The Body, The Blood, The Machine

If you didnt know already, i like to listen to alot of music. All types. This week I dug out the second to last CD of one of my favorite bands of the past few years, The Thermals – “The Body The Blood The Machine”. I haven’t listened to it in a while and I forgot how good the songs were, and how clever and yet scathing the lyrics are, delivered in very catchy melodic punk rock goodness. As you can probably tell from the title, the album reads like a critique of American Christianity from someone who was raised in “the Church”, but ultimately left. Interestingly enough beneath the sarcasm and irony that the singer Hutch Harris puts into his words, you get the sense that he isn’t saying these things out of anger, but more from of a place of disappointment, and feeling let down by the church. His lyrics are honest and you even get a sense of innocence and longing for something greater than himself.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always try and find the subtext of a persons words, and I often try to read between the lines and see if I can come away with a different interpretation of ones words that is unlike or contrary to the plain, literal interpretation that I get after reading it superficially. I guess I don’t always like things mapped out for me, I like to guess, and wonder and sometimes spend way too much time trying to figure out the meanings in things that are pretty cut and dried for most. That must be why I like reading the Bible since it’s full of stuff you can interpret any number of ways, and if you don’t think so then ask yourself why there are over 38000 reported denominations of Christianity. Everyone brings their own unique viewpoint to what they read and they interpret it in the framework of their world, their existence, and their experiences, for better or for worse. So when one person reads the following lyrics and sees it as a mockery, another might read it and see it as a statement about the self perspective of American Christianity, while another person might actually read it more literally.

The Thermals
Here’s Your Future

God reached his hand down from the sky
He flooded the land, when he set it afire

He said, “Fear me again, know I’m your father,
Remember that no one can breathe underwater.”

So bend your knees and bow your heads
Save your babies, here’s your future…

YEAH HERE’S YOUR FUTURE!!!

God reached his hand down from the sky
God asked Noah if he wanted to die
He said, “No Sir, oh, no Sir!”
God said, “Here’s your future.
It’s gonna rain…”

So we packing our things
We’re building a boat
We’re gonna create the new master race
‘Cause we’re so pure, oh Lord we’re so pure!!!

So here’s your future…

God told his son, “It’s time to come home.
I promise you won’t have to die all alone.
I need you to pay for the sins I create.”
Son said, “I will, but Dad, I’m afraid!!!”

So here’s your future…
So here’s your future…
So here’s your future.

When i read these words I don’t get the feeling that it’s “Anti Christian”, per say, I think the singer just has trouble rectifying what he sees religion do and what he hears religion say. And I think we all have these same questions in our lives at different times, if we are to live honestly with ourselves. Which is what I think the Thermals are doing with their music. Making honest observations and packaging them in 3 minute pop songs. It’s up to us to listen and interpret for ourselves, taking the good with the bad. What’s my interpretation, especially being that I consider myself a follower of Jesus? I take what they say with a grain of salt, acknowledging the frustration, and their sometimes contradictory interpretations of things that I see completely different, and then I apply and look for the good and the redemptive in it, try to find the hidden nugget to take away from the experience and keep for myself. I guess that is how i can listen to or read stuff that is 180 degrees from where I’m at. It helps to open my eyes. Sometimes only to another persons experience. And that’s worth it to me.

I Hold The Sound

the light out
we don’t talk
the light out
we sleep now
the door locked
the door locked
we don’t talk
we sleep now

i hold you
i hold the sound
we sleep now

it’s safe now
we can move
the world is over
the world is over
it’s early still
the sun is cold
the world is over
the world is over

i hold you
i hold the sound
i hold the sound
i hold the sound

we walk now
we can breathe
the earth is flat
the sky is round
it’s early still
the moon is cold
we walk now
we walk alone

i hold you
i hold the sound
i hold the sound
i hold the sound
i hold the sound
i hold the sound

