Monday, October 11, 2010

What I like about being clumsy: Mud and Grace

I fall. It's sort of what I do. I have a lot of stories about my experiences falling that I'm going to keep in the locker for other pointed morality tales. My flat elbow, lumpy collarbone, threadbare ligaments in my right ankle, and various assorted bruises that constantly haunt my limbs can testify.

My ex-roommate Sara is going to laugh at this post because she was witness to so many mishaps. I'm just dead clumsy.

Currently, my left hand and right shoulder are sore because of one such fall yesterday while exploring a Corn Maze with some friends. To be completely fair to myself, it had poured rain the day before into the clay-mud riverbottom fields of Burlington. I was not the only one slipping about in the narrow puddled trails of the cornfield scavenger hunt. But I was the only one who actually went all the way down with a squeak and a fling of the dried pumpkin seeds I'd been snacking on while navigating the maze. Flat on my backside, I did the only thing you can do. I started laughing.

I like to be thought of as cool. I'm a people pleaser, and generally care about what people think. But at times I've fallen into the trap of fearing what people think so much that I have stopped taking risks. I have stopped going on adventures, in a way. I have stopped putting on my Chucks (cool shoes) and going out in the sun to run around in the mud at a corn maze because of the fear of looking ridiculous. I've missed out on a lot of fun.

Do you know what happens when you actually do look ridiculous? You quit worrying about falling. You're suddenly free to slide and slip in the mud and splash in the puddles. Your butt is covered in mud. You can't really get any more ridiculous. So all of a sudden, you're free to risk everything.

Here's the were as free to risk everything before you fell, as after.

Fear of ridiculousness traps so many, many people I know into living safe lives. It's not fear of danger, necessarily. It's fear of being made silly. In a word, it's pride.

They stand around at parties, hands in pockets, making safe conversation, or not saying anything at all, just standing around awkwardly because they're so afraid of saying the wrong thing. They sit at their desks and watch the girls they like walk by and never ask for a date. They fear new foods. They mock other people constantly. They keep a list of expectations in their minds for other people. They offer very little grace to themselves, and therefore have very little grace to offer others.

Well, when you slip and fall on your butt in the mud, there's no acting cool, there's no hiding your Epic Fail. You suddenly have a lot of grace to hand out to anyone else who happens to fall.

Here's the thing. Everyone has fallen in the mud. But a lot of people are edging around with their backs to the wall, afraid of being ridiculous.

Epic Fail.

Guess what. You already are.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"You can't see the gusts
but listen, and sense me-
I'm the spice in the air,
the cool on your cheek,
a shift of the season,
a change in your weather.
Swing wide your window,
to hear what I'm saying
Like Mary who listened,
her heart thrown ajar."

--from the poem 'Wind and Window', by Luci Shaw

Autumn's kind of awakefulness is different than spring's. It feels more directed, I'm leaning into it. Perhaps it's because my birthday is in autumn that I need to review and refresh my direction, make new goals. Perhaps it's just the relic of the school-year timetable that seems to never quite go away.

Tragedy has racked Bellingham these last two weeks, and now during the sunny afternoons downtown, everyone seems more rested, as if they are remembering the time to breathe is now.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Awake to Music

I took a church-based missions curriculum called Perspectives when I was a teacher looking to fill my ACSI credits. One of the concepts in the course that stood out to me was the idea of 'heart-music.' We had different teachers every week. This teacher, though I don't remember his name, played clips of music from different cultures, from throat-singers to opera. He talked about how missionaries in the 18th century had gone to extraordinary effort sometimes to bring a piano deep into the heart of Africa or India, in order to play their staunch, square-rhythmed hymns in the churches they built. Some missionaries spent their lives in bringing a gospel emphasized cultural change before heart-change. This isn't to say their ministry was worthless, but the Perspectives course emphasizes the history that a gospel vision which doesn't create connections to the culture will not stick, but will remain outside of it--a cult.

I hadn't been able to articulate that problem before, but the truth is, the same thing sometimes happens even in our own culture. We can miss the heart of the gospel by being distracted with a cultural change.

Heart-music is a natural bridge into any worldview. Music, which we've heard from our earliest years, ties into the senses and memories in a powerful way. While the throat-singers and Chinese opera sounded alien and weird to me, Amy Grant or "How Great Thou Art" sounds just as weird to another culture. 

As never before, my generation in the U.S. "owns" their music. There is variety, accessibility, publicity. There are publications dedicated to music, a thousand places to listen online or purchase and download at the click of the button. We customize our own heart music, download it, remix it, and create a new context for it, match it with clips of movies on YouTube, or mix it into the soundtracks of our lives.

We rejoice in the perfect match of story and song in TV shows and movies. "Ahh..." we say, while watching Chuck, "Bon Iver...Flight of the Conchords...The Strokes...McG is a genius." 

Arcade Fire's anthemic "Wake Up" matched with the trailer for Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" was the pure abandon of imagination, a cultural cry that reminded us of what we should feel.

I really think that's why we take such pride in our music libraries these days. Music--the best music--reminds us of what we could feel. Outrage, playfulness, abandon, determination, wonder, love, fear, wakes us up.

My brother and I went to a concert this week in Seattle by the great indie-rock band Arcade Fire.  Live music is one of my favorite things in the world, and if you have not heard their recent album "The Suburbs," it's well worth checking out. I plan to write more about the concert and this band's music and lyrics next week, too, but above is a link to the Madison Square Garden concert encore of the same tour.