Thursday, July 26, 2007

Faithless

Track 9: Faithless

I’ve got my own moral compass to steer by
A guiding star beats a spirit in the sky
And all the preaching voices
Empty vessels ring so loud
As they move among the crowd
Fools and thieves are well disguised
In the temple and marketplace

Like a stone in the river
Against the floods of spring
I will quietly resist

Like the willows in the wind
Or the cliffs along the ocean
I will quietly resist

I don’t have faith in faith
I don’t believe in belief
You can call me faithless
But I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that’s faith enough for me

I’ve got my own spirit level for balance
To tell if my choice is leading up or down
And all the shouting voices
Try to throw me off my course
Some by sermons, some by force
Fools and thieves are dangerous
In the temple and marketplace

Like a forest bows to winter
Beneath the deep white silence
I will quietly resist

Like a flower in the desert
That only blooms at night
I will quietly resist


From a purely literary standpoint, these lyrics are the most descriptive and poetic on the album. Neil’s bookish side is really coming out here, I believe. He employs a number of metaphors and similes that work really, really well to illustrate his message. “Like a forest bows to winter beneath the deep white silence, I will quietly resist.” Absolutely sublime.

As for the substance of the lyrics, this is clearly a reaction to the inundation of evangelical Christianity that seems to have blossomed in the years since 9/11 and encouraged by our pseudo-pious president. While I do consider myself a spiritual and even religious person, I find the lyrics to this song to be deeply relevant and meaningful.

In this day and age (and, honestly, even before 9/11), it is not okay to be an atheist, or even an agnostic, as far as mainstream culture is concerned. When something like 90% of the population professes a belief in some sort of higher power/god, I suppose this isn’t hard to imagine. That number, of course, is deceptive, because many of those who profess belief in God don’t necessarily practice organized religion, and even fewer practice evangelical religion. Still, there seems to be a distinct undercurrent of general suspicion and distrust aimed at anyone who claims not to believe in gods.

This is encouraged by many things within society. When we step onto the stand in a courtroom, we swear on a bible, as if that somehow makes our oath more rock solid (actually, I think courts may have ended this practice, but either way, it certainly has been done in the past). Our Pledge of Allegiance, and many of our patriotic songs, mention God. Our money has God’s name on it. We use phrases like “I swear to God I didn’t do it” and “What in God’s name were you thinking?” Even though most evangelicals, and even many mainstream Christians, would frown on “using God’s name in vain,” such phrases still help to reinforce the idea of an existent, theistic God in the mind of the mainstream culture.

Politicians, athletes, and other prominent people routinely bandy God’s name about. In the case of politicians in particular, it has almost become a necessity to chalk your faith in God up on your resume. It’s not only acceptable, it’s actually encouraged. I can’t tell you how many political commercials I have seen over the last few years where the candidate touts his devotion to family and faith even more than his successes in office. Can you imagine if a major candidate were to openly profess atheism? I don’t know of any who have done that, because to do so – with the possible exception of a strongly liberal district here or there – would be political suicide. I’m sure there are plenty of atheist/agnostic politicians, but they have to either ignore issues of personal faith completely, or lie. Again, mainstream culture, despite its obsession with all things materialistic, greedy, and worldly, seems to have an underlying suspicion of atheists, and would never – not in this day and age – elect an openly atheist candidate to a major office.

Is this fair? Is an atheist somehow less qualified to run the country than a person of faith? Of course not. Personal religious convictions are utterly, and in every way, irrelevant. But try telling that to the 60% of Republicans who still support Bush.

When was the last time you heard of an atheist politician, athlete, or movie star getting into trouble with the law, or committing some other act of indecency? Yet how many openly pious starlets, politicians, and athletes have we watched fall into the cesspool of immorality, not to mention countless preachers, priests, and religious leaders? Mel Gibson, that bastion of Catholic piety, comes immediately to mind, as does the guy in Denver who was the head of the national Evangelical association, and got caught whoring around with MEN. The examples, of course, could go on and on. Yet, despite that, we tend to think of atheists and agnostics as the immoral ones, the ones with no ethical code, the unscrupulous ones who live only for themselves. It’s a gross distortion of reality, and a willful attempt to discredit a perfectly creditable way of life. I am not an atheist, but I can find no fault with someone who looks at the world around them, sees a world that looks exactly as one would expect a godless world to look, sees no other evidence for gods, and therefore chooses not to have faith.

