Finish/Polish

I like getting things done—but loath finishing things. Give me an excavator and I'll push a house down, just don't ask me to pick up the shards of glass afterward. I need to see the progress happening.  I've been reading a book about this called The Conative Connection. Each person gets things done in a certain way—a different way. And the key to getting things done is to operate within those strengths as much as possible and either avoid your resistances altogether or work with someone who has the necessary strengths.

So for me, finishing well is learning how to take care of a few details myself, but more and more it's about working with detail people and allowing them to do what they do so well (which often means paying someone when the details are important).

Which brings me back to the dead horse I like to beat: You are a part of a community; the more you embrace that the better off you (and they) will be.

50 Shows: Show #7 - Highlight Reel

The great thing about the internet is that you can curate what all those friends you haven't talked to in years think you are doing with yourself. Failure can be edited out like so many bad paragraphs in the early draft of a great novel. I'm fine with editing literature, but every so often I hear about the great failure of geniuses and other people on which we bestow the mythic title of "gifted" and I realize, "Oh yea—failure is part of the process." In fact if you set out to do something worthwhile you will likely fail more often than you succeed. Let me know if you find it to be otherwise. And so I like it when people share their failure and give me permission to do the same. 

So days like today—when I end up playing music for no one but my wife and a couple employees—don't really surprise me that much. Though getting a free soft pretzel helps. I still have the responsibility to show up and do my work and fail well. And somehow, having shown up and put my heart into it still feels worth it.

Give/Take

There is a time for both. To never ask or receive help from your community is to claim self-sufficiency, which is a lie. And it destroys community. To never ask or receive is denying your community the opportunity to give. It's frustrating when I've finally got outside of my little world and decided to offer help and yet no one seems interested. Apparently no one has any burden they would like to be relieved of today. Everyday there are gobs of people longing to do something kind, let them.

It's all relative of course to whether you are more of a giver or a taker. Whichever one feels most uncomfortable, do more of that.

Fear...

...is the easiest way to get someone on board with your goals. If you can scare someone they will resort to primal behavior to make the fear go away. It works well for news networks anyway.  But fear only looks to destroy, to get rid of a threat. Fear doesn't build things, doesn't produce beauty, doesn't result in vibrant relationship. In fact, if you are afraid or angry (they often go hand in hand) you cannot operate out of your brain's pre-frontal cortex—the part that controls logical reasoning. 

What is harder is to convince people toward love, to do something because it brings beauty to their community through deep sacrifice. People often only mobilize when there is a threat, not just because there is a better way than mostly broken. But when they do mobilize from a place of love you end up with MLK Jr or Nelson Mandela (who tried both fear and love and settled on the latter). Of course they were both imprisoned and In MLK's case killed—as I said, love is harder.

So if you'd like the easy way, if you are more interested in winning than changing the world—go with fear. You will get great and hell based results. But if you are interested in casting out fear and sacrificing yourself in order to create something rather than destroy, go with love.

Cabin

I spent the day in a cabin along a creek where a kingfisher was diving after who knows what before returning to his perch.  I too went fishing for who knows what. I'm in a transition time right now and I'm trying to be deliberate about the choices I'm making. Thus the cabin time.

Inevitably I hit my breaking point around 3 in the afternoon. Any day in which I don't do some heavy brain lifting or spend time with people is exhausting. But I was trying to cut down the noise so I kept my phone in the car and only brought my guitar and a book on Banksy (a graffiti street artist). 

Sometimes rest is tiring work. But I've learned that when I let my brain go through boredom or deny it the opportunity to create things, I gain a sense of clarity. Essentially what is most important to me begins to give me the strongest hunger pains. Meanwhile, all the mundane details that I typically fret over somehow didn't destroy the world while I was gone.

50 Shows: Show #6

There is a time to prepare and there is a time to perform. Tupperware has inspired me to do the latter. I was at a piano student's house a few weeks ago and the mother—who sold Tupperware— had a paper sitting on the table that said "50 shows in 50 weeks." Sometimes that is all it takes to strike the imagination. 

Here is the beauty of it: It doesn't matter what type of shows, or how successful the shows are. If I show up, I get to add it to the list . So far the results have been promising. When you are looking for a thing you find it more often. So out of the 6 shows I've played in the last 3 weeks, 2 of them were unexpected—as in, I was there and there was a guitar and so I played a set. 

