So its my 21st birthday. Most people probably associate this day in their lives with some form of alcohol. And that's fine, your cup of tea (or something else) is fine. For me, the hardest drink in my cup was apple juice with my thoughts, let alone prayers as my personal and global faith celebrated the most inexplicable and seemingly distant event of the world's formation: the resurrection of the dead God. I'd let contradictions be, since they are too eternal and I too mortal for a truly accurate contemplation, but we are wondering and wandering beings, and so my thoughts refill my glass and I take another drink.The bottles of thoughts have left me drunk as I associate my 21st birthday with death. Sorry for being blunt; especially on Easter, I'm most heretical for bringing such a drab, ill-thought and conquered event back into your lives. Most people this day either forget its occurence or rest assured it is not the end of our existence, so what a poor choice of time. But today is no different than any other day in my life, except I can agree that there is little to block me from the title of "adult." Sure, I still act like a child, speak like a child, and think as such. There isn't really any dividing line, is there? When does the 10-year old disappear into the 20-year old? Supposedly, the first five years of our lives are the most formative, causing our tempements for the rest of our lives. Thus I'm little different from the five year old, beyond the fact that I know more and can cause more hurt. Isn't that so? Whether its too much playtime or too much alcohol, we are still children. Childhood feels eternal, so much so that Mr. Banks flew his kite and Mary Poppins ascended into the sky like the risen Christ.But death - now that, the child in me can't even face with confidence. Death is so inevitable that to say so is cliche. Supposedly Heidegger, with his da-sein, makes it the mark of our existence, defining Time for us and causing us to always look towards its occurance in some deeper, subconsious way. Achilles, with the jealousy of the gods of his mortal passions, would attest as such. And Christ, before his Resurrection day, even had to undergo its power to bring the world to utter justice and peace. Its cold sentence places an unwanted emphasis on the life we should live - that it, lived once, is not only our only chance at the attainment of eternal life but is also the singular attempt of the here, the now, the fleeting moment where this last word and subsequent sleep can be its last for each of us. This is so much so that it affects those I love. Brother Death is called friend and enemy at the same time. I could waste further words, but its act, bringing new friends down six feet under, is enough for us to feel. And if you haven't felt it, or cease to feel it, then you are either lucky, ignorant, or both.I'm a philosophical man, and its one of those nights that this gets me into trouble. Pious little Joe, on the day of resurrection and his coming of age, speaks of the end like its tomorrow. He must be preoccupied. The lack of antidepressant is cracking through his writing and must be addressed. Enough people have spoken about the wonders of family, friends, or both to make him happy, so why with his words. And he won't die tomorrow. And if he merely references to the overwhelming multitude of events that happen to others, shoved down our throats by our drama-loving media, then he becomes a mere blowhard sailing uncomfortably onto our computer screens. I, and the rest of you, don't deserve this jarring metaphysic on this blessed, holy day, when the light shines through the Churches and the fault of Adam that caused this charming little bug has been reveresed and I celebrate adulthood.Such would be, if death were to only be spoken of in one, fearful way. Think of the resurrection. What is it to you? Is it the sigh of relief as the question "Are we going to be okay?" is finally answered? Does it cause the secret atheist inside each of us to finally stop his doubting and say, "Well, there we go, now there has to be an afterlife." Does it provide our headaches salve because we have no need to worry, and that a little virtue and alot of rosary beads will earn our place past some pearly gates? Is it a job well done, addressing a major problem, as we wonder what all the saints were doing before Christ broke death's chains with the rolling away of the stone. Does the glory of God serve to end our wondering of the bridge, and does death, as well as our whole lives, merely become the stage-show before we enter into eternal happiness? It must have been, since the martyrs feared little for their lives and thus seeded the subsequent generations of God-fearing Romans, all the way to us, who down our next shot of whiskey or apple juice confident that this isn't the end, God took care of our doubts and that Heaven is For Real, anyway?The resurrection can easily erase death for us as we live and sleep peacefull and soundly. But my Bible does not erase death, even death on a cross. It has been said, wisely and by many, that the miracle of Easter Sunday requires the suffering of Good Friday. I heard that well enough times before, but that charming cliche still erased death as real for me. It's a mere comma, people say, a necessary comma, but then we forget why we have commas anyway. Commas separate sentence structures, placing two either deeply meaningful or bastardly blabbering sets of words apart from each other. We don't ignore it, but welcome it for the glorification of a junction of ideas, from the simple sentence introduction to the grandest conclusion, from the most banal of explectives to the most loquations and syllable-laden vocabulary. It's a gift, a breath between worlds that happens in a blink of an eye. And if we ignore it we may get the whole sentence wrong or tire our our mouths as we run on and on as all things are rushing by rushing by rushing by.Death's impact is relentless, and that is an aspect of its existence we all face. I've spent two years and summers of living with the fact that an aspiring 20 year old atheist who knew Christ better than I was dragged down under the earth. I've thought about this little event, an insignificant blip to the earth's continuing cycle of life, more than human health should allow. It all stems from a little boy who ran into the arms of God when death scared him, years ago, and subsequently forgot his fearful faith when he saw the admiring eyes of adults who wished only that he wouldn't end up being a bad kid. Now I am an adult, and no longer seek those eyes and welcome not a faith to merely salve my wounds of fear that the house would burn down with me in it while I sleep.It would do that atheist little honor if I didn't question my faith. And to question my