Thursday, March 22, 2012

Scotch, Cigars, and Creation

Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.
-Albert Einstein 

Nothing screams theology as loud as cigars and scotch.

If you were raised in the traditional church, you may disagree with me. As a matter of fact, there are several pieces of art whose content revolve around the concept that good Christians don't drink or smoke or play cards or do anything remotely fun. I like to refer to this as "footloose syndrome," and I think that many of us run into it today. 

Let me explain something that I think a lot of people who live in "reality" miss. Most believers do not feel that alcohol or tobacco are particularly evil (health risks and such not withstanding). In fact, for most of us, it's not the substance itself that causes the issue. It is a)the reason that people are using those substances, and b)what they do when they've gone overboard, that causes the trepidation that cause most modern people of faith to avoid the game all together.

But I was raised in the camp that says alcohol is okay in moderation, when it's a social event- (not an escape from life). And smoking the occasional cigar, or pipe is fine, as long as there's no addiction issue to worry about in the aftermath. I don't smoke,but I do drink occasionally, and usually these occasions find me in a large group of people who want to talk about God.

And so some of the best theological discussions that I've had have been outside the confines of footloose syndrome, over a glass of Rose. I think there is a simple explanation for this; If you want to talk about the philosophy of the world, of life, love and why, then you can catch me at any time. But if you want to talk about my core belief system, about the God who rules over my life, you better be ready to settle in. Get comfortable. We are going to be here for a while.

For a while after I turned 21, I went out drinking with friends like it was something to prove. Living with a faith that is often considered archaic can do that to the heart- we go and participate in activities that will make us fun and exciting like we have something to prove. "Sure I've got Jesus, but that doesn't mean I can't do eight shots of tequila or anything. It just means that I don't have to do it to forget my problems." As if my friends will see this and suddenly repent on the spot. In case you didn't catch on, that's a misguided falsity. And in case you were wondering, yes, Christians get hang-overs too.

Which is maybe why I prefer my alcohol on front porches, sitting with my brothers and sisters from church, sharing my thoughts on first Peter or Paul's greatest statement. Because there is a certain accountability about being there, in that moment, over those talks, that's going to keep my motivations pure and my mind where it needs to be, focusing on what it needs to think about. When we sit together in the midst of conversation about the creator, we aren't playing the world's game,but instead focusing on that which we are dedicated to, even in the midst of these activities which have caused the world brokenness for centuries.

If you are a believer, and you feel a strong conviction against these things, I encourage you to hold fast to that, but to also let your friends know, so that we can have theological milkshakes, or fruit snacks, or something else. But for anyone who reads this, please understand that if I am having a drink, it is not to impress you, my earthly friends. Instead, it is a tribute to the creator of universe, who brought forth fruit on the vine. And if you're not a believer, be warned- drinking, much like almost anything else, makes me want to talk about Him and what He means to me.

Cheers to that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

For the love of Passion

Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
My life is never boring- my friends are artists.

I don’t know if I can express to you what that looks like. Mostly it takes place in sketchy dives- coat closets turned into music spaces, comedic lounges, studios for photos, performance spaces for drama,  or poetry havens. They have hours from late at night to early morning, and sound systems that were originally run by the same people who told the Beatles they would never amount to anything. And the illumination is never optimal- apparently the underground movement is not something that you want to see under good lighting. And while my friends are all talented (and I don’t just say that because they are my friends, but because they actually are an exceptional group to begin with), not all the people who are also participating in the shows that they are in have put in the equal amount of preparation, time, or quite frankly, thought, into their own work. Let’s just say that I have seen a number of stand-up acts that have failed to be as funny as my two year old niece, in five minutes or less. And I have heard a number of “musicians” who make the same kind of music that I hear in the nightmares I have where the clowns are chasing me. A lot of these acts just aren’t pretty. 

But if you have artist friends like I do, you know that these things are worth the squeeze into the seat next to the guy who hasn’t showered since Christmas. Because if you’re friends are like mine, they are the kind of people that make you want to get on board with whatever they are doing. They have the passion. 

Passion is always a funny thing for me- it’s one of those concepts that everyone uses but has trouble describing in detail because no one really knows how to describe it- either you feel it, or you don’t. And my friends are feeling it, about a lot of different things. 

Here is my take on it- passion is that feeling you get when your soul is so caught up in something, that suddenly eating and breathing and sleeping feel a bit futile. You are willing to put aside all the things that usually make you happy just to get some time to pursue whatever it is you are feeling this strongly about. And you’re suddenly willing to disappoint everyone in your world, even the people whose opinions matter most, to achieve excellence in this, your passion.