We tend to talk about atheism with “no holds barred,” but if we’re discussing religion, we are supposed to afford religious people a certain level of respect that those same religious people frequently don’t afford atheists. For instance, it’s not okay for an atheist to tell a religious person that their beliefs are akin to beliefs in fairies and genies, but evangelical religious people don’t have a problem “ministering” to the “unchurched” through an array of missionary work, from employing full time missionaries to encouraging members to “share the Good News” with people they encounter in their daily lives. Many Christian denominations even produce literature aimed at teaching members how to effectively spread the message of Jesus to the unwashed masses. I wonder how an evangelical would react if an atheist went door-to-door, attempting to convert believers to atheism by pointing out the depravity of their beliefs?

I think it’s this anti-atheist/agnostic undercurrent within mainstream society that spurred the writing of this song. “I have my own moral compass to steer by” and “I have my own spirit level for balance” are great contrasts to traditional Christian ideas of needing God to help you get through the ups and downs of life. When people suggest that they are so weak and useless that they must rely on a supernatural being that they can’t prove exists in order to face the trials of life, it really saddens me. I think this neediness that so many religious people display is strong evidence that our God is more manmade than we like to imagine. Of course, not all religious people are like this, but when you listen to televangelists and to the songs sung in church and played on Christian radio, one would think that Christians are all a bunch of emotionally needy, weak-willed individuals in dire need of some good counseling.

A Christian rock group called Caedmon’s Call has a song with the lyrics “I am thankful, that I’m incapable of doing any good on my own.” Amy Grant, during her Christian music days, had a song that included the lyrics, “I have decided that being good is just a fable. I just can’t ‘cuz I’m not able. I’m gonna leave it to the Lord.”

What?? What sort of belief system is that? I realize, of course, that it is classic Calvinist theology. But the point is: why are people drawn to religious beliefs that teach them that they are good-for-nothing, snivelling, needy sinners? And what does that say about the emotional and mental state of those people? Furthermore, what does it say about the legitimacy of their religious beliefs?

When it comes to Christian-oriented music, I think children’s songs are the worst. Even among some of the “classics,” if you really listen to what the words are saying, it’s pretty disturbing:

1. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.” Nothing like teaching our children that they can “know” Jesus loves them simply because the bible tells them so. No wonder so many adults fall back to that “it says so in the bible” argument when faced with tough questions.

2. “They are weak but he is strong.” Balderdash. What a despicable thing to teach a child. But again, little wonder that so many adults end up with belief systems like the ones espoused in the above-referenced Amy Grant and Caedmon’s Call songs, when they are taught as children that they are weak and must turn to Jesus for strength.

3. “Father Abraham had many sons. I am one of them and so are you. So let’s all praise the Lord.” What?? I’m sorry, but you’re little white-ass, Mid-Western brat is NOT a son of “Father Abraham!” In fact, if you’re like many evangelicals, you believe that “Father Abraham’s” sons are all bound for hell for rejecting Jesus!! But either way, these lyrics help perpetuate the myth that we – us white-ass honky Caucasians living in North America – are somehow the “legitimate” descendents of the Jewish tradition, because the Jews rejected Jesus, and so God named us his “chosen ones” instead.