faith means to question my own death, and my own perspective on the inevitable ending of our earthly lives. First, I thought it demanded my perfect living before I inevitably died young, ending up in a lousy and unhappy summer full of unconscious atheism. Then, I understood that the eternality of things had to be beyond this world because of the very characteristic of death, with great apology and reverence to Plato and his perfect circles. And that meant everything, from the inevitable and necessary bouts of insignificant employment to the way that the choir and its director stumbles through a Mass. Except with the latter, Christ somehow deems us worthy to have our sacrifice santified to become a bridge between the eternal and the temporal. He must be truly loving.And that meant everything I knew had to be below the eternal. Everything on this earth ends, not when the sun explodes into oblivion in billions of years but when our eyes close the last time in less than a hundred years. Which means it isn't about the distant heavens, as loving and close as God is to us. It isn't necessarliy the last several pages of the Gospels, but the life that is lived up to them and makes the death of our Risen Lord something that was to be grasped. And it is our lives. The dash on our grave does not merely separate dates, but defines them. The cross we all have to bear will be heavier or lighter depending on the life that built that body and mind that has to bear it. Our living precedes our dying for a reason - it, rather than the mere promise of heaven, is what makes it all okay, allows me to sleep at night and makes thinking of death on my 21st birthday a celebration.Quarter life crises are a pain, but its ending makes this day one of the best birthdays ever. It is not merely in the celebration of family and friends that have blessed me with entertaining gestures and laughs. It is the kindness they have taught me, not for my pleasure and comfort, but to show me what it means to live a life with meaning. For we need to live our own lives, not the lives of others, no matter how admirable my friends and family may be in their splendor as loving, good people. No, they have given examples for me to follow, ones which could not make my choices but taught me to persist as I sometimes saw no light or was struggling against deep, dark things. They taught me to treasure moments and appreciate differences, make peace and not war. They are the living and vivacious blueprints that I myself have modeled my life after, all to the utmost assertion that I can say, with confidence, that I have learned how to live in order how to die, when that may be.Brother death is not the final end, as I believe in eternal afterlife. But afterlife is an awful word when it is meant to cover the tracks of death, leading us to fearful ask where all the love we have experienced will go as we tremble and subsequently drug our doubting and ridiculous philosophers so that they shut up. But what if we considered that afterlife and death may be good friends who guided our Savior hand-in-hand to teach a lesson that most of us miss on the one day we all go to Church - that the death and rising of Christ was made poignant by the life he lived in love. If we live as such, focusing more on a happy, loving life than fear of death, paranoid self-preservation will cease, and fear of the subsequent moments will cease. For the martyrs were also Christians, and prepared for their bloody, horrible last moments way before the arena as they loved and shared with all in the catacombs, the very halls of death.And now I have been graced with enough days to grow to an adult man, pending that one day I can actually sustain myself on my own finances. I have stumbled for twenty-one years looking for the meaning of life, only to realize that what is far better than knowing the unintelligble Eucharist is to live a life daily worthy of joy, and to look to the end of days not as a following into the dark but a leaving behind of a wonderful and glad mess, where the small world around me consisting of the few people I see on a day-to-day basis are changed for the better. That makes death okay, no matter what. And the blessing of knowing such things and feeling such a peace within my heart is a greater present than any other, and has possibly the greatest potential to inebriate me with good things far better than any substance does (though, of course, the substances may make these thoughts even more creative, leading me to uncharted courses I fear more now than death itself).I wish such a peace on everyone! For fearing death is rampant, and was so in my own life. Who am I kidding, however, to say that I am fully free of the fear? It would be a lie, for the Lord still taketh away everything, and everyone has a little self-preservation for everything in their world, to the point that even He sweat blood as his disciples snored away. But, at least I have found an initial peace I thought I wouldn't find until after years of wisdom, though wisdom still may teach me more on this. Anyway, the point I am trying to reach as my eyes begin to droop to actual sleep is that it takes a whole life to realize such a beautiful thing. Far too often we become impatient at ourselves, and I wished very early on for such a wisdom and prayed mightily for its arrival, only to find it within my heart planted by God may years later. Yet it also couldn't have been any other way. God is good, a real mysterious son-of-a-gun and so more good than I will ever actually know.Let this deeper lesson of Easter rest in our hearts as our bodies shall all rest six feet under one day. And, if it doesn't, then we can still all agree that living a happy life has to end up somewhere, especially in a better place where ADHD-ridden punks don't puke out crap to satisfy their impetuous thoughts about brother death and sister afterlife. That place may be complacent enough to check the newsfeed again for the most recent of Buzzfeed's cosmic compilations. You might as well go back to Facebook. It is waiting as much as the gift of death and life.TL;DR Happy Easter.
It's been adventurous to be a young American Catholic man trying to learn what adulthood is all about. I'm 20, and my initial and ultimate conclusion is that adulthood is merely childhood dressed in more elegant robes. Too see it this way, we need to have a proper view of childhood as being our ultimately flawed existence in any and every situation, despite our best efforts. Adults, especially parents, glory in some perfection (Mom and Dad are always right), yet the moment that we reach the age when we are to be parents, we realize that the ability to have a child, have sex, hold a job, drink or drive does not guarantee we reach some sort of perfection in our maturity.
