Monday, December 6, 2010

Rise Up and Walk

"If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

--Tito Colliander, from The Way of the Ascetics

I called a friend of mine yesterday, knowing he'd understand, and I told him I felt horrible for two reasons:

1. I slept through both matins and the Divine Liturgy
2. I ignored G***'s texts, then responded poorly when he demanded a reply.

And no, "G***" doesn't stand for "God." Or does it?

Let me explain:

Some months ago, I received a random phone call.

"Hey Jonni, this is G*** G****. You might recognize my last name; my brother was in Journey. I got your number from X. Back in the 80's my band Y opened for Rez & blah blah blah..."

The Journey thing meant nothing to me. What was their hit? "Double Vision?" "Don't Stop Believin(g)?" Do I care to find out? Here's a hint: I'm on a laptop, and I'm not googling it. However, I was intrigued by the Rez connection. It sounded like he might be one of the old Jesus Rockers I might have seen during my time at Jesus People USA. And I like old Jesus rockers.

So we played phone tag. We finally met for coffee. The shop by my house was packed, and I'd shown up with a greasy, down and out middle-aged man from New York City who ordered his cappuccino "heavy on the cream and sugar." The girl behind the counter gave him a cup of coffee and pointed him to the half and half.

We sat outside and he told me about himself. Not only did he have a brother in Journey, he also had a cousin in Foreigner who taught him how to write. He was looking forward to writing with me-- which apparently was the purpose of our meeting-- and he had a BC Rich Warlock if I was looking into experimenting with some new sounds.

Once, while he was working at Guitar Center in LA, a co-worker, who was a witch, was "stacking up the cards" against him. He warned her, "Listen, ma'am, I'm a Christian, and it's dangerous to be casting spells on me like that," but no. She didn't listen. A few days later he went into the breakroom and saw her with her head down, looking depressed. She'd always been so upbeat, so he asked her what was up. She said earlier that day a pillar of fire came out of the sky and blew up her car.

God blew up her car. For practicing Wicca and working at Guitar Center.

That's when I decided to cut it short. I stated nonchalantly that I "had stuff to do," and moved us back to my parking spot as quickly as I could. He said we should get together and write in about two weeks. I said, "sure, I've been busy, so maybe" or something, got in the damn car, and drove off as quickly as I could.

He texted for weeks, and I didn't respond. Didn't know what to do, and if I did know, I didn't want to deal with it.

About a month later, I received the following message:

"Hey Johnny would u plz give me the courtesy of closure;if ur givin me the silent treatment in hopes that ill just stop contacting u that doesnt work w/ we NY-ers. i would appreciate some type of reply."

I turned red with anger. The kind of red you turn when threatened. My stomach turned. I texted back:

"Take a hint. Welcome to the south."

Then the unexpected happened. He replied in an oddly lucid tone:

"Thank u 4 the reply
i got the hint but just needed confirmation
ive lost all respect for you young man.
if you were really my bro in christ you would've been man enuf to face me sooner on why u didn't want to follow thru on where we left off.
southerner or not communication is key 4 anything.
too bad u didnt know how 2 communicate.
welcome to the real world.

Then later:

"btw i was tryin to spread a little of agape love towards u inspite of yur hint of continually rude silence.

And five seconds after that:

"also i was tryn 2 giv u th benefit of th doubt that u might hav lost ur celphn or had a tragedy in ur life...

Today, reading over the texts, I didn't feel so guilty. But should I have felt bad? I might feel some pangs of regret for the following reasons:

1. He's probably super lonely, suffering from a serious mental illness, and I might have agitated the condition with my "continually rude silence."

2. I'm somewhat co-dependent, and I probably should have told him "no" right away, regardless of how irrational he seemed.

3. He's probably crazy and lonely, as seen above, and I can identify a little. I want to fix that for him, but I have no idea how. If I did know how, I still would have no power over his illness or personal choices.

It's hard to accept that you can't bring hope to a seemingly hopeless case. We can all seem hopeless, and perhaps, at times, all we can do is say we're sorry for our mistakes and pray for the one we've wronged. We can all seem hopeless, and that's why it's so hard to get out of bed sometimes.

