feel something

"Let me feel something, let me feel something, let me feel something."

I was on my knees. Surrounded by boxes of Hawaiian themed VBS decorations. A couple of foam Roman pillars and piles of costumes from past church plays.

I could hear the sounds of everyone else, all somewhere else. Laughter echoed through the gym. But I couldn’t join them. I had an obligation. 

"Let me feel something, let me feel something, please, let me feel something.” 

Nothing yet.

I was out of time. Youth Group was starting. I brought my guitar up to the stage. I set it in the stand. That’s inaccurate. I set it on the ground. I was shaking. 

This ritual happened every week. We probably played some form of game. Or maybe we didn’t. It depended on the night. Every night, though, the band was on stage too early. When I wasn’t ready.

"Let me feel something, let me feel something, please, let me feel something, God.” 

I sang. Nothing. I screamed. I made my voice break. Nothing. Damn it! (No, I wouldn’t have said that.) Darn it! Nothing. 

I was fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen, too, I think. I can’t remember all the reasons why, but somehow I was in charge of the worship for Youth Group every Wednesday. Standing before my peers in total fear. Desperate to not be faking some connection with the divine on stage. Desperately faking a connection with the divine on stage.

God wasn’t answering me. Just everyone else in front of me with their hands raised. What was I missing? What was I missing? The guilt of leading without spirit is crushing. I fold like a soda can. What was wrong with me? I couldn’t tell anyone I was lying, that I couldn’t feel. I’ve let my friends and family down, I am so evil. I can’t feel anything.

It went on. A couple years.

And then I moved away and tried not to remember.

Now that I’ve spent time attempting to reconcile with those feelings and those memories, I’ve discovered a little more divinity in music. I’ve seen the indescribable connection between people. The energy, the focus, the invisible senses.

I’m still not sure what it means to feel something. If I was in the same position now, ten years later, what would I do? I’d probably still be on some concrete floor begging to experience the emotions others seem capable of. The untethered devotion. The impact from compelling them to dance and sway. 

Music is the closest thing to true church I know. The way I reach out and experience something supernatural. The only way i know how to transcend. Music doesn’t discriminate, or judge our reactions to it. It just is. You can dance or not. But just be there, with music. That’s all music wants. For you to be there and listen.

Purity

It was February. Purity Month. A series of lessons on modesty and dating (and some hushed thoughts on sex) delivered every Sunday.

It was Sunday. We were in groups. The boys, the men, the dudes, heck yeah, on one side of the gym. The girls, the women, the girls. Somewhere else. What do you think they were talking about? Boys? Probably. 

We circled up. The teacher, or group leader, or adult volunteer, or someone’s dad started speaking. He talked about how sex was good, but it was bad for us. He loved his wife. We will love ours too. It felt so good. It was bad for us. 

“You’ll notice that lots of girls like to dress in tempting ways.” 

He said 

“There’s nothing you can do, but turn away and avoid sinning”

He said that too.

Nothing you can do. That’s what so many teachers said. Someone’s dad said. It was the girls’ fault if we had those Bad Thoughts. It was perfectly normal to be tempted by skimpy outfits. You can’t stop yourself. Just turn and run. They taught me that when girls dressed that way I was going to be tempted. I was going to sin unless I ran.

There were many ways the church vilified sex. But an egregious one was this: You can’t stop yourself. 

If we train our boys that they have no control. That they can’t keep it in their pants. Do we have a right to be surprised when they don’t? 

It was said over and over again. Girls will wear tight clothes, you’ll have no choice over what happens next. So don’t even put yourself in that position.

It was the woman’s fault for dressing so erotically. She was to blame, poor us. Why do women make it so hard for men to have a pure heart in this world? They’d say. 

I can only speak to my experience and in anecdotes. But what I know from my upbringing is that it is engrained in many parts of our society. And we continue to wonder why so many men who were taught to be afraid of sex find it difficult to control it. Men who were told they had no control. Who were told they were some disgusting type of Jekyll and Hyde. We wonder why our boys turn out so angry and confused about sex. In my experience, it’s because we often raise them to be so afraid of their own sexuality, they can’t imagine wrestling that nightmare. The nightmare always wins.

Goodness In Faith

The Benediction EP is about to release. It’s an album about church and mishandled faith. 

There have been millions of people affected negatively by religion and specifically the American church. But I believe that faith doesn’t have to be synonymous with corruption. This album isn’t intended to be about throwing punches. It’s intended to be an earnest rush into finding a positive and beautiful truth so often hidden from view.

