Aliens Exist

The government says they have alloys from another world

I have no clue what that means or what those would look like

They’re probably just something that seems a little different from what we’ve got already

But a little difference is all it takes for something to be “out of this world”

I hope that what it all means that it’s a little less weird for me to be convinced that aliens exist.

Because they have to, right?

How arrogant do you have to be to look at all there is, all this undiscovered, uncharted, unexplored space and say “No, actually, it’s just us. It always has been”

There’s no wonder to that, no longing to venture into the unknown to discover something that may have always been just out of reach

Or even better still, to meet that hand that has been stretching towards the infinite for God knows how long

To give it something to hold on to, a welcoming embrace

A chance to hear what it means to be something else entirely, and share our own existence in return

Maybe we don’t have to look all the way to the outer reaches of space to find that

Maybe it’s just comfort to believe that somewhere above that star-spangled blackness, someone is looking back

Maybe I look to the stars so when I feel small it can be by design

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Secret Handshake

In high school I drove a purple Honda Odyssey

and I named it Ulysses, because that’s what the Romans called the hero of that story

and I told people that it was to see who was smart enough to be my friend.

And that joke was more than a little arrogant, looking back on it.

But in the mid-2000s I was the proud owner of an Odyssey and the knowledge that I’d never be cool

So I’d send up these flares, these light-up signals over Gotham to see if anyone would answer

and I never stopped

I still write messages from rappers into my sermons

and I call them poets, call them by their real names

and I recite them with the gentle prompting nudge of an elbow into the ribs of the person sitting next to you

and I can’t decide if I hope people get it or if I’m doing this for me

and it was never really about being smart enough or clever enough, was it?

It was about finding someone who would see these things left like post-apocalyptic graffiti and say: “Oh, I get it”

About finding someone who had devoted the same brain capacity to knowing these things so you can feel like you hadn’t wasted your life engaging with all of this stuff

To know that you’re not alone

We could share in the secret handshake that our lives had become, knowing that someone finally knew the other half

Like drawing half of a fish in the dirt and seeing who’d come along to finish it

 

“And We’ll One Day Tell Our Story”

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia a lot lately. Nostalgia, if Don Draper is to be believed, comes from a phrase meaning “the pain from an old wound.” It’s something that marks us, that can vividly transport us back to a moment, a place in time and space where we might have been different people. Sometimes that gets caught up in pop culture. We cherish these things that we’ve loved like holy relics because at one point in time, even just for ourselves, they were. There’s the feeling of understanding, of deep emotion, of a joy that needs to be chased down and (in its worst forms) protected at all costs.

That fanaticism is easily exploited, to the point where the powers that be might parade these things in front of us and expect us to love them in the same way simply because they are there. It is a constant ask to see these things that call back to our memories as if they were products and not stories. It’s an empty thing to see how we are expected to leap because we see something we recognize, not because those things are being used in service of a greater narrative. It’s such a cynical thing to pander to these old wounds without understanding the story of how those scars were etched into our bodies. There comes a time when it’s important to realize that the important thing that we are remembering is what stories those memories allow us to tell rather than the need to keep a flawless idea of the memory itself. The idea of new iterations “ruining our childhood” is continually upsetting. No one is taking those stories from us. They can’t.

The trap of nostalgia beyond empty repetition is that it keeps us focused on the wrong direction. We constantly look back, wanting to recreate those things we love with absolute perfection. We cannot stand the idea of things being different as if that somehow changes the essence of the thing. Instead, we should be looking forward, using what we’ve learned, what we’ve loved, to build a new story. We should look to how we use the familiar to change what we think is possible rather than running through another reboot that might not have the same heart as the first.

I say all of this nice stuff about looking forward rather than back as I get ready to mourn a building this evening. Union, the coffee shop and church that I both attended and worked for while I was in seminary, is closing the doors on its original location on Dyer Street in Dallas. And as much as I just talked about the physical thing being less important than the stories we use it to tell, it still hurts to lose a space that was such an important part of the last five years of my life. It’s a space where I can point to the table around which I met some of my best friends. It is a space in which I can stand on the stage where I learned how to tell better stories. It is a place where I saw an image of what the church could be as it was lovingly painted with each member of the community adding a little piece of themselves to make something new. It is the place where I always knew I could feel like I was at home, even after I had been away for a while.

I’ve joked with some friends over the past year that I feel like the Ghost of Union, someone that floats in and out unexpectedly, that some people know the lore behind and some don’t. Ghosts have anchors to places, and when that home on Dyer Street closes its doors it is hard not to think that I’m losing one of mine. But here’s a thing I’ve learned about Union: Union is made up of our stories. It is beyond a place, if we’ll let it be. So as Union starts a new chapter in a new place I will still mourn Dyer Street. But I know that they take those stories with them and they’ll make new ones that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.

