Filtering by Category: Compilation

The Myth of Options

Brian Eno has produced and composed music ranging from U2 and Coldplay to the opening tunes for the London Olympic games. The man works with huge budgets, top grade studios, outstanding talent, and access to any type of instrument you might desire. And yet.....

Fence_a3The first thing he asks of those who step into the studio with him is, "What are our limitations?"

This isn't an existential question, or even a question of abilities, but rather, What limitations are we going to impose on ourselves?

Have you seen an episode of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares recently? The second most repeated action he takes (trailing close behind his affinity for the F-bomb)  is carving down a monstrosity of a menu to a handful of items. Every. Single. Time.

Or another example. The first time I went to Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, world leaders in high end specialty coffee, you'd think they'd offer varieties and preparation methods coating an entire wall. Nope. Three choices done well, all via pour over. Both of my visits have been very rewarding.

And not to suggest my abilities are even close to any of those mentioned above, but this site has it's own boundaries. If you'd take the time to check you would find find that practically all (with rare exception) of these posts are less than 500 words. Since I imposed that limit on myself several months ago, I would argue that both my thoughtfulness and aesthetic improved significantly.

It's easy to assume that more options means better outcome, and yet so many artisans at the top of their game offer clear limits from the beginning.

 

The Myth of Effective Urgency

The world I live in seems obsessed with the urgency of every moment, trying to sell each second as the pivotal opportunity. I used to play that game, putting on my street brimstone evangelist outfit for any number of causes. And when I wanted to change something in myself I looked for the same sort of urgent fixes to my impending doom.

Been there, done that.

Until I started paying attention to the power of slow things. As it turned out, rarely did change worth keeping around ever happen overnight, rather it was a process of years.

So now when I realize all too present traits like arrogance, anxiety, disbelief, cynicism,  and a general grouchiness, I don't panic; I start planting seeds and mind the slow growth.

 

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.

When You Live Life For the Second Time

As I previously mentioned, I'm buckling down and getting productive simply by rearranging my schedule based on one rule, do the most important thing first. It continues to be a satisfying success.

What I didn't mention was a question that goes along with my schedule shakeup. It's a question that notable psychologist Viktor Frankl asked every one of his patients over and over (in all his years he didn't lose even one person out of 30,000 suicide watches):

If you were living today over again, how would you do it differently?

Or in a more direct line from his book Man's Search For Meaning.

“So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

It's a powerful trick that I intended to use as a means to focus in my art, but the mindset is leaking into every corner of my life. Last night it incited an impromptu kitchen dance session with my wife as Etta James crooned through my iPhone speaker.

It's not magic, and no it doesn't solve all of my ridiculous issues, but it does put my decisions in a different and, I'd argue, brighter light. I spend less time traipsing around the internet looking for cat and penguin gifs and more time picking up a pen, plucking guitar strings, reading good books, cooking food and stopping to laugh with friends. And as I expand the question to reliving a month, year, or my entire life, it's making a lot of immediate choices easier.

And on the days I sit down to think about it, having lived the day for the second time, I feel much more like the person I'd like to be

 

What You Do First

I've been working through a daily exercise put together by Donald Miller called The Storyline Productivity Schedule. It's less involved than you'd think–about five minutes each morning–but it's altering my priorities and consequently how I spend my time. It's simple really. Figure out the most important project you're working on and do that first. No matter whether you are a morning person or a night owl, what you do first is what will get your best and most productive attention. Otherwise, as I've found on days I don't do this, the day will find ways to sap your time and energy, sucking up desire to get to work and create. Lately, on an average week (not counting the time I spend giving lessons), I have a guitar in my hands for three hours, which is paltry considering my goals and profession. Since starting the productivity schedule (geez I sound like an infomercial) I've tripled that, even though the past few weeks have been loaded with other unexpected items.

 

So two questions:

What is most important to you?

Why isn't it the first thing you do?

