Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Faith and doubt’ Category

This is the song I was trying to write two weeks ago, which I referred to as a songwriting failure and declared that if a song doesn’t come together in one session it’s typically not worth going back to. I did go back to it for week 22 of #songaweek2018, and got myself this song.

It’s compiled of a variety of ideas I’d collected but was having trouble sculpting into a cohesive whole. Even though none of the ideas were directly inspired by the S-Town Podcast, I finished listening to it just before finishing this song, and that somehow gave me what I needed to pull it all together. Something about the tone of that story, the range of emotion, the brilliance and dull despair that can coexist in one person’s life, the bald facts of life’s brevity and its bewildering mix of beauty and brokenness.

The suggested theme was “celebrity.” I didn’t deliberately work with that theme but again, I think there’s something related here. For one thing, S-Town made John B. McLemore a celebrity, and it’s surreal and feels a little bit wrong when I Google his name and find it being sold on T-shirts now. Also I think most of the verses but especially the ones starting “what does it mean. . .” and “if you repeat. . .” do speak pretty directly to the culture of celebrity worship.

Some days I’m sick of everything
Can’t keep my head up, can’t want to try
Tired of hearing my own voice
Can’t find a reason to even cry

They come to me in fits and starts
These glimpses of my wild heart’s
Most sacred pledge
I’m trying to remember
What I am not supposed to forget

All I could say has been said before
What good is winning if it’s just a game?
I never could stomach spinning rides
But any other world is just the same

They come to me in fits and starts
These glimpses of my wild heart’s
Most sacred pledge
I’m trying to remember
What I am not supposed to forget

What does it mean to gain the world
And lose your own soul in the deal?
Why try to build the greater good
On lesser evils you’re too numb to feel?

I’m drinking elderberry wine
Out in the summer moonshine
with the ones I love
Some happy you can bottle
But most of life is best in the flesh

If you repeat and repeat a word
It’ll start to sound like gibberish
If you stare in the mirror long enough
You’ll start to look ridiculous

They come to me in fits and starts
These glimpses of my wild heart’s
Most sacred pledge
I’m trying to remember
I’m trying to remember
I’m trying to remember
What I am not supposed to forget

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The first time I heard “women – you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them” was from a boy in junior high. That’s kind of how faith has been in my life. It’s never been something I’ve felt comfortable living with, or without. So I continue to believe, and doubt. Hope springs eternal even as despair dries everything up. My faith goes up in flames, and is reborn.

This song could have been written for Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent in the church calendar – 40 days of fasting before the biggest day of the Christian calendar, Easter. On Ash Wednesday, the pastor or priest says, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” while making the sign of the cross with ashes on our foreheads. (These ashes are usually made from burning the palms we waved last year on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter, when we celebrate Jesus’s big “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem where he was hailed as king and crowds waved palm branches to celebrate before turning on him a week later and crucifying him.)

I’ve been keeping journals since I was ten years old. And lugging them around the country with me, every time I moved. A couple years ago as I was in the midst of trying to simplify my life and my possessions, I began to resent that heavy box of journals in my basement. And then I came across an idea from Courtney Carver, to burn journals after filling them. Of course it seemed almost blasphemous to me at first – utterly destroy my painstaking record of my precious inner life?

But I couldn’t stop coming back to the idea. I imagined how freeing that could feel. Over the years I’ve gone back and read old journals quite a bit, and to tell the truth, it started to feel like hearing old voices I just didn’t need to keep around. I had lived those years. I didn’t regret them. I don’t regret writing through those years. I’m so glad I did. But I didn’t really need to continue to enshrine my written impressions of my past.

The more I considered it, the readier I became to let those journals go. I boxed them up over the winter and stowed the box in the garage, waiting for an opportunity to start a backyard fire.

This song became the perfect opportunity. I didn’t plan which pages to burn, just tore out a few pages, threw them in the fire, watched the flames overtake the baggage of my past, felt my present moment come into focus, felt my heart lighten.

These songs, too, and my body, and my life itself – are here for a season. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I can’t make any of this last forever. I have no idea if anyone – even God – can. I remain skeptical about such things. And I dare to hope. But that’s not what moves me moment by moment.

What propels me is this: I do believe – and experience – that right here, right now, every day, everywhere, beauty can follow ashes. Loss, death, endings are real and horrible. And then, beauty. That too. Over and over, and that is life as I know it.

