Friday, May 29, 2009

Ziggy Stardust Goes to Church

I had really had enough after court today, but I came back after a hearing I lost very badly, and worked on a legal memorandum for another case – I worked straight through lunch until the end of day. I even forgot about a meeting to watch police videos at 2 p.m.

After work at the Public Defender’s Office, I headed over to Knoxville for my church office hours. I dropped off a long letter with 25 pages of supporting documents by 1st TN Bank requesting the trustee over a trust benefitting our church allow expenditure of funds to keep the building from falling down/keep it parts of it from falling on us! By the time I got to church, I was even more tired than before. I was praying on the way that nobody would come by to see me. I was in no condition to be pastor to anyone. I walked in the church building, towards my study, and I could hear some awful music playing. The custodian/groundskeeper was working upstairs and some terrible country music was playing (well, maybe it was good for country music, but that is still terrible to me). So, I just got my little music box, took it into the chapel, and put in a live recording of David Bowie from 1972. My niece, Catherine, loaned it to me today. I am really glad she gave me that today. I just sat back and listened to Ziggy Stardust and Changes and Five Years, and for some reason I just felt a little more alive, and a little less dead. And, then, I heard someone coming through the door. It just happened to be someone who attends my church that was the best person for me to see. We sat around an hour or so working on a couple of things I was helping him with, and, well, life seemed a little more balanced out.

I am listening to that David Bowie CD right now. “Ground control to Major Tom . . . “ I have liked David Bowie from the first time I heard him in middle school, still liked him through high school and college and even now. I don’t know for sure what it is I like about David Bowie. I think it is because he is just so distinctive and his music just comes out of him, like he just never gave a shit whether anyone else liked it or not. It is as if he just had to write and sing this music to live. And, I like it – always have. Probably my favorite song he every wrote or played is “Rebel, Rebel,” which is not on this live CD. But, well, I take that back (I’m still listening), I take that back: “Moonage Day Dream” is my favorite right now!!!! And, well, Changes and My Death and Jean Jeanie and Ziggy Stardust!

Now, I probably won’t put David Bowie on for a few days or even a month. This is music that I like to listen to up loud and with no one around, except maybe my son, who really likes it too.

David Bowie music is not love songs, not so much story telling songs, but an expression of intense experiences and imaginings in words that form a picture and music that cries out with those words. David Bowie is not political music, but just these expressions of life and yearnings for life. It has love in some of it, rebellion in some of it, sadness in some of it, reflection in some of it. But, in all of it, it has life. It is music for life in the midst of a world that often feels like tiredness and death. It is the life of Bowie music that I really like. It is irreverent in one sense, but shows “reverence to life” in its depths. Bowie does a great cover of Waiting for the Man by Lou Reed.

Well, let me close while I crank up “Moonage Day Dream” one more time. Bowie, envisioning himself with a real alien, sings: “Don’t fake it baby; lay the real thing on me. The church of man, love, that’s such a holy place to be. . . Don’t fake it baby. Let me know you really care. Make me jump into the air.” Bowie is just imagining and experiencing and letting it rip in a ‘MoonageDay Dream.’ And, the guitar is ripping too, and it takes me somewhere I am happy to go. Bowie had this strong feeling about who he was and there just wasn’t anywhere in society to express it, no roles that fit him. So, he cast himself as a character in his own play: Ziggy Stardust, imagined himself in space at times, coming into this world as an alien at times. And, somehow he made it work. That kind of will to live, to not be suppressed, to take risks . . . there’s really something in there that feels like hope and faith. It feels like life, the upspringing of life, and certainly not feeling dead while you are alive. The Chapel felt dead until I turned on Bowie’s music in the Chapel: something about Ziggy Stardust in the Chapel made me feel good. Sometimes I forget how strange I really am!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Being Comfortable and Being Alive

A dog, it seems to me, likes to stay in his comfort zone. And, a dog gets used to certain routines, and sticks with those routines, if able. But, even a dog appears to like something new sometimes as well – so long as it is not too drastically new. But, most dogs (unless they live out in the country) are dependent on their humans to guide them in the routine and the new and different. A dog if left free about all the time, will develop its own routines. I had two dogs growing up and they could roam as they pleased, and they developed some pretty clear routines. Of course, I don’t know how often they ventured out for the new and different. Those times of going out for the new and different seemed to be reserved for times when they sensed some female dog was in heat (my dogs were both male). Then, they might end up who knows where, and of course, that might in turn expand their horizons (once the heat was over) and become part of their new routines.