4. And then there’s the worst one of all. The following song is on a video of Bible Songs that my daughter has, and if I’m around when she’s watching it, I fast forward through it. I’m not sure what the title of the song is, but the lyrics go a little somethin’ like this: “Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little eyes what you see. ‘Cuz the Father up above is looking down with love, so be careful little eyes what you see.” And then “ears what you hear” and “feet where you go,” etc., etc. The contradictions and contemptible messages are rife within these verses. It’s basically “see no evil, hear no evil, otherwise God will punish you.” But it’s couched in the deceptive language of “the Father up above is looking down with love.” Yet, clearly the message of the lyrics portrays this so-called god as anything but “loving.” A sergeant-at-arms ready to pistol whip anyone who steps out of line is more like it. And, of course, there’s also the fact that the lyrics perpetuate a myth that died for most of humankind 500 years ago – that is, the idea that we live in a 3-tiered universe. Since the time of the Renaissance, we have known that heaven isn’t above us, with earth in the middle, and hell down below. We live on a round rock, circling a star, in a corner of a universe more vast than we can comprehend. If the Father is “above” and “looking down” on us, then children are forced to image God as an astronaut, in orbit around earth. I wonder if he has to use an oxygen tank? It’s amazing that despite 500 years of knowing that heaven isn’t just beyond the sky, concepts such as this can still remain so prevalent, even among many mainstream Christians who otherwise recognize that God isn’t an astronaut.

I suppose the image of God portrayed in these lyrics strikes such a negative chord with me because I grew up with a concept of God as a stern headmaster and punishing parent. I was always told “God is love,” but the image of God that I picked up from years of Sunday School and private schooling was that God was up there, watching us at every moment of our lives, ready to mark it down in his little black book if we screwed up. For that reason, I grew up a goody-goody, feeling like a sinful little wretch when I did what I thought were sinful things, like masturbating or cussing or any number of other bland, normal, and harmless actions. I went through a period when I was about 10 where I got the idea in my mind that it was a sin to look at advertisements for alcohol or cigarettes. Since our church was downtown, we took the Interstate through Louisville from the suburbs, and, of course, the Interstate was lined with billboards for liquor, beer, and every brand of cigarette known to humankind. So, during this period, I would keep my head either looking down, or looking only at the road, so as to avoid seeing the alcohol and cigarette billboards. And if I did accidentally catch a glimpse of the Marlboro Man or Jack Daniels, I would whisper a prayer of forgiveness.

Yes, this is a true story.

Getting back to the lyrics of Faithless, the chorus, I think, is the best part of the song. “You can call me faithless, but I still cling to hope. And I believe in love.” As a post-modern Christian who recognizes that medieval theology is increasingly irrelevant in this changing world, these lyrics are deeply meaningful for me. I image God as the essence of love, the force that opens the door to abundant life, and the ground of all being – the undercurrent from which all life arises. So in that sense, I definitely believe in love, and I also still cling to hope that there is more to our universe than can be observed empirically.

And that’s faith enough for me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hope

Track 8: Hope

Instrumental

This is a splendid little 2-minute acoustic guitar solo. It’s an excellent demonstration not only of Alex’s playing ability, but, perhaps even more so, his song-writing ability.

The song title is drawn from the chorus of the following track, Faithless, and works as a nice counterpart to that following song, emphasizing the dichotomy between a lack of religious faith, but an abundance of hope.

I think that penchant for hope is what sets apart many non-theists and agnostics from the traditional atheist. I’m sure my atheist friends would bristle at that statement, but I think it’s true, from my many discussions and debates on the subject. True atheism seems, at its core, to be devoid of any hope for the future, any hope for something grander than what we can sense with our eyes, ears, and brains. It seems empty of any hope that maybe, just maybe, there is more to reality than what we can measure empirically. It seems to give no value whatsoever to such concepts, as it deems them unknowable, and therefore irrelevant. And when you try to explain that there is no harm in hope, they don’t seem to get it, or, at least, counter with arguments like “I could hope for a million dollars to drop from the sky into my hands, but it’s so far out of the realm of possibility, it is pointless to hope for it, and will only lead to disappointment.” The problem, of course, with this argument is that hope for wider realities and the potential for an afterlife isn’t, by it’s very nature, an empirical or physical thing, like money. Furthermore, if nothing exists beyond the death of our own consciousness, there won’t be any consciousness there to be disappointed! This, more than anything else, vindicates and endorses the inherent harmlessness of hope. In addition, this sort of hope can be a tremendous support in dealing with the vagaries, difficulties, and obstacles of life. Some turn to alcohol, some turn to nicotine or caffeine, some become co-dependent, and some turn to anti-depressants. But some turn to hope.