the light out
we don’t talk
the light out
we sleep now

Dear Jesus,
I’ve been thinking alot about anger lately. I think it’s probably because I’ve been angry alot lately. More so than usual, and it’s not some teen angst type of anger, it’s an anger you feel burning in your gut. You see, without divulging too much, about a month ago I found out someone I’m related to by marriage was doing something he shouldnt have been doing with an under age girl in the family (he wasnt doing what youre thinking he was doing, but it’s still pretty bad). When I found out, i wanted to drive over to his house and give him an old fashioned beat down, but my wife forced me to weigh the consequences (as she usually does in these situations). Now I’m normally a peaceful guy, who considers himself somewhat level headed, and allows things to slide off his back without bothering him too much, but this….. this has actually been boiling my blood for well over a month now, and when I think of this person, I get angry all over again. So I guess this brings me to my question, which is when does anger go from righteous to rotten? When does anger go from something that should cause you to act, to something that eats away at your soul and ultimately ruins your life?

I am intimately acquainted with living in anger. I spent most of my teens and 20’s living in it and glorifying it. Whether it be on a personal or societal level, i was pissed off. I was mad at my dad, i was mad at society, I was mad at fate. I thought i had a right to be angry, and in some cases i did have that right, but ultimately i started to learn that anger, while it may come from a righteous source, if not addressed or channeled properly, would eventually eat me up. And it was eating me up. I was not able to see the world outside of the context of my anger, and it crippled my ability to be open to people, to trust people or believe in possibility. It got to the point where it was affecting all of my most valued relationships, and I realized I had to reckon with it or I would slowly die a bitter, pathetic death. So I started trying to change my outlook and attitude on life, and sure enough, as I would take small baby steps in this, the universe would let me know I was on the right path.

Fast forward many years and here I am. I still have many challenges with anger, but it doesnt define my world like it once did. But then things like this guy doing his thing happens and I am immediately taken back to that place where I am anger incarnate, and although it is a righteous anger, I realize that this time something is different about it, like maybe this time there is an important lesson for me hidden inside it. You know you can usually sense when a life lesson is coming because there are signs pointing to it from all directions. Sign 1 for me came when i stumbled upon a quote from Hermann Hesse, author of the book Siddartha, which i finally read last year (20 years after it was assigned to me in High School). The quote was If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us. Something struck me about this. If i hate someone who does bad shit, who is a religious hypocrite, who does more damage to his family than good, how is it that I hate that in myself? I dont do any of that crap… I dont even want to be around that. But ever since reading that quote I’ve been asking myself “what about him makes me so angry, and what is it in me that i see a parallel to, and to a lesser degree, what about myself do I want to destroy so bad?”

Fast forward another few days and I stumble upon this website about Christian Meditation. I’m a big fan of eastern meditation, while being pitifully inept at it. I’ve always seen a parallel between meditation and a spiritual connection to God. In fact if you look at the great teachers of all our worlds religions, one parallel you can find in most of them is that they spent a good amount of time in meditative isolation, Jesus preferring solitude on the mount of olives, Mohammed retreating to the cave where he ultimately was given the Koran, Buddha Gautama under his tree and so on. Anyways, the site on Christian Meditation put some concepts together that were just kind of fumbling around separately in my head. One such concept was the idea of self mastery. Obviously when you think of self mastery, you think of disciplining your body to the will of your mind, but it really hit home the fact that I need to discipline my mind as well. in fact self mastery needs to start with the mind. And while I may go through this world controlling my anger externally, what good does it do me if it still causes havoc internally. So here I am hating this guy in my heart, and suddenly i have an epiphany about the true nature and purpose of meditation, regardless of creed or faith, which is to let go of the unhealthy desires of our hearts, for it is in these desires that we create our own suffering. I needed to let go of my anger. This was gonna take practice. But whenever I’d find myself hating this guy, I would remind myself of this epiphany and I found that i was hating him less as the days went.

