Remember, So You Don’t Forget: Part I

I can remember several years back re-stumbling across the book of Deuteronomy and having a eureka moment if you will.   Like the rest of the Bible, I had read it over and over throughout my pilgrimage as a reincarnated son of the wilderness yahoo’s called the Israelites. Nonetheless, as often happens as a wayward son of God, we miss the forest for the trees about every other Monday—and I’m being nice here. But as I stumbled across this powerful book and read and prayed through it with the desperateness of a dog in search of a good bone, there it was like salivary delight for Pavlov’s dog. What began to formulate in my mind and made itself front and center of my time spent here was a recurring theme that sounds more like a contradiction than anything to ponder, especially if you’re an English major. The very words “Remember, so you don’t forget” were so naturally flowing from Moses sermonic tone throughout, so much so that I wrote it down in the introductory page of my Bible, and from there I made the time to let it grip me for a period, and to which now…you guessed it, I had now forgotten. I’m definitely an Israelite.

 

As I read through this book of sermons to the people of Israel from a man preparing for his own exit stage left, the constant catchphrase from Moses lips to the people is to “remember not to forget”. And the particular thrust for me comes in chapter 4 and verse 9 where Moses writes,

 

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life”

 

Now rather than go into some ever evasive perfect meaning for what “soul” means, I think it’s safe to say that our soul includes “who we are” as a person. It starts from the head and goes to the toes. It comprises what keeps us up at night, drives us during the day and causes us to smile at laughing babies that we can’t get enough of. It has to do with what we do with our time, what we think about and who and what we choose to listen to. It is the real you: naked, warts and all. And so to keep one’s soul diligently, means to live our lives purposefully and intentionally.

 

Now as Americans we get that, even though most of us don’t do it. We’ve been sold purposeful living from parents, teachers, Sunday prophets and self-improvement gurus like the surety of death and taxes. We know it’s important physically, spiritually, mentally, psychologically, etc., etc., etc., but we still don’t do it; some of us think we can’t do it; and this world for goodness sakes makes it difficult as Hell to do it. We’re waiting on the next big break, and the Israelites were waiting on manna soufflé and water from a rock, but it’s the same ole song and dance. We are all just trying to make it the best we can while Darwin’s fittest run right past us. And as a result, we complain, we bitch and moan, we ask “why”, and reach for some kind of past slavery in our own previous or future Egypt that we think will fix it. We think a change in geography, a better diet, a bigger bank account, a new hairdo, a sexier mate, a bigger job and some chocolates under our pillow and some Grey Poupon if you please might just do it. But of course you know it doesn’t. That’s for another blog. The point is, regardless of our circumstances, we pretty much do everything except…you guessed it again, “Keep our soul diligently”, and I’ve finally found the reason why, but not just yet.

 

First of all, Moses proceeds to remind the people so they won’t forget things like:

 

  • Remember you were a slave in Egypt (5:15)
  • Remember what God did to Pharaoh and all of Egypt (7:18)
  • Remember the way God has led you in the wilderness, to humble you, to test you and to know what was in your heart as to whether you would obey Him or not (8:2)
  • Remember God is the one who gives you the power to get wealth (8:18)
  • Remember what God hates (9:7)
  • Remember you were a slave and the Lord redeemed you (15:15)
  • Remember where you came from (16:3)
  • Remember you were a slave and be careful to observe the statues (24:18)
  • Remember the olden days, study the generations, ask your Mom and Dad and your elders (32:7)

 

And these are just a few. See any repetition here? If I could sum these warnings to remember into conversational Mark Prince street language it would be something like this:

 

  • Remember where you came from girlfriend, you ain’t all that!
  • God is an awesome God and will kick your butt, because He’s God and you’re not! (repeat as many times as necessary for it to sink in)
  • God wants to know how your heart really beats more than anything, and what makes you tick.
  • Don’t get cocky thinking you’re all that and a bag of chips, God is the one who ultimately determines whether or not to entrust you with wealth and can just as easily take it away in a New York Minute!
  • Remember God saved you; you didn’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps contrary to popular demand. (That’s not Obamaspeak, that’s Godspeak, so please note the difference)
  • Do what God says!
  • Listen to the wisdom of Godly parents, Godly people and learn from generational stupidity and wisdom please.

