Monday, May 24, 2010

new tongues

There is a pattern of human behavior by which people generally relate to the kind of music, language, literature, etc that is popular when they are 18 – 35 and then those forms of expression become the ones they "like". They are the expressions they relate to and identify with.

The trouble is, when we identify with a certain decade or a certain voice, and then cease to be interested in other, newer voices, we cease to be active. We cease to have an influx of new ideas. This cannot be the natural state of the reflections of an infinitely creative Mind!

Why on earth do we cease to be interested in the languages that are being created after that short period in our lives? Perhaps it is because the new music being made is often made by younger people, and the messages they contain don’t feel relevant to us when we are older and more experienced? That seems reasonable to a degree.

But what about all the creativity, the real, interesting language and human imagination that is expressed in new expressions? Regardless of the literal message, there are new elements that are inspired.

Where do new expressions come from? Surely they come from God. Why are there always new expressions, decade after decade? Because the infinite fountain of ideas is constantly speaking to the human race and we are bringing forth those ideas to the best of our ability. Can it be in our best interests to write off these new expressions as the irrelevant works of people rather than to seek out within them the pure, living voice of God?

Jesus said "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;” What are these new tongues? Surely they are new, God-inspired ideas being spoken and expressed in the world. New ideas are being brought forth all the time. New, wholesome, expressive, pure ideas are making their way into the world constantly. These new ideas challenge human thought to grow, to assimilate more of the character and quality of God.

For example, rap music is relatively new on the music scene – just in the last 40 years or so. In terms of its current iteration it could be described as a "new tongue". I frequently hear people decrying rap music as "lewd", "violent", "misogynistic", etc., but that is inaccurate. Rap music itself is not those things. Lots of its songs may have those elements in it, but a drum beat, a rhyme scheme, a confident voice – the elements that constitute rap music - are not those things. They are innocent. They are the pure new expressions.

In a world that presents us with seeming good and bad all mixed together, if we want to grow, to learn, to be open and see the good that is coming forth into the world, we must become willing and good at valuing the good that is right flush against something bad. To continue with this example of rap music, we must be willing to see that there is a brilliant, joyous, expressive drum beat, an authoritative and compelling bass line, and insight, wit, and thoughtful words, right in the midst of those qualities we don’t value. If we are not able to do this we will remain left out. We will render ourselves deaf to this new tongue. And this is all not to mention the countless rap artists out there who are creating songs with a purely positive message.

Having the Mind of Christ, Jesus knew exactly what it was like to have one's best ideas misunderstood, misrepresented, and abused. Still, he knew it was necessary to express those ideas – for the good of all. And, Jesus knew that people, reverently searching out goodness, God, would find new ideas. He knew that because God's ideas are good, we would love them and find it necessary to express them and share them.

Jesus said "In my name," we would cast out evils and speak with new tongues. Reverence for goodness, absorbing interest in reality, and desire to do good for others is this "In my name". That is to say, in the character of Christ.

It should become more and more normal for us to live hungrily, joyfully interested in the voices that are coming into the world. We should listen to all the voices and become better and better at practicing the counsel of John to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."

Why should we not be able to learn and feel a musical language that is invented when we are in our 70s? no age group owns an artistic form. Older folks don’t own classical music (made centuries before they were born). And younger people don’t own rap and hip hop. These expressive languages, both made by and for the glory of God, belong to every one of God's children equally.

Recently I was speaking with a 90 year old woman after a concert I had given. She said "This isn’t my music, but I liked it anyway!" It made me glad, and it also caused me to think, "It is her music." She is as alive today in 2010 as she was in 1935. As a member of the world she has as much a right to call this her music as does anyone else. She doesn’t belong to a decade long ago.

We hear that it is more difficult to learn a new language as an adult than as a child. And this human belief extends as far as we allow it too. New musical forms are no different than languages like French or Swahili. They are sets of sounds and forms being used to express spiritual ideas.

As spiritual beings it is our function to interact with ideas. There is no "time of life" when it is easier or harder for a spiritual idea to interact with other ideas. As reflections of the one spiritual God we have all of His infinite qualities at our fingertips. And, by the same rule, we have every ability to understand and FEEL all the broad, diverse expressions of His Voice.

