Posted in Headlines, Music, Politics, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 15 Murder Most Foul

On January 31, 2020 Representative John Delaney of Maryland officially dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Who?

In June of 2019, Joe Biden skipped the Democratic Convention in California to publically display his disdain for the progressive direction of the Democratic party and exhibit his firm belief that the identity politics of 2008 are the future of the party.

Someone had to represent the interest of the party status quo, the insurance companies, and big pharma. Delaney did just that, contrasting his hopeless campaign strategy with views of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others on the party’s left. By July 2019, Delaney along with a dozen and a half the other presidential hopefuls participated in the Democratic Primary debates in Detroit, MI. Again, it seemed Delaney’s main agenda was poking any holes possible into any healthcare proposals that resembled Medicare for All. Delaney found his chief adversaries in Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But, sometimes you just can’t stop the shining.

In what was once the widest, most diverse, Democratic primary race ever, the old white guy from Maryland had served his purpose. By November 2019, after some very contentious primary debates and public criticism, Sen. Warren had finally laid out a bizarre healthcare plan, that leaned away from Medicare for All.

During the early months of 2020, while the Trump administration was tragically mishandling information about coronavirus, the Democratic party was manhandling a primary to make sure the status quo is preserved: Between November and March, Mike Bloomberg came and went. Joe Biden had a surprise win in the South Carolina Democratic primary on February 29. On March 1, Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race. March 2, Amy Klobuchar dropped out as well. Klobuchar and Buttigieg both endorsed Biden. With party leaders rallied around Biden, he won Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia on Super Tuesday. On April 7, despite the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wisconsin primaries were held, putting thousands of lives in danger. On April 8, Sanders suspended his campaign making Biden the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee.

Back in March, while a Nazi flag was being waved at the rally of a Jewish presidential candidate, mainstream media chose to ignore that story in favor of hard-hitting exposés about Bernie Bros, the dirtbag left, and snake emojis. March was a rough month. And as some US states pivot toward reopening, the worst is likely yet to come. But somewhere in between the waving of swastikas at a Sanders’ rally and Bernie suspending his campaign in early April, Bob Dylan released a 17 minute long, new song on March 27, titled “Murder Most Foul.”

Murder was the first original Dylan song the world heard since the release of his 2012 album The Tempest. Shadows in the Night (2015), Fallen Angels (2016), and Triplicate (2017) were all covers and reworkings of traditional songs. What could bring the 2016 recipient of The Nobel Prize in Literature out of retirement?

The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son
The age of the Antichrist has just only begun”
Air Force One coming in through the gate
Johnson sworn in at 2:38
Let me know when you decide to thrown in the towel
It is what it is, and it’s murder most foul

Now the ” age of the Antichrist ” is in full swing. In 2020, Oligarchs don’t need a patsy. You don’t need Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby when you have John Delaney and Joe Biden. In the world of social media, purposeful disinformation campaigns, and corporate-owned Cable News Networks in bed with either the GOP (FOX) or DNC (MSNBC & CNN), character assassination is all political pundits need to aim, fire and destroy those dirty, filthy, socialists, Russian loving, snake emoji tweeting, liberals! They must hate women!

Actually, people are universally pretty shitty toward women. That is not unique to any social, religious, or political affiliation or leanings. But this is not about Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even a rising star like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who has been drafted for the Biden train).

This murder was about power. It was about who gets to cast the narrative.  The U.S. Representative for California’s 53rd congressional district sold shares in Alaska Air and Royal Caribbean cruise lines on Feb11!!! This time mainstream media compared the supporters of a Jewish candidate to the stormtroopers of the Nazi Party. Then the media cast Sanders himself as a Russian asset insurgent over and over again. Trump derangement syndrome has a whole party fighting, scratching, and clawing over each other to prove who is the truest, pro-big-bank, pro-corporate, anti-Medicare candidate… for all. This was a character assassination not merely of Sanders, Warren, or other progressive officials. This was a character assassination of progressives in the United States. Anyone left of the center would not be standing when all was through. It happened so quickly – so quick by surprise right there in front of everyone’s eyes. Or, maybe its been happening over and over for the last 50 years.

