Fading Man (poem)

The city is desperate, fueled
By the filial dreams
Of a thousand youths.

Such audacity --

But what emerges,
Churns in the belly
Of the fading man



Outside, autumn begins its cool whispers of peace and decay. Inside, Emmylou Harris rises gently above the quiet murmur of the shop. She echoes a sound from fifty years ago, splices of it mixed into the interludes of the music. The music is achy with longing; white soul for those who acknowledge neither concept.

The acoustic guitars thump and sing, fat and gray in the company of angelic harmonies and archetypal melodies. We all know this music. It is written in the celtic, anglo-saxon souls of Caucasians. We have strayed and betrayed ourselves, attempting to leverage ourselves into the gladiatorial arenas of hip-hop and "modern" music, but we need to face it.

We are mountain people. Even the most mixed breed of us is stuck with the pipes and the drums from the highlands, pounding wild and distant in our hearts. The grouse and heather cling to our thighs as we run, as we flail to flee our past.

Emmylou, and artists like her bring those pasts back to confront our empty, unanchored eyes. We have drifted, for we have forgotten who we are, and when you can’t remember who you are, it’s even more difficult to latch on to who you’d like to be. It recedes in the distance, fleeing your reaching, outstretched hand.

Emmylou touches the soul in our stomachs. She reminds of us the essentials of life, that we—like her songs—are uncategorized, brilliant as a flower, and luminous in our mortality. We cultivate beautiful deaths so that our stories can be told in their aching, seductive beauty.

She has soul. She has country. She has modern rock and roll. She has gospel. It is not “country” music, it is human music. She is a psalmist.

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Hey everybody (or maybe all 3 of you that might read this)...

In the interest of giving myself even more to do, and also of making things a bit more specific, I'm splitting this blog in two. This one, "Bittersweet Symphony", I'd like to dedicate to artistic matters, or art and faith.

I've started a new one, "Jerry and Ike's Pages" that will address more specifically my thoughts on church.

It will be at: http://jerryandike.blogspot.com/

Bookmark it if you'd like.... peace.


The CD is Dead, Long Live the CD

I firmly agree, with most current commentators, that the CD is dead. Electronic delivery of music is now the overwhelming choice of consumers. Old news, I know.

However, there are two aspects of the current (and future) state of music retailing that intrigues me.

First, there’s the aspect of musical quality, which I blogged about a few weeks ago. There are simply things in the compression of sound that get lost. I firmly believe it. As Buddy Miller put it in No Depression, when you listen to a great CD, it can “make your heart hurt”; a similarly great mp3 often just lacks that certain something, the certain center, warm mid-range that Neil Young would love. T-Bone Burnett, producer of the amazing (and amazing sounding) Raising Sand, similarly grouses against the sound quality of iPod music. (BTW, I own a iPod and LOVE being able to take my music anywhere.) He and some colleagues are brainstorming new e-delivery formats that will enhance the quality of music, but there’s nothing in production yet.

Second, there’s the idea of the CD as “artifact”, as a piece of visual art, a piece of cultural “swag”. Frankly, I think there’s still life here. Granted it is not “mainstream market” life. It becomes “niched” life, where it will be purchased by audiophiles, artists and musicians who want to read liner notes, see who played on what, and engage the visual artistic direction of the CD’s author.

So I think we are at a very interesting time in the life of music commerce. I believe in the “economics of free”, that electronic music (content) will be increasingly freely accessible to people, who will pass the good stuff around, and delete the bad stuff. iTunes will continue to dominate the retail business, and CDs will continue to shrink as a percentage of music sales.

Simultaneously, however, I think CD sales will increasingly become appealing to the niche of people who want to hear the highest quality (note: I am not debating the quality of vinyl versus CDs here; they are different media with different tonal qualities and characteristics) they can get, AND can also possess the “artifact”.

In short, I think the most successful selling CDs in the near-term are going to be (a) really great sounding, and (b) really great looking. Iconic. Compelling. Something that makes that certain group of people true fans, maybe?) say, “I’ll buy the music on iTunes, but I want to OWN that THING, that piece of physical, visual art.”

The CD as music retail is dead; long live the CD as art.

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Read this last week...

"Jesus was hoping for the Kingdom.... instead, he got the church."



Suffering and Promises, Pt. 2

A couple days ago, I gave it to an atheist who was attempting to indict God because of the bible’s “inconsistent” stance on suffering.

Now, it’s the evangelicals’ turn.

First, disclosure: I consider myself, on some level, an evangelical… Let’s do it this way:

“I believe in God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified dead, and buried. On the third day He rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, from there he shall come to judge the quick and dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

Hope that proves my membership in the club (I think I got all the capital letters in the right places); if there’s been a secret handshake that’s been introduced in the past few years, I might be in trouble.

Okay. Now what I mean by “evangelical”, unfortunately, would be more accurately understood as “evangelicalism”: the blind subscription to the set of beliefs handed down by spiritual leaders and digested without examination. I’m a bit closer to Luther, I think, and would say that we (the whole church, not just the folks who collect paychecks) need to do a much better job of holding sermons, bible studies, and—in particular—Christian paraphernalia to the light of scripture.

