November 29, 2004

Why Artists Should Not Write

Today I had a revelation. As it turns out, I've been having those quite often lately. This time it was about musicologists. Where these people get off calling themselves scientific, I'll never know; I think they're really a bunch of artists experiencing a personality crisis because of modern scientific culture.


Musicologists shouldn't write papers. It's plain and simple as that. This applies to all literature (with the exception of poetry and political discourse, since nobody understands either of them anyway), because all written word is really one form of paper or another; this includes papers, theses, books, articles, periodicals, and every other kind of written word in which they express their opinion about the history of music.

They just can't do it.

Their opinion matters to me, of course. Obviously they have a unique understanding of what happened. But man, write a song about it or something! Their textbooks are rambling of thoughts which can only graciously be called run-on sentences with accompanying musical examples and shiny covers.

I hate my textbook - it's what inspired this rant.

With all due respect to Mr. Atlas and Mr. Yudkin, I feel like these people are trying to be scientific about their field, but failing miserably. When you write a textbook, you don't interject your own opinions on things - you say "this is what happened" and then leave it to those of us who aren't total artists to care about such things as "interpretation" and so forth.

Artists are fun people. I'm an artist, or try to be. But I also have that pesky background in neurobiology to contend with too. Yes, I feel like my mind is always arguing (creative vs. logical) about something or another (do I follow the recipe or add lots more cheese?), but it has its advantages. 1) I can communicate between both worlds: arts and sciences. 2) I like to study both worlds and even participate in discussion about them. The downside is that I have to listen to people from either world not-understand the opposite.

Oh well.

Should you care, Jonah Goldberg wrote a fantastic article on this very subject ... or at least, one like it.

A Mystic Experience

Let's talk mysticism.

Ok, I'm sorry, I know it's a terrible topic, but hey, I just got out of a recitation for a class where we've just read two articles on the topic. One guy (Katz) says that the mystic experience is bogus, that it's shaped by pre-existent culture and by one's previous experience, as well as by one's own post-experience interpretation. The other guy (Forman) says that Katz is, and I quote, a "moron", and that mystic experience is, for the most part, dependent entirely on the opposite. I guess the problem they have with each other is that one guy says that everyone's experience is different, and the other says everyone's experience is the same.

I'm inclined to agree with both.

This obviously means that I disagree with both as well. A problem? Not really. The issue is really this: which parts of the experience are similar, and which parts are different? I noticed that neither breaks apart the experience into any sort of components, other than "before, during, and after." Does the experience (and by using the singular, it's hard to say that there are no similarities) have components that are similar to other experiences? Yes. Does the experience have components that are different from other experiences?


See, by calling any "mystical experience" just that, Katz implies an underlying similarity which he then denies. And by saying "there are lots of people who have these experiences, their accounts are basically the same," Forman says that yes, experiences are not necessarily identical.

In other words, both are being stupid. I'm sorry if calling "smart" people "stupid" upsets some of you (all three of my readers), but I find it rediculous that they would both put what they call reality in such absolute and obviously self-contradicting terms.

I'm tired of them. I think I'm going to have my own mystic experience by finishing my cookie.


November 26, 2004

A Day of Thanks

I thought that perhaps, since I went out of season with my last column on Christmas, I should again go out of season with a column about thanksgiving. Yes, it's Black Friday, and technically yes, we're now in the "Christmas season", but I was too busy thanksgiving day to talk about things I'm thankful for (oh the irony), so I'm going to do it now.

First and formost, I'm thankful for my faith. God has seen fit to show me a few good things in my life to lead me to Him, and apparently I was at least smart enough to take the hint. I'm thankful that He is my shepherd, my king, my father, my commanding officer, and my friend. And I am thankful for the grace He bestows upon me with His mercy, though I do not deserve it.

I'm thankful for my new wife. She's been a huge blessing in my life for a year and a few months, and yet it feels like I've known her forever. Truly, she is my best friend and confindant, the love of my life, and my partner in crime.

I'm thankful that I am a citizen of not one, but two countries where I am free to exercise my faith without any persecution from the law. This does not mean I am not persecuted, but I am free to believe as I will, no strings attached. Here's to the United States of America, and the Swiss Confederation!