 

 

 

Disinterested Like Dylan: Where the Art Comes From

believe all change is slow. Though it often has an immediate and unexpected feel to it, the further you pan out the clearer it becomes that these things are a thousand brush strokes unveiled rather than a burst of fireworks. This is preferable as paintings last much longer than a burst of ignited magnesium. Today is one of those realizations.

Allow me to unpack.

As a sub-creator, that is, a created being that takes up the act of creation, I've found myself floundering–maybe call it flailing. Either way, while I've managed to create things I consider both excellent and edifying to the soul, it has been like squeezing a glass of orange juice from a hundred already pressed oranges. For every word presented, every note recorded, there have been 15-20 hidden away, never to see the light of day.

This is not an exaggeration; 20:1 is an honest ratio.

Partially this is just the process of art; as one of my favorite storytellers likes to say, it's about producing a mass volume while maintaining excellent taste and only presenting the best. This part of the process I can handle, but there is something more than that. There has been internal conflict I couldn't get past, a resentment I didn't know how to deal with.

I'm bitter about religion.

I think it's poison, I really do. The manipulation, the dishonesty, the fear, the drama–it's astounding. What's worse is that it's about as easy to lay a finger on as one of Flannery O'Connor's subtly racist characters. Both are slimy frogs fresh out of a stagnant pond.

So much of my life has been religiosity alongside and within people who genuinely want to follow Jesus, not to mention the disease that has and still runs in my own veins. For every honest word of affection for my creator, there are at least twenty that came from fear or a desire to impress or coerce.

This is not an exaggeration; 20:1 is an honest ratio.

If art is an expression of the eternal internal, fruit from the vine as it were, from the abundance of the heart, much of my own art has been puss draining from infected wound, which is necessary, but not great for public consumption. Thankfully I've filtered most. Mournfully I haven't caught it all.

If you've been slapped around by my bitterness. This is my apology, and please let me know if there is some way I can help you work through it.

As far as I can tell, the way forward is not to forget about the past, but rather bid it farewell with the aloofness and dis-affection of Bob Dylan.

So long honey babe. Where I'm bound I can't tell.

Goodbye is too good a word babe, So I'll just say Fare thee well.

It ain't that you treated me unkind. You coulda done better but I don't mind. You just kinda wasted my precious time. Don't think twice it's alright.

I don't need to reconcile the past or let it control the present (or let others sit in it). Rather I can let God grow something better out of it. If there is shit in this garden then I've got some good fertilizer. Religion is and will continue to be at play in my life, like an obsessive ex girlfriend who won't let it go, driven mad by my disinterest, but I've devoted enough energy to the bitterness and it's time to say goodbye.

Though that too is a process that might take a while.

 

Finding a Lover by Loving Your Enemies

Followers of Jesus were meant to be storytellers. Not that they have to write books or give TED talks, but their purpose in life is to learn from the Rabbi and displaying it in what they say and do.

Go and make disciples.

Today, everyone who lives and breathes will tell a story. Some stories will begin, some will come to an end, or rather turn to writing the next chapter. Some stories will encounter conflict, while others might catch some resolution.

But lets be honest, not all stories are created equal, which is why you never see a film adapted story of a 35 year old protagonist playing video games in his parent's basement who ends the movie in the same spot. Unless the film is a tragedy or reality TV.

But the best stories leave us both afraid and in awe, they are the sort of thing we'd never want to go through but still wish we could tell, they give us a glimpse of beauty that just can't be seen in the day to day. The best stories are simultaneously down to earth and existential. And in my opinion, the absolute best stories are about redemption.

The other night over dinner, a friend was telling a story of forgiveness, suggesting that forgiving isn't a forgetting, but a transforming of the past, redeeming it if you will. I can testify; the reason that Courtney and I share a bed is because of forgiveness. While so many couples have glanced across the room and found 'love at first sight,' Courtney and I had to first learn how to be in the same space without killing each other. We were first enemies, then friends, then as it turns out, loving your enemies is an alternative method for finding a lover.Me And Courtney

Thanks Jesus.