Still, I kept thinking about the Hesse quote and spent time wondering how it was that i hated myself by hating him. Then it hit me on the way home from work one day. In my head i pictured myself trying to kill this person, and then asking myself why i hated him so much as to try and kill him, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I hated him, because I hated that same potential, that same possibility of doing every one of those bad things, in me. you see, this guy isnt too different from me. he’s a musician too. he’s a father. he’s actually a somewhat likeable guy outside of all the bad stuff, but the difference is he succumbs to his basic desires and impulses. And when i look at him, i see that same potential for me, because the only difference between him and I is that I chose not to do the same things he did today. Will i still choose this way tomorrow? I’d like to say yes. But who knows. I hate him because what he does, and what he is, appalls me, but on a deeper level i think it scares me because I fear making those same choices. And what does fear usually manifest itself as? Anger… Hatred… Yoda was right all along.

Strange thing the mind and the heart. After that day I found that i didn’t really hate the guy anymore. I actually feel more pity for him than anything. I know that he will continue to do things that will make me mad in the moment, but it will dissipate. I wont feel the need to harbor anything against him or fantasize about beating him up. I’ll remember that the only differences between us are the choices we’ve made which either build us up or destroy us. I’ll recognize my potential to choose the path of destruction, and pray that I choose that path of life. And then maybe I’ll pray that he stops choosing the path of destruction as well. The great thing about being who we are is that we have the power to change. Self mastery.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

How a father loves

Posted: February 4, 2010 in christianity, faith, parenthood

Dear Jesus,
They say that our first impressions of God are formed by how we view and interact with our parents when we are babies and young children. If that is the case, it makes sense to me since as babies our whole world revolves around our parental figure/s, and we look to them for every provision, comfort and need. Our parent/s fill our eyes as the be all end all for a time, and nothing else, or very little else exists outside of them. Then as we grow older and experience more and begin to learn more, we also usually “learn” about God, but the basic elements of that foundation have already been laid, and depending on how that foundation has been constructed, we spend our lives building on it, or trying to rebuild it. In my case, being that my time as a very young child was spent with an authoritarian father and missing a biological mother, it’s no surprise I’ve spent much of my adult life trying to re-program my gut instincts in regards to the presence of God in my life. Even now I catch myself sometimes thinking that God is waiting for me to screw up so he can say “gotcha!” Even now I have to remind myself that God is not waiting for me to drop the ball so he can find a reason to discipline or damn me. It sucks to have such a slanted view of God from the get go, but it’s what I have to deal with and so I do it and improve a little each day.

The idea that our view of God is shaped by our view of our parents has been even more frequently in my mental space ever since my wife told me she was pregnant with our daughter, who is now 14 months old. I think about it all the time, and how my relationship to her will affect her view of God. But what does that also teach me as a parent about how God views me, since I am supposed to be one of God’s children with God as my mother/father? I believe the correlation is intentional, and is supposed to teach us something about how God loves us, his children. Knowing how much I love my daughter, how much I marvel in the miracle that she is, and knowing that in my heart of hearts I could never turn away from her, no matter what she did, that my love for her as a father is unconditional, how much more does God love us, God who loves so perfectly, and sees through to our innermost beings, whose love can change a person….whose love can change the world. When i look at my daughter, I can not help but love her, and when she does things I don’t like, or that are bad, i don’t stop loving her, I discipline, yes but never forsake. If we as humans have the capacity to love in this manner, flawed as we are, does that not give us hope in the love of God? For me it does. It gives me the hope that I am banking on, that God loves me even when I royally fuck up. He will wait to teach me, and will often discipline me, but he never forsakes me or turns his back on me. Even when I am feeling worthless and unforgivable, God loves. When I am feeling like an orphan, God reminds me that I am a son. And when i look at my daughter and all the beauty and glory that she is to me, I remind myself that that is how God looks at us, and that no matter what has happened in our past or what will happen in the future, the one constant will always remain. God loves us. And that’s all i really need to know because that’s what all every child needs to know, that their Mother/Father loves them.