Welcome to the real world.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writers block & other things that don't matter...

So I've been thinking about what art is, what it means, why and if it's important, how and if it benefits us at all.

And I still haven't found a solid answer.

As a recovering charismatic, I come from a world that glorifies art & self-expression. Our whole universe revolved around Christian music, Christian art, praise & worship, aesthetically pleasing stages with good lighting, intriguing videos introducing today's sermon, etc.


But what did we get? Lame bands with lame hair that were obviously trying too hard, all ripping off U2 and singing near-illiterate lyrics. Thomas Kincaid. Light shows. Fog machines. Smoke and mirrors. We got storefronts and warehouses with bare walls, with nothing to look at but the stage, the worship band, the preacher, and maybe a cross. Sometimes the worship leader or preacher pointed to the ceiling, because "It's all for him." And sometimes it was. But we saw the preacher or rock star pointing upwards & thought, "Oh, how humble."

That said, in the protestant world, especially the world of post-modern hipster Christians, artists are the prophets. Even if the music is now more hip, the lyrics more literate, the paintings more abstract, the preacher's glasses more dark-rimmed, the idea is the same:

Emotions = Spirituality.

If we feel comforted, it is God comforting us. If the combination of lights, droning keyboards, emotionally-charged monologues, and the perfume wafting from the cute girl next to us makes us feel happy or peaceful, then the Holy Spirit must be moving.


What happens when the worship band comes from Podunk, MS & only plays Vineyard songs from 1993? What if the speaker keeps stumbling over his words? What if the person seated next to you is-- not a bum, because it's hip to love bums now-- but some random, greasy-haired middle-aged man who hasn't showered in several weeks? What if-- God forbid-- we get bored? What if the whole experience is "dry?"

Then God obviously hasn't visited us today. He's left us for that one church the next block over-- the one with a worship band that covers The Cure.

Here's my problem: As a singer/songwriter, I'm supposed to entertain you. If I don't, then I haven't done my job. But what if I write some song that is good, honest, just, lovely, and of good report, and it bores you to death?

It just might. And both of us have to be okay with that.

Um, I don't know what I'm saying, and I rarely ever do. I think that's the point: Don't look to musicians, writers, or artists for spiritual guidance, because they probably don't have any to offer. They're looking for the same wisdom you are. If they're not looking for wisdom, they're just trying to find ways to tug at your heartstrings, which is extremely dangerous.

Just listen to their songs. Look at their paintings. Read their books. Challenge everything they have to say. Enjoy what's good, and throw away the rest.

But don't think they're going to show you grand visions of the Kingdom. Because they probably won't.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I work 45 minutes away from the floor on which I'm sleeping. Or the floor I'm sleeping on. Or my sleeping floor.

Call it what you will. This afternoon I drove back to Nashville from work & decided I was going to apply at yet another coffee shop, because one is not enough. I went in, ordered a macchiato, paid, winced at the bitterness of it, and went outside to smoke & fill out an application. The employee came out to smoke with me, and we started chatting it up. He was a nice guy-- called me a "real coffee drinker"-- and to keep up the image I used big words & impressive phrases: "yerba mate," "single origin," "Leonard Cohen," "that thin North Carolina taste," etc. Hopefully he's put in a good word for me & I'll have a second job. Then I'll get my teeth fixed.

You know those dreams where your teeth are falling out? They supposedly mean you're worried about money. I have those dreams when I'm awake. My head has been pounding for hours now, but my teeth have been hurting for two days. I can't tell if my head is making my teeth ache or if my teeth are making my head ache. Doubtless, the two are connected.

So that's the order of my plans. Get second job. Get teeth fixed.

Still, my recent dental daymares pale in comparison to a dream I had three weeks ago: My lips were super-chapped & I couldn't find any Carmex or Chapstick or Vaseline, not even water. I tried to resist the urge to bite my lip, but after a while the temptation got to me. I bit it, and my whole lip split open. The red skin fell & hung limply over my goatee, while my lip muscle lay exposed, pulsing, textured like the underside of a portobello mushroom. Eventually some kind stranger, whose face I couldn't see, put it back together.

I wonder what busted lip dreams mean.