Frankly, I like our story better than the star crossed lovers scenario. What we have wasn't handed to us on a platter, we had to fight for it, we had to fight for each other as we fought to get to God and the sort of love He asks us to give freely. Redemption of broken things. Down to earth and existential.

What was once a gaping wound in our lives has turned into our story of redemption.

 

 

 

Where Hope Lies

51qTlp8B04L._SL500_AA280_Gungor just released their latest album I Am Mountaina beautiful stripping down of faith to it's most basic elements, a question with a living answer. All italics on this post are from their song, Long Way Off.

If the sin of post-modernism is incessant questioning, the sin of modernism was over confidence in an ever updated list of facts.

The smartest men They saw a world with Corners and endings Far far far away

When they drew it out and searched it They were a long way Were a long We're a long way off.

While Columbus and most of his contemporaries absolutely knew the world was round, it works as great metaphor for a host of other biblical/scientific items in church history. Galileo for example was declared a heretic for believing that the entire universe revolves around the earth rather than the earth orbiting the sun. An idea based on interpretations of psalm 104:5:

He set the earth on its foundations;     it can never be moved.

Eventually it became painfully obvious that we were not only orbiting, but tilted and spinning.

Not that science is the answer either.

The erudite composed a thesis. Everything we see is all all all there is. But as an apophatic mystic we're a long way... ...off

The reality is that while my faith may be based on actual and defensible reasons, the human element (me) taints the legitimacy of my own belief. The same voice that questions the arrogance of modern science echoes in my own head. "But what if you're wrong?"

It may seem maddening, to entertain such unknowing, continually wondering out loud whether or not I believe. Sometimes yes, but in the same way that it's often maddening to question my marriage. "Do I love Courtney? Do I believe?" While I may be able to display it, I can't prove it, even to myself. And on some days I don't believe. But the reality is I don't have to prove it or even believe it at all times to walk in it, to be joined to it in the deepest human bond.

A comedian once said of his close call with failed marriage that fighting isn't the bottom of the barrel, but rather indifference. When I recently heard some young married friends finally having a spat in front of the rest of us, I thought to myself, "Yes–they are going to have a long and illustrious message." They were no longer concerned about an image, putting on a face for friends, they were fighting with and for something that meant the world to them.

The same is true of faith. Whether it's fair or not, I don't have much trust in those who have never spoken with unwavering and unquestioning confidence in their construction of belief. My suspicion is that they either don't have a relationship with God honest enough to handle questions, or they just won't admit it in public.

Those who claim unerring confidence are claiming ultimate knowledge. In other words, omnipotence.

To borrow sloppily from an older folk tune, "my hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus...." If what I believe about the legitimacy of my faith is true, then I also believe that Jesus is called the author and finisher of my faith. My faith is not a list of dogma, it is the honor of joining with Jacob renamed Israel, one who wrestles with God.

The questions, the doubt, the fight, it is a sign that there is something worth fighting with and for. And much like my physical marriage, there are some days that fights end with unbridled passion, and others that end in silence when all we can do is keep holding on as I wonder what this is all about.

But each day is a new chance to speak and wrestle with the answer to my never ending question.

I'll give Gungor the last word.

With my castles gone To the constant sea Would you stay with me Stay with me

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Poem: As Much As I Have Done

That manWho shot up the shipyard, When He put four rounds Into my neighbor's car tire, Why did I not go to Him? In friendship visit Him in prison? For Christ's sake Get Him some meds?

But as usual, Jesus was little more than Dinner time conversation that night. Just as He would be again, When He shot up the navy shipyard.

Dysfunction Blindness: Why I Keep Opening the Fridge Part II

On Monday I ended with a clip of one of my favorite comedians. While I don't look to Louis' nihilistic approach as a source of hope, he is an expert at digging up human nature. Warning: Late night broadcast levels of swearing.