One of my favorite parts about playing shows is that each one is so drastically different. My mood, the atmosphere and attention of the crowd, the sound system, and a lot of other strange details get stirred into the same stew.

"Playing shows is like a box of chocolates."

Show #6

Last night, for example, was a bit of magic. I was walking downtown in Goshen for First Fridays and stopped in at an outdoor open mic that a friend was hosting. He had invited me to play a week ago, but I was doing some recording that day and wasn't sure that I could make it. But thinking of 50 shows I butted in and asked if I could play a few songs. He obliged.

The first song went horribly. The guitar that was sitting there was a little lower quality than I was used to and when I used the even cheaper capo on the first song there was a horrendous buzzing that happened every time I played a G, so I found a good ending as soon as possible. No more capo.

The second song picked up steam. I've worked pretty hard at my craft in the last year and so it's always encouraging to see people to respond well to a song. I want to give people surprises and special moments in their day. The more I practice and play shows, the more often I get to see it happen.

The third song was where the magic was. I played Wonder—a song about finding moments of deep significance in the world around us. As I crooned I noticed a young girl in the front rocking away on the air guitar as if I were covering Metallica and harmonizing on the chorus. She also had Down syndrome. 

As the song I was singing begins "I'm not a man of strong emotion, but I've seen some places Angels tread." I didn't miss the irony that this little impromptu show with my special accompaniment was one of those moments of Wonder the song was talking about.

I spoke to Ellie afterward who immediately shouted "THAT WAS AWESOME!" She then went on to tell me frantically about several other things she was thinking about—she obviously understands that artists need both great encouragement as well as regular reminders that they aren't really all that important in the scheme of things. Thanks Ellie.

6 shows down—44 to go.

If you'd like to have me in for an event or house show drop me a line with Booking in the subject line at jasonropp@jasonropp.com.

Start

Starting is always the hardest part for me. I don't want to get out of bed nearly every morning and I don't mean in a funny same as everyone else sort of way. Until I put my pants on, each new day feels like a wave coming to smash me against the rocks. Most days turn out being a wave that I surf safely back to shore. But my brain rarely believes it first thing in the morning. So I find ways to trick myself out of bed. I have a routine that I can move through automatically: shower, 2 eggs with siracha and toast, half a banana, a large glass of water, put on pants, step onto my porch to greet the day. The chronology is particularly important here. Essentially what I'm doing is limiting the list of choices I have to make first thing in the morning until my brain gets the food and sunlight it needs. It helps tremendously.

But the whole day can't be a routine—unless of course you aren't interested in doing anything significant with your job and relationships. If my goal were to make a paycheck and have BBQ every night, well then getting out of bed might not be so hard. 

But there is a wave I'm interested in riding each day, and so until my brain accepts that, I'll just have to begin each day with a sense of terror—at least until I put my pants on.

2 Days

On Saturday Courtney and I ate breakfast on our front porch. A friend pulled his car into the driveway. He was there to help some mutual friends move in next door but had missed that we wouldn't be starting until 10. He ended up staying for breakfast and conversation. Later that morning I took a break from helping with the move to show off my underwhelming garden to a group of bicyclists. I then joined them for their next three stops at other back yard gardens.

Saturday night we had an excellent dinner on our back porch with our landlord  before walking four blocks from our place to Goshen Brewing Company.

Sunday morning we walked two blocks to the downtown soup kitchen where our church family has breakfast together (and for anyone who wants to join) on any 5th Sunday. Afterward we all did about 20 minutes of work—hardly anything for us individually, but combined a whole lot for a time and finance strapped group of people.

Sunday evening I played a house show about a mile away at a live in senior care facility—essentially a normal house shared by 6 elderly residents and an aid. The residents invited their children and friends. It was probably one of the most meaningful concerts I've played to date.

There is a lot that can happen right around you if you let it.

 

 

Breath

The essence of life will not be ignored. We can only pretend for so long that we aren't turning bright red and then purple as we fight the urge to inhale. Even the most skilled come up either gasping or sinking into black, only to be brought back by the unconscious brain begging for air. Breath is a reminder of our constant need—

Inhale

Exhale

Inhale

Exhale

We spend our lives releasing things into the world—words, ideas, actions—which is then made possible again by receiving more air that is in turn meant to be transformed and given back to our world.

