Re: How to Kill A Community

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The other day, the typically profound Marc/”Bad Catholic” posted an article about rap. (Due diligence: It’s NSFW because he quotes lyrics.)

Actually, the article was really about how commercializing folk culture kills the community that created that culture.

In short, he says that rap was once a way of expressing the nuances of life in an inner city. “Not innocent in its lyric, but based around positive goods — fiery social criticism and a celebration of a being black,” he says. “Now, in the mainstream, the values it preaches are largely indistinguishable from the values of capitalism and post-Christian, suburban, sexually-liberated, white culture.”

He sums up rap’s jump into “inauthenticity” by saying “Rap is Republican.” And it became that way because a good cultural thing was monetized by capitalists.

But while I typically appreciated Bad Catholic, I’m not satisfied with Marc’s conclusions here. I wrote as much in the comment sections, but he stirred me to thought, so the rest is spilling out here.

First, isn’t it authentic for rappers who make money to rap about how they’re making money? Shouldn’t there, then, be a better diagnosis of the problem than “lack of authenticity?” And I’ve seen plenty of wonderful relics of folk culture corrupted without money as the main factor.
It seems to me that “money always corrupts” is a pretty un-nuanced argument. A cheap-shot, even, because bashing capitalism is forever vogue.

So, I’m thinking there are some other factors. There’s more to the corruption of folk culture than money.

What if the other insidious player here is not so much capitalism—but the cult of Cool? It’s honestly what annoys me more of the two.

Take an example. There’s Molly—the girl tatted her arm because she left a cult, and in the process of growing and healing, there are truths she wants indelibly inked onto her newly redeemed body. Then there’s Meg, who gets the same design inked on her arm because she saw it on Pinterest.

When actions (listening to rap/getting tattoos/going to farmers markets/cooking organic/eating Paleo, etc.) are chosen because it just seems cool, then the act loses its meaning. It isn’t connected to an intellectual decision or because of spontaneous joy the action brings. The act is just a pose.

And, undoubtedly the cult of coolness is fed by social media. “I have to go to a concert so I can Instagram that I was there and people will identify me with this cool music” seems to corrupt many a wonderful experience.

But I’d go the way of babies and bathwater if I blamed Instagram or Pinterest for this pursuit of cool. Instagramming a sunset doesn’t automatically corrupt the view. In the rap narrative, hoping that one day you’ll get a record deal and be able to quit your day job isn’t necessarily a vile ambition.

The problem lies in claiming a thing without loving or enjoying it; following a course of action without conviction. Fakeness isn’t a direct result of money or trying to be cool, but a direct result of life with minimal contemplation and introspection.

“I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books.” - Marilynne Robinson in her book, Gilead

The way we interact with the challenges of earthbound existence has to be an evidence of what we believe to be beyond it.

– Stephen Gibbs

If you get up early, you’ll probably stumble out of bed to get some coffee.
If you stumble out of bed, you might knock over a houseplant.
If you knock over a houseplant, you might be reminded it’s a cactus.
When you’re reminded it’s a cactus, you might also be the girl who’s pulling cactus needles from her foot at 7am.
Don’t be that girl.
Don’t get up early.

Don’t be a self promoter. Be a lover of people and of partnering with them. There’s a difference.

Strapped to a table; didn’t turn into a monster

I used to come close to fainting about once a week.

I got fed up a few times and scheduled a blood test or a scan of my heart. Each time, the doctor would give a new recommendation. Quit coffee, take salt, nurse Gatorade constantly, wear tights, take beta blockers, avoid beta blockers…

Nothing worked. I didn’t have time for test-after-test, so I tried to ignore it as much as possible. I got used to feeling miserable.

There was one thing the doctors thought I might have, but to find out for sure, I’d need to undergo a “tilt-table test.” (If your mind immediately jumps to medieval torture chambers, I’m right there with you.)

The doctors described strapping me to a moving table, which would stand my body up and then drop it down while injecting me with adrenaline to “see what would happen” to my heart. One doctor described it as “almost inducing a heart attack, but not all the way.”

I think now she was being dramatic, but you can see why I avoided this test for months.

I don’t remember asking God to heal me. Because the doctors couldn’t confirm the problem for so long, I wondered if it was all in my head. I certainly wasn’t going to pray for healing from something I couldn’t prove existed.

The big day for the test came in early 2013, and they velcro’d my arms, legs and waist to a table. My body was covered in plastic sensors. Less than halfway through, they shut the test down because it was already conclusive.

After the test, it was simple. The doctor gave me pills, which I take several times per day, and I truly feel 100% better.

What’s the moral to this story and posting this personal information on the interwebs?

I didn’t know how terrible I’d felt until I remembered how wonderful it was to feel well—really, truly well. And I am grateful to feel that way now.

It was a season of feeling miserable I thought would never end, but it did.

In a small way, my three-times-a-day pills remind me that God can make things over and that nothing I fatalistically accept has to be.