“And we’ll one day tell our story/of how we made something of ourselves”~Lucius “Two of Us On The Run”

Album Lyrics – Paths

I’ve always thought of my own song lyrics as poetry first and music second. I released some songs recently and I’m putting the words here so that people who don’t want to spend 20 minutes listening to the album or don’t like the style can still consume this content.

A Detour

I can’t sleep
It’s the last day off
Before we have to go back
And pretend like we know what we’re doing

I can’t keep
Staying up this late
I’ve got to understand
Before I decide to keep moving

I used to spend summers
Learning curse words in churches’ gravel parking lots
We’re stuck inside now

I can’t keep staying up this late
I’ve got to get my head on straight

Fever Dream

The world is ending and we’re knee-deep in ocean
I just wanted to know that I belong
So let me dream
With the light on

Hurricane

Everything is blue and green
Above and below I see aquamarine
But off in the distance
A hurricane brews
How could we miss this?

Landlocked cities turn away
Why should they care what happens
In the shadow of the ocean’s spray?
It’s gray outside and the lighthouse is out
The grass has turned brown
In the cowering harbor towns

So trees snap
The sky turns black
I want to go back
To a calmer time
You told me everything would be fine
But the hurricane’s finally here
And I need to stop wishing
It would disappear

Morning Rain

I could do without the thunder in the morning
I don’t mind that it’s pouring
But I want to go back to sleep

Let me breathe
Without a crash outside
We shouldn’t have to wonder if we’re gonna survive

I don’t care about making a name
All I need is a cold
Morning rain

Give Up

Maybe it’s time to give up
Maybe it’s time to find out
What’s on the other side of the spout
I don’t care if I’m never the same
But I hope it’s not a drain

Days are numbered
Unclaimed, fleeting
Stolen, seemingly
Someday leaving
Days are leaking away

Thomas Rakowitz Gets Corrupted

I feel like I bring this up every time I write about a Thomas Rakowitz project, but what I love the most about what he does is the moods he creates. From the lonely, lost loops of “I’ll Find My Way Home” to his breakout work on Brian Altano’s Misanthrope, he adds the right color to anything he’s doing to paint something special. More than any technical proficiency (of which Rakowitz has plenty to spare, trust) this is what gets me excited to see what spaces he’s exploring each time he puts out something new.

So when I got around to his Future/Corrupted project, I was excited to see where the concept would take him. The five song EP is set in a post-robot apocalypse world and the music revels in the possibilities of the scene. Album opener “We Came From Fire and Flesh” alternates between sparse, bleak nothingness, possibly a symbol of what the world has become, and punishing heavy riffs, maybe a symbol of how it got there. Either way, Rakowitz’s guitar work shines bright here. The album has a few tricks up its sleeves as well. “Alpha/Omega Protocol (Directed Evolution)” has some vocal work on it that can only be described as unsettling in the best way. There’s an unease to the spoken words that continue to create this post-human landscape.

“Rise of the Machines” is the stand-out track. It’s a blistering 7 minute ride that gives everything you would expect from Thomas Rakowitz. Virtuosity mixed with a little bit of sludge, blasting drums, and a self contained little narrative that is a fitting bow on the project. I’m always thrilled to hear new work from Thomas and you should be too. Check out Future/Corrupted below.

Paraments: A Holy Saturday Meditation

No one else can see this.

Alone in the sanctuary I move from pulpit to altar to lectern

Exchanging bare wood for the white paraments of Easter.

The sanctuary is uneasy when it’s left unclothed

Maybe it’s because we only leave it that way once a year

On the day where we remember that God died

On the day the light goes out.

It doesn’t feel right. It shouldn’t feel right. But it’s reality

But  now, we can begin again.

The sanctuary refuses to stay bare forever.

It refuses to stay blank for long.

When the congregation files in tomorrow I hope they see something beautiful

Life returns to a place that desperately needs it.

The smells of creation filling this sanctuary as I drag in lilies that we had to hide on Friday.

And the cross, so recently a symbol of death and decay stands triumphantly empty, silhouetted by white blossoms and buds still waiting to bloom.

New life continues to grow

And so I keep moving from one place to another around the room, transforming a place that was left barren not a day ago into a place where life is found again.

I wonder if this is what God felt like

Working and preparing a display of new life in a place that had so recently been barren

No one else can see this

But we have to make ready anyway

Millennials in an Alternate Reality

Millennials are the worst. They are entering the workforce at increasing rates and soon they’ll be the ones shaping the future. They are the largest demographic in the United States, and because they are the worst, everything is going wrong.

When millennials were growing up, only the winners received trophies. Their dispassionate fixation on results over process is a byproduct of this broken trophy-distribution system. Maybe if we hadn’t overemphasized the importance of final outcomes, millennials could enjoy the journey without thought of the destination. But it’s too late; millennials know that effort is only worthwhile if leads to a W.

