Posted in Headlines, Music, Politics, Religion, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 09 Don’t Worry If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go

Curtis Mayfield released “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” in November of 1970. As part of the Soul/R&B vocal group, The Impressions, Mayfield had already given the world “People Get Ready” in 1965, which helped to provide a soundtrack for the civil rights movement. In 1965, JFK had just been assassinated. But there was still hope in the air that we breathed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “People Get Ready” the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song was used to provide solace and motivation to marchers.

The public mood had definitely shifted in the five years between the uplifting Impressions track and “Don’t Worry” in 1970. The US was a mess of social unrest: deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War. The summer of 1969 brought American young people Woodstock. However, the stabbing and death of Meredith Curly Hunter, Jr. in October of 1969 at a Rolling Stones concert had revealed that the dream of “all god’s children” singing and holding hands was yet a ways off.

It was in this environment of social unrest, confusion, and rebellion that Mayfield released his first solo project. “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go” was the first song and first single released from Mayfield’s 1970, debut solo album, simply titled Curtis. The first words people heard from the “People Get Ready” artist, gone solo were: “Sisters, n___rs, whites, Jews, and the crackers: Don’t worry, if there’s hell below, we’re all gonna go.” And then Curtis screams as a fuzzy bassline gives way to a funky explosion of sound.

Like the songs from the 1960s that made the Playlist last week, we can see that Curtis Mayfield was addressing many of the same problems we are still facing today: crooked police, “political actors,” drug abuse, “catcalling, love balling, fussing and cussing.” He also expresses angst about pollution (this was the same year as the first Eart Day) and he namechecks Richard Nixon, who in his first year of office was trying to assure people not to worry. He also went on to – as we all know – do some very corrupt things. His rally cry in the post-JFK, post-LBJ, world was “unity.” In his Inaugural address, Nixon said, “We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

While that sounds like really great advice, how did the be quiet let’s all just get along and let the government do what they do approach work out for the American people? How are we here? 50 years later? Same problems!?!?! Now with a pandemic on top!?!?! And supporters of two of the worst presidential candidates in history, want us all to just get in line and choose the brown pill or the red one? How can we be quiet? I don’t know what all the answers are. But I know it starts with love. And I agree with Mayfield, if there’s Hell below, we’re all gonna go. Of course, I don’t believe in a literal Hell. But we all got ourselves into this mess. We have been living a lifestyle that is unsustainable in a multitude of ways for so long. It seems everyone has a hustle from the police and political actors, to the fussing and cussing dealer, pimp or… hustler. #PlaylistfortheApocalypse

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4isPnU2TeFFJmkNGCaQxxZ?si=uDwRUmCoRQGWFQjLRBVkFA

Posted in Headlines, Mental Health, Music, Writing

Playlist for the Apocalypse: 01 Eve Of Destruction

You start a new project with good intentions. There are ambitions, promises, and hopes of rejuvenating your website. The next thing you know, you’ve spent a month of disbelief at home in the middle of a pandemic, worried about elderly loved ones, family and friends with asthma or immune deficiencies, and just a little bit about yourself. Meanwhile, your whole country is living in fear of a complete and total financial collapse. In the United States, we were already living a completely unsustainable way of life before we ever saw headlines reading “Novel Coronavirus” or “COVID-19.” The virus and our government’s inept response has exposed the raw nerves of all of our broken systems to the world: the failure of unfettered capitalism, a healthcare system that is tied to employment and politicians that care more about their own finical interest than they do about the health and well being of their constituents.

While certainly we need to hold our elected officials to higher standards, I would also like to take this time to reflect deeply on some unsustainable habits, selfishness and complacency in my civic and personal life. Sure, with great power comes great responsibility. But I also believe there are many ways – both big and small – that we all contributed the place we find ourselves in, dangling over an existential cliff at what seems like the end of the world. So, since I’ve got some extra time on my hands, I would also like to share my “Playlist for the Apocalypse” with you: 15 tracks to play while we watch watch the world burn, duck the flames, and hope for the best.

Several of these songs are from the 1960’s, another time of great unrest and upheaval in the US and around the world. Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction” is the first on the list. My mom was a little bit obsessed with the end of the world. When I was a small child, she read the book of Revelation to me for bedtime stories.  So it makes sense that she loved this song so much, with its bleak outlook and allusions to the Bible.

And it’s a song for our time as much as it was a song for 1965. It’s both amazing and sad how much the social anxieties of 1965, sound like those of 2020: War, fear of Nuclear proliferation, senators that refuse to pass desperately needed legislation and policy reform, fear of Communism, and good ‘ol American made, home-cooked racism. Does any of this sound familiar?