I am thankful for my family. For my parents and sister especially (and I already mentioned my wife, but she gets to go in here twice), but also for my grandparents on both sides (that I can even know them all, since many my age never know their grandparents), my uncles and aunts and cousins. For my inlaws (something I never thought one could be thankful for, but my wife has a cool family).

I'm thankful for my church family. This is as small as my close friends whom I see every week, but also extends to the body of Christ I worship the Lord with on a regular basis (at Crosswinds), and then to the greater body in the world - the one Church. I don't know who they all are by name and face, but nonetheless I am thankful that they continue to make this world a better place in the name of Jesus.

I am thankful for my friends. There are too many to list right away, but especially for Mike, Rob, Sue, Eric, and the many others that support me through thick and thin, I am thankful. They have been there in my darkest hours (and cried with me) and have been with me through my most triumphant moments.

I am thankful for politics. Now, those of you who know me are probably taken aback by such a statement, since you know how I hate the political game. But I have learned a great deal about life from politics. From the republicans I learned that there are others who share my own views, even if very few of them are at my school. From the democrats I learned to value the freedoms I have, lest they take them away from me. And from the independents I learned to keep plugging away, even if I feel like it's hopeless (ruthless optimism really is a good thing).

Lastly, I'm thankful for life. I have a great life! I do not deserve the life I got, nor do I deserve all the people in it, the opportunities I've had, or the chance I have to serve.

God bless you All.

November 25, 2004

A World of Absolutes

I'm a Christian, which means that I'm not supposed to like the culture that surrounds me. Most people in the church tend to say it by saying something along the lines of "be in the world, not of it." Obviously I agree with the general sentiment of this statement, that "the world" is a sinful one and we, as followers of Christ, are supposed to try to live up to Jesus' standard of thought and action.

However, this does not mean that we can't learn anything from the culture around us. I've been toying with a few ideas lately, and one of the thoughts I had (as dumb as it sounds, in the shower of all places) is that this world has its vocabulary confused. With one word in particular: relativism.

The thing about relativism is that its definition is exactly the opposite of what it seems to be actually saying; it is, in a word, a paradox. While relativists claim "you can have your truth and we can have ours (or I can have mine and everyone can have their own) and everyone will be happy!", what they really are saying is "I will live by what I perceive to be true and you can live by what you percieve to be true, just don't try to change my mind." In other words, we are living in a world of absolutes. We used to live in a world of an absolute truth, now we live in a world with lots of absolutes.

The difference? In today's postmodern all-you-can-eat society, everybody seems to have their own set of absolute guidelines - absolutely do not impinge upon my moral world, because you won't understand it. We all have things that we say to ourselves "you can do this, you cannot do this, you will not do this (and do it anyway)." In some ways, I could argue that it's always been like this, and the double standard is only now becoming erased (behaving one way in church and another outside of church); you may notice that this society is an awful lot like Rome was.

But honestly, isn't that interesting? A world of absolutes. We call it relative, but really, the truth is not relative to anything! It's absolute in everyone's own personal world. It may change from time to time, but the rules tend to stay fixed IN EACH WORLD. Our little frameworks would demand no less.

This brings me to my next nugget of insight. I've been taking a class called "Theories of Religion" and it's a doozie. It's insanely hard, namely because we have to read these books by guys who knew how to write so that nobody could understnad them. Then we have to write it down so that somebody can understand us. Hard?


I've discovered that I've learned some stuff from this class. And while that may go against a traditional Christian framework (the world can only corrupt you), I think that a lot of these guys have some good things to say! I don't think that's being a heretic, merely pointing out that God can and does inspire ideas in everybody; some of us just choose to follow him. As it turns out, you can arrive at a correct conclusion from false premises and logic. I'll give you an example:

From Wayne Proudfoot I learned that there are two ways to tell somebody that "I think you're wrong." There's the blunt way, saying "sorry, you're wrong." He calls it "descriptive reduction." Then there's the other way of saying "you're wrong." When I first heard it described, I thought that it was simply another way of saying "you're wrong" and making it sound nicer. Turns out I misjudged him. He calls this "explanatory reduction", and it works something like this: "I can see why you'd say that, but I think you're wrong and here's why." As it turns out, Most people tend to do the first kind. Why? It's easier. You don't have to say why you think somebody's wrong, that would just involve thinking, which (as quite a few liberals have shown me) is a waste of time. Explanatory reduction means that you first have to understand what a person is saying from their point of view before you gently correct them with the reasons for their fault.