When they were kids, millennials were told that only truly exceptional people could do exceptional things. Today’s twentysomethings never had to give up on being an astronaut because they never dared to imagine it. They’re very rational, but they’ve forgotten how to dream.

Millennials, defying even the most conservative estimates, are the most technology-averse generation since the Great Depression. Their comparatively poor social skills are likely a result of their tendency to isolate themselves from the effortless connectivity of modern technology.

Millennials understand that no one person is truly unique. Their parents constantly reinforced this theme, and as a result, millennials are bystanders – they expect somebody better or smarter to come along and do all the things that need doing.

A common refrain among millennials is “follow the money.” They are financially successful, because they eschew fulfilling careers for jobs more suited to their skills, but their careers are often marked by hesitancy. Because they generally do not believe they are special, they feel unprepared when it comes time for them to assume leadership roles. They often instinctively suspect that promotions are clerical errors or practical jokes. They accept unhappiness because they have never expected better.

This generation the least self-aware in recent memory. They’ve earned the nickname “the You generation.” Despite their stunted interpersonal skills, they are fixated on the well-being of others to a fault. Ask a millennial about his likes and dislikes, about her aspirations, and you will receive a blank stare. How can millennials be happy if they don’t know what they want? How can we continue to create art and music and literature if the largest demographic in the country has no concept of self to express?

Millennials are great employees. Just don’t try to have a stimulating conversation with one.

Always Forward

Always Forward

Romans 12:1-12

I was watching Luke Cage on Netflix the other day and something really stuck out to me in those first few episodes. Luke Cage, if you aren’t familiar, is a TV series about a superhero that opens the show trying to live a normal life in Harlem. He didn’t want his powers; they were forced upon him in a failed experiment while he was in prison. So he attempts to live a quiet life, sweeping hair in a barbershop and not making too much noise. The shop is owned by a man known simply as “Pop” who serves as a role model, almost father figure not just to Luke but the whole neighborhood. His shop is a sanctuary away from the constant struggle of life in New York, a place where even the fiercest blood rivals can sit down for a moment of peace. Pop lives by a motto that stayed with me for the entirety of the show and I couldn’t get it out of my head when I sat down to write this. It’s these two simple words: “Always Forward.” He would go on to say it many times, sometimes making sure to add in a reminder to never go backwards but the emphasis is always on forward progress.  Continue reading

Ocean Eyes and Staying Warm

Owl City’s Ocean Eyes is one of my favorite albums, and when I search the internet for opinions about it, the well-argued ones are usually blisteringly negative, and the positive ones are usually vapid and full of spelling errors. For whatever reason, people don’t seem to dig deep into Ocean Eyes and connect with it the way I do, and I think the internet needs an opinion on the album that’s positive and seriously considered. Here we go.

Ocean Eyes came out in 2009, and I’ve listened to it on and off in the seven years between then and now. Though it was commercially successful, most reviews around the time of its release were negative, saying that it was sickly sweet or that didn’t have the depth to keep listeners around. Reviewers said that the album floated along on the strength of meaningless pretty phrases and catchy but repetitive instrumental melodies. These criticisms and worse are true of Owl City’s other albums (but Maybe I’m Dreaming is decent). Ocean Eyes, though, is serious and emotional behind its pretty phrases and radio-pop instrumentals. Continue reading

Thomas Rakowitz Finds His Way Home

Sometimes, when you least expect it, the right piece of music drops into your lap. I’ve been in an anxiety funk recently, with potential big things coming up. I’m sitting up writing this knowing I should sleep soon, but I just hit play for the second time on a new track from Thomas Rakowitz because it’s perfect for where I’m at right now and I needed to write about it.

Rakowitz, as you know from following any of the other things I’ve written about his work, has this uncanny ability to paint with his guitar. “I’ll Find My Way Home” is no different. The opening chords are sparse, slowly echoing into nothing before some arpeggios come in underneath. It has this feeling of going in circles, but not because you meant to. Every time they come back it’s that feeling of being lost on a trail because you took a wrong turn and you can swear you’ve seen this rock before. I swear I mean this in a good way.

I don’t know if that’s what Thomas was going for, but that’s what I felt. Each time the picking comes back in under the chords it’s slightly different, building to a moment of clarity at the end of the track that feels like a discovery. I got chills near the end of the song because I heard this hopeful shift in the tones, this anxious crescendo towards actualization. Everything just fits together in this manner that seems to evoke searching for something and the confidence that comes from knowing it’s out there, no matter what the journey’s looked like so far. It’s 7 minutes of self-reflection, and it’s exactly what I needed. Thanks, Thomas.

Listen to “I’ll Find My Way Home” below, and if you like that (you will) you can click here to get Thomas’s double album The Musings of Balance