Posted in Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 14 Higgs Boson Blues

In 2013, 477 years after John Calvin was recruited by William Farel to join the Reformation in Geneva something else was happening in the city of predestination, barbecued Servetus, the United Nations, and the Red Cross.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research discovered a particle believed to imbue elementary particles with mass. Despite some consternation in the scientific community, the term “god particle” first coined by Dick Teresiin 1993, became the in vogue language for talking about the “Higgs Boson.”

Nick Cave is one of my favorite Singer-songwriters of all time. I discovered Cave when I was in seminary. My friend Ryan loved him and made me listen to Dig Lazarus Dig my first year in seminary. I soon jumped into the back catalog and discovered what was my favorite Nick Cave song until Higgs Boson Blues was released.

The 1997 single, “Into My Arms” held the title of “my favorite Cave song” for a long time. It’s still pretty high up on an increasingly long list for me. Through his art, Nick Cave loaned me a new vernacular to talk about spiritual things: “I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” he sings on the haunting ballad. Well, neither do I, at least 99% of the time.

Cave remains a very interesting figure, and an artist I turn to for inspiration His work often serves as a soundtrack and a bit of a sounding board, when I am pouring out my own heart in writing, albeit in a different artistic medium. In 2010, when I was still fairly new to Nick Cave, he described the spirituality that emerges in his music and distinguished it from Christianity and religion in general:

I’m not religious, and I’m not a Christian… but I do reserve the right to believe in the possibility of a god. It’s kind of defending the indefensible, though; I’m critical of what religions are becoming, the more destructive they’re becoming. But I think as an artist, particularly, it’s a necessary part of what I do, that there is some divine element going on within my songs.

In “Higgs Boson Blues,” Cave evokes images of burning trees lining the streets, genocide, and Miley Cyrus. He laces all of this with multiple references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Is Cave lamenting or celebrating his “indefensible” sense of divinity in a world where the binding for sub-particles can be seen and god cannot?

The song itself is full of wonder, longing, even fear. Anything but an obnoxious certainty. It seems an appropriate existential “hymn” for our chaotic world and this particular moment in history, drenched in fear, longing, anxiety and wonder about what it means to be human. Of course, these are questions that can never be fully answered by religion or science, John Calvin or the Higggs Boson. No one person, source or belief system has all the answers to our deepest questions. But I like to keep this in mind for times when Im singing and dancing along with Cave and not sure if it’s joy or despair that I feel:

The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal name
~ Tao The Ching: 1

Posted in Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 13 Junk Town

As the efforts to slow coronavirus in the United States drag on and some states begin to reopen, people are sick of being constrained to virtual interactions with real people. It seems Zoom fatigue is setting in. I have noticed the swift change as Spring begins to bloom and people grow anxious to leave their houses and have different types of interactions. I host a virtual open mic that had a terrific kick off last month. We were filling a void of weekly interactions at open mics. But in just the last two weeks it seems that interest is already beginning to wane.

This past Sunday, some folks in the US began meeting for public worship again. And in the coming weeks, more churches are sure to reopen. I haven’t really participated in a Sunday Worship service since my last time serving communion in June of 2014. In January of 2019, I finally demitted from my status as an ordained “Minister of Word and Sacrament” in the Reformed Church in America. So I will not be in church this Sunday or anytime soon. I’ll probably be home listening to Ian Noe.

I have written before about how much I love Ian Noe and his debut album, Between the Country. Almost all of Noe’s cast of characters share a similar longing. In the stories of substance abuse, religious yearning, bank heists, unrequited love, and even violence it would be easy – perhaps too easy – to name this shared longing as a desire to escape. While similar, there is also a substantial difference between escape and what these folks – hurting, broken, or even evil – truly long for, namely transcendence.

The narrator in the sorrowful and gospel-infused Junk Town recounts being stuck in the same dead-end place for most of his life: “Spending all my money on me and my junked-out wife.” He laments the cold winters that “never did anybody any good” and “burning up in the summer, hauling those heavy loads.” He and his wife have been “junkin’ through many troubled years” in an effort “to keep away those cold sweat fears.” But the drugs are not their ultimate hope:

And glory, glory
We are waitin’
That sweet someday
When we leave our troubles
And are taken
So far away

Escape is about leaving, departing, going somewhere, anywhere else. Transcendence is about liberation, evolution, changing yourself, or transforming your surroundings. When I was a conservative evangelical Christian, I thought the work of liberation was all about personal piety and transformation and getting others to join the club. When I was a progressive Christain, I thought liberation was all about confronting and if possible, transforming corrupt powers and institutions: the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this present darkness. I don’t have an accurate one-word signifier to describe what I believe these days.