This particular clip nailed me between the eyes. It got me asking, "Why?"

"Why do I want to check facebook?"

"Why do I want to pick up my phone right now?"

"Why am I eating yet another one of those yummy pumpkin bars my wife made?"

"Why am I checking facebook again?"

Why is a question with difficult yet simple answers.

"Because I'm afraid and lonely."

"Because I'm afraid and lonely."

"Because they are AMAZING. But also because I'm afraid and lonely."

"Because I'm still afraid and lonely."

Not that all my use of social media is driven by emptiness. But if we're going to assign arbitrary numbers, I'd dare to say about 85%.

It's tempting to ignore the reasons, nothing to see here folks. That is after all what I'm good at. But the call to redemption, to daily become more of who I was made to be, haunts me. Words from God's ancient spokesmen come to mind:

My people have committed a compound sin:     they’ve walked out on me, the fountain Of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—     cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves.

The question lingers, "So, hows that working for you?" Not so well as it turns out. For all our hyper-connectivity and over abundance of food, those who buy into culture wholesale, myself included, don't seem all that full of life. If following Jesus seems to be lacking any transformative power, it has more to do with the fact that I  go to inadequate sources to medicate rather than go to the one I've touted as worth my devotion for life-altering healing.

While He doesn't give me more than I can handle, and while He does comfort me in my severe disfunction, He also keeps me seeing the painful tension between way things are alongside the way He will make them be. Continually asking the question, "Why?" keeps before me the insanity of self-medicating attempts and the building of broken cisterns that come so naturally.

Dysfunction Blindness: Why I Keep Opening the Fridge

Everything we do has something driving it. Whether it’s sensible or not, even the most minuscule actions are an outworking of internal chemical, emotional, and spiritual reactions. Whenever I am at my parents house in Oregon, I open the fridge several times per hour, which makes sense when you realized that the last time I lived there was as a teenager. The metabolism has changed, the habits have not. Eventually, I realize that I’ve already persistence of desire, it turns out, will not make Twinkies appear out of thin air. It’s silly, but also sad. My refrigerator liturgy isn’t just bad memory. In fact it becomes painfully obvious around the fifth or sixth time that I’m either bored out of my mind or lonely and looking for some sort of soul comfort.

“Why?” can be a depressing inquiry for anyone interested in maintaining a ‘positive self-image’ in and of themselves. But it is, I think, one of few questions leads to who I was created to be. Some might call it confession. I call it admitting the way things are, telling it like it is, a daily turning myself in.

But seeing something in ourselves can be difficult if not at times near impossible. As much as we like to tout self-awareness in our culture, we are horrible at seeing our own dysfunction while easily finding it all over those around us. It’s easy to point the finger at brokenness we don’t have and just as easy to miss or even justify our own dysfunction in others as a way of patting our ego. Desperate Housewives comes to mind.

An ancient and current philosopher put it best, "Why do you point fingers at specks of sawdust in your frenemies eye when you have a 2x4 in your own?" (My paraphrase).

The words cut. They aren’t just for 1st century Jews. Jesus spoke to a cultural context, but he also spoke to humans whom are, even within our respective cultures, a worn variation on a theme.

And the blindness isn’t only on the individual level. There is much that we as a nation can and do miss. As C.S. Lewis put it (If you’re skimming, I’ll put the highlights in bold):

 "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books...Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"...None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them."

"Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction."

I need external sources of truth to hone (if not entirely alter) my internal vision.

I need people like, Louis C.K. who ran me through the grinder this weekend. I'll unpack it on Wednesday, but in the meantime here's the clip.

Warning: Some late night broadcast TV level swearing.

