in saying that to suggest that things will just get better, that people will delve into their inner core, if a church just starts building a fire outside and singing “Kumbaya” on a Sunday morning. But I do think that if religion is to survive well into the 21st century, church has to learn how to aspire to more authenticity, to create a culture where one of the first goals is to get people to know each other, to trust each other, and finally, to listen with that knowledge and trust. If we can’t do that, we’ll just keep packing into our cars, schlepping ourselves off to another mundane, if not staged, experience every Sunday, an experience that helps keep us going but without ever asking us to wonder who we are or to seek our real depth in the Ground of Being.

On God and Aliens

Neil deGrasse Tyson joked on his Twitter this week saying, “Aliens, seeing Humans kill over land, politics, religion, & skin color, would surely ask, ‘What the f*%k is wrong with you?'” It’s a good question: how would we be regarded by some outside visitor, someone or something new to humanity? Our depravity, our brokenness must certainly seem insane, confusing at the least. After all, it seems insane to the best of us even when we’re just as capable of the very harm we condemn, whether we’re willing to admit it or not. But, then, we’re also capable of incredible love, of powerful forgiveness, of nurturing and caring for one another and our planet, too, and many of us are doing exactly that, or at least trying to. It actually makes me think of the sci-fi movie The Fifth Element (spoiler alert) that sort of plays with this theme when a being from another time and place “downloads” the history of war and is horrified momentarily only to be amazed in the end by the incredible love humanity is also capable of, thus rendering humans worth saving. It’s yet one more story of “despair meets hope,” of “death meets resurrection.” And it’s something missing from Tyson’s post. He tells an important half of the story to tell, but he doesn’t tell it all.

And yet, Tyson’s post really got me thinking about how “aliens” are treated both by different forms of media and by philosophers of science like Tyson. Have you ever noticed that, just about, anytime a movie is made regarding aliens or a discussion pops up around UFOs or otherworldly encounters, these sentient beings are either somehow far, far better than us humans or far, far worse? Maybe it’s because of the technological advance it would take for them to travel to us that we assume they’d be better as if they’ve had the time to perfect themselves, time we haven’t had. Or maybe it’s because of the mystery and hope (or fear) that something better, something greater is out there. It’s pretty rare that we would ever assume that aliens – if they exist – might be like us, as messed up as us, bumbling around, telling jokes, farting, crying, brawling with each other, debating, etc. Actually, in fairness, I can think of quite a few exceptions – Star Wars, Star Trek, most notably, feature humanoid aliens, and of course, Third Rock from the Sun makes a parody of sorts on the failures of aliens to be human-like. But somewhere between aliens much-like-us and those distantly-different, it’s hard not to see the comparison to religion. When we humans look up to the sky to describe “something” other than us, aliens really do start to look a whole lot like God.

That said, I want to be clear that I’m not interested in taking up the existence of aliens or the existence of God in this blog post. That’s another discussion best-suited for people who are more skilled than I – whether they’re discussing the Fermi Paradox or for theologians and atheists to debate to their hearts’ desires. I’m far more interested in how we, historically, have described either one. I’m interested in the metaphors we use to describe the unknown, and I’m interested in how – weirdly enough – similar they are. In the Book of Genesis alone, there are two very different conceptions of God, two entirely different creation accounts. That is, Genesis wasn’t written by Moses as tradition goes but, more likely than not, was fashioned by multiple scribes, or redactors, over a long period of time. Two, in particular “J,” or the Jahwist, and ‘P,” or the Priestly author, have pretty different views of God. J describes a more anthropomorphic God who is personally tied to human activity and is admittedly a little scarier and kind of wrathful if you ask me. J’s story is the story from Genesis you read when you read about God walking around in Eden and talking with Adam and Eve. P, on the other hand, is a more distant conception of God. P’s image of God sets things in motion, calls it good, orders everything with a concise, poetic sequence of events. P’s story is the seven-day creation and is incredibly concerned with ritual. Somewhere along the line, to oversimplify here, some scribe read J and P and liked both of them enough to include both creation accounts in the final version, and thus, these two different images of God became one in the version of Genesis we inherited.