It’s not a deep message, but important if I let it seep in.

Nothing in this world is set in stone. No cause is ever truly lost. Tomorrow is not sentenced to being the same as today. Times change on their own—sometimes despite my lack of effort. And to me, this is an encouraging thought.

how to destroy your imagination

Dr. Anthony Esolen wrote of how the Christian imagination (the faith-driven thoughts that see God in the day-to-day) may be killed in busy, city-life:

"You can deny the existence of God, and of any meaning in the universe. You may take out the democratic steamroller and flatten all heroes in sight, or, perhaps more wisely, raise every ordinary selfish fool to the status of a hero. You may laugh at manhood and womanhood, and deprive boys and girls of ways to express longings natural to their sex. You may douse the flames of love of country, and convict your forefathers of wickedness, for not doing everything as you do. You may see all the world through the lens of politics. You may schedule a child into submission. You may keep him from witnessing honest and ingenious labor. You may muffle him up indoors."

Is there a solution? Yes, requiring the cell phone to be left on the coffee table.”All it might take for the imagination to breathe again is some time in solitude and silence.” (Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, 202)

the loud earth & human flourishing

(Photo credit: Me! Berries from outside my door.)

The internet is a tool. I get that. Tweets are seen world-round and there’s really no such thing as a “closed country” as long as the people have internet access. That’s amazing. It’s a new world.

But I belong to this new world, and can say it has mutated new kinds of blindness. Everyone seems worried about the lack of community, the lack of real relationships, caused by technology’s advances. But there are more subtle changes, too:

I read recently: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) Then I flipped to Romans 8 where it says that “Creation groans.”

The earth is not quiet.

Glory rings loud in tree branches. Mountain haze illuminate His permanency. When it comes to God, nature talks about Him to the point of redundancy.

But on my cell phone, I can’t hear it. And descending to the metro station via gum-encrusted escalators, I can’t see it. Stillness is drowned out by the city, by busy, and by brick and mortar.

In a now-viral Ted talk, a guerrilla gardener from Los Angeles said,

"You just couldn’t imagine how amazing a sunflower is and how it affects people…I have witnessed my garden become…a tool for the transformation of my neighborhood... Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”(See the rest here//Caveat: some language)

This man, who doesn’t seem to perceive the glory of God in nature, recognizes that something incredible happens when people appreciate it. Standing still in the cricket-chirping universe, (for some moments) apart from things made by human hands, can have tremendous value.

The guerrilla gardener pulpit-thumped: “I see kids of color and they’re just on this track…that leads them to nowhere. So with gardening, I see an opportunity where we can train these kids to take over their communities, to have a sustainable life.” He said that kids need to be taken off the streets and shown “the honor in growing your own food.”

Doesn’t that ring of Genesis? Of cultivating the land and having dominion? In valuing the earth as a good gift, we catch glimmers of the created order. And revisiting the created order encourages flourishing.

When we forever walk among monuments to human commerce that crowd out the sky, is it any wonder we think the world is about us? Beside billboards and dry concrete, too much screams of our glory.

Of course, nature doesn’t solve everything. It cannot. I grew up in the country, and there were more sex offenders in our population-poor county than in the concrete jungle nearby. Nature cannot redeem men’s souls. But it can echo of a long-ago lost created order, and point souls to the Creator who redeems.

in which internet rants get me down

It seems every time I log in to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr these days, there is a new scandal. The commentary on scandals follow like this: Christians are perplexed. Former Christians are outraged. Those Who Keep a Respectful Distance are usually confused. Everyone tries to offer a solution, which is simple, but always controversial.

The internet lights up, and my Facebook feed becomes a hall of podiums.

I shut my laptop and shut the blinds. Occasionally, I’ll try to diagram the arguments in my head, but they soon run in circles. Because “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy…” and anger rarely makes a logical case.

I want to shut these people out. I have enough troubles to deal with— I could give you a list. (And in my head, I have a separate list of the dangers of ranting online, and how the internet incentivizes skepticism and outrage.)

But shutting out is what the debaters do; a mind closed to reason is not one of the fruits of the “wisdom from above.” I pull back open the blinds.

A quick review of our context pulls the scene back into perspective. We are all victims and instigators in a cracked universe. Annie Dillard called herself a “frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world” who has “eaten and have done my share of eating too.”

Disappointment, heartbreak, betrayal, divorce. Disrespect, mutilation, violence, verbal lashings. We live in a world where these things are not surprising, watching what we love burn before our eyes. Isn’t that victimhood enough for us all?

There is a central hunger. The world throbs as one. Only when seen in this context does arguing begin to sound like the mourning that it is.

And of course, as my Facebook feed refreshes for new scandals, I remember: this pain is ours to keep, but not always, and not forever. Samwise was right—the sad things will come untrue. One day, all of mournings’ forms—shrieking arguments and cowed silences—will empty out. He who took our pain as His own will fill us. Finally.