 

My Biggest Musical Influence Is Tone Deaf

I grew up singing–at church, at school, for people who couldn't feed themselves–and I didn't really have much of a choice in the matter. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for it; it was good practice. But I still loathed it. I would do my duty then exit stage as quickly as possible. Fast forward a few years and the anonymity of a college choir made public performance a bit more palatable. It's much more difficult to be ashamed of ones voice when you know it is hidden behind thirty others much more pleasant than yours.

Yes, you heard me right, Mr "I'm going to ask people to buy a recording of me singing" doesn't actually like his own voice."

It's not exactly what one would call "robust," which makes crooning a bit difficult. But I'm learning to block that out. Being self conscious about it only adds bad notes to bad tone. When people say they like it, I just say thank you and change the subject. I have worked hard to find niches to fit it into, taking cues from odd singers doing well (Jack White, Bob Dylan, etc). But I'd have to say, the biggest contribution anyone has made to my music is a friend from Oregon.

And I'm pretty sure he's tone deaf.

I say this because he loved to pop off whatever lyrics were running through his mind at the time, which around Jr High was The Barenaked Ladies. Out of nowhere, even in the middle of a crowd, he would rattle off lyrics, apparently unaware of a minor detail called the major scale. Thankfully he had good rhythm, so the more monotone rap-like sections of BNL lent themselves well to his particular gifting.

I always enjoyed his singing, but it took me a long time to figure out why. To this day, I still hear his voice from time to time, mimicking whatever is coming out of the speakers, passionate and unaware.

And I smile.

I smile because he always had what I've been looking for; he really doesn't care whether people like how he sounds or not, he just loves singing long and loud. And I carry that with me. I don't fear mistakes (as much) when I play live, in fact some mistakes have become memorable opportunities. I fight to be a better musician, a better guitarist, a better singer, but at the end of the day I just get up there and enjoy it. Otherwise, as I so often tell my guitar students, what's the point?

I Have No Clue What I'm Doing

At least when I start. What confidence I may appear to have is probably just good acting. Most people I've met, worth their salt in whatever category of this or that, started out this way: unsure, insecure, incompetent, paranoid, bumbling, terrified. But they picked up a pen, or a hammer, or a spatula, and kept whacking things till something worked, then worked more often, then consistently worked.

Following Jesus is has been the same way. As I grow, I care less about having it down before setting out, even before arriving. And when I do look back, my regrets are only that I wouldn't have started fumbling through failure much sooner.

But I understand why I didn't. I used to fear my daily and severe failure, my incompetence, my bouts of apathy. As a friend once put it, "if I know I'm going to screw it up, why bother beginning?" God was the angry grandpa, ever disappointed. I didn't feel like giving him any more ammunition.

I am gratefully beyond (for the most part) the God-I-Made-In-My-Image, which deserves the best southern sweat-rag radio preacher I can muster, "Prayeeessah the Lawd!" I once was blind but now see the face of the one who can sympathize with my weakness, who invites me to bumble into glory. In a line that Rich Mullins may or may not have coined (which inspired a piece of music), "If I make my way swaying drunk from side to side, is it any less the way home?"

After all, the man walking home sobers up faster than the one who never leaves the bar.

Why I'm Trying to Give Less Advice

I give advice–a little too freely in fact. It's understandable, I have an associates degree in pastoral studies, I've preached thirty or so sermons, and a chunk of my employment is giving guitar lessons; I get paid to tell people what I think they should do. A good friend of mine, who is constantly asking the air what she should do with her life, gets the worst of it. My reaction to a posed question is to answer it, immediately, whether it was addressed to me or not. I have an opinion, and my gut assumes she probably cares a whole lot about what I think. Even if she didn't ask me specifically...ever. Halfway through my diatribe my brain realizes what's going on and I try to start listening again.

Some advice if you ever end up on the receiving end of one of my advice rants. Smile, say, "thank you for the input," and walk away. The truth is, you'll save me the trouble of apologizing later and save yourself the trouble of adding white noise of my voice to the conversation in your head.

Advice is not a bad thing. My goal isn't to wipe it out entirely. But I have been trying to sit and wait until it's wanted (if ever).

And here is an incomplete list as to why:

1) I won't typically take advice from people I don't ask myself, unless of course you are a very select group of people who I severely trust and respect. Even if I verbally engage the ideas you bring up, I'm probably just trying to be nice. It's likely that I don't really care about your opinion on things. Otherwise, I probably would have asked you what you thought. I assume (and yet so often forget) that it works the same way with others.

2) Whenever we are making life decisions (or even little ones), everyone is going to have an opinion. After a while it becomes a cacophony of preferences. And as much as we like choices, choosing between a dozen different "absolute best ways" of doing something can be paralyzing. By the time I've offered my unsolicited input, thirty or so others have probably done the same. When Courtney made a visit to the emergency room a few weeks ago, while waiting for results on the cause, we discovered there were at least 25 supposed PhDs among our acquaintances willing to give us their free medical opinion. It's easy to miss that my two cents is being added to a pile of loose change. I may only be making someone's choice more difficult.

3) Much of the time, even if they ask you, people already know what it is they want to do. In which case, they're probably looking for your validation. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough to be note. This isn't bad. Sometimes we already know and need encouragement to do so, but it feels awkward saying, "Can you encourage me to do this?" And so we question until someone comes along and pats us on the back. If you think someone is making a stupid decision and looking for validation, talking them down probably isn't going to do much good. If they ask for advice, give them a summary of your opinion. If they really care, they'll keep digging. If they just want validation they'll start arguing with whatever you just told them.

4) If you're living a life worth mimicking, you're probably already giving advice people somebody will pay attention to anyway. I have several friends who advise me a hundred times a day without saying a word. They are my unknowing mentors to whom I compare my own decisions. I could ask them what they think I should do, but I've already seen them act out the answer. And yet people who are obviously terrible with money seem think congress should take their financial advice.

 

But that's just my two cents.

 

 

A Week of Christianese: Why I Think It Matters

 

In trying to figure out how to cap off the week of Christianese I went through five drafts that amounted to this, Christianese has absolutely nothing to offer followers of Jesus. Out of a desire to inspire rather than destroy, I won't elaborate. Instead, I'll offer an invitation, some might call it an alter call: If you care about cutting out the excess we so easily pile on top of following Jesus, fighting to change the words that you use and the way you use them is a pretty fantastic place to start. 

If I can be arrogant enough to say I'm at least a couple of miles down the path I'm suggesting you take, if you would like any advice on where to start, feel free to drop me a line at jasonropp@jasonropp.com.

 

 

 

Outside My Circle

I am several things.

...Follower of Jesus

...sub-culturally Mennonite

...Theologically Anabaptist

...American

...White

...Farm Raised

...Town Dweller

...Musician

...Writer

...Millennial

I am not necessarily ashamed of any of those items. But I am aware that each brings its own blessings and subversive temptations.

I don't try to flee what I am, but I do try to get outside of myself, my perceptions, my assumptions about the world.

Which is why I hunt for people like Propaganda, the spoken word poet and rapper; they help me understand which aspects of what I believe are universal and which ones only work in the white-middle-class-evangelical-world in which I largely work, play, and worship.

So props to Propaganda.

Keep looking for people who stretch your imagination.

You can get the full Excellent album free on noisetrade.

Playing to the Hype...

...is enticing. With six billion people occupying the planet alongside all sorts of deadly animals, tornados, and poisonous foods, there will always be some sort of crisis to address. If you are looking for ways to find or create fear, you won't have to look too hard. As much as we all say that we wish the world were a better place, palpable fear is sexy like adrenaline, and as a result, short lived.

You realize there are still flattened houses in Oklahoma City right? Of course you do, it was all we could talk about for a week. It's also in the front of your mind that there are still tent towns in Port A Prince (that's that city in Haiti that everyone texted $10 to) only a few miles away from the place where bodies were carried by the dump truck load and covered in dirt by bulldozers. And of course we daily think of the many people in Louisiana still grieving in the wake of the most tragic, and still very recent, event of their life.

