faith, links, medicine, music, personal

Links for July 16, 2017

Here are some links to stories and blog posts that I’ve read recently that I think are worthwhile to pass along.

First up, my friend David Baldwin wrote an eloquent and moving meditation on love and his journey of figuring out his sexuality in an evangelical environment.  It’s beautiful.  Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts on love, David.

The loving God that I believe in made me just the way I am. He filled me with desires for love and connection, some of which can come from friendship, and some of which can come only from a romantic relationship with a person to whom I’m wildly attracted, and who wants to be with me the way I want to be with him. If I believe that God is truly loving, I have to believe that he did make me exactly as I am, and I need to continue pursuing patience, kindness, humility, and the many other virtues of love in the way that best leads me towards these things. That way is love. So I will pursue love until I no longer can.

Two years ago I wrote about how I changed my mind about same sex relationships, and it was thinking about my friend David that began the change in my heart.  In that post I wrote that I would be following it up with some posts about the Bible passages that are usually used to condemn homosexuality.  I finally have one of those posts nearly finished so that should be up in the near future.  But before I get into abstract theological debates, I wanted to highlight the very real human element.

Next is a piece about a Christian alternative rock band named The Violet Burning.  Michial Farmer, a fellow alum from the same Bible college I attended (though we didn’t actually overlap), has been writing a series of primers on bands and artists in the 90s Christian alternative rock scene.  I was in high school and college during the 90s and these were some of the bands that meant the most to me in those years.  Farmer has been doing a meticulous job in listing, ranking, and commenting on the important albums from these bands; all of the entries are well worth a read if you know these bands or if by some chance would like to know them now.

I want to highlight this entry on The Violet Burning because their music intersects with some of my personal history with how I met my wife.  I met her on an online message board that discussed Christian alternative music, and my very first post on that message board involved TVB’s song “Ilaria.”  Farmer says about the song that “Despite the hermeneutic gymnastics of some of Pritzl’s more pious fans, it’s hard to hear “Ilaria” as about anything other than sex,” and sure enough, that’s what my first post on the message board argued as well: “I myself have had Plastic and Elastic since it came out in late 98 and, to be honest, I’ve always thought the song was about sex.”  She noticed my post.

We got married a little over three years after that initial post, and we ended up including one of The Violet Burning’s more worship-y songs in our wedding ceremony.  My wife’s older brothers played and sang a deeply meaningful version of “I Remember” during communion.  (While I’m mentioning our wedding music, I would be remiss not to share David’s version of The Magnetic Fields’s “It’s Only Time”—it’s so beautiful.)

At some point I’m going to write more about my relationship with Christian alternative music, and with Christian music more generally.  I touched on it in the piece I wrote last year for Rock & Sling about Michael W. Smith and the first cassette I purchased at a Christian bookstore, but there’s so much more to be said about how music, and Christian music especially, has been tied up in my identity over the years.

The last piece I want to share is about home health care workers by Sarah Jaffe.  I’ve written a number of short snapshots I’ve called “Hospital Stories” about the year I worked taking care of difficult patients in a hospital as a constant observer.  This particular piece of journalism follows the career of June Barrett who has worked in Florida as a home care worker since 2003, not long after she immigrated to the United States from Jamaica.  It’s a hard, demanding job, but it doesn’t pay very well.  I remember well that I didn’t make a whole lot more than minimum wage for my hospital job either.  It’s especially relevant now with the current health care bills in Congress and the potential for Medicaid cuts.  As the article points out, under the Affordable Care Act,

The expansion of Medicaid, which took effect in 2014, meant more funding for home care and more jobs for care workers. The bill also expanded healthcare for the workers themselves – Barrett had never had chicken pox as a child, and when she contracted it as an adult from a client with shingles, it aggravated her asthma.

The whole piece is worth reading to think about the value we put on the hard and sometimes menial work of taking care of sick people in their homes.

I might try this link format again if there is remotely any interest in it.

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faith, music, personal

Remembered Sounds

I wrote another short piece for the Rock & Sling blog for their Remembered Sounds series.  It’s about the first cassette tape I ever purchased: Michael W. Smith’s Go West Young Man.  The name Remembered Sounds comes from a line in a Wallace Stevens poem: “The self is a cloister full of remembered sounds.”  I like that, and I like it as a unifying theme for significant music in my life.  A lot of my memories are bound up with music in a sort of soundtrack to my life.

At the end of the essay, itself a meditation on music and faith in my life, I listed five spiritual songs I listen to now.  Whereas I used to expect explicit answers and easy messages, now I live with questions and doubt.  I plan to write about these songs in the future, but I’ll put them down here so they can provide a soundtrack to the essay.

Sinead O’Connor “Take Me to Church”

Vampire Weekend “Ya Hey”

Cat Power “Say”

David Bowie “Where Are We Now”

Phosphorescent “Song for Zula”

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music, personal

Covers

A few different times I’ve included a song with a post if it happened to be on topic, but for this post I want to share a few songs that I’ve been listening to a lot recently.  All of them happen to be covers.

Cover songs are interesting when done well.  They transform a song to a new context, give it a new shape and sound, and sometimes resuscitate life into it.  But what I find most interesting is that no matter how transformed a song is by a cover version, there is still some core identity that remains.  There’s a kernel of the song that the listener can recognize even when it changes clothes, speeds up, slows down, or completely metamorphosizes.