I don't think Christians do this much, the same as most of the rest of the world doesn't do it at all. As followers of Jesus, we have a responsibility to understand a person before we tell them they're wrong. As Paul said, "always be ready with an answer." To tell a person they're wrong, you have to know what they're REALLY saying.

I'm ashamed to say that when I read Proudfoot, I didn't try this. Now that I've finally come to understand much of his argument, I can say "sorry Wayne, you missed a few things", but I can also say "here's what you did right." If we were talking face to face, I'm sure this would make him more ready to listen to what I had to say, rather than a blatent attack on his life's work.

So next time you're having a discussion with somebody, whether or not you're a Christian, and whether or not they are, try to understand what they're saying. Don't let your own biases get in the way. See, if you're right, you've got nothing to lose by considering their point of view. But if you're wrong and they're right, then you have everything to gain. Don't reject the truth because it doesn't fit what you like to believe - accept it because it's true!

November 24, 2004

An Artist in Winter

It's a frustrating time for an artist when he lacks inspiration.

With that line, you may be amused or saddened. Amused, because you know me and you probably don't consider me an artist. In truth, it's probably only a self-attributed deception that I consider myself some kind of artist, but I like to think that sometimes I can write a decent song. And I love it when I get to glorify God through my creations, since ultimately He's the real artist, not me.

All the same, those of you who are saddened to hear that statement have it about right. Personally, I've been feeling drained of inspiration lately. I've always just written down what I was feeling and somehow it turned into music. Some pieces took a lot more thought, but eventually they turned out even better than I'd hoped. That's what happened to the song I used to propose to my wife.

But lately I find that I am uninspired.

This is not to say that there's nothing inspiring around me. On the contrary, there is so much around me that should inspire me: my wonderful wife, my friends, the beauty of nature (yes, even in Rochester, it's there), and, more generally, the Glory of God. Somebody once said "what else would you WANT to write about?" And that's how I feel; why would I want to write about some dumb girlfriend (appolagies to my ex's) that screwed me over when I could write about God's amazing mercy, His grace, and His creation?

And yet I am uninspired.

Nothing is coming out on paper when I sit down to write. Which, I admit, is rare. I'm sure that the frequency of my attempts have partially led to the dry-spell, but I often find myself in writer's-block, even after hours of contemplation. I have lots of random ideas about what I could write about, but nothing comes out. So I write down the ideas, and hope someday they'll inspire something.

Maybe this blog thing is my new creative outlet. I did just write a new poem for the description of my little site:

A place for me to rant and rave, a place for me to misbehave
A place for me to share my mind, a place for me to come unwind
A place for me to speak my thoughts, a place to tell of what I ought
A place for me to come and rest, a place for me to give my best

And maybe this is why I suddenly start waxing philosophical about art. I love art, I've loved it my entire life. I can't think of a time in my life when I wasn't fascinated by beauty, by sound (albeit, only most sound, I have my limits - country music, oboe solos, and the harpsichord all set my nerves on edge). I remember as a little kid, sitting around in my room just listening to the various cassette tapes (yes, remember those?) my parents had bought me. Mostly they were instrumental music, but sometimes singing too. I loved to think someday I could create art as beautiful as that.

And then I became a Christian. While I grew up in a Christian household and did the whole church thing, it wasn't until I was 14 that I really began to understand who God is, and it wasn't even until I was a sophomore in college that I started to really ask God Himself. It's been a bumpy road, but I think it's finally starting to look like a road instead of a fairly large forest with the occasional deer path. Now that I was a Christian, I had a whole lot of new stuff I could maybe work with ... and then the words began to flow. My first song took me two years to write (lyrics), and is still not finished. But since then I've had periods of intense writing, where I wrote song after song and barely had time to think about how I really wanted the chords to flow together. I've had times of break, little roadblocks where very little came out, but inevitably I'd come back into some kind of inspiration.