Monday, July 23, 2007

James Rollins

I'm taking a short break from my blogs about Rush's new album to post this:

See the link over there to the left of the screen, under Literary Resources, directing you to the website of James Rollins? Well, Rollins is one of my favorite thriller writers and I’ve basically been following him since the beginning of his writing career. I first discovered him on the bookshelf at Barnes & Noble, shortly after the publication of his second book. At that time, he was just writing paperback thrillers – he wasn’t even publishing in hardback yet. I was so intrigued by his two books on the shelf that I decided to buy them both, despite having never read any of his stuff prior to that, nor having ever even heard of him. Well, I loved the two books, and have been buying his novels upon release ever since then. He’s one of the very few authors whose books I have been reading since more or less the beginning of his career (along with co-authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Steve Berry).

ANYWAY, I got onto my Yahoo! email account last week to check for any stray messages I may have received. I don’t check that account very often anymore, because I use Gmail, but I still receive a few author updates there, as well as weekly statistics on my blog site visit counter. I hadn’t checked it in well over a month, but I had a few extra minutes on Tuesday, so I popped on there to see if anything had come through. In addition to several weeks’ worth of blog statistic emails, as well as a bunch of Spam, I had a mass email from James Rollins, letting all his readers know that his new book was coming out. I’ve emailed with him several times in the past, and if you email him, he adds you to his address book.

ANYWAY, so there was a link at the bottom of the email to his book signing tour. I decided to check it out, just in case he was going to be anywhere close. I was surprised to find that he was going to be in Dayton the very next day. I don’t have class on Wednesday, so I briefly considered driving up to Dayton to be at the book signing. After deciding that was probably unreasonable, I scrolled on down to see where else he was going. Lo and behold, he was going to be in Lexington the day after Dayton, at Joseph Beth Booksellers (which frequently has big name writers there to sign books – they’ve had everyone from Stephen King to Anne Rice to Jimmy Carter).

So on Thursday, I left class early and headed over to Joseph Beth. He was already speaking when I arrived, and I sat down next to an empty chair that had water dripping into it from the ceiling (it’s a vaulted ceiling, probably 100 feet high, with glass on top, and the rain was dripping from all the way up there, down two levels, and hitting the chair beside me). There were about 15 people there listening to him, including a couple of employees. Rollins talked for another 30 minutes or so after I got there, ending with a Q&A session. I found him to be personable with a good sense of humor. Seemed very much like just a regular guy. At the end, he signed books, and I was pleased to discover that he recognized my name when I told him who I was. As I said above, I’ve emailed with him a number of times in the past, although it’s probably been a year or two since our last exchange. I believe our last conversation entailed a discussion of Matt Reilly (another thriller writer, whose stuff I really, really detest). We’ve also talked in the past about the publishing industry and finding an agent, etc. He’s always seemed very nice and forthcoming by email, and he seemed the same way in real life.

So anyway, that was my big adventure of Thursday night. That’s the first author book signing I’ve ever attended, and it was nice to finally meet a favorite author in the flesh and get the chance to speak to him for a few moments. And his new book looks very promising too – it’s called The Judas Strain and it deals with ancient Jewish mystical symbology. I’ll be sure to report on it once I’ve read it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Way the Wind Blows

Track 7: The Way the Wind Blows

Now it’s come to this
It’s like we’re back in the Dark Ages
From the Middle East to the Middle West
It’s a world of superstition

Now it’s come to this
Wide-eyed armies of the faithful
From the Middle East to the Middle West
Pray, and pass the ammunition

So many people think that way
You got to watch what you say
To them and them, and others too
Who don’t seem to see things the way you do

We can only grow the way the wind blows
On a bare and weathered shore
We can only bow to the here and now
In our elemental war

We can only grow the way the wind blows
We can only bow to the here and now
Or be broken down blow by blow

Now it’s come to this
Hollow speeches of mass deception
From the Middle East to the Middle West
Like crusaders in unholy alliance

Now it’s come to this
Like we’re back in the Dark Ages
From the Middle East to the Middle West
It’s a plague that resists all science

It seems to leave them partly blind
And they leave no child behind
While evil spirits haunt their sleep
While shepherds bless and count their sheep

Like the solitary pine
On a bare wind-blasted shore
We can only grow the way the wind blows
In our elemental war


On an album where no song is worse than an 8 out of 10, The Way the Wind Blows is my favorite. The music is sublime, mixing elements of progressive rock with traditional blues rock, and the lyrics are deeply relevant and rife with apt metaphors and double entendres.