This song (for week 16 of #songaweek2018) was a good exercise in stretching my musician muscles. I wrote most of the lyrics in one sitting and then thought I had a good tune and chord progression but the more I played it, the more same-y same-y it sounded to me. So I tried to mix it up with a more interesting chord progression. Being a music major I should be able to explain what exactly I did here, but those theory classes were years ago! The main thing is that I shifted from an A major chord to a C major chord, so I would sometimes sing a C natural and sometimes a C sharp. It became an engaging challenge working all this out in so many layers of harmonies.

Now I lay me down
With the dogs of despair
Hunting for hope in my dreams
I’ll sleep just like a baby
Wake up in the dark
wailing for a mother I can’t see

Good God it’s not easy
Dear Lord it’s so hard
This living and loving and losing
Sweet Jesus believe me I’ve made it this far
On the fumes of a faith that keeps going up in flames

I’d like to do like you
To fast in the wilderness
Feast on the bread of heaven
Take it as it comes
Breathe my last and be born again
Moment by inevitable moment

Remember you are dust
And to dust you shall return
And I will give you
Beauty for ashes

 

Read Full Post »

We buried one of my best friends from college yesterday. Tomorrow my sister-in-law and her family bury her younger brother. My friend Troy lived with Parkinson’s disease for a decade. Jen’s brother Zach died suddenly in a plane crash.

“Angels” was the suggested theme for week 15 of #songaweek2018. I didn’t have much interest in using it. I’ve never been a big angels fan (baseball or otherwise). Too sentimental, too kitschy, too many ceramic travesties foisted on the world. I did briefly start a song tentatively called “Don’t Blink,” but couldn’t sustain an interest in it.

So I pulled up some old song ideas from my files and found a recording of a tune and some chords, no words. And then it all started coming together, a song woven from the threads of my life that week.

Zach’s sudden death. Troy weakly hanging on to the last moments of his life. Two men’s lives tragically and senselessly cut short.

Winter refusing to leave my neighborhood, breathing cold and snow over everything, week after wearying week. An insistent reflection of my own middle-aged angst.

The physics book I’ve been reading, Reality is Not What it Seems, and its discussion of a 3-sphere, a current understanding of the shape of the cosmos; and how Dante envisioned it long before Einstein did, possibly from looking up at mosaics of angels in the Florence Baptistery.

The visions of painter and poet William Blake, which thankfully are something else my mind calls up when I hear the word “angel.”

In writing this song, I more deeply felt why angels have been consistently present in stories and art. There are moments, especially the moments around death, in which we reach out for something like us but not. A being of great beauty, power, intelligence – but also one who brings deep comfort. Not a god, not a human, but someone who knows more than we do, who has seen further into the mysteries of existence and can still say to us, “fear not,” can guide us from what we know into what we don’t.

Hold me while I freefall
While the winds of death squall
Keep me in your vision
Carry me to paradise
Angel
Let me sing forever
Where the clouds can never
Take me from your vision
Carry me to paradise
Angel
Lead me from this dark cave
Sail me cross the light waves
Fill me with your vision
Carry me to paradise
Angel
Fly me through the shadows
Lift me from the cosmos
Add me to your vision
Carry me to paradise
Angel

Read Full Post »

I used to scoff at my brother-in-law for being a vegetarian. Now I mostly eat vegan.

When Bill Clinton was elected president while I was in high school, I was afraid the world might end. In 2016 I voted for Hillary.

I’ve argued about all sorts of theological and philosophical points over the course of my life, most adamantly against some of the very things I used to believe myself.

I changed my college major three times.

I planned to not have children. Now I have two.

For a while I thought I was done with organized religion. Now I sing in my church choir.

I used to wear my hair like this:

FullSizeRender

As Paul Simon sang, “I was wrong, and I could be wrong again.” (“Sure Don’t Feel Like Love,” from his album Surprise which that girl in the photo may not have liked but I happen to love.)

“Family” was the theme for week six of #songaweek2018. I didn’t have much interest in working with that theme, as I feel like already half my songs are family-related and it’s not even anyone’s birthday or anniversary or Mother’s or Father’s Day this week!

I built this song from the first two lines which I’ve been storing in my “scraps and starters” list for years. And now that it’s finished, I think there’s a lot of “family” going on around this song after all.