But not this time.

It's almost like I'm doomed to play somebody else's music for the rest of my life. And it's not like I've even gotten to play much lately, I listen to music in the car on the way to work or wherever. But I haven't written any of my own.

To everyone who hates whiners, I appologise profusely. I know this sounds like a rant or whatever (and if you decided that it was worth it to read it, you should've read my poem first), but I'm honestly trying to get to the point. As Rob would say "Chris, just shut up and sing" ... and yet that's precisely the problem.

I really like the music I listen to - David Crowder and Chris Tomlin are fantastic artists, and way more people should listen to their stuff (they've been an addiction for me lately, though up there on my list is still Caedmon's Call and Jars of Clay). And I really want to be able to write so well that my lyrics can be so simple and convey such astounding Truth. For example, Tomlin:

The cross before me, the world behind
No turning back, raise the banner high – it’s not for me, it’s all for You.
Let the heavens shake and split the sky
Let the people clap their hands and cry – it’s not for us, it’s all for You.

Or Crowder:

How great, Your love for us
How great, our love for You
That Grace would cover us
How great, Your love ...

They're amazing! The music goes as well with these words as penut butter with jelly, as milk and cookies, as cheese and ... well, about anything if you're me, but that's besides the point. My honest to goodness point is that I really want to figure out why my inspiration is gone. Is it stress? Is it lack of sleep? Is it God saying "time to do something else"? The last one I already discounted, because two years ago God called me to music as a ministry and said "learn to do this well." Makes ya wonder doesn't it?

Maybe this is just to show all of you that Christians, as much as we talk about God's unfailing love sometimes lose sight of it. We often forget that He'll take care of us when we're in a period of winter in life. We too can be down to earth and say "this is wrong, why can't it just be right?" and can wrestle with the hard questions.

Yet we're dreamers with our eyes in the clouds, artists with our heads tilted backwards looking higher than we've been and saying "let's go there!" And here is where my ramble comes to an end, for CS Lewis, another man whose writing I aspire to model, wrote these timeless words in the last book of his Narnia Series. Words that inspire me to keep plodding on, no matter what the consequence, no matter how bleak the winter, and no matter how far away the spring:

"Further up and farther in!"

November 23, 2004

A Gift that Counts

Let's talk about Christmas for a sec, hey? I mean, cause that would make a whole lot of sense, since it's only a few days before thanksgiving. Or not so much. But this is precisely my problem.

See, my wife and I were wandering the mall the other day (as I graciously emptied my wallet so she can have some - a lot of - new clothes) and I couldn't help but notice all the hideous decorations they put up. Again. And I found myself saying something that worried me:

"ya know, I hate the Christmas season."

If that's not a red flag for a Christian, I don't know what is. But the truth is that I've been saying that for years. When I said it she had a shocked expression and asked "why??" And it's funny, I'd only sort of tried to think about it before then. The only answer I could give her at the time was some mumbled response about hideous decorations and crowds.

But frankly, the real problem is consumerism. I wish that I didn't have to deal with secular society's mass mis-use of the Christmas season as a time for personal gain. The hideous decorations don't help much, but they're really just a hint at the real problem. The fact that we put them up before Thanksgiving in anticipation of "Black Friday" (one of the busiest days of the year in the public malls in America) is pathetic. I've even seen many places getting ready before halloween.

Now, I love getting presents as much as the next guy, and I even found myself doing my Christmas shopping really early this year. This is partially because I knew exactly what I wanted to get my wife, partially because I really wanted to impress her (before I knew she'd try to search our apartment trying to find it, but thank goodness I'd had it mailed to my parents' house), but mostly because I knew I'd never get what I wanted to get for her if I didn't do it early. People go out and buy so much stuff before Christmas - stuff for every member of the family, in large quantity - that nothing is left for those of us who are so busy with getting ready for the stuff the Church does on Christmas (and consequently can't shop for people until Dec. 24, and even then, if we get up at 8am).