In the coming days, I’ll share some of my thoughts, questions and observations about how we got here.  The “City on a Hill,” the country that goes about its business on the world stage (almost entirely unchecked) occupying, bombing and sanctioning our neighbors in the name of freedom and democracy has always been slow to change, eager to concentrate power and wealth among an ever decreasing number of people, and prone to fail the most vulnerable people on the margins of its society. The present state of insanity that we find ourselves in did not begin with the election of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, here we are in a country with vast amounts of wealth, full of brilliant minds and access to some of the world’s most amazing technologies and we are leading the way in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and deaths related to COVID-19, the vicious respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Meanwhile, we have a cartoonishly outrageous and crude president spreading misinformation, encouraging militia groups, offering dangerous off the cuff interpretations of scientific data and holding what amounts to daily televised rallies during a crisis in the midst of an election year. To his credit, he is likely, at least marginally, more intelligent and politically savvy than mainstream media corporations like CNN and MSNBC make him out to be. And he’s also more of a populist than the truly fascist GOP establishment. But none of that makes him a good person and there were certainly more than enough egregious speech and behavior  – prior to his administration’s mishandling of the virus – to make him unfit and unqualified to be President of the US. And he is certainly not the valiant defender of American values from an imaginary bygone era that FOX, Rush and all the right wing media make him out to be.

But the Decrepit National Centrists are not offering the American people much hope or change in this dark hour. A few years ago, I thought most progressives would have agreed that as long as systems of systemic oppression are in place all of us who benefit from those systems in some way – big or small – share the burden of the guilt until we eradicate such systems. Now it seems like as long as there is a D in front of the name, Democrats will do anything to defend their status quo, Wall Street appeasing, Centrist (read Reagan era Republican) candidate. In the case of Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden, it seems that means defending systems of oppression and becoming apologists for rape culture. I guess people really do become what they hate. But I heard somewhere that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that:

Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

 

Posted in Beauty

Lent 7

 

I am almost as cynical as I am sentimental. I turn the radio station every time the old-people’s soft rock station plays Creed’s “Arms Wide Open.” I have a dislike of love songs in general. Most of them are completely euphoric and unrealistic. I like the ones that acknowledge the ever-present dangers and trials that threaten love. Like David Bowie’s “Heroes” or Trent Reznor’s “We’re In This Together.” Likewise, I see a lot of people post happy pictures on social media with their partners or kids and I wonder (sometimes aloud) to myself, ‘who are they trying to convince?’

So I wouldn’t blame you if you see this picture of me and my daughter shortly after she was born, and swiftly scroll by today’s post. I truly believe there is a very fine line between public declarations of love and exploitation. But I also know deep in my bones that cynicism and sentimentalism can lead equally to exploitation. Cynicism scapegoats and victimizes women and every class of minority. Sentimentalism can lead to tokenism, countless “white-savior” feature films and white-washing complicated histories of sainted figures in our personal and public lives.

On this International Women’s Day (and every day), I want to eschew the shackles of cynicism and sentimentalism and do my best to impart a healthy dose of realism to both my daughter and my son. The world we live in can be a cruel and desolate place. My rapidly growing daughter, soon to be a young woman, has exponentially greater chances of facing sexual harassment and unfair wages than my son. My son has the awesome task of growing into a young man that respects his female counterparts in a world where a man can say “grab ’em by the pussy” and still become president. A world where such things are repeated on the playground by little boys who only have the slightest grasp of what they are saying, and the far reaching impact their words and actions can have.

I have the daunting and exciting privilege of playing a pivotal role in how they view this world. It is a world that can be so cold and cruel and at once such an intoxicatingly warm, wonderful and beautiful place. Some days I wish I could stay snuggled up in a ball like that with my daughter forever and protect her from the world around her. Some days I fear I need to train my daughter and my son survival skills for some impending apocalyptic disaster. But most days in between bouts of naïve, nostalgic optimism and apocalyptic anxiety, I am able to just be with them. And I will teach them the best I can to embrace the world around them, knowing it will kick them down and surprise them with love and wonder, sometimes in the same day.

Posted in Health

Lent 6

 

I am still thinking about the ripples. That is, the concept that the things we say and do today can have a far reaching impact on those around us, even those who come after us. There is a sense in which we are all an amalgamation of the influences around us.

Allow me to mix metaphors. I am reminded of President Obama’s remarks on the campaign trail in 2012, “If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen… When we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.” Obama was talking about people who build businesses or have financial success, and interdependence between individuals and economic and social systems. While it became a controversial talking point in the 2012 election campaign, the sentiments didn’t originate with President Obama or Elizabeth Warren before him. And I don’t think the concept is applicable exclusively or even primarily to business and economy.

This doesn’t rob anyone of us of our own personhood. In fact, it is a key part of what makes each and everyone of us unique. Hundreds of people in the town I grew up in have had Mrs. Davidson for their high school English teacher. But not all of them took her encouragement to form a regular writing habit so seriously. My brother and my sister grew up with the same mom and dad that I did. But I picked up very little of my dad’s knack for being a handyman. My brother on the other hand, has remolded several houses. My sister My sister is the spitting image of our mom when she was young. But I see that she picked up more of my dad’s upbeat optimism than my brother and I did. And while all three of us have a “spiritual journey” that starts with the influence of my mom’s deep faith, I seem to have picked up the most on my mom’s penchant for framing every single thing I talk about in religious terms.