Fast forward to 2014. I’m failing to see the difference between these otherworldly metaphors. We live in an age where many of us seem to think we’ve outgrown God, progressed and advanced beyond what some might say are “silly” mythologies. I disagree with that notion. I think we’re obsessed with the unknown because we need it to survive, need to seek out something transcendent and personal and distant (all at once) that both scares us and also offers us hope, and we’ve merely traded terminology when we turn to aliens in the place of God. We like to think that science can prove what religion could not but how quick we still are to stray into the unknown in order to tell the same, timeless story – a story ultimately about us and how tied we are to that greater thing in which we place our hopes and fears. If you don’t believe me, go back to Neil Tyson’s Twitter quote and replace “Aliens” with “God,” and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

One thing Neil’s got right, regardless of whether we put our stock in religion or science fiction, there’s simply something sickly wrong with the world we’ve inherited. But maybe instead of waiting around for aliens, or maybe in light of the higher calling and expectations God would have that, y’know, we “love our neighbors as ourselves,” we should start seeking out the side of us that Neil doesn’t mention, the side that’s very much present despite our worst moments – the “better angels of our nature.”

The Importance of Wounds and Remembering Them

Earlier tonight, I was walking my puggle, Abner, in the backyard after the rain had just ended, and it struck me that there’s this moment when the rain’s stopped falling from the sky but it’s still falling from the trees. You can hear it tapping down on the ground, but the slow drizzle makes it obvious it’s fallen from leaves instead of clouds. It’s still gushing from the ground as you walk over the soggy grass. It’s still even in the breeze somehow, the way everything’s cooled off. The storm clouds and rain have effectively stopped, and maybe the sky is clear with a starry night, but then, the world is still drenched everywhere. There’s no mistaking that. Were it a wetter night in a floodplain, the sky could be clear while the floods still come. It’s scary to think about, actually. Especially when some floods can leave damage that remains for a thousand sunny days that come after that one awful storm.

I mean, it’s not how we’d prefer things to be, after all. It’s certainly not convenient or fair, and it may even be cruel. When the rain stops, we want it to be stopped, over, done, dried up. Who wants to be washed away under clear skies? But I think it’s an important life lesson that we realize that pain and cruelty and despair can go on even after hope has been found, even after the rains cease. Even when we know we’re going to be okay. Or, perhaps, it’s a bit like a scar, to use another metaphor, that even though it’s healed, it isn’t forgotten – and may even be important to be remembered the way some scars must be remembered.

The things we choose to remember and the things we choose to forget say a lot about who we are as individuals, as communities, as a nation. It says a lot about what we’ve been able to repent for, what we’ve been able to forgive, and what just hasn’t come easy to deal with or face. I keep, almost as if hoarding them, old notes from girls I loved in high school and beyond, pictures of paintings I painted and gave away to friends – some still close, some long gone – and all of it I have stored away in old boxes labeled “important” on the side. It’s rare that I go through them but having them is important to me, as if they’re my little collection, my memorabilia of the joy and pain I’ve endured like a little box of what made me, me. We do this as communities and as a nation, too. In my hometown, there’s a memorial to a horrid tornado from 2003 that ravaged the downtown area. Along our highways, crosses or flowers or markers remember a wreck or plane crash or some other tragedy – our children, our parents, our heroes, perhaps even some of our demons, remembered. That is, there are other things we don’t want to remember but have to: the Holocaust Museum, the 9/11 Memorial, the war memorials strewn across Washington, D.C. are a testament to that. There are yet other things we should have remembered, no, memorialized but perhaps because of the great pain of it, have chosen to forget or ignore. For the life of me, while there’s plenty of memorials to Civil War sites, I don’t know if there’s a single national memorial that pays homage to our awful history with slavery, or a museum that does the same. In fact, I’m fairly certain proposals to create such places have been rejected in lieu of something else. It’s as if we still don’t want to deal with our past. In the wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, I think there’s a lot about our past as a nation we have chosen to forget rather than memorialize and progress beyond, together. But we remember precisely so the past isn’t repeated and precisely to claim that it was survived.

Maybe the time does come where we bury the past, where the scars do disappear as if we’ve been given new bodies, though something about that feels almost as if it’s a cop-out of sorts. It’s no surprise that so many religions would place hope in a kind of afterlife or next stage where just such a thing does happen. But it’s not the sort of thing to be forced, and it’s not easily won. There’s a scene in the Bible where Jesus appears to his disciples before ascending into heaven (Jn. 20). In nearly every instance where the disciples encounter a risen Jesus, it’s fear or shock that quickly turns to joy and hope only after he’s reassured them. But it’s how he reassures them, how they have to be reassured, that’s perhaps what’s really intriguing. In the Gospel of John, Jesus has to reassure Thomas by showing him, even allowing him to touch the scars and wounds of his crucifixion. Growing up, I always thought this was about doubt; after all, we give Thomas the ugly moniker of “Doubting Thomas,” as if that’s awful. But maybe for Thomas it isn’t about doubt at all: at least on some level, maybe it’s about remembrance. Once again, remembering the pain is important. And so, strangely enough, after Jesus conquers death, it’s the wounds of that death that the disciples need to touch first before they can see or believe that life prevailed, before they can find healing in the midst of what must of been such great loss. It’s as if our scars are so important that it’s through them and only through them we find healing. We have to confront them, touch them and see the wounds for what they are before we can see the healing at all. We have to do that as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. And until we do, we live instead in the kind of forgetfulness and ignorance that only seeks to make new wounds or rip open the old ones. And that has to end.

Much like the resurrected Jesus, scars may be something we always have, but we do grow to remember them differently from how we may have when they were fresh, new. Some of my own wounds, I picture myself, if ever “healed” fully, showing them off a bit like the characters in Jaws comparing what they’ve endured. There’s something appealing to looking back on the past with pride that you were able to survive it and with the mantra of “never again.” The wounds, then, become markers, no longer of just our pain, but of our survival and our strength. Too often, that doesn’t happen because we hide them instead – from ourselves and from others, but a resurrected world is one filled with the kind of hope that those fears vanish. It’s a brutally honest world but a better one for it, and it’s that world I hope to be about creating and living in. One that acknowledges, one that remembers.

Thanksgiving and Privilege

This afternoon building a Lego spaceship with an 8 year-old cousin after the family Thanksgiving, I couldn’t stop thinking about potential. And particularly, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way our potential can be thwarted or encouraged by our circumstances – and sometimes by the mentality our circumstances creates. I had this weird moment where I kept thinking about the ways in which this 8 year-old had a few steps ahead of some folks in the world but also of some of the ways he might be a few steps behind. I wonder how easily it would be to predict someone’s future success based entirely on demographic factors: socioeconomic factors, race, gender, religion, etc. I mean, we were just sitting there playing with Legos, and all I could think was, “Yeah! Legos! You’re gonna be an Engineer! Here we are fostering the creative! The possibilities are limitless! Or are they?”

I guess it couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to be thinking all of this. In the context of Ferguson, in the context of Thanksgiving, we’re a nation that needs to be concerned with the ways those demographic factors can either thwart or encourage a person’s potential. Sometimes, we call it “privilege,” but that’s a phrase a lot of folks (at least as I’ve experienced in the South) don’t want to use or acknowledge. But in the context of Thanksgiving, especially, a time where we look at our “plenty” and bow our heads and say grace and thanks for the “plenty” we’ve been given, being privileged is probably something we know better than we’re willing to admit.

Let me see if I can explain this on a level that’s a little more personal: I’m now in my early thirties. I’ve got a Master’s degree from a top-tier university and studied under some world-famous folks. I’m white. I’m male. I’ve got supportive family and friends, a roof over my head, and money in the bank (even if very, very little). I’m world-traveled with a lot of experience in a few fields. But I’ve struggled to find work for two years. And, usually, that’s the point where people will say, “White male privilege?! Where can I get me some of that white male privilege you’re talkin’ about?! Cause I’m struggling here and I don’t see it!” But that’s not the take-away I have at all. Instead, my take-away from this struggle, this humiliating, painful struggle it’s been, is that if it’s this hard for me, how much harder must it be for someone who didn’t enjoy some of the “plenty” I had growing up they never had? How could I ever demonize them for not working hard enough or for not having enough personal responsibility to claim their lives when my work or responsibility hasn’t turned up a whole lot? That is, if I struggle to get work with a Master’s degree and a strong group of folks supporting me – all of whom I couldn’t be more thankful for this year as they’ve advocated on my behalf left-and-right – how am I ever supposed to expect someone who has none of that to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? As another friend said, to paraphrase, how can people who never had boots be expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? What, so they can finally get that job at McDonalds or some other major corporation that pays them far below a living wage and nearly guarantees that they’ll be stuck in that cycle?

If you are grateful at all this Thanksgiving for what’s been given to you, then be thankful enough to step into the shoes of those whose opportunities weren’t as grand as yours. That’s really the heart of what people are trying to get at when they talk about “white privilege.” They’re talking about empathy and understanding. After all, for some folks opportunities might have even been nonexistent just because of their skin color or perhaps their gender or perceived sexual orientation or economic status. And if you never had to worry about those things holding you back, maybe be careful before you judge others calling them “lazy.” Because in my two years of searching, there were times where I was tempted to give up, and while I haven’t and won’t (thanks in part to the support network I’ve had that others don’t have), I can at least say that I understand why some might have said, “To hell with it. The whole system is rigged.” Because we live in a world that cries despair for some and hope for others. And that world won’t be just until there’s hope for all. If you’ve wondered why so many religious figures have moved in on doing something about Ferguson, that’s why: a just world seeks to give hope to everybody. It seeks to “un-rig” the whole rigged system. And if you aren’t willing to acknowledge that, to cry foul in the face of those kinds of injustices, then don’t be surprised when you get called racist or sexist or labeled something awful. I don’t know that we help the situation when we rush to those labels always, but those labels are a sign of a kind of righteous rage, of that very growing despair that’s been too-often dismissed or ignored. Because you will hear that despair. And the best way to not have to hear it any longer is to start advocating for hope, by acknowledging where our privileges are, where we had plenty, and by seeking to make sure others have the same advantages. And that’s something we should do often, or at the very least, every Thanksgiving.