The immaturity of adults simply just has more consequence. Where a failed high school relationship results in a pair of temporarily broken hearts, a broken adult relationship results in a life-shattering divorce. When the kid thinks that jumping on the bed won't result in a cracked skull, he's a stone's throw away from the adult who thinks that cheating, alcoholism, and any sort of brazen selfishness won't crack his mind. Yet the innocence of childhood is also reflected in the innocence of adulthood. If we look at the romantic outpourings of the most passionate of adults, they should be, at most, childlike. Not immature, but reflecting of innocence.My spiritual journey as an ADHD boy leaving an addictive past is one about making peace with myself. I am not a god and I am imperfect, but to be like a child is to be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. This isn't a childhood typical of children, but of adults - learning to chuck every next anxiety in favor of trust in God as father, not letting the horrifying mistakes of my not-so-distant past come to haunt me, and accepting my falls as the stumbles of a child trying his very best to impress his Father. Those falls are more common than the successes, but at least I can see the prize - not living a life free from speed bumps, but a life that learns to laugh joyfully and with faith at the speedbumps. At least, if I can't laugh, I'd love to just ride over them and enjoy, in a deeper sense, the ride of life on earth that is my one chance at learning what heaven is all about.I'm tired of people putting their hands in the air asking God to change everything in their lives and in the lives of everyone around them. I'm tired of people lamenting a broken society and world. That's not news; news is that we need to love it anyway. What if we looked at it this way: what if the Catholic "issues" of abortion, contraception, same sex issues were opportunities of love that God has given us? Even better, when a plane disappears, what if it were an opportunity to put our faith in God? What if we all just shut up and listened, accepted that we couldn't change most of the things around us, and stop hurting people trying to change it all?
I don't write often because I'm finding less and less reasons to write. Life's beautiful, and I don't need to join the cacophony of squeaking voices, a devil's choir, to try to drastically amend the world's state. Would I prefer things differently? I prefer as God intends, and I think the arbiter of the universe would be able to alter our state very easily if he wished it. He wants us to think less about the times we are in, the way the world is ticking, and instead to love it, love ourselves, love others and love him. Love will encourage us to do good in the small circle of people we call our friends and loved ones. And that's enough of a moral prerogative for me.P.S. I was at my grandmother's Catholic charismatic meeting this past week. They are a [literally] dying prayer group with less than 10 people present, with a kind, elderly violinist with hands that could barely keep stable to play the tunes to the worship songs. As they kept saying over and over, "Thank you, God," these people with less and less left in their aging lives remind me that we do not foster gratitude by meeting a certain quota but by living it no matter what we have at any moment. To literally say the words "I need this to be happy" is to cease to live, except if that need is eternal. To say the words "Thank you," is to start to live once again.
Cloud Cult's newest album, "Love," is a motivational creation meant to inspire a mental, emotional, and spiritual investigation into what Love itselt means in our own hearts, through careful consideration of challenges as well as joyful praise of lightheartedness.
The albums usually reviewed for Indie Catholic Radio tend to involve deep metaphors where I need to search diligently to connect themes and ideas. I usually make pages of notes next to album lyrics. But my margins are quite empty next to the lyrics of "Love," for the joyous, eternal, and love-filled lessons are spelled out clearly, somtimes bluntly, within the words of the songs. For Indie Catholic Radio, it is a masterpiece that lights my way. And for all of us, Cloud Cult lights a path to happiness, both temporal and eternal, that is an essential lesson for mind and soul.
Christ himself declared that His yolk is easy and His burden is light; the way of sin is one of sad heaviness. One sees the lack of love that becomes present when our weighted-down hearts try to reign like little Gods. We see the confusion of "Complicated Creation," the hard work of "The Calling" and the isolation present in "It's Your Decision." We are weighed down by the punches in "1 x 1 x 1." This is all contrasted as the album continues with the jocular paradoxes uttered in "Good Friend," the romantic joy discovered in "Meet Me Where You are Going," the innocence of our "Cartharsis" and the susequent harajuka within "The Show Starts Now." As a result, the album's broken heart has two halves. One half mourns for the challenges we endure in our striving for love, and the other - in elated rejoicing - celebrates our ability to still bring the beauty of love in the world. Love is aptly named since the album is able to capture the meaning present in that difficult, elusive virtue of the saints and God.
The album begins by introducing us: We are "the wind, the flood, the flame," powerful as can be, yet weak, since we're "the only thing in our way." Humanity's greatest stumbling block to goodness is ourselves, all the way from when the apple was first beheld in Genesis. Yet it also reveals our potency, for God's gift of free will to us means we have the capacity to be the greatest and most virtuous of creatures, or the banally worst of all. The hope of such a bold realization immediately sets in with panic as we, arbiters of good and evil, face the challenges within "It's Your Decision" and of our "Complicated Creation." These songs, with their muscially strong sets as the panicked voice of Craig Minowa reveals some of our deepest and truest anxieties:
"Back off, Back off, I'm discontented.
I don't want to talk about it,
Can't put my finger on it.
It's the strangest thing, when you've tried most everything,
Yet something's always missing." ("It's Your Decision")
"If you get rid of all your baggage you will likely float away,
But you can't know beauty if you don't know pain.
Gotta feel it all, feel it all.
There's your medication." ("Complicated Creation")
And what a medication it truly is - we beat ourselves up over and over in "1 x 1 x1," as we assail our better natures rather than facing the punches that life gives us. The man than numbs himself with pleasure, materialism, or ignorance is only putting off his happiness, the happiness that first requires us to "feel it all" in the first place. For "the next best thing" will only result in "more and more holes."We will have to do "what must be done" regardless, suggests Minowa, so why not "learn to do it with some levity, levity"? We were better, not as the raging "complicated creation" but as the "simple one" that this song reveals we should pursue: a simple one which loves lightly and happily.