In a very real way, for better and for worse, I am the product of Sonny and Maria, Jim and Brenda, Mrs. Davidson, various pastors and professors, friends who were in my life for only a season and those few I have managed to keep in contact with for a lifetime. I am a product of my first heartbreak, my first marriage and my beautiful partnership with Amanda. I am the music I have listened to, the poets I have read, the ones I have heard perform live, the kids who picked on me in high school and peers I stayed up all night drinking beer and talking with in seminary. And I am also, so much more.

I want to glean the absolute best stuff that I can from this wide and varied  stream of influence. And I want to what I can to be the best me that I can be for my son and my daughter. I want to do my small part to leave this world a better place than I found it.

I don’t think I am done yet, reflecting on the ripples.

Posted in Health

Lent 4

Amanda always tells me to trust the ripples. With this simple phrase, she daily reminds me not to underestimate the impact of our words and actions on the world around us. It may take the course of a lifetime to see the effect we have had, for better or for worse, in the lives of others. I am aiming for better. But the reality is I may never know the impact of one simple action or word on my children’s children. This reality is heightened by an ever-shrinking world. I could write a blog post on a lazy Saturday. You could compose a Facebook status, release a YouTube video or write a song and release it on Bandcamp or Spotify. And we might never know how the positive outgrowth or negative ramifications of these seemingly mundane actions on someone 5 or 5,000 miles away.

Sometimes this simple concept causes me some despair. What if my children pick up more of my negative self-talk than they do all of my efforts to encourage them to be the best versions of themselves that they can be? What if they pass this on to my grand children and great grandchildren long after my ashes have been scattered? Sometimes this concept fills me with hope. What if my pleading with my son ad nauseum for hours to do his 20 minute writing assignment contributes to him not giving up on his dreams later in life? What if the satisfaction he feels when he is done becomes part of his muscle memory that later helps him finish that college midterm paper? What if a poem I share on a Thursday night emboldens someone else to write their own story? What if they share that story over a cup of coffee or in a song and it touches a friend or a stranger wrestling with suicidal thoughts and encourages them to stay?

This is the same mix of despair and wonderment I have when I get out to Lake Michigan or the few chances I’ve had to stare at or swim in the ocean. I feel my finitude and my significance all at once. I am but a minuscule drop in an infinite ocean of time and space. I am a conscious being that is 60% water staring out or plunging headlong into a relatively small section of water, on a planet that’s surface is 71% water. On the other hand, I am part of something so much bigger than me. I may not get to decide the significance of my contribution. Our children, family, friends, fans, enemies, time, and unfairly written history they play a large part in that. But I do get to decide daily what my contribution will be.

I get to decide if I will sit and wallow with the words of my mother: often bleak, self doubting, skeptical of others, fearful of god and people. Or if I will follow her shining example of getting up each day and striving to make the world a better place, despite the fact that she was abused as a child, struggled with severe depression and often felt neglected by my dad. She still raised three kick ass children, taught Sunday School, ran a home day care, cleaned houses for poor and mentally ill people in our church that other congregants too often ignored. She was a rock star. She was an afflicted rock star and I picked up some of her negative traits, more than I would wish. But she also taught me to persevere and love vigorously. I want to pick that up. I want to leave the rest on the floor and run with that.

I don’t want to get into an extended reflection on the significance of water in the Bible. But this is part of series inspired by Lenten practices. I’ll try to make it brief. And hopefully it ties together for you. Nearly all ancient near eastern creation myths relied heavily on beliefs about water. To the ancient mind, the water was once full of great monsters and God or the gods brought some semblance of peace and balance to the chaos that once ruled the earth. It makes sense, when people took to the water for their livelihood to exchange goods or catch fish, the water was full of great peril: beasts of the water, storms and great waves. This mindset is the backdrop for “the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the deep” in Genesis. Walking on water, calming storms on the raging sea, or calling Peter to walk on the water are some of the most significant ways the first generation of Christians assigned divine status to Jesus. So it makes sense that later writers like John and Paul (and subsequent generations of Christians) put Jesus present at the very creation of the world.

The world is in chaos around me: a babbling buffoon as POTUS, peaceful protests turning violent, school bullies seem omnipresent, xenophobia appears to be around every corner. And in the midst of it, I still need to meet deadlines and hit sales quotas to maintain gainful employment, raise two children and hope they grow to be able to love themselves and others well, and find meaningful ways to use the one voice that I have to make the world a better place.

I want to be calm. I need to be centered. I don’t want to sleep my way through life. But I do want to be at peace and as confident as Jesus when his disciples woke him to say, ‘We’re all going to drown.’ I want to refuse to give into the panic as the storm rages. I want to visit Lake Michigan again soon to remind myself of how small and significant my life is all at once. I want to cast a single stone into the water and watch the ripple effect to remind myself of the interconnectedness of us all. I need to remember, maybe you need to remember that what we say and do today can have a potentially enormous and far reaching impact even if we might only ever see the smallest of the ripples.