Humans are more self-determining than most dogs are, and so this matter of routine and the new and different would seem to be more open-ended for humans than dogs. I might even venture to say that humans should be able to imagine more possibilities than dogs are able to imagine. But, sometimes it seems like humans are far too much like dogs only far less faithful.

A human, it seems to me, likes to stay in his or her comfort zone. And, a human gets used to certain routines, and sticks with those routines, if able. But, even a human appears to like something new sometimes as well – so long as it is not too drastically new. And, mostly everything else I wrote in the first paragraph about dogs applies to humans. Clearly, the human will risk all sorts of things new and different when “in heat” as well. I would like to think that there are also other passions in human life that might cause us to leave our comfort zone behind, discover new possibilities and expand our routines, so that our routines are not a closed stationary circle but more like a circle ever expanding with lots of ways in and out.

One thing that I think is different between dogs and humans is this: if a human stays too long in his or her comfort zone, it becomes very uncomfortable. There is something in us that has to venture out, take risks, be free or it gets sick and maybe even dies. Deep down, humans may be more like wild animals than domestic ones. That’s why we have so many prisons constructed both internally and externally to hold us. So long as you live afraid, you are dangerous. You must either lock yourself up or somebody else must lock you up. Those who live afraid either attack themselves constantly or attack others. Or, the less aggressive either monitor themselves constantly or monitor others continually.

But, to be free. Free from monitoring one’s self, free from monitoring others. Free from hatred of self, free from hatred of others. Free from internal prisons, free from external prisons. Free to live in one’s routines without being caged in by one’s routines. Free to dream about something, envision something, and then go about doing it. Free not to simply imagine engaging in life, but engaging in life. Free from fear of rejection. Free to laugh at one’s fears, when they get in the way of one’s dreams. Free to welcome each new day like a dog does. Free to meet your loved ones with joy like a dog does. Free to get excited about eating like a dog does. Free to lay down without a care in the world like a dog does. Free!

For a human to be free, for you and me to be free, we have to push out our walls or else they push in on us. I think a dog can probably stay in his comfort zone and still happily remain a dog. In the end, you either shake your fist at your fears and face them, or they shake their fist at you and you tremble. I think of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Our fears that control us are our false gods. Our fears that simply warn us of danger, and having done their job move on, are normal. Our fears that stay with us and continually warn and control us – well, those are false gods.

The First Commandment is probably the least understood of all the commandments. It seems to me that most religious people understand it as God stomping his feet and wanting everybody to applaud him. What it really is is God calling human beings out of their bondage: like when God called his people to leave the land of slavery and cross the Red Sea into a land of freedom – a land in which only God had ultimate authority (i.e., Pharoah is not God; I am!). Apparently, even when you come out from external bondage, it takes some time to shake off the shackles of internal bondage too. And, even the mighty Spirit of God seemed to have been much more successful in getting his people out of Egypt than getting Egypt out of his people.

The external idols are always easier to destroy than the internal ones. We can recognize that wooden idol as not being worthy of our allegiance or reverence, but we can’t seem to recognize the invisible and internal creations of our minds and hearts. They haunt our days and nights, commanding our obedience, and we bow down before them days without number. But, the liberating and resounding word comes within: “You shall have no other gods before me.” If you ever hear that internally as the battle cry of freedom (not just from others, but from your self as well!), you are on your way to the promised land – a land of freedom, a land where your routines provide a secure home base from which to launch a series of experiments that in turn expand your routes in life again and again. A dog and a human likes to stay in his or her comfort zone, but a human gets real uncomfortable when that comfort zone doesn’t expand regularly. It’s just part of being human: reaching for that wild tameness, or that tame wildness.