Let's allow ourselves to be the big, magnanimous, inspired and living beings that we are meant to be. Let's lay claim to the immense diversity of gifts that are ours. Let's acknowledge our ability to hear, feel, and understand the reason why God put all these voices in the world. Let's celebrate them, purify them, and be blessed and renewed by them.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

i picked up a hitchhiker

on sunday morning i was driving from cincinnati to steubenville OH for a concert that afternoon. i was speeding along, and was at about the halfway point when i saw a hitchhiker. i dont see hitchhikers very often.

between 1995 and 2003 i did a lot of hitchhiking. many thousands of miles, all over the US and a little in the UK. i loved it. i mean, i REALLY loved it. it felt as expressive to me as painting, as adventurous as gorgeous hikes in the mountains, and as holy as church.

to me it felt like (and feels like) one of the most direct ways to interact with others. i have always loved talking with strangers, hearing stories, finding new things. and the social aspect of hitchhiking had all of those things. not to mention it was a free, exciting way to get me from here to there, as part of my larger journey - wherever it was.

to give a little sense of what i mean: during that time i hitched around new england countless times. my longest trips were from boston to atlanta GA, and from albuquerque NM to missoula MT. when i was in college i would often hitchhike the 8 miles to school instead of taking the bus because i found i could get there in the same time (if not faster) and have a great story to tell all by 9 am.

the first time i ever did it was when i my bike had broken, in the middle of a bike trip, out in the middle of rural upstate NY. it was desperation and exhaustion that led me to do it. and as i lifted my thumb, all the "voices of reason" and normalcy were ringing in my ears - "this is WRONG". they told me again and again how bad it was to hitchhike - how dirty and abnormal and freakish. still, my bike was broken and i was 50 miles from any help.

then, it turns out those voices were completely wrong. hitchhiking that day turned into regular hitching for the next 8 years and changed my life. i learned so much about people, about myself, and about how the quality of thinking influences our experience. during those 8 years, and hundreds of rides, i had 2 rides in which i needed to think on my feet about my safety - and in both those cases, god supplied me with the right things to say and do, both to keep me safe, and to actually help and support the other person.

maybe amazingly, maybe not, over those 8 years, i noticed that about 60 percent of the conversations (and a much higher percentage of conversations on long trips) turned to the subject of god or spirituality. this is why hitching became as holy to me as church. it was so easy to see that people wanted to badly to connect, to open up. i became a good listener with an understanding and forgiving ear, and very often we would talk about tender, intimate, spiritual things, i know we both would leave feeling more alive, and more comforted for it.

i do not recommend hitchhiking to everyone. i know my position as a man, practically puts me in a different position from a woman. and certainly, as in any situation out in the great wide world, we must be wise, sensitive, and discerning. but i will say this - i base my understanding of the world on the firm idea that we are a spiritual family, the children of one good god. and it is as much the fear of strangers, that it so openly purveyed in our culture that causes the problems, the dangers, the violence we fear. i have felt the great love that hitchhiking has given to me - to see the tender familial bonds that can exist between strangers when an expectation of it is present. let's NOT be afraid of strangers. let's actively seek to wisely and compassionately live out our nature as a family.

so, last sunday, i passed this guy going 70, and as i did i peered at him as closely as i could, to discern anything i could discern. for me intuition plays a big part. and, as silly as it may sound, he looked "normal" enough, so i slowed to a stop, about a quarter mile past where he was and he jogged up to the car.

we rode together for about 15 miles. he was about 19 years old, said he was on his way to his dad's house, and was coming from oklahoma. very quickly the conversation came around to his belief that god was taking care of him. we celebrated that together, i gave him a cd and a bag of food, and we parted company. and as i drove away i thanked god for giving me the opportunity to see such goodness and innocence in the world, and for the opportunity to give back just a tiny bit of the great generosity and hospitality that i receive every day.

what do you think about hitchhiking?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

gates of self

i recognize that there are experiences in which fear comes to me as i am moving into some new activity or adventure which tries to keep me from doing whatever the new, good thing is. it's like there is a gate of fear that needs to be overcome, walked through, before the good thing can be realized. this has happened to me a number of times in my adult life - enough that i have begun to recognize it as a phenomenon, and i can see it better when it is happening, and get fooled less.

these gates are moments of shedding self, or, selfishness.

when i was 20 years old i set out on a bike trip. it was to begin in boston and end in savannah, georgia. the previous summer i had tried to bike from boston to chicago, but had not been up to the task. i had made it only half way, and this was my return, to finish what i had begun.

in the preceding weeks people would ask me "are you excited?!" i always tried to sound like i was. but really, it seemed like asking christopher columbus "are you excited?!" and i imagine his response to be something like "well, sorta, but we also might sail off the earth."

