Things I Like/Things I Don't Like

I've spent a lot of time this last year not writing, which is a real pity because I feel, if anything, this last year has been full of more blog-worthy moments than any other year of my life. So I'll write. Even if I don't feel like it. Perhaps, especially if I don't feel like it.

A dear friend of mine told me recently he thinks I'm a negative person. Well, I'm not sure he said this in so many words, but he certainly implied I'm more apt to point out and fixate on the drearier parts of life. And I'm not sure I like it. I mean, I think I know why it is. I spend a lot of time and energy attempting to be true to my conviction that the truth must be spoken, even if it's unpleasant. I feel strongly that if things are painful, if things are dark, then we have the opportunity and duty to communicate these things to each other, to share each other's burdens. "The weight of this sad time we must obey," Shakespeare's play King Lear reminds us, to "speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."

Add to the the fact that I am a very empathetic person, and it doesn't take much turmoil on the part of my loved ones to get me down in the dumps. So I think, or at least I hope, my somber realism comes from a sincere place. Even so, it rubs me the wrong way to think I might be a pessimistic presence in the lives of my friends and loved ones. There's got to be some way to hold these two ideas, speaking the truth and seeing good in the world, in tension rather than abandoning one for the other. In the interest of doing the very same, I'll spend a little time talking about some stuff I like, and some stuff I don't like. What a cheap way to end all that ranting, huh? Oh well.

Things I Like:

Saturday Night Live - Ok, I'm gonna try not to gush, but no promises. Saturday Night Live is nothing short of an venerable American institution, and with ample reason. Sure, I can understand why some might be skeptical of it. Not every week is a laugh riot, and sometimes the writers settle for scatological humor in place of insightful, witty observation. Some episodes might even be lemons, but to pass judgment on the show based on any single episode would be a mistake. In order to understand the true genius and cultural impact of NBC's iconic sketch comedy show one must take a step back and observe the big picture. Let's look at the stars whose careers have either been launched or greatly aided by SNL, shall we?

~Chevy Chase
~Steve Martin (Not a cast member, but he was hosting SNL before his movie career took off)
~Dan Aykroyd
~John Belushi
~Bill Murray
~Billy Crystal*
~Eddie Murphy*
~Julia Louis-Dreyfus (of Seinfeld fame)*
~Martin Short*
~Joan Cusack
~Robert Downey Jr. (check it out, I dare you)
~Mike Meyers
~Ben Stiller
~Chris Farley
~Chris Rock
~Adam Sandler
~Rob Schneider
~David Spade
~Will Ferrell ('nuff said)
~Maya Rudolph
~Jimmy Fallon
~Tina Fey (swoon)
~Amy Poehler
~Andy Samberg
~Bill Hader
~Jason Sudeikis
~Kristin Wiig

* From the sucky non-Lorne Michaels years

This list easily contains some of the most comedically genius performers of the last forty years. Imagine comedy movies of the last ten years without Will Ferrell. Worse yet, imagine comedies of the 70s and 80s without Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd. I don't want to. You can't make me. All the brilliant star power SNL has produced aside, though, we must also take a look at the show itself. Where else on television can you find your favorite actors and musicians of the day making complete fools of themselves for the whole world to see? And this would be reason enough to watch it, but on top of it all SNL creates an all-purpose variety show experience by adding the most celebrated musical acts of the day, performing live, for our viewing pleasure. And while not every sketch is a gem, I challenge anyone, anywhere to go an episode without laughing. Nearly forty years after its inception, SNL still inspires the morning-after, water-cooler jokes, references, and discussions for high schoolers and white collar office workers alike. And the Lonely Island? I'm on a Boat? Lazy Sunday? I think I've made my point.

Donald Miller - I swear, this guy just gets me. It's like his pen-hand has a direct link to my heart (ew, cheesy). And I'm sure this is simply because a good author could elicit this sort of reaction from all of his readers, but, and I know this is naive, I feel like it might be slightly more true for me. I only say this because Miller and I have a tremendous amount in common. Fatherless childhoods, weight problems, reliance on the sense of humor as a defense mechanism. I mean, he's a great deal funnier than I am, and his writing talent easily eclipses mine, but I don't think I'm being too bold in claiming the similarities are substantial. Every word he writes, every joke he makes, every opinion he espouses, I am just so on board. Oh, and did I mention he's funny? I believe I have, but allow me to reiterate. To read a Donald Miller book is to chuckle heartily twice or more per page. Even when he tackles tough theological, philosophical, or general life issues, he manages to bring a spirit of humor to the discussion that makes it all... survivable. Needless to say I highly suggest his books. Start with Blue Like Jazz. While this book might not necessarily prove Christianity is true, it certainly proves Christianity is good, and beautiful, things we seem to lose sight of in our contemporary cultural, political and religious climates.