In high school I was not a skilled soccer player—but I did know how to yell gooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllll for an impressive length of time. It is a fair representation of my tendency to create, produce, work, and plan until I am forcing out the deepest corners of my lungs, straining my core to maintain the pace until I nearly pass out. It is a fun trick in high school—it is a terrible way to live.

It is hard to breath in our culture. We have so many excuses handed to us on a silver platter by our employers, church, friends, and ourselves—things that we pretend are far more important than taking in the oxygen necessary to make it through even the next five minutes. And so our relationships, our faith, our work, and well being are starved enough that by mercy some of us are incapacitated by burnout that gives us no choice but to start breathing again.

But the smart ones pay attention to their breath.

How to Greet the Day

I try to greet each day  on our front porch—or the small porch out the door of our kitchen if I don’t want to put pants on. Often it is nothing more than fulfillment of ritual. But most mornings it is a peaceful place that I later wish I would have abided in–if it were possible–for the remainder of the day. Golden hour is my favorite time to greet the day—when the light is clear and full but still soft. The beauty is so striking and fragile that in the mere moments that it takes for the light to change, the mid morning sun feels as unforgiving as noon day in Arizona. And so it is better to leave the porch while the magic is still present, so as not to ruin the memory of the moment.

And that is the difficult thing about the most wonderful parts of life. They cannot endure as long as you decide they will. You have to embrace them while they are present and let them go just as passionately. Trying to hang on too long to a thing diminishes our passion for it—it becomes overused and strained like that time I loved Fruity Captain Crunch so much that I ate an entire box of it dry and then vomited. I never touched the stuff again. And so I try to leave a thing before it is finished and embrace the pain of goodbye even if there could be just a little more time. Because even those last moments are all but consumed by the thought that they will end.

On the other end, when you are presenting magic, creating it for a crowd or even just sharing with friends about something you learned or experienced–it is important, perhaps even kind, to give the audience a definite ending before they'd like it to come. No matter how much they might clammer for more music or words or conversation or jokes, you do them a favor by being the bad guy that says its time for bed. The difficulty of doing this has as much to do with narcissism as it does peer pressure. It feels rare and wonderful to be the source of something that someone cannot get enough of. We for a moment feel like the source of life—there is no place on the globe that our audience would rather be than with us. But if self importance is all you can think of, then you will continue on as conductor until the train reaches a collapsed bridge and plummets into a ravine—disappointing everyone. So when you reach your intended destination, bring the thing to a stop at the station and let everyone off. Let the joy of the thing continue in their conversation as they walk out of the station and in the quiet of their mind as they lay down to sleep.

For the listener, every special moment has to be listened to carefully and in its own way. Sometimes it means we have to lay on a couch and grab some high fidelity headphones. While writing this, I was tempted to listen to Sufjan Stevens new album for the first time. Thankfully, I felt a twinge of guilt seeing a picture of Sufjan, wondering what he might say about giving his hard work (and my own writing) my half attention. I also felt a sensation of what it would be like to give myself permission to lay on the couch for a half hour and listen carefully. Strangely it seemed almost too luxurious, too decadent that I should enjoy life fully instead of being more productive. I am glad to report that I came to my senses and declined, making it instead a reward for accomplishing a certain amount of writing.

To be experienced fully, each thing must be received on its own terms. Some friends for example have a band that must be danced to. If you are looking for details in the music as I often do, they will still delight but you will miss the point and maybe even be put off a bit. And so it was frustrating when on Saturday night I ran sound for their show after we (The White Oaks) opened for them. I was relegated to listening to the details with little time for dancing—which to my detriment my personality is hesitant to anyway.

The point is, if we are daring an artist to give us something valuable, we must become a part of their work, posturing ourselves in a way that they know it will best be received. If you want to be impressed without trying, consume pop—it was intended to be received with the least amount of effort possible and it will likewise fail to move you in any posture altering way. But if you want to be moved, you are going to have to allow something to move you as you become a moving part of it. And so the morning demands of me that I don’t prepare myself perfectly, that I don’t brace myself against the cold. The day wants to be felt and make me feel alive by making contact with as much skin as my neighbors can stand to see without calling the police.