It is like we’re back in the Dark Ages. Muslim fanatics on one side, Christian fanatics on the other, both praying to their god to give them the ultimate victory, both believing whole-heartedly that their god will give them the ultimate victory, and both interpreting any success as evidence of their god’s pleasure and involvement. Pray, and pass the ammunition.

Recently, I saw a bumper sticker I had never seen before on a minivan. It had a stickman image on its knees, head bowed, and it said “Prayer changes stuff.”

Indeed, it’s a world of superstition.

I love the double entendre in the line “Wide-eyed armies of the faithful.” It’s a reference both to “God’s Army” as well as the largely brainwashed men and women of the armed forces who think they’re doing something valuable for the world. That’s not meant as an all encompassing slam against soldiers – a country needs a standing army, obviously, and I don’t doubt that many of our soldiers are brave, intelligent people – but it never ceases to amaze me all the young people who are still, to this day, signing up to go be the pawn of a group of medieval-thinking white men in Washington. Then again, 60% of Republicans still support Bush, so what does that tell you? It’s quite unheard of for 40% of a sitting president’s own party to part with him, and that’s more or less evidence of the political suicide that Bush has committed, but it’s the remaining 60% that still shocks me. I was encouraged, at least, last week when I saw that recent polls show more than 50% of the country would support impeachment proceedings against Bush, but we all know that isn’t going to happen, regardless.

And how about that phrase “Hollow speeches of mass deception.” I didn’t pick up on it when I first read the lyrics, but that’s a wonderful little stab at “weapons of mass destruction.” What a mass deception that has turned out to be (not that those of us with any sense at all didn’t recognize it as a deception from the very beginning).

“It’s a plague that resists all science.” “Plague” is a perfect word there. During the Bush years, we have seen everything from a willful attempt to degrade our earth’s environment, to a rejection of valuable medical technology that promises immense benefit for controlling and curing a wide range of diseases. And the latter, of course, is all in the name of wide-eyed superstitious religious beliefs. If I had to name what I feel is the most degrading, disreputable, and despicable legacy of Bush’s domestic policy, it is his stance and legislation on stem cell research. Great strides are being made in other countries, using stem cells to treat and cure disease, and meanwhile the far and away largest resource for stem cell research – the United States – sits idly by with their restrictive laws borne from willful blindness, pseudo-pious hogwash, and medieval belief systems. It is, in every sense of the word, a true tragedy, and the victims are us. You and me.

The only thing I disagree with in the song is that last stanza that starts “It seems to leave them partly blind.” I’ll give Neil the benefit of trying to make the lyrics fit the music, but “they” are anything but “partly” blind. It’s complete and total blindness. And, of course, the line “And they leave no child behind” is another great stab at a misguided, deceptive, and despicable domestic policy of the Bush administration. It’s also another great play on words, as it also refers to how these people brainwash their children, leaving them to grow up with the same twisted world view as their own.

And finally, the line “While shepherds bless and count their sheep” is another great double entendre, referencing, obviously, the Christian concept of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, caring for his flock, his sheep. But it also plays on the idea of the religious and political leaders taking care of their own supporters and counting the sheep who blindly follow them to slaughter.