Dear Jesus,
Last week while I was at work the ground shook. It happened two days in a row, and both were only minor quakes, but it got me thinking about the probability of the Big One hitting the bay area again. Well the big one hit yesterday, but not here. It hit Haiti, and I think it is going to prove to be one of the most horrific occurrences the modern world has seen in quite a while. By now everyone has seen the grisly images and heard the statistics. The entire capital city flattened. Hundreds of thousands dead. Bodies piled in the streets. Disease and social disorder will be widespread in what was already the most impoverished nation in this hemisphere. But amidst all of the bombardment of the media with pictures of dead children and crushed buildings, we hear stories of hope, of humanity coming together to help those in need, and of the generosity of people the world over giving their money to help with the relief effort. These stories remind us that we are all one family, all children of God. They help us get through the tough times. But then we also hear the words of the prideful and the arrogant, who presume to know the mind of God, who in their shameful hubris claim that this disaster is divine retribution for a sin committed long ago by their forefathers. They say these things with the smug confidence that they are right. And the worst part is they say these things in your name.

Now I don’t presume to know the mind of God, and I don’t claim to be better than anyone. I am merely a fool struggling to make his way through a complex world, but I do know a few things about the character of Christ, and I find that the nature of Christ stands in opposition to what these people say and do in the name of Christ. And what’s worse is that these people are in a position of power, a position where they can lead their followers to extend their hands in love to assist those that need it, as the Good Samaritan did to the wounded man in the old parable. Yet they choose to judge and disregard, they choose to speak from a place of folly and ignorance, they do not consider what you would do, how you would want them to act. Forgive me Jesus for my own presumptuousness but my heart burns with anger when a “Christian leader” turns his back and disregards the poor, the meek and the needy with such insensitivity. Where is the compassion of Christ? Where is the love of God? Suspiciously absent in my eyes. These are the people who are supposed to be guiding your flock by example, yet I see more Christianity in the atheists on the ground making a difference. I see Jesus in the person who is reaching out for the sake of humanity. Now I know there are people there who are helping in your name, who are there with a genuine sense of compassion and love working hard in your name, putting their money where their mouths are, and I’m thankful for them! They are doing God’s work so please bless them for it. But as for pharisee’s like Pat Robertson? I can only pray that you soften their hearts towards people less fortunate than them, towards the poor, the needy and the downtrodden and that they can lead their flocks, their churches, in the right direction of serving their brothers and sisters in love, in the direction of true Christianity, not this socio-political ideology that passes for American Christianity. I guess until then, you wont be seeing me in church much.

A life less ordinary

Posted: December 16, 2009 in christianity, faith

Dear Jesus,
I was reading an interview today with Jim Cameron the movie director, who is coming out with his newest blockbuster next week. In the interview he said something that echoes what I believe deep down inside, and what I sometimes try to make myself forget. He was talking about his youth and how he got into movies and his reputation for being a real hard ass, and in one of his responses he said “Most people waste their lives on mundane bullshit.” And the truth is, for the most part I think he is right.

But it’s not just simply us wasting our lives by sitting in front of the TV everyday after we get out of our 9-5 that we most of the time hate. No, there’s more to what he said than that and while he may not have meant it in a spiritual manner, you can and should apply that perspective to his statement. By interpreting his statement in a spiritual context, it has even more profound implications. How so? Because if we are to take seriously the basic precepts of what all of our faiths are saying, regardless of religion, and look at ourselves and our lives in relation to what out faiths are trying to tell us, I think most of us would see a great disparity. I for one readily admit that I’m not my brother’s keeper, that I don’t serve God by serving others, that my life is not about spreading charity and love and hope. And I honestly don’t have a good reason why it’s not. Oh I can say “I have a family that I need to support, a mortgage I need to pay” but I know that’s an excuse because I now in my heart i can do both.

I think we get so caught up in the way this society functions, in the routine of everyday life, that we often forget to live. I know I do. It’s so easy to fall into working day in and day out and not see that life is for living, that God wants us to live fully and to experience the wonder and mystery of it all, and to love and serve each other, for by doing so we love and serve God. This society is not conducive to that. It’s conducive to us being slaves to the machine, to thinking that we need all this material stuff to be happy, to thinking that achievement is where we find our identity or esteem. It’s conducive to stress, anxiety and heart attacks. It’s conducive to unhappy marriages, neglected children and dysfunctional people. It’s conducive to forgetting about God and each other. Most of us waste our lives on mundane bullshit that in the end means nothing and has robbed us of our lives, our minds and our hearts. Robbed us of our relationships, loves and joys. Robbed us of our experience of God. And the worst part about it all is that it is usually with our permission.