Now if you will excuse me I'm going to turn off the lights and listen to some Sufjan Stevens.

 

 

Safe People–Safe Places

I've been in a lot of churches in my life. A lot. A lot.

Conservative churches, edgy churches, house churches, ethnic churches, liberal churches, churches in other countries, healthy churches, bickering churches, awkward churches. The combination of playing 140 shows in a "Christian" band, doing promotions for a Bible College, and preaching a few sermons here and there will get you in a lot of churches. Having been in such a range of groups I feel Ecumenical on a good day and jaded/paranoid/cynical/judgmental on a bad one.

Saturday was bad and thus paranoid. A friend asked me to play keyboard at a church for a special event—the sort of thing that I would not attend unless someone was paying me to do so. I knew what it was. I knew what it would do to me. I went anyway. And my expectations were not disappointed. I won't go into details on the group—I'm not here to pass judgement on the people putting on the event. But about twenty minutes in I might as well have been upside down and stuck in a cave somewhere. Claustrophobia. I shut down and avoided people until we packed up.

I've been throwing myself intentionally (perhaps stupidly) into these situations lately. A few weeks ago, while at a writer's retreat I told a fellow from a pretty conservative church that I was afraid of him—afraid of being myself, afraid of being looked down on. That of course had little to do with what he was actually like, but rather what I figured he thought. Turns out, he was not at all like the younger me. That was healing. It was with this same mentality that I said yes to playing keys—this one just didn't work out as well. While I left the conversation with the conservative fellow at the writer's retreat feeling enlivened by connection with a different but same follower of Jesus, I left the church service feeling (to put it in child friendly terms) like a not very good Christian.

But like the first day after getting over the flu, the inescapable pain reveals how great it is to be alive and healthy. Sunday morning the church I mingle with met across the street from our normal gathering place, opting instead for having breakfast at The Window, a place that works with getting people in hard times back on their feet, or giving them food even if hard times are a permanent position. We're meeting there for the entirety of advent sharing breakfast there together and with whoever wants to come. I was practically giddy as I walked there—still reeling from a spiritually paranoid hangover, but giddy nonetheless. I needed a safe place to vent, to be loved and listened to, to be encouraged by those different-but-same followers of Jesus. I needed to know that I wasn't a complete screw up—or even if I was I was loved.

This isn't a rah rah my church is the best. Though it is great. We are fairly dysfunctional in ways I won't elaborate here. And in many of those churches I've been in over the years there have been safe people too, sometimes a lot of safe people. But in this instance the population of safe people happens to be a very high percentage. Often different than me for sure, but that's not as important as it used to be—in fact, some of the safest most thoughtful conversations I've had about faith (or lack thereof) have been with friends who are agnostics and atheists (Wait—they aren't all hateful rage machines bent on destroying faith?).

And what makes a safe person? It's hard to nail down entirely, but a good place to start is that safe people are genuinely care about you more than their idea of what you should be. Some people argue that if I really cared about others I would try to change such and such in them—maybe. But some of my most trusted friends know me well enough to know how to give me a swift kick in the hind parts when necessary. And they can do so precisely because I already know they are a safe place—we have gone through hell together and will likely go through it together again.

The Convergence of Science, Art, and Faith

Modern Science was a weapon of liberalism, Art was too. Faith fought these tools of the devil. Meet age 16-22 year old me.

Courtney and I went to church this last Thursday to hear a speaker by the name of Mike Mchargue–one of the growing number of voices that don't find careful science, art, and faith to be antithetical–but rather interdependent. At this point I hear the Agnostic/Atheist shake their head and chuckle while many followers of Jesus might nod with a smile and think I'm talking about the people from Answers in Genesis–not so much.

Mike—who goes by "Science Mike"—is a follower of Jesus and Southern Baptist Deacon who became an Atheist through reading Dawkins, pretended for two years to be a believer while he continued being a deacon, ended up telling Rob Bell why he was wrong in person and the next day accepted communion from him after an encounter with God that he could not dismiss. (you can listen to a more detailed version here or on the video below) He continues to be a science junkie, Theistic Evolutionist, Southern Baptist Deacon, and now a contributor to The Liturgists project. Exactly the sort of person whose story I would have written off a few years ago. It is an age old story of people coming to know Jesus by means that church people don't approve of.