There’s a lot of error out there.

So my particular beef, today, is with “God’s Promises for You”, or maybe in a less sensitive light, “Little lies we tell ourselves to avoid the more troubling aspects of God’s character.”

Let me ask you: what does God promise you? Think about that. Now, think about the bible. Think about scripture, this Word of God that is useful for instruction and transformation. Think about what God “promised” His people through their history.

I would assert that the list of God’s promises for us is startling short:

1. God promises that He will take care of himself.
2. God promises that there is somehow a plan.

Don’t tell me that God wants my best. I see in scripture that he is willing to allow Joseph to be imprisoned, Moses to be left out of the promise land, Jeremiah to be mocked, Israel to be exiled, Christ to be crucified and most (if not all) of the Twelve to be executed. God doesn’t want my best, he wants me to worship him, and that worship could (should?) be dangerous.

Don’t tell me that there is “a lesson that God wants me to teach me,” (and that, by extension, I’ll be a lot happier once I learn said lesson). I’ll tell you that God says in scripture that His ways are not my ways (and who’d want to worship a deity that you could understand?) and that, in fact, he owes me no explanation whatsoever. Whatever I receive is grace—unmerited favor.

Don’t tell me that God is “for me.” Better to say that God is for himself. In fact, he must be for himself. For him to be unduly concerned about my well being would place too much responsibility on me. I’d rather have the One who dwells in unapproachable light just take care of things, rather than worry about my happiness.

What, I can only identify two promises? (It’s certainly not enough to sell a book with.) Yeah, but those two promises mean a lot, and will cover a multitude of situations. I don’t believe He is malevolent, mean, or remote, I just think that our attempts to belittle and over-simplify him are errant and misleading. Profitable? Sure.


Suffering and Promises, Pt. 1

I few months ago I was in one of the big box bookstores, and I saw a book on display. It was about suffering, and what the bible had to say about it. Because I wasn’t in the Christian trinket store, I picked it up, assuming that it had some compelling scholarship and intellect behind it. I perused the inside cover to see who the author was, and the read how he used to be a Baptist minister, but as he “investigated God” more and more, he came to reject the whole enterprise, and declared himself, somehow an atheist who is now writing books about God and the bible. The intention of this book, explicitly stated, was to show how there is no cohesive statement on suffering in the bible. Therefore, God is either nonexistent, or remarkably cruel, capricious, and utterly indifferent about human suffering.

I don’t know whether it’s the thought that a minister has “switched sides” or that his publisher couched his scholarship in such a package, featured prominently in a popular bookstore. Either way, something has really bothered me and stuck with me about this. Here are my thoughts.

In a sense, he’s right: I would say that there is not a cohesive statement on suffering in the bible:

• God wipes out the whole human race (Genesis) but saves Noah and vows to never do it again

• God prohibits Moses, his chosen leader, from entering the promise land (Deuteronomy) for (let’s be honest) a simple and understandable mistake

• God allows the Accuser to strip Job of nearly everything (Job)

• God uses Babylon and Assyria to punish Israel, his chosen people (Isaiah, Jeremiah)

• God says that he knows the very number of hairs on our heads (Psalms), and that he cares for us much more than he cares for the birds of the air (Matthew)

I mean, he’s all over the place!

I’m know biblical scholar; I have no letters after my surname, but I read, and I think, and I pray. What I believe is that this author has missed the point, applying the same errant paradigm as many simple-minded, bad fundamentalists might.

The assume that God has to fit inside a box. A system.

The God that I read about in the bible is wild, personable, and infused with a powerful personality. Do we always agree with him? Probably not. Do we always like him? I daresay, sometimes it would be difficult to say yes.

Put my life into a thousand plus pages, and try to fit me into a consistent paradigm or system. Good luck. We are given freedom to act, to exist, to be angry, to be inconsistent. We are made in our Father’s image. He is not a marble statue. He is Yahweh, the living, jealous, angry, compassionate, God.

Is Yahweh capricious? I’d say no. But is He free?

Oh yes.

I’d say that this author lost his faith a long time before his intellect “caused” him to have a crisis. Most likely his doubt crept in because of a misunderstanding of what God actually promises us. More on that later, but I’d say that this man could have kept his faith if he could have just remembered a few simple things:

a. We live east of Eden; the world is broken, and we are trying to remake it, but the going is often slow and difficult
b. God does what he wants; he is bigger and more dominant than our theology
c. We are called to never stop hoping.

That’s what faith is about.

Sorry you lost your faith, buddy. But it was gone a long time ago if you – even with your PhD – expected him to confirm to your modern, linear, mirror-glass smooth concept of “biblical suffering” (as if there’s such a thing… isn’t all suffering just “suffering”? How is the bible separated from our own life?).

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Proof that a white person is about to say something racist:

When they say, "Now, I'm not racist, but..."