This brings me to Christmas itself. Yes, I'm sick of the consumerism. This doesn't make gifts a terrible thing. I really like to give stuff to people. Like I said, I'm done shopping for my wife because I can't wait to give her a gift.

Or three.

I come from a swiss family. This does not necessarily mean that we really like swiss cheese, watches, and chocolate (though we do), but it does mean that we celebrate on Christmas eve. Remember Christmas eve? The night Jesus was born? I've never been one for traditions, but I love hearing my grandmother (or whoever is elected that year) reading the Christmas story.

My uncle has even come up with a fantastic tradition for opening presents. He too, was sick of consumerism, but didn't want that to detract from the spirit of giving. So instead of the mass chaos that happens so often when opening presents as a big family, he took his little unit of five (well, now four or six, depending on the year, since Josh got married) and they open presents one present at a time. This way everyone gets to appreciate the gift, and the person who gave it gets to really express what they meant by the gift.

Consequently, gift giving means more to them. It gets drawn out all day (they have other traditions on Christmas eve), but hey, isn't that a cool way to do it? Prolong the fun and make your gift mean more?


So this Christmas season, try to think about what matters. Two thousand years ago, God gave Himself to us to reclaim our world for Him: the ultimate gift. Draw it out a little. Or a lot! Make His gift to us count. Above all, remember that your gift back to Him can only try to match His gift - you'll have to give all of yourself. Believe me, it'll make His day.

November 22, 2004

The Memory of a Fish: An Ammendment

So I want to ammend what I wrote yesterday. As it turns out, I left out one very crucial component to talking about my life as relating to sleep: I often screw it up. More specifically, I often screw up the balance that has to naturally come with the amount of stuff I do, especially in my priorities.

For weeks now, I have been trying to balance my classes, my work schedule, and maybe see my wife once in a while. I failed. I decided to make it up to her by spending a day with her to be just us.

That worked.

However, it seems that in the process, I neglected a rather important part of my studies as well. While it doesn't matter which part it is, it's important for me to take away a lesson from this: BALANCE IS CRUCIAL.

I forgot that I had to balance everything over time. Not that it would just eventually balance itself out, but I didn't make sure to think about all of the aspects of what I was doing. I realize that I have the memory of a fish and so naturally I forget to do half the stuff I'm supposed to. This pretty much guarentees that I cannot multitask.

This is a bad thing.

I guess I'm just tired of it all. But that doesn't mean I can't keep going. I will endeavor to work harder at this, but I guess at this point it means playing "catch-up". For this, I simply ask your patience and your indulgence when I ask you "what did I say I was about to do?"

The memory of a fish, I swear.

November 21, 2004

Sleep, Inc.

Have you ever noticed that you'll never hear a college student say "my goodness, I just can't sleep another wink"? I mean, does that bother anybody? Well, anyone other than me?

It seems to me that today's college student is seriously having a problem with overcommittment. A strange problem to have, to be sure, but nonetheless, we tend to need to do EVERYTHING we can: jobs, girlfriends (or boyfriends, depending on who you are), fraternities (frat party anyone?) or sororities, and oh yeah, schoolwork, and maybe, just maybe, if you ever find the time, sleep. But nobody ever gets to that last one because we're too busy with all the rest of them (ever noticed how easy it is to stay up way past your bedtime to talk with friends and possibly play smash bros. on N64 until 4am?).

I must say, I thought it would all change when I got married. As it turns out, it doesn't change at all - especially when you marry someone who likes "Warcraft III" as much (or more, sometimes) than you do. Yes, I was up until 2am last night playing computer games with my wife ... and really enjoying it.

But I must also say that I have gotten more work done than ever before. I think it might have something to do with motivation - as in, I'm more motivated to get my work done earlier (instead of at 4am) so I can spend time with her when she gets home from work. And it works ... I've only had a few weekends where I was busy all day working and didn't get to goof off (mostly because the paper was too long to finish during the week).

I've also cut back on lots of stuff. I don't do half of the stuff I used to, though I've added a part-time job (gotta pay the rent). So maybe I've just been inspired to cut back. Is this part of growing up? Maybe. Has it worked? Absolutely. Would I trade it for those late-night guitar jams?