Another fellow who brought these three items together was Gerard Manly Hopkins, one of my favorite poets and one of the forerunners of Modern poetry:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 

Hopkins believed that the deepest essence of all things art and science directed us toward God–he called that essence "inscape". Science Mike agrees. He talked about numerous studies by scientists (who are atheists, deists, and believers alike) who studied brain scans of people who pray. Here are some hyper condensed highlights:

 

  • When people of genuine faith prayed to a loving transcendent consciousness, they activated the same brain centers that light up when you talk to an old friend. This was not repeatable when talking to consciousness that you didn't believe existed.
  • People who saw God as primarily disappointed and wrathful made decisions out of the part of their brain that disengages logic and acts out of anger (it has been shown that it is impossible to be angry and use logical reasoning via your pre-frontal cortex at the same time).
  • People who saw God as primarily loving and compassionate had an increasingly developed section of the brain that acts out of compassion and empathy and connects directly the the pre-frontal logic center.
  • People who centered prayer around the love of God for 30 minutes a day felt distinctly closer to God, had lower blood pressure, and greater sense of calm.

Don't go reposting these as 'proof' of God's existence. All it proves is that science backs up the notion that 1) people's belief in God is genuine in motivation 2) the practice of prayer toward and belief in a loving and compassionate God is not only compatible with being human, it actually is healthier for our brains.

*      *      *

As I mentioned, there is a growing group of people who don't see modern science, art, and faith as antithetical. They are in your churches (and no not trying to take over with their liberal illuminati agenda) and often disenfranchised, hurt, or afraid–which leads me to one more science tidbit:

  • People make logical decisions based on social identity rather than picking social identity based on logical decisions. If you disenfranchise someone, they will likely join the other disenfranchised in their belief (or lack thereof).

If you'd like to hear more specific details on Science Mike I'd check out the internets, but here is a good place to start.

 

By The Numbers

Western culture runs on numbers. This is of course the water we swim in–which is why we clash with other cultures that show up an hour late for everything. We assume they run on the same stringent paranoia that we do–worn to a nub by a thousand deadlines a day. But I was heaved on to dry land a few weeks ago while backpacking in Hoosier National Forest. As we worked our way up steep ridges my body protested–reminding me that teaching guitar is not very demanding on the calves. But also my heart and my mind protested the effort it took to not know precisely what time it was and at what minute we would be doing the next thing. I felt both the physical and emotional resisting the pace, but in a way I knew would make me stronger.

Later that day I sat on a log next to a campfire, my poncho fending off a light drizzle. Every so often I would hear a heavier dose of rain in the distance–coming to me then racing off much like a crowd at a baseball game doing the wave. The third or so time it happened I answered the call and raised my hands. I sat there listening and reading a book for I have no clue how long.

I had finally settled into timelessness. When I was hungry–I ate. When there was work to be done stoking the campfire–I gathered branches. When it got dark–I stared at embers until I was tired enough to fall asleep on the rooted ground–which didn't bother me too much as I knew that I would be woken gracefully by sunshine with no particular itinerary afterward. For the first time in a long time, time did not have it's hour and minute hands wrapped around my throat.

Activities like these have given me new perspective. In fact I consider them spiritual disciplines. Things like planting a garden and a failed attempt at walking from Goshen to Columbus, Ohio shock me out of embracing the inevitability of our Western ways–that we are only doomed to be busy and strained so long as we embrace wholesale the prescribed definition of what constitutes a 'good life'–a definition which by the way was not previously accessible to 99.9999% of people who have lived on the earth since man's appearance.

If you try to work the books and live a life by the numbers you might feel like life becomes a little more sane, but business will still be the majority shareholder. But if we aspire to something else, something that holds relationship and purpose as the highest value–well, my theory is that we will be free to use a watch here and there when we find it helpful.

