Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Devil

I write this to present a problem and to be accountable for it. I've seen hours of my life wasted away into nothing. I get into these ritualistic cycles in which I engage in this deplorable activity that picks away at the scars of my flaccid counter-productivity. Apathetic and disengaged, I dive head-first into my depravity. My attitude falters, and all I see is meaningless. My days are short and worthless, with the majority of my time lost to this unimpressive habit. Frustration with the people around me; depression wins out as my primary reactive state when I observe the inconsistencies and lack of enthusiasm of this world that I come to despise. I see myself as useless, unproductive and unnecessary. All seems lost, and getting out of bed becomes a burden I cannot manage. The Kingdom within me lies stagnant, withering away like a neglected houseplant, desperate for water. Consistently, I neglect my spirit within. And, it kills me over and over.

So, I'm letting it go. I'm walking away. I'm standing up tall and proclaiming my freedom, my kinship, my belovedness. I am shouting at the top of my lungs, that I am free and free shall I remain. Walk tall, proud stripling, you overreaching boyish thing. Stand up straight and be free.

All that to say: computer games are the devil.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Angsty Decay of My Resolve (Counting Down til July.)




I'm frustrated. Living in Cuenca, Ecuador is wearing on me, I think. There are so many minor and major annoyances associated with living in this city, and they've all been piling up on my psyche since we got back in January. In an attempt to offset this trend, to dispel the growing frustration that has been welling up inside me, I'd like to offer myself valid counter points to these annoyances. Let's see how it goes.

1. My schedule. I'm working six days a week, starting at 7 am every week day. It sucks

- Counterpoint: I'm getting paid. This isn't a good counterpoint, since money isn't real and I don't ever want to despise having to work. Money isn't a good reason for anything. Next.

2. Cuenca's societal schedule. Everything is closed from 12:00pm to 3:00pm, and then again after 7:00pm.

- Counterpoint: Life is slower? The stress of living in the States can be overwhelming. But, since no one here cares about anything, there is no stress. Counter-counterpoint: no one cares about anything. Next.

3. Cuencans are assholes. Store clerks, people we pass on the street, etc, are closed, rude, and cold.

- Counterpoint: Um... I've got nothing. Next.

4. Machismo. The men on the street are animals and treat women (such as my wife) like trash.

- Counterpoint: Still nothing. This is infuriating. If I get arrested for beating the shit out of some Ecuadorian who makes some sex reference to my wife while she walks past, it will totally be worth it. Next.

5. The food sucks; rice and chicken, but mostly rice. These people don't understand the importance of flavor and variety.

- Counterpoint: I've run out of counterpoints. Next.

Ok, this isn't working. There are plenty of other annoyances, but this isn't productive. Cuenca is kind of a shit hole. We're counting down the days until we leave this place. I'm sure we will leave with some fond memories, but aside from the low cost of living and the non-Ecuadorian friends that we've made, I don't know what those memories will be. Let's hope something good happens down here in the meantime.

Monday, May 12, 2014

What I Feel Whilst Listening to Ludwig von Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor


Soft, slow as the coming of day
All is dark, all is lost
Peeking through the cracks, standing there
Metal on metal, steel and wool
we are not so hopeless after all
The sky the clouds of night
Cover over me
Lift me to the lips
a glass of fine wine
As wolves chase through the fleeing night
Warm, all is warm
as the sun covers up everything
broken light of day
fragmented, falsified
righteous as the hillside
the blades of dew-stained grass
and contrast
the death curled up within me
it melts away, afraid of the light
it feels in its fingers
its unavoidable demise
as the morning air fills my lungs
as if passing by a baker on my morning walk
into the day, so full and alive
so ready to be made
and, oh
it is he that makes it
it is he that caresses it awake
green and ever greener
bright and ever brightening
yes, it is he
Oh, there is God in this place
he smiles, and stares
into the pupils of my eyes, holding his gaze
long enough for me to hear his words
his whisper in the dew-stained grass
Oh, there is God in this place
the piano chords speak his name
they sing of his coming
as they sing me back to sleep
aware, unarmed
but known to the core
and loved, head to toe
Yes, there is a God
There is a God