The next instrumental piece "All the Things We Couldn't See" grows musically as the album shifts. No longer is there a debate about love, especially after we beat ourselves up in "1 x 1 x 1," but now we see the beauty that love shows us. We are then faced with a harajuka with "The Calling," a definitive song that reveals the panic, not in what to do but how to make that choice and leap to "so much more we were made to be":
"All our love, and all our pain,
Is gonna make us precious,
If it don't make us insane:
You have a calling."
So we instrumentally proceed with "Love and The First Law of Thermodynamics". Love is something that is given and received, not merely created in isolation. The music lightens up, we are greeted by a "Good Friend" in which we realize the beauty of nature, complementing that broken heart which started this album in panic and fear. Pain now is embraced with joy, knowing we aren't alone in the pursuit of happiness and love, as we are even reminded of God's love:
"Some of us are laughing, some of us are choking.
Some of us can't change 'til every bone has been broken.
All the while the maker just sits there joking, "You never really were alone."
Not only do we find such a love in our friends and in God, but also, for many, in romantic love. I know that my girlfriend has been first among many to help me see that "foolish pride" I needed to rid myself of. We rejoice as such in "Meet me Where You Are Going," which I believe to rank as one of the best Indie Rock love songs of all time - simple, yet profound in its subleties of the difficulties and lessons of discovering emotional intimacy with another human being.
Even so, our journey is not finished. These beautiful experiences are an impetuous to reflect on ourselves. We realize that we are a "Sleepwalker" where we understand that, just because we have blood pumping in our veins, we can very easily remain lifeless. As such, we may mourn over the length of the journey, but the cold yet true words of "It Takes Alot" reveals that this is an essential truth: that the story of learning love is not one that happens easily and quickly, and the paradox that becoming lighthearted and free requires much heavy lesson-learning.
Finally, the album closes with "Your Show Starts Now." It may be bold for me to say to suspend strict theolocial concerns, but that is exactly what Minowa would want us to do by the close of this album. We must live in this moment, not any other, and "do" what we believe we are. If we believe, either as deep philosophers or simple laymen, that we are God's sons and daughters, then there is no reason to put off acting as such. For the album could not get away with forgetting about such an essential message: that, when faced with all the knowledge of our previous journey throughout the other twelve songs, we are still, just like with The Lonely Forest, facing a choice by the end of the album. And the simple metaphor of our "show," - to go out and play our part on Shakespeare'stage of a world - couldn't be more fitting, for within the tense suspense of walking out in front of an audience is the joy that we get to display our character, our smiles, and our Love.
The ultimate messages revealed in "Love" need to be straightforward, without metaphorical pretense, for it reflects the ultimate theme of the album itself. That theme is this: that love is easiest when we don't get in the way of ourselves, and we make that choice to let Him carry us on. But we need to make that choice: it's "our decision," to turn away from the complications and concerns of hell to the foolish hopes of heaven. There's an audience of friends, family and God, all waiting to see the character we bring forth on the stage of life.
And that means your show starts now.
Scarred by original sin, we struggle always against the addiction of sin that has been within us since Genesis. In fighting sin throughout our lives, in whatever context we see good and evil within, we experience some of the most extreme warfare, in victory as well as defeat, that any person can ever experience. This warfare, even greater, is within our own soul. What human suffering can hold a candle to the blaze that is the struggle with the self? This is the self that St. Paul tells of in Romans, Chapter 7:14:25
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I work, I understand not. For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do. If then I do that which I will not, I consent to the law, that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that there dwelleth not in me, that is to say, in my flesh, that which is good. For to will, is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good, I find not. For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do. Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man: But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.
This type of struggle takes a person to the deepest and darkest parts of his own self. It makes him yearn that his sufferings could be the sufferings controlled by others. Especially for a man, there is no greater suffering than to view yourself doing the "evil which I hate." It immasculates us to the point that we wish to - and sometimes, even do - deny that it even happens. Our worst evils are trivial, or even goods in themselves. Such a self-denying man becomes a liar to himself and to others. Then, he is at risk of being truly lost for good. He has lost even that minute understanding of self which preserved, rather than undid, the sanity of St. Paul, whose own transition from Saul to Paul represents well the transition from boy to man, from immature self-denial and hate to mature self-love and humility.
Arrows, by the Lonely Arrows, is an indie rock album, heavy with guitars, that attempts not to conquer its listeners with blind ambition for power. Instead, their music is submissive to God and hope in a way few rock artists would be able to be. They commit mortification to their own music, almost to a point where they lack self-esteem, within "Turn off this Song And Go Outside" where they literally encourage their listeners to stop listening and to go do something better, admitting that their gift is nothing compared to "the orphan, or the song she sings." It may be the first that a singer admits that research, discussion, and some blind rock-hero worship may not actually be an act where we "find someone to love." Right in the beginning of the album, our impulsive society is shoved right back in our faces - as for this song, the whole album, or anything else out there that may be of entertainment, we can simply "listen to it later."
The album proceeds by examining unique perspectives we and others can take to God, nature, our living surroundings, and - ultimately - ourselves viewing ourselves, preparing for that great battle for the self. "[I am] The Love Skeptic" suggests that "only in our dreams can we perceive reality" as the band begins to blur the lines between cold-hard skepticism and the mysterious truth around us, which this reviewer believes ultimately points to God. It also provides the solution for those stuck in such a silly state (the song begins by mocking the skeptic who sees a song as "just chemical, animal sound") by promoting tolerance, but not submission, to unique ideas:
Just let him speak,
He's got a good point, brother.
Can't you be close and disagree?