Want an example? Let me tell you about my friends Lucas and Garrett, who make up a musical outfit known as Brother K. Both Yale graduates with English degrees (Garrett has a bachelors, Lucas has a masters), these guys are funny, sweet, and goofy. But put a guitar (or keyboard, or drum stick) into either of their hands, and suddenly the world spins only for music. Their songs, which I still struggle to put into a genre, express their hearts, both in the stories their words weave, and in the chord progressions that express emotion better than many people do in general. Gone is the lackadaisical attitude that most guys in their 20’s posses- it’s been replaced with these melodic cries of the heart, pouring out to those who get a chance to listen. Recently I did an interview with them (expect it, it’s coming), and took some pictures at one of their band rehearsals, and I actually had to ask Lucas to look up so I could get a shot of his face, because his focus is rarely on the audience and what they are hearing- instead it’s on the instrument in his hand, the words in his mouth, the song that God has given him.  It might explain how he’s ended up in a small apartment in Queens living with too many  roommates. See what I mean? Passion. 

I’ve got my own passions too. If you haven’t figured out that one of them is writing, then either you aren’t reading, or I really need to work on my blog, because it’s not coming across. And if you read the post directly before this one, you may get the into that I’m really into music, and you’d be right. But as a Messianic  Jew, my biggest passion is the Savior, and all He’s done for me. My heart beats for the fact that God would send a part of Himself to go through a horrible and painful death, that He loves me enough to give me a second chance at life, and that He’s given me the freedom to believe it. It makes the air feel gentle. It makes anything that excludes it feel pointless. And trust me, it disappoints many people who know me. I’ve made unpopular decisions based on my belief. I’ve made life changing choices that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. It factors into everything. It’s what I live for. 

Passion is funny though, because if you don’t maintain it, it starts to fall to the wayside. You let go, and before you know it, it’s five years, ten years, twenty years later, and you find yourself missing it, but no longer part of it. It takes work, effort, toil- it’s not just something you have. It’s something you’re given, and if you don’t take care of it, it’s gone. Which leaves you feeling like eating, breathing, and sleeping are just processes to get you through the day.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been given a life to live, and I want it to be full of passion. Which is how I end up at these dives in the middle of the night, watching people try to find a way to share theirs with a world of people who sometimes look down on following your heart. Watching, listening, and thinking that one day, these people are going to be someone everyone knows, but for now, I know that they are pretty great.

Maybe I’m a dreamer. Or maybe I’m just passionate about passion. Either way, I plan to follow it until the end.

Like I said, my life is never boring.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Living-sweet Symphony

There is a hallway that connects one of the busiest subways in New York, Times Square 42nd Street, and the bus terminal that takes New Jersey people back and forth from city life. A frequented of this underground passageway, which I have mostly un-affectionately named the death tunnel (for its size is not at all proportionate to the general overcrowded rush of occupants, and I am a little-more-than-slightly claustrophobic) is something I take alternate routes to avoid whenever possible. But on the days where there just isn't time for my ridiculous whims, I take a deep breath, pick up the pace, and keep my eyes cast on the wall closest to me until I reach the other side.

And on one of those walls, mapped out in multi-colored mosaic tile, is a man, swinging a young child up in the air around him, playing one of those party favor horns in his mouth. This small depiction of a moment embraces me- the warm colors, the happy smiles, and the undeniably joyful music that I can hear as it flies by me in my rush to catch a bus.

Maybe it is my upbringing, or maybe it's just my soul that puts music into everything. I hear the calming strains of a keyboard in the city skyline, the lights drifting past me with a sweet elegance. I hear the deep intensity of a tuba as a secret is confided. The swells of a sunset evacuate my soul as I watch the colors fade in the evening sky, leaving behind a cool flute solo as blue settles over the world.

It's the same in relationships. All people who spends a little time in my life becomes a melodic solo,  with a unique sound which resonates in the back of my mind.  Each is a series of notes, writing and rewriting themselves situationally, reflecting the sharps and flats that occur in whatever it is we are building - whether it be a spat with a friend, an honest moment with one of my sisters, or the first kiss of a current suitor, the music box plays on.

The funny thing about hearing music in everything, though, is that you start to hear everything in music. The association is uncanny- “Linus and Lucy” plays, and I’m thrown into a warm summer breeze, sitting next to the pond in the park. Savage Garden’s “I don’t know you anymore” comes on to my ipod, and I’m suddenly looking at the inside of the gym that I worked at in it’s last final months of life, remembering the ache of closing the doors for the last time. Relient K’s jazzy rendition of “Sleigh Bells” gets me right back into the routine I learned in the college gym course I took. It’s an awesome thing, to be able to be thrown back so easily into the memories of where I’ve been.

But as you probably guessed, it doesn’t stop at things that have happened. A few strains of certain songs, and I’m watching the faces of people, both past and present, as if they were standing in front of me. I’ve known love, loss, happiness, and pain with an accompaniment on the side. Switchfoot’s “Only Hope” will always belong to Jordan, the first person to pass away in my young life- a more recent loss, Jim, will always have claim on Adele’s “Someone like you.” On the flip side, Fleetwood Mac singing “Landslide” is a memory of my mother, trying to bring sleep to her children’s eyes. And “Proud Mary” is still the only song my grandfather will dance too.