But I can say, it’s all more terribly complicated than I once thought. Systems and individual people within them overlap, contradict, define, and constantly redefine the parameters for conversation. I can say for certain that I still believe that “what we believe” is important. Our beliefs inform all we that do. But how we live, what we do with this little bit of time we have, that’s the penultimate testament to who we are as human beings. Our beliefs – both personal and systemic – merely provide the language, the context for the final draft we hand in whenever our number is up.

Posted in Health, Mental Health, Music, Politics, Racism

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 12 White Man’s World

I am a 43-year-old white male. For hundreds of years, guys with my skin color, similar Western European lineage, similar religious backgrounds, and usually right about my age have been in charge of the whole goddamn world. In 1492, we set sail from the old world. We conquered. We colonized. We stole this land from men, women, and children with different skin color, red skin. We brought with us men, women, and children with more melanin in their skin. We brought our own women for the reproducing and rearing children and the keeping of a new homestead.

This is the land that white hands stole.
This is the empire black hands built
These are the homes soft hands have made

Between the establishment of the first colonies along the Atlantic shoreline in the early 17th Century, and where we find ourselves today, a couple of decades into the 21st Century: Smallpox, French and Indian War, Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, Women’s suffrage, world wars, FDR, JFK, LBJ and 500,000 other horrible and terrific things. But most of them mundane: vanilla, saltine, plain… white.

I sometimes forget my privilege. I honestly rarely think about being white or even being a male. I can’t imagine what it must be like to worry – a palpable worry that we ALL KNOW is real – that I might be killed for the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid to walk down the street at night alone or to have my heart rate increase with the pace of the steps of the man or men behind me. I can’t imagine the distrust I would have of me and people who look like me if I was Japanese American and had family live through the days of Internment Camps. I can’t even begin to imagine the life of a Somalian immigrant in the Twin Cities or a Syrian Refugee in Dearborn.

Growing up (relatively) poor doesn’t make me not white. Struggling with learning disabilities in school and getting government-funded free lunches doesn’t make me not white. Being attracted to both women and men doesn’t make me not white. In fact, it makes me suspect to some people, and it means nothing more than I’m just like everyone else to some other people. I have immense piles of student debt and not much to show for it. But, like… get in line with the rest of the country!

I think a lot of white dudes go through similar struggles and they forget. They forget the immense amount of privilege that they – we – carry in our very being. This is not an innate privilege, of course. Its is a product of a time, a place, a transatlantic slave trade, a world that I didn’t build.

But I’m here. I want to live a better life in this world, a fair one, a life in which I see the beauty in the wide spectrum of human beings around me. The differences in skin color and tone, and melanin distribution. The plethora of ethnic lineages, gender diversity, and an array of sexual orientations.

The goal of living “color blind” of not seeing differences, of saying “love is love” is in some ways like the old “eye for an eye” ethic of life, in that if we live a life that way, we all end up blind. We can’t see others when we can’t see beyond ourselves. Likewise, if we can’t even see ourselves, to begin with.

Posted in Economy, Headlines, Music

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 11 Youngstown

Youngstown, Ohio was once an essential part of America’s steel manufacturing network. In the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, the decline of the American steel industry devastated the economy of Youngstown. Revitalization projects over the last couple of decades have had mixed results.

In his ballad about the town, Springsteen traces the lineage of the steel industry in Youngstown from James and Daniel Heaton building the first blast furnace for ore in 1803 to the present day in which the “world’s changed” and the narrator has grown disillusioned and angry “Once I made you rich enough, rich enough to forget my name.”

Like nearly every other community around the globe, Youngstown has been devastated by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

When I die I don’t want no part of heaven
I would not do heaven’s work well
I pray the devil comes and takes me
To stand in the fiery furnaces of hell