Once this door has been opened merely a crack, the singer bursts into full-throttle, passion and desire with "[I Am] The Love Skeptic." The singer sings to God himself, acknowledging that he has learned that he had been shown that "I must die to live." The skeptic is mocked as the singer admits all his "body really needs is spirit, soul for the pain to ease." Yet even here, the singer's desire to "be addicted to love" is one that does not cure him of his fears ("And why are we so loveless? I'm worried...") and doesn't make him into a man ("...please, take me home!"). Ultimately, that's because his flawed idea merely wants to replace the addiction of his sin with an addiction to love: something mindless that merely replaces whatever he is abusing at the current moment:
Give me something new, for my soul to use,
Something mittable, for my heart to abuse.
The drugs are never enough.
"[I Am] The Love Addict" sounds like an attractive song, one we are called to adore and follow, but it still represents a flawed view of love. It begins the album, compared and contrasted with a song about skepticism, because it is another mindless extreme that the singer must journey, through heart and soul, to overcome.
The eerie, slow riffs of "Coyote," with the howling coyotes the singer hears in his sleep, bring his love-addict self right back down to a darkness of sin that is far deeper in his heart, as he wonders whether his sin is "interesting" as he grieves the loss of his beloved due to it. He yearns for a peaceful place in "I Don't Want To Live There," rejecting hand-in-hand the cowardice of Nashville and the weighty glitz of Los Angeles. Cities seem to be the least of his problems as he travels deeper, to the war within himself in "Tunnels." He "digs lies to get around obvious contradictions, childish self-afflictions," fighting off help from the outside as he eliminates "a spy lurking around in an attempt to save you." Within his destroyed self-inspection, he snarls singing about things opposite as they should be, as the one to save him becomes that "spy" and he who "warns" of the saving one is a "dove." But he speaks the barrenness of his heart with a direct metaphor:
My heart is a room in a ranshackle house
Where the shades have been drawn
And all scenery is gone....
...Occasionally visitors come and knock,
trying to see if someone is inside
I try to speak but no one's there.
The clutter within himself, hearkening to some things I have spoken about on here concerning the loss of innocence, ends up becoming a series of infinite and slightly bizarre questions with "End it Now!" The singer is tired of his pointless wanderings and wonderings, finding that "the list of questions goes on." Indeed, the "scientist leads a miserable life" if he or she believes that the meaning of life will be ultimately and fully found by "one linear mind." No wonder the singer wants to "end it now," laden with raging heavy guitars and loud drums crying out for a peace that the world cannot give.
The climax of the album is reached in the crux of this problem: with the perspectives of the sinful, isolated man exhausted to find peace and tranquility, who are we and what is our calling? And so a hand "griped my hand like a vice" because of our sin - mercy. Humility admists "we both have fallen short time and time again." The Chorus of "Woe to Me...I Am Ruined" is the iconic rock-bottom:
And All I can do is make others bleed,
A Prideful Ego Fire I'm ego to feed.
And they say I'm a good guy."
What differs the Lonely Forest from such despairing bands as Imagine Dragons, who believe with calm confidence "no matter what we breathe, we are made of greed," is something as simple as the tone of voice. That calm confidence is not present in the voice of John Van Deusen, who is not stating a truth but searching for something more. We know that The Lonely Forest believes, with their entire heart, that such a state can be changed, and shame can be brought to a new life within Hope and Love Himself. That shame is as real as the coyotes that howl, and even of the love they wish they could be addicted to, but that doesn't make it inevitable.
Far from it, they recognize the answer subsequently in "In Time We Sing". They mock such crappy material ends of those "monsters [who] trample through woods and dirt they feed," they who "burn the nation's budget" and "send boys overseas." They mourn the addict, the "tweaker" whose "syringes lined the floor." But their answer here, to screaming verses, is a chorus that, while fast-paced, is calm and confident of a victory:
In time the trees die and light will fade,
But I hope for a new breath, a new life to take me away.
Such a religious triumph, for us on Indie Catholic Radio, would be more than enough to close the album and call this journey through the gross and the sublime as through. Yet the title track itself, "Arrows," with a creepy piano riff and riddled with warning of "animals inside my head" seems to undermine the strong message of "In Time We Sing," as he admits that darker times cause him to "drink a sinister mead, that drives away the good," even though the "melancholy boy is gonna shine" and avoid that dark song forever.
Why this contradiction after the dramatic and beautiful story we have taken with Deusen up to this point? Why is is triumph swan song for this album being overpowered by this slow, slightly grating ballad about bearing weapons to some fight, with "arrows out"? As the singer's repeated chorus fades, we should all realize that he is telling us something about the story before, once again an extraordinary point about the truth of his message: that, once we have recognized the beautiful, new opportunities ahead of us after our suffering, after any addiction and self-affliction to sin and death, we will fight. We may fight that "spy lurking around in an attempt to save you," as you guard your dark heart with a wall and guards, or it may be the fight of that chorus in "Woe to Me" - that when the world tells us that all we do is "make others bleed," we fight back and live a good life.
I'll get right to it - I wish the Harmonium Project was my idea.
It would be perfect. Indie Catholic Radio is about connecting the elements of music, especially Indie Rock, to eternal aspects of beauty. There's something about The Head and the Heart's music that can stir the soul, or the unique challenges of Arcade Fire that sound like the fiery prophesy of Jeremiah. God's dream is to be seen in all things, for when we see God we see eternal joy and love. Helping people see God 's beauty within true music and the arts is my dream.