Of course we do, because we care.

While I've addressed current events before, most of the time I intentionally avoid them. I don't get my jollies by giving a drunk a drink. In fact, there have been several times I've covered a subject that coincidentally hit headlines just before I clicked the publish button.

While there may be a time for breaking news, my goal isn't to throw more sugar into the crisis cool-aide. But it's tempting. Crisis is sexy and sex sells.

If you will allow me to make a left turn...

The_ScreamAs it turns out, our propensity toward national crisis fever is actually about individual crisis and our desire to dramatize, our need to have something tragic happen to us in order to feel like our life is important enough to have actual conflict.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, look for it as you go through the checkout line, or ask your friends about how their week is going.

We understand that a meaningful life has conflict, it's inherent in our entertainment. Bruce Willis has to jump through at least eight panes of glass before he can throw Hans Gruber from the skyscraper. But when an East German terrorist fails to show up in our particular skyscraper, we settle for embellishment of relational conflict. We get the benefit of feeling important without actually having to do anything difficult meaningful.

Yippee kay yay.

But characters in great stories don't go hunting for crisis; they're trying to reach a goal (personal growth, liberation of the oppressed, spiritual enlightenment). When you pursue something worthwhile, there will be obstacles to overcome and probably some embarrassing failure.

Meaningful life will result in conflict and even crisis, but crisis doesn't mean you're getting anything done. So stop looking for hyped up drama.

If you are doing something worthwhile you'll have as much of the real thing as you'll ever want.

Community is a Cup Made of 1,000 Mundane Drips

The Electric Brew (the coffee shop I work for/live at) opened today at it’s new location, across the street from the old spot. Since Courtney was scheduled to open, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 in order to come in with her. I’m glad I did. As the sun came up, I found myself looking for regulars like, Mike, Harv, Vera, and Rick–friendships that emerged out of a mutual love of coffee and this community we call the Brew. These connections of course didn’t happen over night; I can’t really tell you when they began. All I know is that a joke here and a comment there suddenly turned to this morning’s conversation about experiences with depression and why we so often wait till so late in life (sometimes till the very end of it) to be vulnerable with each other.

You see, community cannot be rushed. Even relationship suddenly forged in tragedy takes years to develop into something with lasting and dynamic substance. There is a checklist of oddities that must be worked through.

 

  • Someone must spill something on themselves. 
  • Someone must go on a significant geographical or emotional journey. 
  • Someone must make a life transition. 
  • Someone must offer a gesture of unwarranted kindness, or at least buy another a cup o’ joe–just because. 
  • Someone must lose someone close to them. 
  • There must be some sort of potentially relationship ending disagreement to work through. 
  • Some event of significance must happen to the community, or the nation–something unavoidably talkaboutable that affects all parties involved.

 

Then there is that line that must be traversed, an event often only recognized months after the fact.

A_small_cup_of_coffee

 Like a good cup of coffee, it takes a thousand seemingly insignificant drips to fill a steaming cup.

Consequently, it seems silly when we try to find ways to “create community” because it is so obviously simple, albeit mundane: spend a lot of sometimes awkward, uncomfortable, bumbling, mediocre time together, whether it seems important or not.

Wash, rinse, and repeat until you look up and find something has happened around you that you couldn’t have created on your own.

Two Minutes of Terror

4:30 a.m. I was wide awake with headphones in, wishing I could sleep. Five minutes later, still awake, now grateful I had pulled out the ear plugs. Our apartment and my heart were shaken by something falling in our bathroom. I called. No response.

It took me, by estimation of emotional hindsight, 35 to 40 minutes to reach our bathroom, where Courtney sat on the floor, eyes wide, staring to the left at the wall, mouth open as if struck by severe disbelief.

She would not respond.

I pulled her head forward. Her dilated eyes looking right at me. Again I called her name. No one was home.

I was on the phone with dispatch for another 35 to 40 minutes according to panicked husband standard time, Courtney still answering my questions with nothing more than a blank stare. In hindsight, finding her passed out on the floor would have been less terrifying.

"Do you need me to send an ambulance?" the woman on the other end said.

"Um. Courtney are you ok? Courtney." Nothing.

"Yes, send an ambulance. Courtney, an ambulance is coming."

She mumbled a bit, then tried to say, "I'm fine." Then bit by bit came to.

I rattled off a series of questions, the sort of thing I'd seen on any number of TV melodramas,

Where are you?

Who am I?

What did we do Yesterday?

My panic subsided with each correct answer. A ambulance ride, a cat scan, and my vending machine breakfast later, we were home with orders to rest. Cat scan showed no problems. It was probably a perfect storm of not feeling well the day before, not eating much, and her existing thyroid issues.

They didn't seem too worried. So that's that.

But there were three minutes stretched to eternity when the veneer of my polite little life was ripped off and I witnessed fragility and terror of our temporal existence in two fully dilated eyes. And all I could do was hug the shell of my love.

A Small Kindness

Chances are, you've probably made your life almost entirely about you. Seriously–think about how many of your scheduled events, obligations, and leisure activities are by and for you. It's natural. It's easy. It's us on autopilot.

Not trying to guilt you, I just want to make a suggestion.

Take a single hour sometime between now and when you die to do something for someone who has nothing specifically appealing to offer you in return.

460px-Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_A_Lunatic_behind_Bars_-_WGA10170There are a lot of very lonely people in the world–many for good reason, the sort of people who have spent a lifetime pushing others away by "saying it like it is." Or maybe they have been so thoroughly battered by others that they only know how to hate things and be wounded. Or maybe they have closed themselves off for so long that no one bothered to keep digging for their heart. In any case, believe it or not, there are people in your proximity who have gone days, weeks, even months without even a small voluntary kindness expressed toward them.

So maybe,

call them,

buy them lunch,

go visit them.

But I have to warn you, they might smell funny, or be a close talker, or a long talker, or a conspiracy theorist. They might want you to stay for another hour–or five.

But don't worry, this isn't about you anyway.

Running For Others

I.   When left to my own devices I'm rather sedentary –sleep till 10, sit all day, surf the web, trudge through moderate depression. In short, while I posthumously enjoy invigorating exercise, or a solid day's work, I'm much more of a slug than anything. And when I do muster the motivation to take on a massive project, getting off the couch takes more emotional jet fuel than the first fifty feet of a shuttle launch. And yet I find myself getting up earlier and getting more done than ever before.

Not that productivity is everything, or even a good reason.

II.   Courtney and I went for a jog the other day, which probably looked something like this. Neither of us have done much running lately (Courtney told me afterward that she hadn't run a complete mile in over 4 years). We both felt like quitting after the first block and a half.

Though my wife is a much healthier eater, and gets out more often than I do, I have a genetic advantage by way of long legs. As a result, I felt a responsibility to pace myself according to her needs.

Knowing that I had an extra breath or two on her, a quarter mile or so into the run I began popping off cheesy motivational lines like, "one foot in front of the other" and an underwhelming, "you can do it" or two. Funny thing was, whenever I did, the searing pain in my lungs subsided.

III.  I love molding ideas into something intriguing, rephrasing the unimaginative. I used to think it was for the thing itself, that I simply loved word-smithing (which I do); but when I write items I know won't see the light of day, I just don't seem to care as much. If I sit down to write a song for the heck of it, I don't pour in the same love for the craft and hope for the result.

IV. I feel best about what I'm doing when I think to myself, this might actually help someone. Not that I naturally crave that. On any given day, I make more me based than other based decisions. But the days I push past what comes naturally and get outside myself I end the day much happier, more productive, and far more grateful for the life I have.