All Things Bright and Beautiful

Many who recognize the title of this blog will no doubt skip it, and of those who read long enough to figure out what it's about, most will in all likelihood stop reading. This is because I am going to admit, shamelessly, that this blog is inspired by one of my favorite albums of all time, Owl City's "All Things Bright and Beautiful."

That's right, the jig is up. I love Owl City and I don't care who knows it! I also don't care how many people think the music of Mr. Adam Young is cutesy and naive, which I have discovered seems to be a rather wide swath of the population. Honestly, it's disarming how much negative energy is directed his way; I've seldom heard such enmity as when I listen to Young's detractors talk about why they hate his work. It seems to strike a raw nerve in them. They do not simply dislike his music, they are offended by it, by its pep and optimism, and I wonder why that might be. Why not leave well-enough alone? Why not leave to their own devices those with whom you disagree about Adam Young? Why not let Owl City exist peacefully in the world of kitchy fluff, if that's what you deem it to be?

My hypothesis is this: the reason for this phenomenon, this inexplicable hatred, is our world has grown calloused and cynical to the point where the sincere Mr. Young seems anachronistic at best and embarrassing at worst. His blatant positivity rubs uncomfortably against the hardened hearts of those who think the world ought to be as stiff and utterly realistic as they are. Young represents a different way of living, one replete with imagination, innocence and youthful abandon. And the kicker is it's all so... unironic. It is unapologetic, unbridled positivity, and that cannot be abided in 2012.

Unless... mayhaps it can? The optimist in me, the hopeful child of God sees his music for what I believe it truly is: fun, whimsical, earnest, in a world ever-lacking in fun, whimsy and earnestness. Maybe instead of panning Owl City for giving into the brighter side of life we ought to hitch our wagons to his rocketship and spend some time traversing the galaxy with him. What have we got to lose? Are we so jaded we will not allow ourselves, even for a moment, to dream about fireflies, astronauts and alligator skies?

Owl City has given me a beautiful gift, one I assumed was lost long ago: the gift of non-ironic enjoyment, hearkening back to the innocence of youth.

To be cynical is so easy. To make fun of what other people feel and enjoy is a rather lucrative choice, because it is bullying, and bullying has proven to be one of the surest ways to advance one's status in the world. What takes courage, on the other hand, is to be relentlessly positive in a world of naysayers. What takes courage is to bare one's dreams in such flashy fashion. What takes courage is to be one of the Adam Youngs of the world.

My passion for Owl City was sparked by one of those Adam Youngs, my good friend Andy Conrad. While Andy is by all accounts a very popular young man, he has never shied away from his love for the music of Owl City, not for anything or anyone. He simply loves it with a whole, sincere heart, even as he grows, even as his tastes change.

In Blue Like Jazz my literary hero Donald Miller, while describing how he came to enjoy jazz music, states that he needed to observe someone else enjoy it before he could truly appreciate it himself:

"Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way."

Shortly after we met Andy expressed to me how much he loved Owl City and I, wanting to impress a new friend, dove in, immersing myself in the artist's work. My admiration for my friend, coupled with his unabashed love for Owl City as well as Adam Young's own "bright and beautiful" perspective on life accomplished a work in my heart, a transforming work as I began to feel genuine affection for the music.

This has gone on to affect even how I perceive my relationship with God. The Christian story is one of persistent hope and at-times reckless love, neither of which are logical or realistic or compatible with the cynicism of the age. The Christian is called to be a force of light in the world, of positivity, of hope, faith and love even when life is bitter and cold. It takes courage to see the world as the work of a loving God's hands when cruelty seems to win the day. It takes faith bordering on naivety to believe that good will win out and God will set things right. But sometimes life is good. There is so much beauty in the world, and it is no sign of weakness to be moved by it. God is good, and Adam Young knows it, and Andy knows it, and I know it too though I'll be darned if I don't forget it at least three or four times a day.

"Dear God, You're the only north star I would follow this far."

Philippians 4:8 

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.


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