Last week the Super Bowl came to Minneapolis, and for that reason Westboro Baptist Church chose my hometown of Owatonna, which is on the freeway 70 miles south of Minneapolis, as a Sunday morning stop on their way to agitate at the big game. They demonstrated at a number of churches during Sunday morning services, including the one my in-laws attend.

I don’t agree with Westboro Baptist. I also don’t agree with my in-laws and their church on some things. But our extended family across the country joined them to pray for that morning, and my father-in-law reflected to us afterwards in a text message:

Much has happened in me spiritually through this. Pride comes so subtly. Grace comes so abundantly from God and [God] wants us to have that same grace. God is even changing me.

Do you hear that? That humble and gracious attitude? That’s the stuff that keeps extended families coming back together despite all kinds of differences.

We can always find ways we don’t see eye-to-eye with other people, including our own family and friends – and including our own past and (if we could foresee) future selves!  But if we can keep this attitude of grace, of “I could be wrong,” it’s easier to see heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul, human-to-human. And that’s where and how real change happens anyway.

It’s okay to lay our weapons down. We can still hold strongly to our beliefs and values, and even talk about them with people who disagree. We just don’t really need those weapons of pride, guilt and shame, bitterness, contempt . . . they never work well at getting the point across anyway. They become the point, and everybody loses.

And besides, that thing you think and feel so strongly today, may just end up on your future self’s cutting room floor. But better that than another person.

I used to get injured more often
back when everything had a point
I went around hammering nails into coffins
at least I think I did
at least I thought I did
but I could be wrong

I used to go throwing my lot in
with the causes I fervently felt
These days I feel lots of nothing
at least I think I do
at least I feel that’s true
but I could be wrong

How many miles must I walk in your shoes
until I can feel your soul?
How many words should I leave unsaid
so I can finally hear you?

I’m starting to sense I’ve been spinning forever
orbiting the light
Sometimes I’m stupid, but sometimes I’m clever
at least I think I am
at least I hope I am
but I might be wrong

Winning the war isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Conquerors can’t afford love
So I’ll stand in my faith and I’ll lay down my weapons
Cause I could be wrong.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

This year the #songaweek2018 group has a prompt word every week. For week four, I used the prompt for the first time. The word was “water.” Here’s the song:

Every day I’ve lived is a burning bridge behind me
All the years ahead keep spreading out like light
I quit waiting for my life to come and find me
Now I’m wading out to meet it

All that I have wanted I could not have
Everything I have I can never keep
The ancient sun is halfway gone
My home is where the ocean used to be

All my wisdom leaves me blissfully uncertain
Every question speaks arrestingly of more
I quit waiting for the world behind the curtain
Now I’m wading out to meet it

All that I have wanted I could not have
Everything I have I can never keep
The ancient sun is halfway gone
My home is where the ocean used to be

Every face I see
Jogs my memory
Like I’m old enough
That I’ve known them all before
Every song I sing
Has a familiar ring
Like I’ve lived so long
That it’s all come back around

All that I have wanted I could not have
Everything I have I can never keep
And when at last I close my eyes
Give me to the river send me down to see

Read Full Post »

November 2017 has been hard on some people in my life, and many more I don’t know. My beloved Uncle Bill died, leaving my dad the only surviving member of his immediate family. A few days later my sixth grade teacher who was also my friend’s dad died. And just last night I heard the news that another friend lost her mother. All of this as the world around me died too; leaves crumbling to dust, humans gathered for prayer in churches and mosques destroyed by guns and bombs aimed by other humans.

I wrote this song in the midst of all that loss, all that death. Which is why, I’m sure, the song insisted on quoting the Song of Songs, “love is as strong as death.” I’m going to keep believing that, and aiming to live like it’s true.

Night falls in the city

All the little creatures scurry home to bed

I’m out on the sidewalk

Rehearsing all my hopes in humankindness

Cold November comes again

I hold my candle in the wind and feel everything breathe

Trees lean over houses

Stripped and swaying in diminishing dreams

I’m barely believing

Keeping life like mindless habit

Old November sighs and moans

I drone a lullaby for wonder joy and innocence

Take heart, my soul, my mind

Take courage armed with love

For love is as strong as death, (as death) as death

I still carry the memories

Of the moments that I never understood

I’m not looking for answers

Just a knowing look from some other face

Scarred November’s not surprised

I feel familiar in her eyes

Hard November bides her time

I feel the weight of all the years

In her nonexistent tears

Read Full Post »

I set out to comment on this post by Thom Ingram, and realized instead that his writing had inspired more than just a comment. I’m not going to rehash his post; just read it for yourself because it’s a beautiful mindful struggle with the meaning of life.