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear the little voice in the back of my head that says “the work that you do everyday is, in the end, meaningless. Your life is meant for so much more. You have a higher purpose than to just do what you’re doing now, but you need to choose it”. And yet I continue to do the same thing over and over everyday. “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.” That line in the Pink Floyd song always gets me wondering when I’ll be brave enough to make a change, or at least do something in addition to what I’m doing that makes a difference in my life, to find more meaning, to serve God by serving others. It doesn’t mean I just up and quit everything and become a monk, but it does mean I need to make the effort to find and act on something that serves something other than myself. By doing this I will bring a deeper meaning to my life, and closer communion to God, and the sense of feeling like I’m wasting my life on mundane bullshit will disappear because while I may not be making blockbuster movies or traveling the planet full time, I will be able to find contentment and feel settled within, in the knowledge that I’m serving God by serving others.

Dear Jesus,
A good friend of mine called me up this past Saturday morning to inform me that his sister had died. She hung herself in her house and her boyfriend of 10 years had come home and found her. I was shocked by the news but strangely not too surprised. I had known her previously and knew she was a sensitive soul who carried a burden. What I didnt know was that she had tried this before and failed. Not this time. My friend, Dave, now has no immediate blood relatives since he and his sister were the last ones left. I obviously expressed my sorrow and sympathy for him and his wife and their little year old son and during our discussion over why she did this, we ended up on the subject of God. (but of course!)

My friend Dave is a traditional guy, with very traditional biblical views, and one of those views, which is very common among most bible readers and believers is that people who commit suicide are damned. Obviously he is having a hard time dealing with this concept in regards to his sister.

What do I say? My best answer is “I dont know”. While I know what the churches and the bible say (and the bible isnt explicit when it comes to this subject), I have to go with what my heart tells me. For better or for worse my heart is my spiritual barometer when it comes to these subjects that are not clearly defined in the bible, and I believe that God speaks to me through my heart often(whether I listen or not is subject matter for another post some other time).

When i think of God i think of the greatest presence in the universe and how that presence is active in my life. I can say without hesitation that God is active in my life, because I’ve seen and felt God’s presence and action on numerous occasions and in different ways. And what i’ve seen and felt mostly is a great sense of peace, occasionally intense joy, and ultimately what i can only describe as love. Now this isnt everyday mind you. But it’s there and it’s real. It is from within these experiences that I cant imagine the God who sustains me, even in all my folly and hard headedness, maintaining a place of eternal torture and damnation. I guess you can call me a hippie, but that doesnt seem characteristic of my God. And it is in light of this, and my studies of scripture, that I dont see how hell, and even the devil, fit into the great equation. I guess the cat’s out of the bag now. Some people ask me how i can believe in God, and in the power of Christ, without believing in the devil and hell. It’s not complicated, and it’s even scriptural, but not all of my beliefs are dependent upon scripture. And it’s at this point where I lose many folks, my family included, because they might have difficulty accepting what has not been written down or difficulty trying to get a handle on the unknown, and ultimately want everything drawn out for them. And I cant blame them really, because at least then you can sleep at night thinking that what you believe is concrete, tried and true, historically accurate and proven truth.

But who here can claim to know the mind of God? Or who here can say they know with 100% certainty where they will go after death, and who can say with any certainty, where someone else will go, whether by suicide or not. You see, Jesus, I believe in you and your greatest act of love and mercy, and I believe that that act was done for all mankind, for me, for my family, for Dave, for his sister, for everyone, and it is in that great act of love and mercy that I believe that even those who didnt know you here, who never experienced your love, or even those who ran from you, will have a chance to meet you and experience you and your gift, because I believe that it is not your will or desire for any of us to be lost, as a shepherd leaves his flock to find the one lost sheep, i do believe you intercede for us even after our deaths. I know there is no scripture to back that up, but my heart tells me so.