Why I hated Interstellar, or why maybe I’m just a Debbie Downer

I’m not one to do movie reviews usually, but I’ve been churning the movie Interstellar over and over in my head ever since I saw it. Maybe that makes it a good movie. If it’s good enough to make me think this much about it, then it’s gotta be worth the dime and nickel I paid to see it. Then again, a really bad movie can be worth money if you’re just wanting to watch a really bad movie.

The truth is, for a good chunk of the movie, I felt my high school science teachers had just failed me miserably, and that was why I couldn’t wrap my mind around the depths of Christopher Nolan’s commentary on general relativity. I kept wishing Neil deGrasse Tyson would be sitting by my side going, “That’s good stuff, but it’s not really accurate! You couldn’t survive getting that close to a black hole!” …though, honestly, it’s not going to make-or-break my movie-going experience when a film defies what we know of science for the sake of creativity. At least, so long as there’s a decent explanation provided, I’ll be okay. Y’know, something like, “We’re using a special kind of metal that won’t break apart when it encounters a dense star with an event horizon!” I mean, okay, even that explanation is dumb and annoying, but I can get with the program if you show me you’re trying. (Although, one big gripe I have: if you know the gravity of a black hole is powerful enough to affect time on a planet that’s a candidate for a second Earth, you should already know the planet won’t work as a possible Earth. Duh. Just saved everybody 23 years. This one scene just about ruined the whole movie for me.)

All that is to say, something about Interstellar tried too hard. And still managed to fail. The movie was ripe with explanation after explanation to a fault. Little time was given to character development – which had to be sacrificed for the sake of making sure we were following the philosophy of science that had been set up. More so, the philosophy of science managed to be a kind of new age mythology, and I find that especially frustrating in a world where we’re (rightfully) critical of religious fundamentalism, but then we manage to trade in our criticism for another extreme of sorts, for a mythology of science and reason. It just seems laughable when we’re willing to shriek that God doesn’t exist but we’re still afraid of ghosts. We’re a species obsessed with a need for the mystical, but in the postmodern world, we sure do try hard not to admit that. And I wish we could handle that a little more honestly.

I digress. Wait, no I don’t. I’m still on this soapbox: I guess I found it silly the way religion was tossed around in the movie like a mythology from the past we finally progressed beyond only to discover that all the “ghosts” and gods were us. I found it disappointing to imagine some advanced version of us as “better,” or even godly in their ability to manipulate space and time. I certainly don’t think humans in 2014 are “better” because of technological advances than, say, humans of the past. More equipped, healthier, wealthier, longer-living, perhaps, but better off? Spend some time living among the poor in some of the poorest places, and your notion of “advanced” will be greatly challenged. I know – I sound like some crazy curmudgeon who is anti-technology, and that’s not the case at all. If we can go to the stars and colonize other planets, we should be investing in that. But not at the expense of hoping to trade in our humanity for technological advance. That is, I agree with Nolan that we can’t just be a planet of caretakers; we also have to explore; that is part of our nature. But we haven’t even gotten care-taking right yet!

To view some “us” made into gods and goddesses by the advances of technology, I don’t take to be a statement about a hopeful future. I take it to be a statement about our present narcissism. “Look at all we can do!” is a scary way of handling religion or science. Yet, I guess on some level, there’s a truth to it worth commenting on pertinent to the present. Religion today, after all, is steeped enough in idolatrous language that when Nietzsche says, “God is dead and we have killed him,” there’s the sense that what’s been killed off isn’t the Sacred “God above God,” but rather our inadequate language and theology for whatever that is. Surely some of that needs to die off! But when Nolan suggests it’s just some advanced us, when the “magic” is stripped away, the way it is by young Murphy, I don’t hear the progress of science in that. I hear desperation: we couldn’t figure out who we were as a species, so we made ourselves into gods and goddesses via technology and black holes to give some inkling of sense to our lives and save what we called humanity.