I haven’t studied – or even read – multiple spiritual texts as Thom has – but I have this sense that in addition to the commonalities across texts that he mentions, there is also a shared thread of being fully present in the here and now; of living compassionately and empathetically towards myself and all others. And I think that is actually based on – and counterweight to – the commonalites he does bring up – that there is more than we know or sense, that we are more than we know or sense, that so much of what we think we are apprehending is not by a long shot the last word or the ultimate reality.

For me the idea of presence and humble empathy is often embodied in the squirrels I see out my window, just a representative for me of all the small and mindless little creatures living out their seemingly ultimately pointless little animal lives. I imagine what life is like in a squirrel’s mind. I empathize with this tiny furry rodent feeling warm sunlight and wintry winds on its body, its heart racing as it scurries illogically across the street in the paths of roaring automobiles, its simpleminded squirrelly chuckling laughter from a branch high in my backyard tree directed at my outraged terrier below. I think of it feeling hunger, cold, pain, and also delight, contentment, even rodent-level joy.

In the cosmic scheme of things, I am that squirrel. Except that my kind have tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and there can be no unknowing, no returning to the simple thoughtless life of the squirrel. I – and you – live in a cosmos that is beyond even our most-exalted-of-all-species intellectual capacities, but we have this extra level of knowledge that as far as we know, no other animal possesses: we know we’re going to die, that no matter what, every one of us is housed in a body that is falling apart, destined for the dirt. And beyond that, our knowledge fails us**. It appears to be the last word on the reality of the human body, as far as we’ve been able to ascertain through the senses and mental capacities of these bodies.

So we turn to imagination, art, faith, drugs, anything mind-altering, to see if somehow we can transcend the painful reality of the knowledge we can’t unknow, this knowledge of the ultimate decay of all things. And sometimes we can, and do. But that transcendence never gives our intellect the words and ideas it needs to feel satiated.

Thom says in his post, “I want to be in this world. In the here and now. I want to be centered on this place. But it’s all an illusion.”

And that’s where I turn to my powers of squirrel empathy for a little help. Whether it is all an illusion or not, this is the world where I have found myself. It is the reality I know, and you are here too. You are, right? Because maybe if everything is an illusion, then all the people around me are an illusion too, and it doesn’t matter how I treat them or what becomes of them.

I wonder, is this why the Genesis account of the tree of knowledge treats the tree and its fruit as so dangerous? If I understand that the world I think I know to be real is merely a virtual reality created by my senses and fed into my mind, why not seek to rise above it all? Why not make myself a god, the god of my own life, the god of this reality? Why shouldn’t I pilfer the planet and its people for the things I want, since it’s all a sham and even that is ultimately all falling apart anyway?

But back to the squirrel. The humble life of the squirrel. Breathe in, breathe out. Sunshine. Wind. Fear, laughter, hunger, and joy. And then, the human, who asks why? Always why, always, but why, what for, where is all this going, what’s it all about?

I don’t think asking why is ever a problem on its own. Instead, I find it concerning when we stop asking why because we think we know it all and we’ve come up short, disappointed and disillusioned with all we know, and throw up our hands and sigh, who cares, it doesn’t matter anyway.

It’s a hard fight some days, and others it feels small, pointless and never-ending – but I keep trying to faithfully live like a humble squirrel and an inquisitive human. I don’t think the fruit of the tree of knowledge is only bitter poison. Maybe if you squeeze out the sweetest part of it, let it ferment and share it with your friends, it can bring you some joy too.

 

**Of course humans are intellectually much smarter than squirrels, making discovery upon discovery, building wizard-level technological masterpieces – but that to me is just a way more powerful version of the squirrel brain. I’m referring here to consciousness, a sense of me and my place in the world, and its most painful realization of death and decay, that we haven’t knowingly encountered in any other species.

 

Bonus material – here’s a song I wrote last year and the origin of this post’s title:

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »