Embarrassed

Shortly before one of my favorite bands, Radiohead, released one of my favorite albums, KID A, I remember reading an interview with their lead singer, Thom Yorke in Rolling Stone.  He previewed the albums stark contrast with their previous work.  As the interview progressed it became apparent that many of the signature Radiohead sounds would be missing on this album.  Chiefly, Yorke pointed out, gone were the guitars–or at least guitars that sounded like guitars.  The interviewer pushed to know why the band felt the need to make such a drastic departure.  Why ditch the guitars he asked.  The Radiohead frontman made a comment I’ve never really been able to forget the gist of:  “I guess all of us just hit this point where we’ve become embarrassed that we play them. We need other sounds. Sounds that we’re not embarrassed of. I mean, everybody can play the guitar.”

What struck me at the time is that the boys of Radiohead weren’t just any old guitar players. They were innovative, deeply creative, and technically brilliant.  If anyone had a right to KEEP playing guitar, it was them.  But somehow the baggage of those shitty bands around them, the Radiohead wanna-be’s, the knock-off’s, the un-artful imitations made them hit the wall.  Not only that, but also they felt they had taken guitar playing as far as they could while still being inspired.  It was time to set aside the thing that had defined them and they had also, in part, helped define.

The album that came out of that, KID A, was incredible, and it was, as the interview had promised, devoid of anything that sounded like a guitar.  They managed to reinvent themselves and did so beautifully.

Last year, and several albums later, they came out with the latest and greatest–an incredible work called “In Rainbows.”  Interestingly, the guitars were back.  It wasn’t exactly the original “Brit-pop” sound they had help pioneer.  But there were actual hooks and recognizable riffs.  Fans were happy, and so was the band.  Stepping away from the thing that they simultaneously loved and were embarrassed by, gave them license some time later to return and fall in love again.

Sometimes the sounds that we are familiar with–that we have given ourselves to completely–lose their luster.  Either we find ourselves no longer inspired by them or others have polluted the well we’ve drank from.  It seems, somehow, cheapened.  And we are embarrassed of those sounds.  We need to put them down for a time and simply hear or play with other melodies, other symphonic expressions.  But all in order to fall in love again…

And I wonder if this is happening…somehow, somewhere in me…is this the process I’m in?  Am I learning new languages so to embrace my mother-tongue more fully later on?  There are clearly no guarantees, I’m sure of that.  But perhaps…I suppose time will tell. Until then, I’m not so concerned with the sound making instrument–simply that I make sound at all…I hope that the music is still great.

Rumi, Movement, and Leaving my car a mystery

This morning I was listening to Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippetts. This particular show was on the Sufi poet and teacher, Rumi.  The guest quoted Rumi as having said something beautiful connected to the dance of the Dervishes, and it connects to several other thoughts I’ve been having lately. 

If you don’t plow the Earth it becomes hard and nothing will grow on it.  Just plow the earth of yourself–get moving. Don’t ask exactly what will happen—simply begin to move and see what comes of it.

Similarly, though in another vein, I remember someone saying something along the lines of keeping their car a mystery.  When asked for further clarification he said, ” If I take my car apart I’ll probably understand it better, but it just won’t drive any more.” 

This twin sense of simply beginning to move, to spin in circles, to plow the other, to resist taking the car apart, seems noteworthy this morning. 

Who do I say I love when I love my God…a promise…a call…a mystery…a Love and a Lover… and these are the things I myself become as I join that dance.

The Impossible Now–Part Four

This is the final installment of an introductory position paper I’m calling “The Impossible Now” or “Towards a Theology of the Impossible.”  There are three previous parts.  You can find them here, here, and here.  In this final installment I talk about “the religious question.”  Cheers!

…The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable….

The Event of the im/possible cannot be prepared for and at the same time cannot be depended on. These are horrible words to hear for strategic planning! How then do we live with such (non)knowledge? If authenticity, imagination and experiment are the tools that we shape the relative future with, what are the tools we use to embrace the wildcard future—the im/possible? What can we possibly do or say or prepare in reference to something that lies so completely out of our ability to do or say or prepare for? It is for this place, this absurd, unexpected, undeterminable place that a different set of internal reservoirs are needed. Religion, good religion, seeks to address this sort of question.

Having done all to encounter the present in a meaningful way, we are still often left with seemingly meaningless events that continually take us by surprise, disturbing our best laid plans. This realization is, at its highest, a religious experience. It doesn’t require belief in a Personal Origin, or First Cause. But it does require something of us. That much is certain. The “what” is actually rather well-known. The attributes I’m going to mention are in many ways universals. They’re what philosopher’s might call “un-deconstructables,” in that they are ideals—almost always un-fully-realized urges that keep us reaching toward them. The most famous of Jesus’ early followers, the apostle Paul, said it best, in my opinion, “…in the end, these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.”