Yesterday, I saw another bumper sticker (actually, two on the same car) that I think are relevant to this blog post. The stickers were on a beat up green Nissan pick-up truck. At one point, as I was behind the truck, the passenger threw an empty can into the bed, and I’m pretty certain it was a beer can. Anyway, on one side of the tailgate was a bumper sticker with a Confederate flag, stating “THE SOUTH WAS RIGHT!” On the other side of the tailgate was another bumper sticker, with another Confederate flag, stating “I don’t need YOUR permission to honor MY ancestors.” Clearly this was a stab at those “crazy liberals” who have fought against government buildings and properties flying Confederate flags. What this person was saying, in effect, is that slavery is okay, the North should have left the South alone, and flying Confederate flags today is a perfectly reasonable way to honor those who kept human slaves, sent the country into a 4-year civil war, cost millions of people their lives, created a 100+ year legacy of racial tension for their descendants to deal with, and left the country bankrupt, torn, and in shambles for decades to come. I wonder if this person would make the same argument if an American of German descent flew a Nazi flag in order to “honor” his ancestors? What honor is there in displaying a flag that stands for murder, enslavement, economic destruction, and anti-American principles? “So many people think that way, you gotta watch what you say.”

And who do you think this person – who no doubt considers himself a patriotic American – voted for in 2000 and 2004? I’ll give you one guess.

It’s like we’re back in the Dark Ages.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Main Monkey Business

Track 6: The Main Monkey Business

Instrumental

How will I blog about the lyrics to an instrumental, you ask? Like this:

I heard or read somewhere that the title of this song came from Geddy’s Jewish mother. It was either Geddy’s parents or grandparents who were in concentration camps in World War II (I think it was his parents). Upon being liberated by the Allies, their initial questions centered around whether or not they and their comrades were the only ones left alive in the world. Without any news for the years that they were incarcerated, they had come to fear that perhaps the war had been an Armageddon-type battle, in which the world’s population was decimated. Rush recorded a song about it in the 1980’s called Red Sector A, which includes the lyrics: “Are we the last one’s left alive? Are we the only human beings to survive? I hear the sound of gunfire at the prison gate. Are the liberators here? Do I hope or do I fear? For my father and my brother, it’s too late. But I must help my mother stand up straight.”

Anyway, back to the song at hand, Geddy’s mother was evidently flustered about something, and Geddy asked her what she was talking about, and she said, “All this monkey business!” Geddy responded, “What monkey business?” And his mother said, “You know, the main monkey business!”

Ah, that clears it up. Thanks, Ma.

Oy vey.

For me, the main monkey business is that which takes place in the pulpits, pews, and classrooms of American churches every Sunday morning. This past weekend, Melanie and I went to church with the kids, and we went to Sunday School. The class is studying a series of lessons right now from 1st and 2nd Samuel. There is an accompanying booklet, which states that it draws lessons from the writings of several Baptist leaders, one of which is Ken Chaffin. Chaffin was interim pastor for a period of time in the 1980’s at Walnut Street Baptist Church, in Louisville, when I was a kid attending there. He was also a former senior pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, where my parents attended in the 1990’s (before Home Depot became their Sunday morning ritual). Additionally, he was a big donator to my alma mater, Georgetown College, and his name is one of only three on the front of the Learning Resource Center, which was completed in 1998. He died several years back, but he was a wonderful liberal Southern Baptist voice, spending most of the last part of his life fighting the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination he had devoted his life to.

Anyway, after seeing his name on the study booklet, I was disappointed to discover that the content of the lessons did not ring of the Ken Chaffin I know at all. As I said, the lessons were said to be “from the writings” of Chaffin and several others. Clearly it was those several others whose writings influenced the primary theology of the lessons.

This week’s lesson was on David and Goliath. It was chock full of the typical, shallow, “let’s not get too awfully deep,” adult Southern Baptist Sunday School drivel, and its conclusions, like most traditional concepts of Christianity, were irrelevant, hypocritical, and full of contradictions.

David, the lesson told us, trusted in God, when all the other Hebrews had forsaken God. David, the lesson told us, believed in God’s power to help him slay the enemy. David, the lesson told us, refused to allow the Philistines to slander God’s name. David, the lesson told us, slaughtered Goliath in the name of God.