on the day i left i hadnt made it 5 miles from the family home when i began to hear some part of my bike making bad noises. i got off to check it out and as i did, a great wave of fear descended on me. thoughts like "i am never going to make it. this is totally pointless. nobody cares if i do this or not. i am going to fail" came in for the kill.

these thoughts were terrifying. they all seemed like valid points. what on earth was i thinking? i really was never going to be able to do this thing that i had set out to do. so, petrified, feeling naked and alone i stood on the side of the road, 5 miles from all familiarity and played out the options in my head. i could A) continue on this terrifying trip which was completely unknown, or i could B) bike back home, and be safe within 20 minutes. interestingly, while option A was filled with fear, option B was lifeless, and drenched with heartbreak.

after just a few minutes of deep listening, i realized that all the fear in the world was not as bad as the heartbreak of self admitted defeat without trying. i set off in the direction of savannah with the screaming voices of fear blaring in my ears.

a wonderful thing happened. i had made my decision. the unknown, fear, with the possibility of a good, maybe really good outcome, was infinitely better than the heartbreak of not trying. when those screaming voices saw that i had made my decision and was not turning back, they simply left. after 15 minutes the fear was gone and never came back.

1100 miles and a million adventures later i was in savannah, shining in glory.

this trip changed my life, and set the stage for a thousand more adventures, glories, lessons.

what if the fear had won, 5 miles from home? what if, instead of shedding that fear of change, that desire to not try rather than to encounter the possibility of failure, i had chosen to remain the same?

it certainly wasnt "personal strength" that made me able to overcome it. rather, it was the simple desire to avoid heartbreak and accept whatever was the alternative - the windy unknown.

do you have a story of shedding self that led to new life and victory? let me know about it in a comment below, or on my FB page.

love to you all, and striving beyond self.


it seems that unselfishness is the key to happiness, progress, all good in life. how do we get there? how do we do it? how do we eradicate selfishness from our lives?

i remember making a drawing years ago, when i was reall struggling with a feeling of being a big selfish jerk, that, at the bottom said "unselfishness is freedom". i made that picture and wrote those words at the bottom and i knew it was true. unselfishness, whatever it was, was freedom.

trouble was, i didnt really feel like i knew what that meant. AND, i was already doing my very best to be nice, to love people, etc... and i still felt like i was not living up to it. and i certainly wasnt feeling free.

now, 10 years later, i feel very aware that being unselfish involves being willing to be changed by god. being willing to become better, to leave the old things in the past and move joyfully on, refusing to be defined by what has come before. really, it is about not even being a "self", but rather, being a reflection of god.

i feel infinitely more free now than i did when i made that drawing with the words "unselfishness is freedom". still, i long to embody that more and more.

this week, as i was wrestling deeply, painfully with a selfish thought that i wanted badly to let go of, i was reaching out in prayer for something new. the idea that grew up through the cracks, that slipped in through what seemed to be the dark walls of loneliness and regret was the forever opportunity to pray for others.

it was sort of an amazing breakthrough. in this dark place where i was feeling so lost and "selfish" the idea came, "instead of praying to be made unselfish, why dont you take this opportunity to pray for someone else - just because you can". and then i realized, while all the actions i was thinking of pertaining to myself seemed blocked and difficult, there was NOTHING in the way of my praying for someone, anyone, else.

so, for the next couple of days i practiced praying for others. anyone. anyone who came into thought, anyone i passed on the street, the factory workers who made the urinal i was using. (really).

sometimes it was very difficult. but it seemed, after i got into the rhythm it was easy. and in fact, really delighting. the pain and heaviness i had been feeling so fully, dropped away. and sometimes when it came back, i would pray for someone else the moment i noticed i was feeling bad about myself, and soon i was back on the track of unselfishness. it felt luxurious - like i had the trick to never feeling bad again. maybe i do.

it caused me to think that jesus counsel to "Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you," is not so much a description of virtue as it is a simple description of how to be happy, and stay happy. it is a gift beyond gifts.

i also found that in times when i felt i just couldnt pray for someone, it was even healing just to think of someone else. i went through my friends, groups, the president, just thinking of what it would be like to be that person. and i found that it caused me to love them more. a simple, easy, unselfing practice.

i am still seeking after what it means to be unselfish, and how to make it a reality in my life. if you have an insight or a practice that you do that is helping you be more unselfish will you please tell me about it in a comment below, or on my FB page?

love to you all.