Next to You



So I'll stay with you until the morning
When the golden sun shades the moon
And when the black disease eats away both you and me
Babe, I'm gonna live and die right next to you

[Doctor, Oh Doctor by Joshua James]

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Black Hole Silence and the Undeniable Actualization of Truth

Silence. I once wrote a poem, when I was 19 years old and lonely as hell, about my fear of silence. I won't post it here, as it is one of the saddest things I've ever put on paper. But, the impact and the emotion that it came from has stayed with me, to the point where I remember it far more vividly than any other poem that I have written. In my loneliness, I ran from silence. Silence was a black hole; a dark night with no end. When the world around me was silent, the voices of my failure and of my defeat screamed all around me. I felt the weight of all the world's maladies inside of me when it all fell silent. Thankfully though, as I've grown up, I've come to see the beauty in silence. As I've begun to come to grips with my own depravity and my desperate need for a Savior, silence has lost some of its power. In reading old contemplative monks like Merton, Augustine, Brother Lawrence, Nouwen, et al, the necessity for silence in the Christian's life has become obvious; we need to sit still in silent reflection, face those demons that say we're worthless, and embrace the voice that calls us beloved. Our failure is real, but more real is the gospel of the cross. When we let ourselves be silent, we can put those two voices into the Thunderdome. And in the Thunderdome of our self-awareness, truth will win. And so, in silence we come alive; we can take on the undeniable truth that our lives are worth something. Silence is a necessity.

 Peach and I have been traveling for the last week and I've been noticing the complete lack of silence in the world around us. We are in Ecuador, but my observations here can't be limited to this country. (Sidenote: sitting here in the Quito airport, waiting on a flight, "Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel just came on the radio. Small world.) We've rode on a handful of buses over the last week of traveling. In Ecuador, the buses tend to advertise the services that are available on the side of the bus itself. There are icons printed on the bus that tell the potential traveler that the bus offers reclining seats, air conditioning, a bathroom, etc. This week, I noticed for the first time that almost all of the buses we boarded had music advertised as one of the services. I'm not talking about a stereo system in which an individual passenger can select and listen to their personal music, or that music is provided on an individual basis. No, the buses advertise that while the bus is en route to its destination, the driver will put on the radio and play it loud enough for everyone to hear. I was confused as to why a potential passenger would see blaring Bachata from loudspeakers as an asset, as something that makes the bus ride more appealing. As I thought about it, though, I've come to think that many people see silence as I used to; as a black hole, as a dark and terrifying night. Music is the easiest way to stave off the silence. And, after hearing the same damn latino rhythm a thousand times over the last week, I can only assume that people are running.

 I see it, too, in the smart phone culture that has developed over the last decade. There is no space in the day when we are alone with ourselves. I'm as guilty of this as anyone. We never have to face the silence if there's a game to play or an instagram feed to follow. Having infinite access to a world of information and social connection means that silence can be eradicated. We're never bored. I also noticed this week that the indigenous people that we were around this week were never alone. I don't remember seeing a single person that wasn't walking, working, or talking, with a family member or friend. Bus and truck drivers always had a companion sitting next to them. Kids walking to school had their school mates. There wasn't any solitude.

 This is a trend I fear becoming a reality in my own life. I want to embrace the silence; to face my fear and my failure. I want to believe the gospel and to know that the voices I hear when the world falls silent of my impending death and my inherent worthlessness are false; that I am given life by the Creator of life itself. Silence is a beautiful thing. It is in my silent moments that I feel the full extent of God's undying passion for me. In silence, I am consumed with the full joy of being loved and known; a feeling that escapes me when I am playing computer games or updating my facebook feed. Silence is a gateway to truth, and I want to embrace it to the fullest extent. There is no truth in our defeat, for the victory is won. And, yes. We are all hopeless wretches that will only impart chaos on the world around us. But, in Christ, we are made new; free and equipped to live outwardly, to love with our whole being. But loving with our whole being is a hard end to reach if we spend all of our time running from silence. Let's embrace it together. Of course, I might just be sick of that damn Bachata music.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

All Things Sacred, "Turning Over Tables in this World I'm Called to Save"