 

When Generous Is Normal

I just ended a conference call with a group of artists who keep each other accountable on life and current projects. As always–relationship brings perspective, critical feedback, and inspiration as people share their own stories. One such story that stuck out was a gal from Minnesota who off handedly mentioned that in their many years of marriage they had only 6 months without someone (who was not family) living with them. This may seem severe to many–an act of Mother Thereasa-esque kindness and strength. But the way she talked about it, this was simply a part of life–which is true of anything that you do for long enough.

Another friend of mine is a pastor who lives stories like these regularly–they have become a part of who he is. So while some preachers like to share their glory stories from ten years ago in a sermon, when my friend shares a story about this last week I know there are twenty more he isn't telling. To him it isn't remarkable. He is simply talking about his life.

We like to tape our mouths shut about some generous action–lest we be perceived as braggarts. But what if we saw our hesitation to share as a sign that our severe moments of generosity were aberrations in an otherwise selfish life and community? The fact that we think it's something too significant to talk about only reveals that it's out of pace with normal.

Also, when we don't share we are robbing the world of the food that it's imagination needs. Stories plant seeds in our minds that grow into the actions of those that cultivate it. I wouldn't have driven coast to coast with a friend after college if I hadn't first heard other road trip stories; I wouldn't have started writing if I hadn't been romanced nearly 10 years ago by Donald Miller's writing voice in Blue Like Jazz; and we definitely wouldn't have had someone live in our front room for nearly a year had we not heard stories of people 2000 years ago sharing all their resources because everything they had belonged to their Messiah anyway.

I'll let you decide whether that's a brag, just sharing normal life, or maybe both. But I'm becoming less interested in trying to sort that all out in public. Meanwhile I'm becoming more interested in doing what creatives do best–observing what is and presenting it without hacking off it's rotting parts or sanding off all it's rough edges beforehand. Because you never know what stories of success or failure might plant a future action in someone's grey matter.

 

When What We Do Matters

I've been pouring myself into other work recently–a musical project I'll be telling you about soon. But for now suffice it to say that nearly all my writing has been in a $2 composition notebook–jotted thoughts that may or may not bob to the surface at a later date. But it's good to process a part of our lives in public. As I read books like–Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning or more recently Telling Secrets by Fredrich Beuchner I am reminded that I am grateful for the sometimes sharing–even oversharing–of others. In fact I find myself carrying a bit of weight on my shoulders–that in the past few months of unshared creation I am potentially shrugging responsibilities to my community.

I realize this all might sound very self-important but one of the values of the church community that we are a part of is that every person can contribute something of value to the body–but even more so they should contribute. And the rest of us carry the responsibility of listening well.

Also–if I degrade my life to a capital enterprise, my shareholders have invested far too much into my craft for me to tinker around on my own without bringing something into view. Again I think of, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If I knew someone had recieved investments into the thousands of dollars over the past few years but felt reserved about presenting things because of some hang-up regarding being percieved as arrogant or self-important–I would think they were being self-centered for not sharing.

Oh artistic nerosis–I am grateful we aren't as buddy buddy as we used to be.

I've been watching war movies recently–a curious thing for a self-proclamed Jesus-doesn't-want-his-followers-to-use-violence type. I finished Band of Brothers and am currently halfway through it's sequel series The Pacific. To oversimplify, it's a story of a bunch of terrified men that keep running toward that terror. And of course heroism ensues. People volunteer for the most arduous tasks with little reward in sight.

Compare that with the fact that one of the most challening aspects of being a guitar teacher is getting students to practice. Scratch that–one of the most challening aspects of being a guitarist is getting myself to practice. I regularly fight off the question, "Why do this at all? Why does it even matter that you add yet another note into the mass of noise emerging from North America?"

I don't have a confident answer to that question. But I do suspect that the fact that I can go to Sweetwater Music and play a literal hundred different top end guitars and find room in my budget to take one home (to the chagrin of my wife) might be perpetuating my nerosis. What I mean is–men in war do drastic things because in the moment they are severely needed–there is a purpose to their work. I on the other hand can't practice easily because I frankly have a hard time believing at a gut level that my work is even remotely important.

I've heard before that Dwight Eisenhower's parents raised him with the notion that the world needed him desperately. Considering his era, I doubt this was a 'you're special' type of sentiment but rather a weight of responsibility that could at times even be considered a hindrance. We laugh now at the "everyone gets a trophy" sort of event–and I'm pretty sure all the uncool kids are wise to the joke–but that's because a trophy and a deep sense of purpose are  two entirely different things.