But The Harmonium Project does it so much better. While I've been blabbering on the radio, Marc Barnes has been starting an IndieGoGo project designed around loving others. Particularly those in Steubenville, Ohio - the birthplace of Dean Martin, whose mirth and financial success left when the steel plant closed. It is the iconic story of a hidden, despairing America, which only got exposure to the world when students in the local school decided to rape a drunk girl. From my personal experience visiting there, I could tell: the town, psychologically and financially, is depressed.
Up on the hill shines Franciscan University of Steubenville. For Marc Barnes, current student, it is an uber-Catholic college that has shined far too long apart from the dark, devil-infested depression of the town below. I have found that when a Catholic truly realizes that he is standing apart and independent from his neighbor, rather than loving, he does something drastic, dynamic, and truly bold. And Marc and friends have invested time, money, effort, and probably many sleepless nights into revitalizing their Steubenville neighbors.
Their plan, however, reeks of the divine and mocks the utility-driven loveless ways of the world. It's glorious - revitalize a theater, attract artists to come and play beautiful music, and help teach the beauty of music by starting a music school for young people. It is the literal belief that beauty can drive out darkness, even financial despair. It is the belief that joy can outshine any evil, and love has the capacity to bring a depressed town to new life. I'm sure Dean Martin, as well as Jesus Christ, would appreciate such an effort centered around music.
As a result, it's not allowed to fail. We as Catholics can't allow it to fail. Too often, in a culture that shortcuts beauty to provide lustful pleasure, or denies beauty for a selfish practicality in destroying a life, or condems beautiful hope to a cold, heartless "fact," we need to shine a little light. As a result, Indie Catholic Radio will be working overtime through January 27th, and hopefully beyond, to promote The Harmonium Project. Please donate, so that this effort of love by Marc Barnes can be made faithfully and surely.
We are called to donate to many things, and many of these things claim to be bringing beauty and hope. It is true that many of them do. I have yet to see another using the beauty of art, of music, to catapult an entire city to hope and financial growth, at the same time.
Not only are we called to donate, which I emphatically urge you all to do, but we are called as well to carry out this work in our own lives. When we find an opportunity for beauty, no matter our fears or reservations, we are called to hope and hope infinitely. We must reach out to those we seek to alienate, we must show them Christ. Right now, Steubenville is looking at us and at Marc's Catholic Church.
Are we the type to invest and believe in beauty?
Fortitude is the persistance in an act or way of thinking despite concrete obstacles, and belief is the acceptance as fact principles or ideas which are not guaranteed or verified by concrete evidence. Atheists even must admit that, within the human psychology, we must believe in principles that are beyond our ability to test. These principles may be as simple and earthen as transcendental-like things like good, success, glory. For the Christian, that transcendant principle becomes embodied in a man - Christ, God, on the Cross - as well as being embodied in all of othe other transcendant principles. The Eucharist translates into these things not only in tradition but in this relation of a Man to them - Christ died, embodying sacrifice, love, suffering for something greater. The essence of Christian fortitude is this sacrifice, and all that eminates from it. When it is hard for us to mentally focus on this particular sacrifice and instance of human history that coincides perpetually with our present, we may mentally access lesser transcendental examples of fortitude as well as the philosophcial isolation of these principles themselves, knowing they can never be fully isolated from the higher principles that govern the Christological mystery.
Fortitude, like all the pillars of faith, connects the concrete and material goods we seeks to access to the higher heavenly goods. For the man struggling through trial, fortitude translates the eternal principles of Christ's suffering, ministry, death and persistence in love to concrete actions and situations such as counting days, building habits, balancing schedules, and dealing with fatigue or mental exhaustion. The greatest thing about God's connection to all these things is that He as a person also has the ability to provide Joy to all of them, which means that all these exertions of fortitude involve at least perpetual satsifaction, at most the emotion of happiness.
Forgiveness in the face of failing at fortitude is especially forgiven, for Christ himself recognized the frailty of the flesh of his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. Many times, falling in fortitude is something outside of our control, when situations make our best exertions too difficult. This is also a paradox, for exertion when there are all concrete odds against you is a particular strength found within fortitude.
Ultimately, fortitude is taught itself by habit. Especially as Americans, we grow up in a bubble-wrapped comfort filled with goods and gifts. We are heavily blessed in our peace within comfort, a good that should be sought, but are deprived in our lack of suffering. When the comfort-filled soul meets suffering, he or she learns that ultimately we all face suffering despite all the comforts we throw up at it. To this fact it has a fight, flight, or acceptance reaction. If we fight such a reaction, we will always seek to find comfort and never face a suffering. If we flee the suffering, we will do a similar thing - throw things, not comforts, in the way of such suffering so that we can rest in our comforts and not be disturbed. Acceptance of this fact, however, allows us to commune with that necessary suffering. If we do so, then we will be prepared for all suffering, strong until any end.
At the beginning of last summer, I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel's "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" album. The album closed with one of the most unique and beautiful commentaries on life I had ever seen from a music group. It is a simple combination: performing "Silent Night" with a recording of the 7 o'clock news playing as a backdrop.
We hear all the time that we never see good, beautiful things playing out on the news, but only the conflicting things in life. The news likes to make us think that they report "the real, objective world," by being so unbiased in their discussion on life. Yet nothing in our human expression can fully capture the reality of the world. In two minutes, we hear only certain news stories chosen among many. Who knows - on that particular evening of the 7 o'clock news, maybe more young men escorted old ladies across the street, or more people helped buy meals for beggars on the street.
Historiography is a little-practiced study. It is the study of what history chooses to tell (i.e., there is a reason high school history books don't primarily talk about agricultural advancements in the Middle East between 1939 and 1945). Being aware of this - that other things happen in our world we may not even be aware of - allows us to put all of this into perspective.
And so the news serves as a backdrop for Silent Night. Or it is the other way around? Regardless, when we witness the beautiful peace this world offers, we must be sure to remember its suffering, as to avoid complacency. And, when we agonize in despair, we must remember the Son of God in the manger. Simon and Garfunkel may have painted a contradiction, but what I see is a real commentary of the Christian's perpetually broken heart.
Happy Merry Merry to you all! As the Advent awaiting for Christ comes to a close, we are glad to be "home for Christmas," both in our homes with friends and family as well as in our spiritual lives with Him, who has come to save us.
To honor the occasion, since we love the weird as well as the beautiful, I present Sufjan Stevens's rendition of "I'll be Home for Christmas." We'll be playing him on Indie Catholic Radio next semester, so stay tuned if you are interested. Have a Merry Christmas!
Aside from the humorous title, more meta-discussion is basically all I feel about writing right now. It either means that I am stuck or that I am seriously moving in a positive and original direction with any thoughts on this blog. Most likely, it is the former.
I am spurred to meta-discussion because of a recent happenstance. I wrote a piece on radical feminism and the small amount of male backlash as "ultra conservative masculinity," a topic that had occupied my mere curiosity for many days (ever since Matthew Forney wrote this, something which I admit that I haven't read in full yet). In subsequent discussions with females close to me, however, I felt that I had completely missed the mark with my previously written thoughts, and wondered even if my thoughts were necessary anyway. The greatest problem plaguing the discussion, for instance, could be over-discussion. As a follower of Neil Postman, I have a love-hate relationship with theorizing about over-discussion. In order to even point out the issue of over-discussion, you have to discuss. It's a catch-22, enough to put me in a blogging bind for days as I try to figure out if my reservations are self-doubts or healthy abstinence from such discussion.
Ah, but these are the colossal challenges of humanity! To write or not to write, to read and look or not to read and look. From my little inquiries into that erroneous masculine culture responding to feminism, I have discovered that one of its major flaws is a very articulate despair towards hookup culture, in that the despair - if it even exists in emotional form - is hidden behind waves of realist philosophy and disorienting chauvinist mentalities. Imagine if reading Clockwork Orange gave you the strongest temptations to be like the manipulative Alex, the main protagonist who murders and rapes throughout the book. Of course, Clockwork Orange doesn't make an attraction to anyone, since it is a horrifying and grotesque story that is far enough outside our reality to be abhorred.
That's the key, though! Reality offers a much better argument or counter-argument than falsehood. Reality does not necessarily mean a good or moral reality, but is merely itself - what really happens. For example, we don't have serious attempts to create an evil like that of Sauron the terrible since he is fantasy, but neo-Nazis have perpetuated the myths and falsehood spread by Adolf Hitler because, though they were false, the existence of these false beliefs, the false mentality of the Third Reich, and the savage dominance of the Holocaust were all real. They may have been direct roads to hell, but they are more "honest" in a way, than any of the letters spun by Screwtape or atrocities committed by any orc. Their honesty lies in that they existed.
Away from the abominations of Hitler and the weirdness of Burgess's world, and into the male chauvinist culture that uses an abominable and flawed philosophy to justify the hookup culture, and even proceeds to detail how to navigate such a culture "successfully" is far more dangerous because it isn't a fantasy world. It is easy to resist the outlandish temptations written in many a fantasy story, whether it were the repulsive dystopic creations of Brave New World or the somewhat attractive utopian creations of The Island. But when hundreds of sites, literature, and lives tell an awfully true tale of how much men have enjoyed the fallouts of the sexual revolution, one wonders why it holds such a sway. The Church flourished as the persecutions continued because God's power brought a strong reality into sway: you can't kill the faith. Literally, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church, and that fact caused the Devil's attempt to backfire, enough today that the seeming perception of persecution is enough for alarm for the perpetrators and strength for the Bride of Christ.
The paradigm of the hookup culture, pornography, contraception, and a degenerating societal situation is not that all these things merely happen, or that they are, but that our perception and participation, in resistance, investigation or in action, has necessitated its being real to us. Read that again: all the powers of resistance as well as the powers that resistance opposes may work in harmony to build something neither side expected or desired. It also be that the very nature of the beasts that we fight is opposed to us rather than the beasts themselves.
This points to a startling conclusion for me as a Catholic writer that I must behold (all thanks to an experience discussing this with close friends) - that writing about the social challenges of the day may cause scandal in my own heart as well as those who read. This is a universal law as well. A large and forceful assault against an idea must follow the laws of war, in that a wounded idea will only come back stronger. An idea in the heart of an individual as well as of nation follows this. If attacked, it must be fully eradicated and destroyed. The upshot of all of this is that fully killing an idea, whether in a person or in a whole nation, is almost fully impossible. The idea must be rendered irrelevant, or become an idea had. Even so, an aggravated assault on an idea had may bring the idea, once again, to be an idea being had now. Recalling the past makes the past present. Recalling anything to the here-and-now makes it present.