The Cathedral in Cuenca is one of my favorite places in the world. It's enormous and archaic; entirely obsolete yet overwhelmingly beautiful. It's become more of tourist attraction than a place of worship, evidenced by the fact that whenever I am in the Cathedral, there are significantly more tourists than worshipers. Outside of the main entrance are several booths set up, selling candles and rosaries and velour portraits of Jesus looking white as hell. Every time I walk into the Cathedral, I feel a hint of frustration at the culture of Catholicism here. It's a culture that takes sacred things and misappropriates them, robbing their inherent sacredness. Granted, there are plenty of strong-hearted, well-intentioned Catholics that are committed to truth and fight to bring about God's kingdom here on earth. But, the majority of Catholics that I've come into contact with here in Cuenca live out their supposed faith in a less inspiring way. People making a living off of selling kitschy Catholic junk outside of a Cathedral is one example. Everywhere I look, there is some painting of Mary or some statuette of Jesus hanging from a taxi driver's rearview mirror. There are stickers of any given saint, embellished with an exaggerated title or a cliche non-biblical assertion of faith. The icons that nominal Catholics plaster on the sides of their busses and ball caps are not used as an expression of where there hope lies, or the truth that has entered into their very souls and totally reoriented the way they see themselves, God, and the people around them. No, they're good luck charms. That picture of Jesus or that statuette of Mary are supposed to keep them safe, to protect them from the inherent dangers of being human. My Jesus, the bringer of life, becomes a circus clown; no more sacred than the statue of Abraham whose nose has been rubbed raw or the 3rd base line that ball players jump over. It's a parody.

I was reminded today, walking past the Cathedral doors, of the story in Matthew 21 et. al. about when Jesus went to the temple, only to find the courtyard full of vendors trying to make a living off of the incoming pilgrims who had come to worship in Jerusalem. It seems justified at first glance; this temple that is sacred and holy was being taken advantage of. However, The people selling their animals (and probably trinkets and souvenirs) most likely didn't mean any harm. There were strict guidelines that God himself had outlined as far as what animals were required to make sacrifices at the temple. The vendors were providing a necessary service that resulted in proper worship of the God that created them. Plus, I'd imagine that their culture had slowly begun to accept this type of commerce more and more over the centuries, to the point where it probably wasn't seen as malicious or wrong to set up shop just outside of the temple doors. But still, Jesus goes nuts on these people, flipping over their tables and shouting at them. He's enraged,"'My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” That's a harsh accusation. I was confounded by the scenario; why would Jesus be so angry?

But, after some deliberation, I realized something. It's clear that Jesus is upset not because of what they're doing, but where they are doing it. The temple is sacred, it is the very house of the living God. The vendors in the courtyard were taking advantage of the commercial opportunity that it presented. They were using it for something other than what it was intended for. More so, they were using it for their own financial gain. That made me think about the things in my daily life that Jesus would consider sacred. My family, friends, food, writing, reading, poetry, beer, nature, mountains, etc. all came to mind. Here's why: just like the Temple, these and the other gifts that God blesses us with have an intended purpose. They are meant to be experienced as they are, for no other purpose than their inherent goodness. This is what I've come to understand sacredness to mean: a thing that is good, in and of itself. I feel like we are very bad, as a culture and society, at enjoying things for what they are. I'm guilty of this as well. We use beer for the alcohol; nature for the Facebook profile picture, reading for the admiration of other people. We take a thing that is good and we take advantage of the opportunity it presents. This, above all, is why I understand Jesus to have flipped those tables. Not admiring and appreciating the inherent goodness of something that God has called "good" is a travesty, it cheapens it until it has no value at all. Our Cathedrals become tourist attractions, our mountains become overrun and littered, our music becomes contrived, uninspired jingles. We lose our culture, our values, our ability to appreciate and recognize truth and beauty. It's happened here, in the convoluted and corrupted practice of cultural Catholicism, and it breaks my heart. My heart craves silence, to sit and enjoy God's blessings for their inherent beauty, and to abandon my expectation of personal, financial, or social gain for which I pursue these things. I'm willing to try. Who's with me?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Quirks