Maybe that's why we glorify war. It is hard to tell someone that they aren't doing something significant when lives are on the line. When everyone elses life is affected by your smallest attention the smallest detail demands you to rise to the occasion.

But what does North America demand of me? Casual observation would suggest a mortgage, loyalty to an ideal paired with outrage about a few political issues, and a stuffed retirement fund. The church sometimes raises the bar–but the loudest voices often settle for political outrage–which is unfortunate as there are a lot of very selfless and kind people who are trying to follow Jesus the best they can, vividly aware of their own wounds as well as the wounds of those around them.

But in my rare moments of sanity I blink my eyes into focus and see the hard inglorious work of relationships, of reaching into broken worlds with my own broken hands, with my art, with my words, with my resources, with my ears, with my empathetic failure.

It is difficult work in itself–but it is good work when we can push past voices–either internal or external–that naysay. I've seen pastors do the good work in secret because of those who would mis-perceive. But I also understand the naysayers. Because courage often makes the observer insecure. We don't want to be caught with our pants down so we try to pants someone who is actually trying.

I'm giving less time to pantsing others and less attention to naysayers. It's not complete–to say I feel liberated would be overstatement. But freer is a good word–freer to embrace purpose as defined and guided by those who know me well and the one who knows me best. Freer to do the work rather than obsess over the work of others.

 

 

Local News

Yesterday's crisis is largely forgotten. Give it a week and all those critical newsstory-blogpost-watercoolerrumors that people didn't care enough about/cared too much about/were missing the truth on, will be long gone, only to be revived in bytes twenty years from now on a show called "I love the 2000's." This week's crisis/stories:

Israel/Palestine Ukraine (Which is nearly last week's story) Robin Williams Islamic State in Northern Iraq Ebola

Last few month's crisis/stories:

Phil Robertson on gay marriage Iran's Nuclear Program Malaysian Airlines (The one that disappeared. Not the one that got shot down.) Syrian Civil War (Which is still going on by the way.)

 

We tend to buy pretty hard into these distilled stories—boiled down, presenting only the most intoxicating elements. They keep us glued to our screens, refreshing the feed, inhaling the back and forth like the last donut in the box that you only eat because you know it will be stale by morning.

And like overconsumption, whether it be moonshine or cruller, it leaves us with next morning regret. The act of consuming and spreading sensationalism without the follow up of substantial and life-giving action makes our soul stagnant.

But local news,—the next door neighbor kind—doesn't allow us the luxury of riding the merry-go-round of passion, inaction, and forgetfulness. That inspiring video about a single mom working three jobs to pay for her kids college sure makes me look thoughtful. But if the single mom lived next door and I wouldn't bother helping her out with groceries after seeing the video (or preferably finding out through front porch conversation) my compassion would turn from sentimentalism to the pain of inaction. Compassion is after all an uncomfortable venture.

Instead of turning into tomorrow's "remember when"—the local stuff knocks at my soul and demands my response daily. So maybe just for this week (I promise, you can turn back on the fear box eventually) let's look up from whatever shocking news we're reading on our phone and find out what's going on with the people next to us.

Dylan's Lament

Why is it that–like Humpty, the earth embraces entropy squishing its face and turning From a spoonful of healing?

But unlike Humpty's plight The King's horses and men are too busy Responding with yet another crusade To bother with putting things back together.

Meanwhile Theresa And other mothers in the fray Can only mourn and refuse The path of and to destruction.

To join mourning I put on a Dylan album. The prophet gives me The elevator pitch of history. "How many times?"

It hits a scratch and the conflict repeats the question. I take my bread and wine and digest the absurdity.

But the needle will be moved. And the wind will blow. And the Answer will come. And the record shall skip no more.

Boxes For People

I just read a blog post that made me (as the internet puts it) "temporarily lose hope in humanity." I'm sure there is an Upworthy video that will restore it at some point. But the article went like this. Someone did something terrible to me. This person was/believed X and therefore what this person did applies to all people who are/believe X.

But it doesn't really matter who or what belief system the argument was about; the writer was building plastic boxes for plastic people–the sort of boxes that are miserably difficult for us children to open.