 

 

And the purpose of this blog today is not to go into a detailed list of what Deuteronomy teaches, but really to emphasize one very important thing: We are forgetful to a bloody fault! Which is why Moses is telling us to keep our soul (that is who we are in every facet) diligently! And let me just go ahead and tell you that I lead the pack in “not” doing this OK. One who set out to be some kind of spiritual director or guide on the path of following Jesus has over and over again forgotten what he already knows to be true, but because of all the giants in the land; and fear; and depression (which comes from…you guessed it, the devil); and shiny rings and what they represent (Gollum); and hot chicks; and rock n roll; and triple cheeseburgers from Wendy’s; and great cigars; and good bourbon and Pecan “freakin” Pie for goodness sakes–I get sidetracked and I forget. And so do you. You dig? Oh yeah, sure God made us to love all of these things and our heavenly Father also knows we got to pay the dang rent, but here is that answer I said I finally found smack dab in chapter 8 of Deuteronomy and echoed again in Matthews gospel. Drum roll please.  Moses writes in chapter 8:2 the following,

 

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. [3] And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD”.

 

Can I just say, “badabingbadaboom”? And can I get a witness up in here? And in case you were wondering if the Old Testament and New Testament were some polar opposites, we now turn our eyes to Matthew 6:33, where contextually the gospel writer has been talking about how the heavenly father knows what we need…but he says this,

 

[33] “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”

 

You see the problem with you and I is that we are so focused on our surroundings, circumstances and very stark realties (what we see in the natural realm), but we have forgotten that we are children of the God of the Universe who has chosen to invite us to know Him, and He’s really big, and much bigger than all that stuff that is weighing us down like a fatboy suit. Or perhaps, and this is the really big one, perhaps those of us who still call ourselves Christians, or perhaps nominally and loosely so, don’t really believe that He is that big at all. Moment of silence please.

 

You see this is the chink in the armor at least for me, perhaps it is for you as well. You see I know where the water is and I drink properly from it regularly, but my problem is that I actually drench myself with the worlds’ realties and sidebar philosophies for nowhere men often more so, and before long I don’t hear so well God’s voice anymore, and I forget, and the next thing you know I am beaten down for awhile. And you want to know the real reason I am and you are: It is because the Preacher doesn’t really believe anymore! You see that’s how the slope gets slippery, it is a process over time where attendance to the soul is put on the backburner, or on autopilot (that does not exist), or simply “forgotten’ and left untried altogether (Chesterton).

 

So follow my logic here. Does it not make sense that if you and I believe that we come from God ultimately and first and foremost, and that we are made from his dust, that our very sustenance and survival, and not secondary things like water, food, clothing, sex and more stuff is what our souls need the most of (Does Jesus temptation in the wilderness, being the second Adam, have any relevance here? Hint, Hint) I mean it makes sense right? Well that’s because if you are a Christian, it is the gosh dern, honest to goodness truth! But you see the real question is whether yet we still believe God is ultimate and everything else is secondary, or if we’ve succumbed to the opposing belief that the natural world is really all there is and whoever dies with the most stuff wins this shindig! A good case in point methinks. Because I assure you, if we did truly believe in God as ultimate, a lot of things would change; drastically so. In fact, my wife just told me so this morningJ. But the real catch is: in order to keep one’s soul, it takes a lot of backbreaking work; and you can take that joker to the bank. Or shall we say it’s simple and complex. But the simple part is a decision to believe again in the God who knows us, knows what’s down the road, and who is the one bread that we should not live without. And it is he who is asking us to remember, so we don’t forget!

 

Selah

 

 

Chris Cornell and A Few Thoughts on Depression

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote last, primarily due to being caught up in the rat race of living, perhaps a little writers’ block, and keeping myself comfortably numb to what’s all around me—something I’m not typically very good at. Having said that, my growing battle has been that it seems as if an awful lot of the culture of which I am apart seems to be really skillful at it; and methinks contrary to primrose prophets, this is to an abysmal fault! Perchance also this is a point of comradery I have recently found between Chris Cornell and myself besides both being born in 1964, as he wrote and crooned melodically about things that I hope never cease to break my own heart.