I grew up in church. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday, Saturday. I went Guy’s Night on Thursday. I went to Men’s Group. I went to VBS, I helped teach at VBS. I grew up in the Youth Group, led worship for it, failed miserably to help teach. 

I’ve seen people excommunicated for defying the church. I’ve seen them disappear after the church discovered they were gay. Asked to step down for believing differently. I’ve seen the power wielded by priests and pastors. I’ve seen plenty of gods created to justify man’s own needs. I’ve seen Christianity used to tear down and destroy. 

We’ve seen that gormless Falwell quote, "A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.” We’ve all seen the abuse, even if you haven’t found it inside your own church. Mark Driscoll, John Piper, James MacDonald, everyone here: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/Southern-Baptist-sexual-abuse-spreads-as-leaders-13588038.php

I was a part of that too. I was seduced by the lies of a pastor. I took part in shaming others who I viewed as inferior to me. I had knowledge of the unknown and the foolish were still ’searching’. I was too young and insecure to wield enough power to be dangerous, thank god. But I was certainly convinced that my faith was a step stool above the lost. If anyone was affected by this, I’m deeply, impossibly sorry. I was a selfish bigot. I do not believe that now.

When I started asking questions. I found myself up slammed against a wall. It went: it was so good that I was asking questions. It’s good to ask questions, Josiah. Josiah, what a great question, that’s a tough one. That’s an important question to be asking. There was never an answer, though. Then it turned to shame. A true believer would never ask these questions. God doesn’t want someone who won’t listen. 

I never experienced something so unbelievably brutal as the women who have been abused by pastors. But, it did take a long time to be comfortable enough with that part of my past to evaluate it. To recognize that all religion is too easily twisted. Into only allowing you to experience the divine in one way. The right way. Stand like this, hold your hands like this. To whisper about that enough to feeling comfortable yelling. I’m far from complete. But here’s why I felt ready to write these songs. 

Because I believe that there is a reconciliation to be found. I do believe that I could find full faith in a church that chooses to truly love. I hold on desperately to a hope that there is goodness in faith. That the ugliness and destruction set up by powerful leaders can be erased. I believe that true church and true love exist. I believe we are not there yet and there may be many miles left. But I believe we can get there. I believe that.

on silence

silence.jpg

This was inspired by Tiffany Wong, an incredible artist here in Chicago. Please click here to see all of her work.

I’ve been considering the invisible racism of my youth. The racism that covertly informed me. To be clear: Invisible and covertly are, decidedly, violently misnomered. It’s humiliatingly clear when I examine and appraise my past. It should have been unmistakable, uncoverable.

But, I believed the elected narrative. Of course, racism doesn't exist anymore. We have no issue with anyone. Of course, there is no difference between us and people of color. Of course, everyone is the same. Of course, of course, of course.

When 92.2% of the county surrounding you is the same chroma-less shade, there is rarely an opportunity to test the story. It’s easy to bury assumptions when you hardly find yourself in a position to assume. The myth of completion is simple and neat.

I remember the first time I saw It—heard It—the vile, foundationless, loud, prejudiced It. That was inside papa's 1995 Chevy Silverado c. Spring 2010. The truck was now mine. I was newly 16 and proud to own the garishly green beater. I was driving papa home. Feeling taller than I should have in my tiny Greenado. A brief silence was broken by his soft midwestern voice.

“I don’t like that.”

“What?” I scanned the road ahead, looking for something odd. Something un-christian maybe.

“Halfies. I don’t like when people mix.”

There was silence. His thin, wobbly voice began banging around in my skull. I didn’t understand what he meant. I never heard anyone speak with those terms, with that certainty. And it was papa, how could he do wrong? I didn’t say anything and the conversation changed somehow, I assume, I don’t remember. The drive ended there for me. My mind stayed at that intersection.

At this point I had no real concept of sex (you did read my age correctly), or race for that matter, I only knew it was wrong. What he said was wrong. It felt sick and I couldn’t say why.

For a good while after that, I ignored what had happened. It was an outlier, an exception, an accident. 

Then I saw It happen again and again. The gross summation of an else. Another. And I, of course, rejected it. No sir, I do not believe that for one second. There is no difference between them and I.

But there is a Second It. This is the ferocious truth that sinks its teeth deep. There is a prejudice that prefers to live along the edges. A clandestine agent equipped with one thousand explanations in case you become suspicious. 