Depending on the medium the idea exists within, it may even be more real. Take photography: once of the most interesting statements my rhetoric teacher made about photography is that it is real, worth far more than a thousand words. Before the invention of the camera, the only way any human saw another human was face-to-face. Every visual interaction was present to the human's state of being. A roaring lion photographed or videotaped, if shown to the cave-men of old, would elicit a reaction of fight-or-flight, since the cave-man would believe such a lion present. In one century of human existence we have gone against all our history, trying to convince ourselves that photography and videos, especially the multitudes on a computer screen, are not actually there, when our evolutionary upbringing tries to suggest otherwise.
It then may be the fact that the evolutionary upbringing wins out. We struggle to put video photography in its proper existence: as a depiction. And, I sustain the previous point made on this blog, that an overabundance of video photography, in certain situations to certain people, may cause psychological harm. Mind what you show your baby on television, because he or she probably will honestly, at first, think it is real. This doesn't mean that video photography can't be artful, and okay for human audiences, but it presupposes a few things.
- That the video photography is not too graphic. Graphic scenes either a) desensitize or b) cause fear. Desensitization is problematic because we will permit or participate in, or in the least not avoid, the graphic imagery depicted in a movie. The Jackass series would probably fall into this category, potentially having something to do with the new "knockout" sensation. This is also the argument that violent video games have the potency to breed violent individuals, though this only happens in rare occurrences. As for fear, we are human and our emotions are very heavily tied into one major facet of our existence: that we like to live, and want to live peacefully. Negative beliefs, as well as anxieties, may arise if we expose ourselves to too much graphic imagery*. Two words: Budd Dwyer.
- That the viewers have a clear and concise understanding that they are viewing material that is not actually present in their immediate lives. It is depiction. This is the hardest to get at since it is usually a subconscious exchange of visual stimulation. This requires a mature viewer, and explains why we have a rating system for videos and movies.
- That the depiction (imagery) accurately tries to persuade our reactions and emotions to any morals of the situation at hand. A work of art is didactic when it paints the disgust of evil and the triumph of good, even if good and evil are not depicted in necessarily traditional ways. As a more general rule, experiences which evoke positive emotions, feelings or wills should be scenes based on love, compassion, heroism,. strength. On the other hand, we should recoil from any evil imagery we see. Ergo, we should hate the evildoers and love the heroes, though mystery wonderfully intrigues us with who those characters may be.
- That realities of imagery are accurately depicted where they try to ascribe to reality, and that fantasies are obvious and distinct from such realities. Ever get that angry feeling when you realize that a "based on a true story" is highly exaggerated? Beyond this, there are many tropes in which
- That there is a line of moderation in which film and photography avoid imagery that could touch the human psychology and biology too close and too deep. Be careful of camera angles when that bear begins to chase a character. Sex scenes, and consequently, pornography, fall into this area, though that is a whole other blogpost for another time.
I have, for a long time, wondered about what constitutes art. Fulfilling these five steps seems to get the trick. Art is difficult because it is imagery. Imagery's connection to reality must be understood. There are some keen differences between the cave-man's artistic painting of a hunt, with stick figures and square oxen, and a Hollywood-inspired hunting chase that is meant to look as real as possible, with droplets of blood and the dramatic feel of achieving the kill.
Aside from imagery, however, I can bring this discussion about reality full-circle to my original meta-discussion. There is too much media - too much "reality of ideas" - surrounding us, especially on the sensitive topics concerning things like ultra-conservative masculinity, a deceptively persuasive hookup culture, and feminisim, among other things. The best rational approach to all of this is to "tune out" a healthy amount, knowing that a minimal indulgence in opinion and, potentially, fantasy, allows him or her to view his or her own relationship to the world and God in a healthy way. Looking at too much information that the world is giving us may exhibit rashness rather than intelligence. If we do not suffer because we are taught by Satan himself how to sin, we will be taught by him how to have excessive amounts of fear. When we look at our own lives, we don't necessarily live in a situation where crime is hiding around every corner, and an immoral society will destroy the souls and the souls of our children. We may do more to cause these things to be so if we hold suspect, investigate and attempt to ruthlessly attack the very world we live in.
(And, obviously, my meta-discussion had more progress than I expected. I surely will now try to practice what I preach).
*I also attribute this phenomenon to a real life situation I was in that happened a long time ago. One time, one of my first memories of television that I have from grade school, I watched a special about people who had survived and had not survived avalanches While everything discussed is historically true, the dramatic discussion in the documentary made the crisis of being stuck in an avalanche, and dying from it so, so traumatizing to me that it felt real, in that moment. I couldn't sleep. I am sure that many of you may have had this experience as a child. Though we grow older, our minds still remain the same minds as before. We may not be up at night because of vivid imagery, but it sure still affects us like our children.
...and it makes me confused, since I seriously wasn't dancing to a bass-beat 24/7. Good going, Buzzfeed.I mean, you managed to backbeat Passenger. I don't think that's right. And Mumford? Anywhere? Nope. Shameful. However, you did place Lorde at a wonderful spot, right after Miley.
Then again, Mumford doesn't belong in this mess. And maybe a mashup is, by definition, a dance song? Everything needs a beat. That could be such a great metaphor for our culture, constantly trying to take all wild beauty (i.e., The Church) and boxing it in to a pithy phrase or quote. Every experience of art has to belong in some sort of 2-4 time.
I'm sorry, I'm ADHD. I love my wild garden and the way the trees all look different in the fall. Thank goodness that Lorde WAS in that mix, because I was getting bored with its monotony (and I'll explain when I don't have an essay to write why she isn't like the others). Sixty eight songs of monotony.
Anyone concerned I'm commenting on pop culture?And, while you are listening or watching, go and voice your opinion for next year's Indie Catholic Radio, to remind yourself of better things.