 

 

 

Unscheduled Friendship

Several months ago, Courtney and I  were growing tired of telling so and so every two weeks that "we should get together sometime." It was never happening. We weren't filling our home with people as often as we would have liked. So we experimented with a rule. If you offer dinner, you have to set a date–immediately.

Within weeks, we had several people over.

The experiment is now ritual.

While that has been a wonderful change. It was still so regimented, digging through the calendar for the next mutual date and setting a time of arrival as if this were a haircut or a reservation. It's closer to what we want, but not quite there. Or maybe it's just a piece of the larger puzzle we're working on.

But now a different sort of get together is emerging in our recently shrunk community.

Take for example one of the many blustery winter days we had this year in Goshen. When we found out that there was yet another state of emergency, making it illegal to drive, I let the world of facebook know that our front room was open for business, Courtney and I walked down to the Brew (which had to close) and grabbed the leftover coffee and baked goods, and within the hour our living room was packed. Most hung around until late afternoon.

Or consider the other night when we had some friends over for burgers. By the end of the evening our neighbors joined us for desert.

Or. A few weeks ago we ran into a neighbor and his girlfriend heading out the door. We all ended up at The Chief for ice cream.

In the past few months, we've probably had more impromptu get togethers than we've had in the last several years combined. And it's only possible because we have the space in our lives to let it happen. We haven't booked every cranny of our life into oblivion. And since everything is geographically squished together, people can drop in easily on their way to or from something else.

It reminds me a bit of my college days in Ohio. I lived on a small campus with 70-100 other students in the middle of a cornfield. There was almost always something to do, something going on, some great conversation waiting to happen. It's the sort of thing that we are told is an aberration. This sort of community that both drives you mad and madly in love is a one time deal. I realize now, that was a lie.

The truth is that I was in the process of exchanging that sort of community for things like privacy, a better paying job, immediate home ownership, and a host of other opportunities. (And I'm not just talking ideals, I've actually turned all these things down in the last couple years because the opportunities presented would disrupt the sort of life we want to live.) The reason that sort of life is unique to certain bubbles in the universe that we hold so dear, places like college, or camp, or camping, etc. is because we aren't willing to volunteer the limitations necessary to create that sort of environment in the everyday.  It's not a requirement that we live the way we do–but lets be honest with ourselves. For most of us, we traded in.

What If We Saw Boredom as Necessary?

I got what I asked for.  

 

Space.

 

 

Yesterday I had a whole lot of it. No band practice at 7am followed by two services to play at. No advising the youth band after church. And since the new group we're meeting with ranges from 20 to 40 depending on the morning, there are less adults that I'm tempted to stop and talk with. Oh, and the 'commute' to our church is now a five minute walk. So scratch another 5-10 minutes each way depending on traffic.

I'm not paranoid about saving every minute possible. But at the word go, I'd estimate that lowered church responsibilities plus the diminished commute time means that we have an extra 15 or so hours a month–concentrated mostly on Sunday mornings. So even after walking a block after church for tacos with some friends and taking a two hour nap, we had time to kill.

Normally this sort of space would be a joy due to it's scarcity. But something about the fact that this would be happening again and again made me slightly panicked. What do I do with all this time? For lack of a more poetic way of saying it–I was bored.

I once heard an interview where Malcolm Gladwell–the author of the wonderful book Outliers and others–was talking about growing up in a fairly conservative religious home in southern rural Ontario. They didn't have TV–something that Gladwell is now grateful for. When he would complain to his mother about being bored, she would reply that being bored is your brain–a muscle–getting the rest it needs.

I had never thought of boredom as something positive, but rather something to be tolerated at times. So with rest in mind, I decided to stew in my boredom a bit. I'm working on some big projects right now that are going to tax my brain muscle, so why not let it chill out for a while?

Easier said than done.

I'm not good at lack of stimulation. Even though we don't have a TV–and just cancelled our Netflix–the kittypicturenet is a universe of stimulation that I exploit regularly. Part of it has to do with my personality. I fidget continually. I have to be doing something. But even if I need momentum more than many, it also means severe rest is also very important. Because–as I've pointed out before–my pattern of life was not sustainable.

So what will I do next Sunday?

Probably be bored rest my brain.