I get more sleep now, I get my work done, and I still get to see my friends. And I have an awesome wife! Some things I guess are more important than others.

But I can't wait for break.

November 20, 2004

The Sermon at Denny's

I've been thinking an awful lot about the sermon on the mount these days. It all started a week ago when I read a book called The Wager, by Bill Myers. A wonderful book, I might add; I highly recommend it. The book is about a movie star who's also a Christian, and he has a dream that God and Satan have made a wager (of sorts): that he can/can't live by the sermon on the mount. The premise is, as is normal for Bill Myers, fascinating. Just like his book Eli, about a parallel universe when Jesus (Eli) comes in our time; Eli gives "the sermon at Denny's," if you will. They're both books that really got me thinking ... how often do all of US try to live by that sermon? Or any sermon? Do we just go to church on sunday and then say "wow, he had a great sermon this week" and move on to our week, totally untouched by anything the speaker said?

I wonder if it was like that in Jesus' day too.

The one part of it that's been bugging me this week has been Matthew 5:27-30. In this particular passage, Jesus talks about adultery. Yes, that's right, adultery. "Why," you ask, "would a great, wonderful, devoted husband such as yourself be worrying about adultery? Have you been playing in the wrong sandbox?"

Now, to anyone that knows me, it's entirely obvious that I'm very loyal to my wife; to be overly practical, why would you bother to marry someone if you're just going to cheat on them later? The reason I worry is verse 28: "But I tell you that anyone that looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery in his (her) heart."

That's a little frightening for anyone who's trying to do life right.

Have you noticed that in today's generation, for even the most moral people, it would seem that it's "ok to look, just don't touch". I hear that a lot, from friends at school to prominant speakers on relationships and sexuality such as John Gray. But honestly, what is Jesus saying here? Is he saying never look at a member of the opposite sex (except your spouse) lest you sin and have to gouge out your eye? No, Jesus is way nicer than that. I think, honestly, he's saying that yes, it's ok to admire beauty, but when you stop admiring beauty and start wondering what that beauty could DO for you, you get yourself into spiritual trouble. It's about not being selfish in your thoughts. It's about serving your spouse (by placing her or him first and foremost in your private visual world) and about serving God (by obeying).

In a way, it's also about serving those whom you might be tempted to look at in the wrong way; by dwelling on lustful thoughts, you start creating a fantasy for yourself in your mind, which that person could never live up to (which of course explains why this applies to everyone, single and married alike). Can you look at a woman and be fine? Sure. Guys do it all the time. Can you look at a woman and sin? Again, sure, and in fact, it's easier to do (they're such nice looking people, aren't they?). The key is in attitude: are you looking for you or are you looking for God? To appreciate beauty is to look for God; to say "wow, that's really great, good job God!" To look for yourself is to lust, something like "hey, how can I get my hands (or whatever) on that?"

So I guess ... you could try and be safe and isolate yourself in a box somewhere or blind yourself and never look at another person again (because yes, you could conceivably look upon a member of the same sex with lust too, if you're into that sort of thing). It's that you gotta let Jesus change your heart sot hat you look at things with HIS eyes.

I heard today that even little kids are getting into this stuff ... my mom called and told me about these new orgy groups that are getting together - in Jr. High schools. That's right, kids from as young as 5th grade are having orgies to have "sexual satisfaction" without actually having sex. How crazy is that?! Have we perverted our world so much that little kids feel like they have to follow in the sins of their fathers/mothers/etc?

Go out into the world and change it for God: serve others like crazy, show people how following God makes life better, and they will follow. God didn't put us on this earth to wait around for heaven: he made this world so we could bring a little slice of heaven here! Yes, heaven is coming; but wouldn't you rather show more people what it'll be like instead of just waiting for it?

A New Kind of Column

I've never tried this before, but I suppose it's worth a shot, right? I can share my vast wisdom and many years of accumulated knowledge with the entire world from the comfort of my tiny studio apartment, wearing nothing but a towel.


Hopefully you won't keep that image in mind as you read any of this stuff, but I suppose it can't be helped. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the stuff I type. Goodness knows that it'll be entirely random (and so will the regularity with which I post), but hey, I'm in college, it's to be expected.