But the gods and goddesses they manage to create should scare you! Humans with the ability to manipulate space and time?! That might be the thing I liked least about Interstellar. The movie is steeped in a kind of science fiction Calvinism. “Whatever can happen will happen” is a form of predestination in a way. Pulled back into some fifth dimension where you can manipulate time, the implication that there is no past, present, or future makes us into robotic beings manipulated by some advanced us. When everything that will happen has already happened, it’s scary to think some us was overseeing all of that. And we’re supposed to leave the theater going, “Wow, what a great movie.” Cooper gets it right the first time when he sends the message, “Stay.” Care-taking isn’t all that bad. Even if it costs us everything.

I know, I know. I’m just a Debbie Downer, and you could argue I’ve missed some overarching message of the movie about love and the way love – like gravity – is the missing piece of the equation. Really? Cause, yeah, no one has ever done anything awful in the name of “love.” But yeah, all that is to say, I hated Interstellar, and now I think I finally know why.

The Power of a Song

I listen to music like I’m on a mission. It’s never been about just enjoying a song. Or even a matter of having some nice background noise while I went about whatever. I needed to find the right song for the right moment, and about the time I found it, I went looking for another. I’m not sure if there is a “perfect” song, so much as there’s just been good songs for certain moments of my life, but nevertheless I definitely operate like I’m in search of that one masterpiece.

Maybe that’s because during some of the darkest moments of my life, one song or another wasn’t just some melody that spoke to my heart. It was a person with artistic talent who (coincidentally, using a melody that spoke to my heart) had shared in a similar experience as me. It was empathy, and knowing there was another person out there who “got” me and “got” how hard whatever we were enduring was, brought about just the comfort I’d been searching for. In that sense, to me, music is relational. It connects us not only to an artist we don’t even know but to others who may also find solace in whatever that artist has offered and placed on the table for our consideration.

Nearly a decade ago, a dear friend of mine was having a rough day as she was remembering a dear friend of hers, a young man named Cory, who had driven to an empty field and shot himself ending his life while he listened to the Counting Crows “Round Here” on repeat. Over the years, I’ve played that song again and again and always think of him, this guy I never knew, sitting there in his car absorbing that song. Over the years, I’ve had my own moments where I, too, put a song on repeat and only heard despair, and it’s made me think a lot about the power of a song. I sometimes wonder how different for Cory things could’ve been had someone been there, like a ghost, to push “next” on the CD Player. Or what it must’ve been for him to have come to that one song and felt he’d heard all the music he could, that there was nothing else to hear. Wherever he is, I like to think there’s a sweeter tune on repeat, but not stuck there.

Lately, coinciding with reading some of the theologian Paul Tillich, some of which I’ve had to read again and again (not only because I didn’t understand it fully the first time but also because I wanted to make sure I had absorbed the richness of everything he was saying), I’ve been listening to the new Damien Rice album, as well. Rice’s new album is a collection of the kind of shear honesty that belts out loudly and proudly, “Here I am. Take me as I am. I know you can.” That’s also at the core of what I read in Tillich who believes, in spite of all that makes us unacceptable – to ourselves, to the world – that there’s this invitation on the table that says, “Come, no matter what, just come to the table. You are welcome.” Tillich words it much more beautifully but perhaps not as beautifully as Damien in his song, Trusty and True. I can’t share that song with Cory, who I never knew, but in one way or another, getting myself and those I love to click “next” on the MP3 player to hear something new, perhaps an invitation like the one Damien sings so heart-fully, is all I really want to do with my life. I’ll end this one with the song and the lyrics, which say much more than this blog ever could:

We’ve wanted to be trusty and true,
but feathers fell from our wings,
and we’ve wanted to be worthy of you,
but weather rained on our dreams,
and we can’t take back what is done, what is past
so fellahs lay down your fears,
cause we can’t take back what is done, what is past
so let us start from here,
cause we never wanted to be lusty or lewd,
nor tethered to prudish strings,
and we never wanted to be jealously tuned,
nor withered into ugly things,
but we can’t take back what is done, what is past
so fellahs lay down your spears,
cause we can’t take back what is done, what is past
so let us start from here,
and if all that you are is not all you desire,
then Come,
Come, come along, come with fear, come with love
Come however you are, just come,
Come alone, come with friends, come with foes,
Come however you are, just come,
Come along, come with me, and let go,
Come however you are, just come,
Come along, come so carefully close,
Come however you are, just come,
Come, come along, come with sorrows and songs,
Come however you are, just come
Come along, come let yourself be wrong,
Come however you are,
Just come.