 

By the time Soundgarden debuted in 1984, I was coming back from Los Angeles right before the Olympics after a brief hiatus in 1982 to the Western shores from my South Carolina home. “Down at the Sunset Grill” by Don Henley was playing as I walked down the Sunset Strip where for the first time “we can watch the working girls go by” and “watch the basket people walk around and mumble” were given true flesh and bone meaning in the city of Angels. I can remember feeling for the first time that I was not in Kansas, or Sumter anymore for that matter, and that besides my own dysfunctional upbringing of which I was in constant escape from, the world became a much scarier place for me. After a 1 ½ year stint there and feeling even more lost and alone, I packed up my bags and moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky to hang out with the guys and girls, girls, girls in and around Western Kentucky University, all the while finding a new smokescreen life behind the bar of a famous hotspot in that town–yet with still no particular place to go and with no answers to life’s questions in near sight.

 

Having said that, and given my age, I had pretty much bypassed the grunge era of modern music that was coming upon us during that time. Partly this was because though Chris’s same age, I had my teenage rebellion of which Soundgarden was it’s Priest in the years of the age of 13 to 18. That’s not to say that I didn’t listen to this new wave of music with the likes of Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and others, but I had grown up on the rock n roll of the 70’s and early 80’s with the likes of AC/DC, Van Halen, Boston and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. So in essence, by the time they came out, I was trying to find my adult voice and move forward from a life of teenage angst and stints in reform school in my early years, while some who had played it cool during my “stick it to the man” days were starting to find their rebellion in their early 20’s instead. The only miracle for me is that I survived it all. And though I was still dazed and confused about everything for some more years to come, I had figured out a way at least to stay out of trouble with the “Po, Po” (Madea), and in some loose sense, was striving for how I could rise above the story I had made for myself in a small and seemingly unforgiveable town up until that point. This was pretty much the reason I bolted for California, or Kentucky, or anywhere I could possibly go in order to forget about my seemingly hopeless and directionless life for a while.   And as you might have guessed, I quickly found out a change in geography doesn’t have much to do with filling the inner void that one tries to fill with almost everything except what one needs the most: a steady dose of communion with the creator and hopefully some of his people who actually give a damn. Though admittedly, chasing after both of these for someone who is inclined towards depression can be like chasing a girl who is purposefully playing hard to get.

 

Nonetheless, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, as I slung drinks at the speed of sound to other life escapees, I continually was both drawn “to” and repelled “by” the grunge music that was now center stage. This was simply because as I was struggling with my own quest for answers to life’s questions and the cosmic battle between good and evil that was raging inside of me.  And of course in these songs, their dark and melancholy anthems both reminded me of days gone by and of course my own loneliness–but it also began to show me that it’s nihilism could not ultimately lead anywhere but inside the bottom of a bottle, an empty pill dispenser or at the receiving end of a .45 to the head! In fact, at the time, one of my drug dealer friends played that scenario out all too close to home. With that cataclysmic event, and another close call with the law and a wife and two kids already in tow, these were the final speed bumps I needed to get me searching for the wisdom of Jesus and Augustine instead of the cultural reactionary’s and prophets of Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain, whose deaths now sounds an all too eerie alarm to us all. An alarm that like the fictitious world of Facebook and the American Dream (nightmare), remind us that all that glitters is not necessarily gold, and perhaps those we admire and respect for a variety of reasons, without any real truth serum to inject us with, are leading us to nothing more than the realm of being proverbial nowhere men. Please listen.

 

So as I said, I was not a huge fan of the grunge scene at that time, though as I made my peace with the creator at the age of 27, I began to understand and even like their sound very much. I was was also particularly attuned to what they were saying and feeling, while most of the churches I was apart of could not see past their blasphemy and potential menace to society’s young. The Jesus Christ Pose video was what they thought was their case in point https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14r7y6rM6zA.  In fact, it wasn’t until several years back that I began to notice Chris Cornell again as I watched a movie I cannot recommend highly enough called Machine Gun Preacher starring Gerard Butler, and of which the theme song was written and performed by perhaps the Godfather of alternative music himself. The story is about a man both very much like and also unlike me in many ways, who lived on the rough side of the track, and who after a dramatic series of events with where his outlaw life was taking him, had an encounter with Christ that would change the trajectory of his life in ways he never imagined. Though his style was unconventional and unpopular, his remedy to the pain and suffering of the children of East Africa with no home and no voice was to fight fire with fire and an army of reciprocal machine guns. The song Chris wrote for the film was called The Keeper, pretty much giving words to Sam Childers life, but in it I believe he was subtly exposing us to his own wrestling with the pain and suffering of the world and his wish to be a part of its solution where he writes,