There's this beer in Ecuador called "Club Negra." It's my favorite. The beer selection in Ecuador is atrocious. There are basically two options that are readily available. One is a Bud Light knock-off called "Club Verde," and the other is a cheaper Bud Light knock-off called "Pilsner." In the list of cultural priorities of the Ecuadorian people, beer falls somewhere towards the bottom, between "not peeing in public," and "considering how loud people around you want you to play your music." It's not a priority. Soon after Peach and I moved to Ecuador, after spending six weeks drinking the world's best beer in places like Brussels, Reykjavik, and London, we discovered the cold, hard, urine-colored truth that we might have to do without good beer for the duration of our stay in Ecuador. But, shortly after we had come to grips with the reality we faced, the brilliant people over at Club decided to release a (what we didn't know to be at the time) seasonal dark beer called "Club Negra." Oh, heavens, it was amazing. In reality, it's as good as an average craft beer back in the States. But to us, it was the greatest beer we had ever tasted. The relief that washed over us when we discovered that we wouldn't have to settle for miserable, watered-down "yellow drink" was tremendous. We were in heaven.

I'm exaggerating, probably. But since it all came crashing down, I have come to remember Club Negra with that type of reverence. Somewhere around January, Club stopped making the Club Negra. It was a tragedy. The supply became limited, and as the days dragged on, it became harder and harder to find. I should mention here that neither Peach nor I ever drink more than two beers per week. One is a safe average, I think. Beer for us is a treat, it's a thing to enjoy and savor and look forward to. I think I've spoken on our feelings about beer before here, but it might have been on the other blog. Anyway, it was a sad turn of events. Since the onset of this disappointing reality, however, I've found myself going on several quests over the last few weeks to seek out the last remaining bottles of Club Negra that Cuenca has. I've gone to dozens of corner shops and grocery stores, asking for whatever they have had left. I'm proud to say that I've been successful. I'm normally met with a laugh and a "ya se acab├│," (there aren't any more) accompanied by a look of, "silly gringo, don't you know anything?" But on occasion, I come across a vendor that still has some lurking on the back shelves. Tonight I found El Dorado, and came home smiling wide with my arms full of Club Negra. It was a treat.

I've noticed this trend in my life. My most consistent hobby over the last decade has been a treasure hunting of sorts. In California, I would spend a fair amount of time going to discount clothing stores or now-obsolete record shops and trying to find cheap prices and unique merchandise. I moved to Georgia and fell in love with used book shops and thrift stores; spending my free time amassing collections of books, kitchen ware, hats, you name it. I would hardly say I'm a hoarder, as I realize that these last couple of sentences make me sound as such. I didn't usually purchase but one book or one beer glass, etc. at a time. But, the hunt was what I enjoyed. I love the idea that there is some piece of memorabilia, something old and antique, something beautiful, something discarded but precious in these piles of unimpressive junk. I feel myself drawn to the story of it, of someone who is convinced in the value of something that everyone else has disregarded, and sets out to bring it home. I empathize with those old copies of Moby Dick or those Thriller records that have been donated, resold, or discarded. I'm certainly not someone who has experienced an inordinate amount of rejection in my life; only a normal amount. And, my own self-loathing and self-rejection drives me to feel like a reject, like a 1996 Olympics ball cap or a Members Only jacket. But, when I remember the redemptive story of my life, I feel alive and valuable. I feel at home. God has reached into this dirty life of mine and called me "son." He has delved deep into Last Chance Thrift Store or The Book Tavern and dug through the trash, where I have buried myself, to pull me out and proudly walk me to the cash register. He has made some remark to the clerk about how happy he is to have found this copy of Vonnegut or this moon wolf coffee mug, beaming in joyous victory that this treasure finally has a home. There's a box of discarded things back in Atlanta that I can't wait to pull out. Because in some weird, metaphysical way, I understand what it's like to be them. God says that we are treasure, and it is entirely life-giving. I am nothing without those words. And, I like playing that same redemptive story out in my spare time. For now, it's Club Negra. Soon, I'll be right back in those familiar thrift stores and record shops, digging through the trash.