What Happens When Death is Blessed?

As another season of Lent is upon us, it is the time of year when we confront the scariest aspect of our lives: that they’ll end. Sometime in the [hopefully distant] future, we’ll die.  And so today we remember that promise.

But as we do so, we remember that God creates out of dust. Martin Luther has been quoted as saying that “God created the world out of nothing, so as long as we are nothing, he can make something out of us.” We can get into my question of whether God did create the world out of nothing later on, but I think a more appropriate interpretation for today may read something like this.

God created you out of dust. So as long as you are dust, God can make something out of you too.

In the spirit of God creating blessing out of dust — or when applied in broader strokes, life out of death — here is a poem of blessing that Megan showed me this morning. So with that, I’ll leave with this blessing.

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday
By Jan Richardson

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

So what happens when death is blessed?

It turns to life.

Blessings on your Lenten journey.

Cheers,
Eric

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The Dangers of Comparing Sinatra to Bieber

My friend Holly had an excellent post yesterday about this graphic that has been all over Facebook news feeds lately. By comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber, the poster essentially gets at something that “us young people” hear all the time. Not only was life better back when the Baby Boomers were growing up, but the music, literature, food, and just about everything else was better too! Ok, that may have been a slight exaggeration, but it’s not far off. There’s something implicit (or explicit depending on how deeply you think about this graphic) that hints that we were better off as a society back then. This same line of thought says that music now-a-days is more shallow than ever.

I couldn’t agree less with these sentiments.

Here’s the thing about music. There has always been good music, if you look for it. And conversely, there has always been terrible music, if you look for it. Comparing the two, throughout any generation, is bound to bring up discrepancies. Take for instance Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Do the Twist” — yep, I’m going there.

Come on let’s twist again,
like we did last summer!
Yeaaah, let’s twist again,
like we did last year!

Do you remember when,
things were really hummin’,
Yeaaaah, let’s twist again,
twistin’ time is here!

Now can you honestly tell me that these lyrics are a far cry from “shake it like a polaroid picture”? It’s the same thing, just translated through to the culture. Which brings me to my main point…

The invention of popular music as a genre fundamentally changed the way we relate to music.

Think about the genres of music. There are some genres that have an element of timelessness to them. Chopin composed music 170 years ago and still has some of the most moving music I’ve ever heard. Genres like jazz, blues, and classical all have an element of timelessness to them. Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” still pack the same punch now that they did back then.

But pop music is different. Pop music is set in a time and a place — which is exactly why there is a category called 80’s music. This is why VH1’s nostalgia pieces work so well. I love the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s use the pop music of the day to bring us back to those times in our lives. And some of these pop pieces have been less than incendiary to say the least. Comparing Frank Sinatra to Justin Bieber is like comparing apples to month-old milk. You just can’t do it.

If you’re going to compare Frank’s lyrics to some modern music, here are 3 songs you could try — all released in the last year. All with great wonderful lyrics (and no, Bon Iver’s “Holocene” does not make an appearance, although it could).

1) “Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you

Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will
Oh I don’t love you but I always will

2) “Helplessness Blues by The Fleet Foxes

What’s my name, what’s my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say “sure, take all that you see”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

And I don’t, I don’t know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see

3) “Someone Like You” by Adele

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.
I’d hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”

What songs would you add to this list? What are some more recent songs that stir in you?

Cheers,
Eric

Re-Defining Art

I’ve been reading the archives over at Seth Godin’s blog and came across a really interesting post on what exactly constitutes art in modern culture. Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed a bit of a return to an appreciation of aesthetics whether it’s in technology design or specifically photography with iPhone apps like Instagram. It seems like art is undergoing a bit of a fluid transformation. I am not sure I’d put it on par with some of the past movements in art and culture, but there surely is something happening with the way we relate to and define what art is. Seth offers a broader definition of what exactly constitutes art and I’d like to throw it out there for your consideration. Here’s what he says.

My definition of art contains three elements:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.

So whatever we do best, when we’re doing that, we’re creating art. Even the language we use for non-art things describes this. When a baseball pitcher is really on, the commentators will say he’s “painting the corners”. I’ve heard Joanna Newsom’s album Ys be referred to as her Sistine Chapel.

What Seth has right is that art can way more than paint and canvas.

Whatever we do best is our art. That means everyone is an artist.

Or more particularly — you’re an artist. So what are you creating?

Cheers,
Eric

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