If you wonder why you hear people talk about racial inequality the Second It will say, “Some people, not all people, of course, they just want attention.” 

If you ask It why so many of the homeless are people of color, It will sigh and say, “some people, not all people, of course, but, you know, a lot of people just don’t want to work hard.” 

If you wonder how come there are so few black people here, in our church, It hesitates for a second, and then explains, “There just aren’t that many in this area.” 

If you wonder why that should matter, It will say, “We are probably just not as exciting as black churches.”

“I’ve known some Mexicans and they’re just the nicest people, but you know, if you’re not here legally, you’ve got to face the consequences, of course.” It will say. “Of course, of course, of course.” Never considering what the consequences are. Never considering the other.

Ignorance is a god-damned paradise for one. These practices strip away the humanity of anyone who is different. Instead of immediately siding with our fellow mortals, screaming to be heard. We side with a faceless governing body. Instead of considering that no human is standing out in the cold because they have more than I do, we label them neatly as “lazy”. Instead of wondering if, perhaps, white Christians may be unable to relate to the concerns and questions of others, we are sure they’re simply different, it’s they that do not understand. And instead of caring about the families and children of our neighbors, we can only express mewling pity that they didn’t plan ahead for this.

I now know the denial of racism, the rejection of societal inequality is just as cowardly as a proud megaphonic bigot. I can only speak for myself, I can only change myself. But please know this:

I pray that we may all be aware and ashamed of any silence. I pray I will  always speak for those who can’t. I pray that any excess I receive, I give it away. I pray that I will never stay silent again in the face of chickenhearted prejudice.

All We Got Is Rhythm And Timin'

I want to talk to you about Blazing Arrow by the irrepressible Blackalicious.

This email has been in various stages of blank for over a week. I find it hard to feel adequate when describing this album. Every song is an experiment in sound and verse. Some soar higher than others, but each track is a backbeat to sincerity. There is an incommunicable energy that surrounds every word Gift of Gab carefully places into the universe. And here, on this album, like Nia before it, the words swirl, twist, and internalize in ever increasing complexity and honesty. Pair this with an equally unmatched and exploratory musical bed from Chief Xcel and you have, in this dweeb's opinion, one of the most wonderful music experiences ever given to mankind.

It starts with one of the most joyously self-referencing intros on any album. It may, rightfully, never make it on a list of Best Intros—
but
damn
you
if
you
don't
find
it
infectious.

Most of this album is a love letter to the craft of rap and music. The title track, 4000 Miles, Paragraph President, and Chemical Calisthenics are all intricately formulated to share the joy of creating music with the listener. It's rare for a musician to offer that experience up so freely. And rarer still for it to be so transcendent. Every song seems to be in love with itself and bursting with pride that it exists. Simply wonderful.

Green Light: Now Begin and Make You Feel That Way are unapologetically positive and stunning sunny summer songs. Through some form of wizardry, nothing feels half-baked and nothing feels heavy handed. These songs are 5 course meals of energetic affirmation. Full, comforting, servings of your favorite foods.

Look, this album kicks all kinds of ass, is what I'm saying. Just do yourself a solid and listen to First In Flight or Day One. And then the entire project. 

There is not another album that impacts me the way Blazing Arrow does. An album of songs created for the love of the song. Track after track of earnest musical exploration and lyrical R & D. I can only pray to notice the light as much as Gab and Xcel do on this album.

An Airport Conversation

Somewhere deep within the bowels of O'Hare International Airport (formerly known as Orchard Field Airport, and increasingly formerly and informally known as Douglas Airport) there was a phone conversation that took place. There are thousands of phone conversations that take place, most of them never eavesdropped upon. This could be due to the careful consideration on the part of the callee, or the wild inconsideration of the achy clumsy masses loudly fighting the soundwaves around the miserable portal to the sky.

But I was in the fortunate position of: Uncomfortably Slouched One Seat To The Left from a Blissfully And Wonderfully Loud Person; I had no choice but hear one of the ten thousand buzzing calls leaving O'Hare International Airport at 1300 hours, on April 23rd, 2013. It was a simple conversation, but one that has stayed on the outskirts of my thoughts for years:

"I just feel bad that I left you alone"

"Actually, I feel terrible that I left you alone"

"You needed to be alone?"

"Okay."

"Are you running?"

"You're just exercising the hell out of yourself"

"I just feel bad that I left you alone"

"You needed to be alone?"

"Okay."

"Okay."