This simple three word formula provides the basis for the intersection between the im/possible and the real. Faith isn’t so much a mental adherence to theoretical propositions about the nature of truth, but rather living today in the light of the future as it should be. Faith sees the idealized Peaceful Tomorrow, the future where swords have been beaten into plowshares, and tanks made into tractors, and determines to live peaceably today, even while the world is filled with wars and rumors of wars. Faith is an active, aggressive leap forward toward the Good, the Just, and the Best in spite of evidence contrary. Faith is an investment in particularity and locality, refusing to be theoretical and (merely) universal. Faith is always personal, though hardly private.

Hope isn’t the spindly sickly stuff of fantasy; it’s longing contentment. Hope sees the possibility of renewal and resurrection where others see lifelessness or death. Hope believes in commonality, compassion and a desire for connection with the Other where fear informs us that only Strangers and Monsters await on the other side of the unknown.

And love…Love is the greatest of these. Even faith and hope must give way before love. What can be said of love? Those who have known both Love and God have said that God is Love. If God can be spoken of and said to be anything at all, God is spoken of as and said to be Love. The substance of the divine is bound up in love. Concrete love. Active love. Visible, tangible, touchable love. Love, which covers a multitude of sins. Love which walks the extra mile. Love which gives up the second coat. Love which willingly lays down its life for another, for the Other. Love, of whom we may sing a thousand songs.

Our deep need to account for the unaccounted for, forces us to build up, to work on, a different skill set entirely. The things that are simply cannot prepare us for the things that are not. For those sorts of im/possible occurrences we must draw on the deep fountains that lurk at the corner of our being, not quite yet realized, still in formation, and dependent on some previously unforeseen happening to unleash their potential in our lives. In some strange way, these too, carry the stamp of Artistry. Art, in all of its forms, somehow allows to us to look upon, and hint at, those things which we cannot view in a straightforward way. Artistry gives birth to the Encounter of im/possibility which we are able to meet with arms open, acting out of faith, hope, and love.

+ Some Quotes +

A trinity of quotes today. 

One from a scientist. One from a philosopher. And the final from a priest. Somehow they speak to the foundation I sense I’m standing on. It is, to be sure, a weak foundation.  I’m not looking for a strong or obscenely certain one.  The weakness of the foundation is as weak as Love itself–something that calls to us, that draws us, urging us to be fall forward, to take the leap, propelling us ahead, but without force. In the end my affirmation is a simple one, to quote Gianni Vattimo when asked if he still “believed”, he answered “I believe so.”  I believe that I believe. 

You have a choice… I don’t think anyone can prove that God exists or that God doesn’t exist–we’re in an area far to deep for mere proof…a big fundamental question like belief in God (or disbelief) is not settled by a single argument. It’s too complicated for that. What one has to do is consider lots of different issues and see whether or not the answers one gets add up to a total picture that makes sense–but also gives meaning, beauty, depth, joy and hope.  In other words do you like the panting that you’ve just created or not?–Polkinghorne, pg 36

 

Who do I love when I love my God?  I love this question because it assumes that anybody worth their salt loves God. If you do not love God what good are you?  You are too caught up in the meanness of self-love and self-gratification to be worth a tinker’s damn. Your soul soars only with a spike in the Dow Jones Industrial average; your heart leaps only at the prospect of a new tax break. The devil take you.  Religion is for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people with real passion for something other than utilitarian gains, people who believe on something, who hope like mad in something, who love something with a love that surpasses understanding…but again, we must ask then “Who do I love when I love my God?”(Caputo, pg 2)

 

Dear friend, being beloved is the origin and fulfillment of the life of the spirit.  I say this because as soon as we catch a glimpse of this truth, we are put on a journey in search of the fullness of that truth and we will not rest until we rest in that truth.  From the moment we claim the truth of being beloved we are faced with the call to become who we are.  Becoming the Beloved is the spiritual journey we have to make. (Nouwen, pg 41)

An excerpt about belief:

I believe in God the way I believe in quarks, ” she said coolly. “People whose business it is to know about quantum physics or religion tell me that they have good reason to believe that quarks and God exist.  And they tell me that if I wanted to devote my life to learning what they’ve learned, I’d find quarks and God just like they did.”–From “the Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell, pg 110.

I assume that I am not an expert on quarks.  I assume I have very little to say on the matter. I haven’t studied it, I haven’t spent a lifetime of experiment and experience on the subject.  I don’t feel left out or stupid or unknowledgable or out of my league or judged or condemned or as if I should come up with something to say on the matter when in the presence of jargon talking physicists.  I simply sit, listen, and hope to glean what little I can, and I apply what little I’ve gained.  Why is it that we imagine religion, the religious question, differently? I suspect I know why.  I can’t help but wonder if because we create God in our own image, we expect ourselves to have an expert opinion on the matter.  And of course we are experts on God, because more often than not s/he is simply the glass ceiling of our own imagination, conveniently validating all of our preconceptions.

The Impossible Now–Part Two

…There’s another kind of future, one we’re even less equipped to face….

Truthfully, the kind of event I’m envisioning can’t be prepared for. We cannot even begin to imagine or plan ahead for this kind of future—the wildcard future. It’s always out of nowhere. Nobody sees it coming. As post-structuralist philosopher Jaques Derrida said, it is the im/possible—the impossible that becomes possible by colliding with our immediate reality. The im/possible is truly unimaginable. And of course, the unimaginable happens all the time. We hear it in the sobs of the newly widowed, “I never thought anything like this could happen.” We observe it on the shocked faces of political pundits as outsider-unaccounted-for’s win primaries and then even presidential races. We feel it from time… to time…to time. In fact we encounter the im/possible so often in life that it’s a surprise that we’re surprised. Of course the examples I’ve used are basic, even bottom of the barrel; they’re somehow incredible familiar events. Truthfully, the reason why they’re familiar to us at all, why we relate to sentiment of the grieving widow or the shocked commentator is because we expect the unexpected. Culturally, we’ve built them in to our routine. Think about emergency rooms. What a strange place. It’s an institution built entirely on the premise that we will be taken off guard. Emergency rooms are a societal contingency plan. They’re an admission of our own lack of control. But even this apprehendible-unanticipatible is not the im/possible I speak of – not really. What I mean is an event outside of the built-in contingency plans; circumstances that overturn the apple cart altogether.

It’s difficult to get concrete with that term, “the im/possible.” Partially this is true because as soon as the unexplained and the unexpected enter our universe, we begin to explain and expect it. The impossible becomes…possible. That’s why I notate it with a little slash separating the word, because it is simultaneously possible and impossible.  Take a Biblical example, something outlandish – the crossing of the Red Sea for instance. In the book of Exodus, as their Egyptian taskmasters and previous owners are in hot pursuit, the children of Israel get stuck between a rock and a hard place. The armies of Egypt are behind them, and a body of seemingly un-crossable water is ahead. What happens next is remarkable. The im/possible occurs. There’s a divine intervention. The wave’s part and dry land appears. The ex-slaves pass through the clearing just in time and the story ends with pursuant horse and rider being swept away by the collapsing wall of water. Miraculous. My point isn’t the “fact” of the event; whether it happened that way or not. Actually my point is the absurdity of it all. These things don’t happen every day. It couldn’t have been expected or anticipated. And while the cries of the desperate would have certainly bordered on polite requests for rescue, no one could have imagined that the Sea itself would have been parted. Within the context of story itself it is a brilliant example of the impossible intersecting reality. What’s more is that the event is not only unexpected but is also unexplainable, at least within the text. The author of Exodus doesn’t attempt to give detailed scientific or historical precedent for the event but allows it to remain teetering on the edge of chaotic disturbance.

Several years ago the History Channel aired a series called “Mysteries of The Bible.” It featured various scholars, historians, archeologists and other experts in the field, each of whom took their best shot at rationalizing a handful of biblical stories such as the one above. I’ll never forget the slough of explanations for the crossing of the Red Sea. There were several of them. One focused on wind power and hurricane strength to clear water, rather instantaneously, from sea floors. Another proposed a case of mistaken identities; the body of water mentioned in the book of Exodus couldn’t have rationally been such a huge expanse as the Red Sea we know of, so it must have been a smaller one, such as the Sea of Reeds. The Sea of Reeds, being rather shallow, could have conceivably dried, in due season, in one place or another, allowing for a mass exodus such as the one described in the Bible. On and on the explaining went, until any logical person watching the show would have been sufficiently convinced that the real crossing of the Red Sea was slightly (or vastly) different than presented in the Biblical rendition, but was therefore entirely possible, conceivable, and explainable. In other words, the im/possible just became possible. As soon as the unimaginable future enters into our reality we immediately reconstruct our thinking to account for it. We rationalize how we could have been prepared (had we only thought far enough ahead or enough outside the box). As this happens an event ceases to be impossible and starts to acclimate into our version of reality. Experts figure out the science behind the magic. Historians matriculate the timeline of crucial events. Theologians and philosophers craft carefully articulated statements of description and prescription. Going back to a previous example, we build Emergency Rooms.

The Truth Shop

There’s a story that I’ve become fond of recently:

A man was wandering through the famous Portobello Street in London taking in all the bizarre shops and sights when, hardly believing his eyes, he saw a sign over a door front that read: “Truth Shop“.  Needless to say he decided it was best to investigate. 

The saleswoman was extremely polite. She asked what type of truth the man would like to purchase, partial or whole?  The man didn’t think twice about the choice.  No more defenses. No more rationalizations or justifications. No more deceptions.  Only the plain, unadulterated, and absolute truth.  She waived the man to the other side of the store. 

The salesman on that side of the store pointed to the price tag.  “The going rate of absolute truth is very high sir,” he said.  “Well, what is it?”  the man asked, determined to get the whole truth no matter what the cost.  “Your certainty sir. Your certainty.” 

And so the man went away sad. The cost of Truth was to great.  He needed to hold on to the security of his certainties more than he needed the truth he sought.

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