 

“Beauty and truth collide

Where love meets genocide

Where laughter meets fear

Confusion all around

And as I try to feed these mouths

That have never known singing”

 

And then like the character he is describing, I thought I heard his own heart break when he wrote,

 

“I cannot see the light

At the end of the tunnel tonight

My eyes are weary”

 

I live back and forth on any given day in the acute understanding and experience of those words myself, and those lyrics, depicting the character in the movie, I believe also described Chris’s struggle that many of us have. A melee of trying to make sense in a world where the tunnel seems to be getting darker, even as we try to put up our own feeble lampposts along the way for some poor lost traveler (including ourselves) to see with.

 

As I was in a googling frenzy yesterday to try and find some answers from a man who supposedly just converted to Orthodoxy just a few years prior through the influence of his Greek wife, I wondered had that faith taken hold, and to what extent. I knew he was searching, though previously his search unfortunately had led to nothing more than a Postmodern quest that only ends up trying to “nail Jell-O to a wall” (which I also empathize with) instead of really coming down on some kind of truth that has the substance to get us up in the morning and even in the darkness compels us to not be weary in doing good. Yet I also thought, that even if his new Orthodox faith was compelling for him, his suicide blows a hole in this concept that primarily Evangelical Christianity has sold to the gullible masses: that somehow faith in Christ and entrance into this church solves everything, as if somehow the fallen world we are taught about has magically ceased to be fallen in the aftermath of our conversion. The truth is, faith in Christ that is not also immersed in a community of people who truly give a damn daily about each others lives with the honest bearing of one another’s burdens and holding up the weak will not cut it, and currently it is not. Instead, most would rather resort to their doggedness of accusatory glances at incorrect doctrine and who resign to the belief that their lives, compared to their current condescendees, are definitely a measure above. This current lack of communal glue stuck together with love to make what Christianity really has to say taste good in our culture is indeed the $64 question whose answer I am still feverishly looking for.

 

And the truth is, that I really don’t know where Chris was at in his life, though in the days ahead we will get some piece of the story, yet to be sure it will be fragmentary at best. However, in the aftermath of this sadness, it reminds me that it is high time that the people who call themselves “the church” light the way in getting their feet and hands dirty with their pocketbooks, possessions and love rather than equally being caught up in the distraction of the ravenous quest for the American Dream that is derailing all us into oblivion. And the truth is, Cain cannot tell us anything here, for we really are our brother’s keeper contrary to our current belief solely in the love of our individualistic selves, which supposedly needs no one and nothing. And as I sit here today, I ponder whether anyone was paying attention to Chris, and whether or not we are really paying attention to all the pain and suffering around us as the only hands and feet that Jesus has. Or are we, as I confessed earlier, quite comfortably numb to it all, blissfully following our own white picket fence dream on the yellow brick road, while life’s inconvenient traveling companion casualties topple all around us threatening to block our path. Perhaps the desensitization of our culture has now come of age, and we are now past the point of no return in a world where we surf back and forth between news of the latest fashion trend, vacation getaway, or solicitation to buy our favorite cultural icon; yet pass by the bombs that kill little babies or belts that kill fathers in lonely hotel rooms–all in the same sound bite or pixel across our screen.

 

But don’t worry, there is no guilt here intended, unless I start with myself first. And upon Peter’s admonition, I recognize that judgment begins with God’s house of which I am reluctantly apart. And though I have perhaps preached and at least tried to live this message more than most in my circle with my hands and pocketbook, I too am painfully wed to the quest for survival in a naturalistic world that’s random selection cards are almost all taken–and perhaps like you, contemplation of it’s small deck realities consumes way too much of my time. Chris’ passing again reminds us that perhaps fame and some fortune are not what they are cracked up to be, and that even the veneer of family can be a clever camouflage of what’s really going on inside of us that perhaps no one, including your bed buddy, is truly listening to. My prayer is that those of us who call ourselves Christians will take our earplugs out for a while.

 

Selah

 

RIP Chris, and thanks for bearing your soul with us. I hope you now rest in the arms of your Savior. May we all be Keepers of a flame in some small yet profound way.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i2ryOiH0rQ