Of course, real life never happens in black and white. Not every person gets a song with their face on. And some people, well, they get more than just one. They get an artist or theme or cd, whether it be broadway girl duets (those belong to my childhood best friend, because we always said we’d sing them together), anything by the Monkee’s (my sisters... you should hear us sing “I’m gonna buy me a dog”) or the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz (that one is dedicated to all the people who survived preforming that show with me).

And sometimes, when something is still fresh in my mind, I can’t pinpoint the song that it needs to go with. To give you an overly personal example, I’ve recently drifted away from a friend I love a great deal. Life has brought us to points where it’s too hard to keep up, and even if it weren’t, it’s time for a little distance. But even though it’s just the way of life, it still breaks my heart, just a little bit. And sometimes, I can’t think of the words to comfort myself, so I just listen to my favorite songs that describe how I feel, and how to deal, and how it’s okay to be a little blue when moving on. He is my sad song, a haunting strain that hasn’t solidified or resolved in my head, that I wait on the completion of.

I think you get the idea. My life is one big soundtrack, switching tracks in and out. Some play over and over again, some get skipped frequently, and some get cut from the ultimate record all together. But they are my songs that fill my mind, and I am the one who understands their meaning.

Once, I wrote a sitcom episode for a friends birthday, complete with soundtrack and cues written in. It felt natural to give a tone to the events of the plot with a little diddy. And I wonder about the grand creator, up above, composing my cues and adding in the interludes. I wonder why He choose to let ,me hear these underlying songs. But mostly, as I rush through the hallway, slowing only for a second to look at my glass-tiled friend, I wonder what song He is playing about my current journey, and which one He’ll use to get me home.

Monday, March 5, 2012

For the love of stuff

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”


I recently acquired a shoe rack that hangs over the back of my closet door. It holds 36 pairs of shoes. (12 shelves, 3 pairs on each shelf). It's a bit of a tight squeeze, but I needed it because my other hanging shoe holder only held 20 pairs, and I was using a pink laundry basket in the bottom of my closet to hold the overflow.

I may have a shoe problem.

I think, maybe, it's a stuff problem in general. You see, the 36 pairs of shoes are not that mind-blowing for most, (I am, after all, a girl, who lives in a state that actually experiences all four seasons), but they are a little new for me. Always the minimalist, I've prided myself for living in a very small space with enough stuff to survive off of, and maybe just a little extra nonsense here and there. But I've maintained my image by going through my room every six months or so, and donating 3 or 4 trash bags of things that I really don't need or wear or want.

So last week, after acquiring my shoe rack, as well as a special hanger for ties and belts, and an ottoman that matches the big desk chair that hangs out in the center of my room, I was ready for a massive cleaning. I started early, putting each shoe in it's proper place. Then I moved on to the clothes in the closet, pulling each down so I could assess them and rehang. Then I moved on to my drawers. Rearranged the bookshelf space. Cleaned all the overhang from college and old New Yorkers I hadn't finished off my desk. I worked my way around my bedroom until everything had been taken from where it belonged and placed neatly in a new home, although in some cases, that new home was only feet from where it had started.

At the end of my three day excursion, my bedroom looked incredibly neat. But I was a little taken back- all I had to donate was a little box, with a few shirts and belts, and some childhood books.

Something in the back of my mind gnawed at me- why was this all I had? What was I holding on to that I really didn't need? There must be more to give away, more that I didn't need... I was getting a little too comfortable with my stuff.

So of course, I opened first to my shoe rack. There they all were, laying neatly in rows- my favorite boots on the bottom, my brown flats in the middle, next to the black felt heels that I had bought years ago and still loved. My sneakers for work sat neatly in rows closer to the top (they are not as seemly as my other shoes). I looked through all of them, and realized I didn't want to part with them because I actually wear them all.

And suddenly the picture became clear. I didn't have more to donate, because for the first time in a long time, I was using everything that I had. I hadn't made a lot of senseless purchases in the year before- everything sitting before me would be missed if it was gone.

As someone who once prided herself on needing very little, I confess to you that I'm living a different dream right now. Most minimalists don't have 34 pairs of shoes. But I've decided that if everything I have is important to me, if nothing is wasted or collecting dust, then I am alright with having it. Especially if it still fits in this little room I live in. Maybe the point isn't about not having a lot of things- it's about not having extra things, that you could do without, but are just filling holes.

I am so blessed to have all that I do. And I am happy to be using my blessings. I'd rather have a full closet of things that I wear than I have a half closet of things that I want to let go of. I'd rather utilize all that I have than have less just because I was playing a numbers game. Meaningless gestures like that lead to amazon shopping sprees for close that end up in august's donation bags.

Still, if your looking for shoes, women's size 8, I might have some you can borrow...