We are mere humans here, fumbling through a complex world that often gets the best of us in this life. We suffer from so many self inflicted spiritual maladies that they ultimately add up to a lack of vision, which is why we do these self destructive things, one of them being suicide. When we get so lost in ourselves and so disconnected from ourselves, our loved ones and more importantly God, that we can rationalize destroying ourselves, without thinking of how it will affect our families, our friends, or without giving hope a chance to grow, or even refusing to see hope as an alternative, we have lost our ability to see outside ourselves. They say suicide is a selfish act, and I believe it is, but i cant judge, because I dont know a persons heart. That is between them and God. And it is my hope and prayer that when that deed is done, Christ meets their soul as healer and dresses the wounds that led them down their path of self destruction here on earth, and bestows the peace and wholeness they never found here on earth.

One can dream can’t he?

Dear Jesus,
I got this CD the other day and I’ve been listening to it non-stop, which is unusual for me these days. It’s that good.It’s by a guy named David Bazan, and the name of the CD is “Curse Your Branches”.

David Bazan - Curse Your Branches

I’ve been a fan of his and his band “pedro the lion” for some time. This is probably his best work he’s ever done, but that’s besides my point. I was giving it my first full listen while driving around doing errands with my 11month old daughter, when the last song came on called “In Stitches“. I sat in my car listening to the words, and wept as I watched my baby daughter sleep. This song breaks my heart in a way no other song has, because song deals with some of the most basic, spiritual questions we as humans have the capacity to ask. It also breaks my heart because this song, and to a larger extent this whole CD is a breakup letter to God.

Faith is a gift, yet it is also a choice, and we can choose to believe or not. Sometimes, when we see all the awful shit that goes on in the world we can’t justify in ourselves the existence of God. I’ve had my days of wondering myself, and I know things will continue to happen that will challenge the very foundation of my faith for the rest of my life. But I’m okay with that. Because I know that life is just that way. Life is tough. Nothing’s guaranteed, nothing is secure, but I do believe that everything is in God’s hands which are much more capable than mine, so I try to trust in God that there is a purpose and reason for everything. And it is in this thought that I wept for my daughter, because she, in all her present beautiful innocence, will grow to see horrors in her lifetime, and will grow to have her sense of God challenged, and will be faced with these same questions that she will have to either find answers for or be content with not knowing. And all I as her flawed and fallen father can do is hold a signpost for her that points the way towards God, and hope and pray that when she has done her questioning, soul searching and spiritual journeying, that she comes through it all with a sense that God is real and present in her life, even in the small things. And it’s not about her knowing God as defined by a particular religion, it’s about her knowing God as the omniscient presence in the universe, yet still concerned with, and active in her life. And that is a simple truth that i fully believe because I’ve been blessed to have experienced God first hand in my life when I was not expecting or asking for it. And i dont know why I’ve been fortunate enough to have an experience when others might not have. Maybe God knew my character enough to know that in my darkest hours, the only thing that would keep me from fully letting go of everything, was the memory of that experience and the fact that i can not deny it.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, I know that life is long and people change, and where I was 10 years ago is not where I am at now, and who knows where I’ll be in 10 years. So when i think about David Bazan and his breakup letter to God, I tend to think that they’ll get back together again someday, because I think he’s asking the right questions. And in time they’ll work things out. God is patient and always ready for us to talk to him again.

In Stitches – David Bazan

my body bangs and twitches
some brown liquor whets my tongue
my fingers find the stitches
firmly back and forth they run
i need no other memory
of the bits of me i left
when all this lethal drinking
is to hopefully forget
about you
i might as well admit it
like i even have a choice
the crew have killed the captain
but they still can hear his voice
a shadow on the water
a whisper in the wind
on long walks with my daughter
who is lately full of questions
about you
when Job asked you the question
you responded “who are you
to challenge your creator?”
well if that one part is true
it makes you sound defensive
like you had not thought it through
enough to have an answer
like you might have bit off
more than you could chew