Ah, the wonders of a God of mercy, love, and compassion, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Sounds like a bunch of monkey business to me.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Spindrift

Track 5: Spindrift

As the waves crash in on the western shore
The wind blows fierce from the east
The wave tops torn into a flying spindrift

As the waves crash in on the western shore
It makes me feel uneasy
The spray that’s drawn away
Is an image of the way I feel

As the sun goes down on the western shore
The wind blows hard from the east
It whips the sand into a flying spindrift

As the sun goes down on the western shore
It makes me feel uneasy
In the hot dry rasp of the devil winds
Who cares what a fool believes

What am I supposed to say
Where are the words to answer you
When you talk that way
Words that fly against the wind and waves

A little closer to you
Where is the wave that will carry me

What am I supposed to do
Where are the words that will make you see
What I believe is true


Admittedly, the words to this song confuse me a little bit. Neil seems clearly to be discussing relationship issues and the various emotions and feelings that exist between loved ones, but it is not clear exactly just what he is talking about. Maybe he meant for it to be ambiguous. Perhaps, as I think someone offhandedly commented on the Rush Message Board, Neil just “had a fight with his ho” and wrote a song about it.

Relationships are hard, especially for people like me who are natural introverts and loners. I’m not such a loner that I don’t want any human contact at all, and I certainly don’t think I’d be happy living alone for the rest of my life, as some people do, but I like plenty of alone time and plenty of space, and I don’t need big doses of face-to-face “together” time in order to feel happy and content in a relationship. Unfortunately, my wife is almost my polar opposite on this front. She doesn’t know what to do with herself when she doesn’t have anyone around to talk to or interact with. She seeks together time in relationships, face-to-face time, intimate talks, physical touch, etc. So our relationship is a constant balancing act – her giving me my space and free time, and me attempting to give her the together, face-to-face time that she needs. It’s not easy.

I think that last stanza really sums up adequately how a lot of people, myself included, approach relationships and debates/arguments. “Where are the words that will make you see what I believe is true?” This hits home especially for me, as I feel like I am constantly battling and debating with friends, relatives, and my spouse, over everything from religion to politics to whose turn it is to change the diapers. We all try to find the words to make the other person understand that we hold the truth. And the “spindrift” is created from these battling truths. Whose truth is the real truth?

Of course, there is also another side to this issue. Sometimes we do, in fact, know that what we know is true. For instance, I may know that I have washed the dishes five times in the last week, no matter how much my spouse argues that I haven’t helped around the house. I may know, through experience, that many Southern Baptist churches are anti-homosexual, even if a Southern Baptist believer tries to argue otherwise. I may know, through experience, that insurance companies are just as sleezy and self-serving as the lazy, pseudo-injured car accident victims who sue them, even if someone else wants to argue that frivolous lawsuits are ruining America. The point is, sometimes we do know what we know, and at those times, it can be extremely frustrating to find the words to make others see that what we are saying is true.

There is one other way to interpret that last line, however. Instead of interpreting it as “How can I make you understand that what I am telling you is true,” it can be read as “How can I make you see what, I believe, is true.” In other words, “I believe this thing is true – how do I make you see that?” It’s not quite so adamant and closed to other opinions. I “believe” this is true, and I want to share that with you. That’s a far cry (excuse the pun) from “My beliefs are true, and I need to convince you of that.”

Of course, this is just philosophical babbling, but it’s important to realize that most people go into debates/arguments believing they hold the truth. One thing I have learned is that if I can give a little leeway to the other person, listen a little deeper, not sit there preparing my counter-response as the other person is talking, I can find that perhaps my own perspective isn’t always right, or, at the very least, perhaps there are other avenues I had not otherwise considered, which might alter or amend my point of view. Too many people, I believe, are unwilling to consider that they might be wrong on a certain topic, whether mundane or imminently important. In his book “Anger: Wisdom on Cooling the Flames,” Thich Nhat Hanh says that most anger comes from wrong perception. In fact, he said that we should not consider any of our perceptions as unassailable. He suggests putting a sign on the wall of your bedroom or office that says “Are you sure?” in order to remind yourself that perceptions, while frequently relied upon by default, are also frequently wrong.

Listening with openness, and letting go of what we believe are unassailable perceptions, is extremely difficult, but it is an invaluable and highly respectable trait. I’m not very good at it, but I am trying.

Serene Musings Books of the Year, 2005-2015