Music - Ok, I know I'm not winning any points for originality here. I've only met one or two people before who didn't absolutely adore music, and I believe there's good reason. Music is a part of the human experience. Music is written into our DNA. The Scriptures tell us humans, among God's creations, are unique in that we were made in His image. It stands to reason, then, that those qualities unique to humans might be echoes of God's image in us. What do we have that God's other creatures do not? Well, amongst other things, music. We have music. In the words of Beethoven, "God gave us music so we could pray without words." And in this most recent season of my life, when things have felt a little off, music has been my saving grace, my wordless prayer. I'm afraid this blog is already running longer than I'd hoped, so I won't go on and on about it, but I will jot down a few songs and artists who have kept me sane lately.

~Florence and the Machine (Cosmic Love, Shake it Out)
~Switchfoot (Vice Verses, Thrive, the Economy of Mercy)
~Ellie Goulding (Lights)
~The Civil Wars (Barton Hallow, C'est La Mort)
~Needtobreathe (Garden, the Outsiders)
~Mumford and Sons (Winter Winds)
~He is We (All About Us [Featuring Owl City])
~Johnny Cash (The Man Comes Around)
~Seether (Here and Now)
~Gym Class Heroes (Stereo Hearts)
~Owl City (Dreams Don't Turn to Dust)

Oh, and the Christmas music has started. Eat your hearts out haters.


Things I Don't Like:

Drugs: I don't mean to hate, and I don't mean to judge, but I'm going to stick to my guns here. This last summer I experienced an event that shook me up and left me in a pretty sorry state. I won't go into the details, they're not relevant to the story. The point is, I went through a foundation-shaking experience one night and reached out to a friend for support. I needed someone, anyone to help me through this intensely painful moment in my life, and I saw a friend, one of my best friends, who was on facebook instant messaging. I attempted to communicate my heartache to him, in hopes that maybe doing so would make the whole thing hurt just a little less, and the response I got from him was a series of nonsensical, off-point ramblings that made me feel so much more lonely and lost than I had before. I knew he was high, yet when I confronted him about it (mistake), he retorted with indignant aggression and denial that just showed he was even more out of it than I'd suspected. And it was late, and after such a failed attempt to reach out I had no courage to try it again with any of my other friends, and I spent the remainder of this sleepless night a pitiful mess. I know I shouldn't have to count on any one person to make me ok when things get bad. I'm aware those circumstances are times when God desires to wrap me up in His arms. But the point is, I did reach out a frantic hand to someone I thought I could trust, but, try as he might, he could not be there for me. The lights were on but nobody was home. 

And before you accuse me of rashly judging all drug use based on one isolated incident, this is by no means my first exposure to such things. No, not by a long shot. Unfortunately, some children see things they shouldn't see, experience things they shouldn't experience. Alcohol, marijuana, meth, I'm not concerned about the particulars. I just know what it means when a human being chooses to surrender all that really makes him or her human for the sake of momentary pleasure and release. I've seen the most loving, brilliant, driven, devoted people I know become sloths, weaklings, and monsters. I've seen young people on track to live full lives simply stop growing, stop achieving, all for the weekly, or at times, nightly high. Say what you will about recreational drug use, and I'll suspend judgment for the moment, but it cannot be denied too many young people today are using marijuana as an excuse not to grow up. That's it. That's my big problem with drugs. People use them as an excuse, an excuse not to grow up, not to engage people in real ways, not to engage God, not to care. And I don't think I have to be ok with that.

All that said, please don't think I pass judgment in any way on those who choose to participate in drug use. Really at the end of the day, in almost every case, it's none of my business. And of course there are exceptions to my hard-line views. I would be the monster if I condemned those who smoke to alleviate the symptoms of cancer. Individual cases, like I said, are none of my business, but I am entitled to my opinions and observations on a general level. At the end of the day, I don't want to argue about this. I just have a hard time keeping silent about these things, and if this is a way I can vent my frustrations then thank God for it.

People Who Over-Simplify/Make Formulas Out of the Gospel - This is one I doubt bothers many people as much as it does me. So I'll keep it brief, because this is at the end of my post and most people will probably jump ship if I don't. It just bothers me the way some people try to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an A+B=C type way. This is the Gospel tract method of Evangelism. We attempt to distill the Biblical narrative into a list of bullet points in order to elicit a very particular reaction from people we hardly know. No relational context, no love, just "Jesus or hell." Is this the Gospel? Well, then we might have to stop calling it good news, because it certainly doesn't sound like good news to me. Does the Bible invite this sort of formulization? Can we strip the salvation of Jesus from the story in which God gave it to us? I don't believe we can. If God intended the Gospel to be bullet points, He would have given it to us in bullet points. Instead, though, God gave us the Gospel in the context of a story, a narrative. We understand the character of God and the necessity for Jesus through the story of God's interaction with humankind. How do we do ministry then? How do we evangelize? Well, I believe we need to share life with people, build relationships, earn the right to be heard, and tell the story. We must tell our own stories and how God has shown up in them, share the Biblical story with more meat to it. Chances are, if you have time to yell something at someone through a blowhorn as they pass by you on the street, it is too oversimplified to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 


7 Deep calls to deep
   in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
   have swept over me.
 8 By day the LORD directs his love,
   at night his song is with me—
   a prayer to the God of my life.

-Psalm 42:7-8

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