I’m thinking about this in part because my high school class’s 20th reunion is next month, and I’m not able to get back for it.  I haven’t kept up with many of my classmates, and some I haven’t seen since graduation.  I feel like I’ve changed a lot in the intervening years, but that there is something still distinctly me that is the same.  I’m different versions of the same song.

The first cover is Brian Eno’s version of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free.”  Here’s what Eno had to say about the song: “That particular song always resonated with me but it took about 25 years before I thought about the lyrics. “I’m set free, to find a new illusion”. Wow. That’s saying we don’t go from an illusion to reality (the western idea of “Finding The Truth”) but rather we go from one workable solution to another more workable solution.

I like to think of it in slightly different terms, something more like we go from one story to another story.  We tell ourselves the story of our lives, with ourselves as the main characters.  Sometimes it’s one long continuous narrative.  But sometimes we revise and start a new story.  We’re set free to find a new illusion.

The next song is Sturgill Simpson’s cover of “The Promise” by When In Rome.  Mostly this is an excuse to share something from Simpson’s album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music which I recently discovered and have been listening to a bunch.  When I heard this song I didn’t immediately know that it was a cover, but something about it sounded familiar.  It felt like I should know it, though when I looked up the original, I couldn’t say for certain that I had known it (though I had definitely heard it before during the ending of Napoleon Dynamite).  It’s a classic example of a one hit wonder.

Simpson turns what was originally a new wave synthpop driving melody into a plaintive cry.  A gentle piano solo in the original becomes a soulful guitar in the cover.  It’s a tremendous transformation all around.  Though they are worlds apart, I really like both versions.  And I like the song because I relate to the confession in the chorus of the speaker’s inability to communicate fully and completely what he desires: “I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say / I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be.”  Then, despite the shortcomings of the speaker, he overpromises that he will overcome everything to get his lover to fall for him.  The grandiose feelings are over the top, but that’s what love can feel like sometimes.

The last cover is divisive.  Max Richter took it upon himself to “recompose” one of the most famous pieces in classical music: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.  He thought it had become too familiar, almost like elevator music.  So he wanted to “reclaim the piece, to fall in love with it again.

In this selection from “Spring,” Richter takes the bird like sounds of the violin from Vivaldi and loops them while providing a bass line progression that is emotionally evocative.  I found many reviews that hated this combination, especially the latter part.  One described it as “tak[ing] a bit of the original—the solo violin birdsong in the first movement of “Spring” for example—and repeat[ing] it mindlessly over a pop-ish chord progression”; another echoed the sentiment: “The string line underpinning the first section added an unfortunate dollop of schmaltz.”  Well, I like it.  Maybe because it is a pop chord progression and schmaltzy.  I found the effect extremely entrancing and moving.

And here are the originals if you want to compare.

The Velvet Underground “I’m Set Free”

When In Rome “The Promise”

“Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (The selection I picked featuring Anne Sophie Mutter doesn’t let me embed the video, so you’ll have to click on the link to hear/watch it.)

 

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music, personal

Cross that River

To continue with the river theme, here’s a song I’ve been listening to lately.  Whenever I hear it I think of my friend Andy, and sometimes when I’m thinking of him I put it on.  He was killed six years ago; the anniversary of his death was last week.  He was a police officer, and he was responding to a domestic disturbance at a club when he was killed.

Tallulah Gorge GA

Andy attended the same Christian high school as I did.  We went off to Christian college together as roommates.  Yes, it was confusing when we got phone calls, but most people called us by our last names.  We did a lot of hiking on and around campus, as well as in nearby Tallulah Gorge.  One time we were down in the Gorge.  We were scrambling on the rocky embankment to get around a bend in the river.  It was wet and slippery in January.  There were some metal bolts in the rocks that we used to steady ourselves, but they were few and far between.  Andy had made it to higher and drier ground.  He was safe.  I was between bolts and nearly slipping down the steep slope.  Andy offered to come down and take my hand.  I refused him and told him to stay where it was safe.  I didn’t want to drag him down with me if I slid.  When I finally made it up to safety, he called me the most stubborn person he knew.   He was right; I was being ridiculous.

After college we went separate ways: he went to seminary, and I went to grad school to study literature.  We kept in touch and visited each other when it was feasible, even traveling hundreds of miles to do so.  Though we changed after those years in college, we were still such close friends.  It didn’t matter if we’d started to diverge in some of our theological or political views and no longer agreed on nearly everything.   He still accepted me and knew who I was, as I did him.  But it’s hard for me to think of him as a police officer.  He’d been an officer a little over a year when he was killed.  We lived in different states.  The last time I’d seen him he was still in training.

Before he became a police officer, he was aiming to become a missionary.  He had spent years preparing to go overseas.  He had studied at Bible college and seminary.  He had worked all sorts of odd jobs for years while he tried to raise funds of support.  It didn’t work out.  By then he had a family to support, so he suspended his missionary candidacy and got a job that had stability.  And barely over a year later he was dead.  I think I would have come to accept his new vocation, learned to re-orient my understanding of him.  But I never really got the chance.  And it wasn’t all that much of a change, now that I think about it.  He was willing to take risks to help people, just like he was reaching out to me so I wouldn’t fall down the steep slope into the river.  Except he did end up getting dragged down.

This blog is about strangers and change.  I don’t think Andy and I would have ever been strangers no matter the changes we went through.  He was that kind of friend.  I miss him terribly.

Postscript.  Concerning the song, there’s nothing that is all that particular about Andy or his life, but I love the picture of needing a helping hand to cross the rivers of our lives, even though the story I’ve told is one where I didn’t accept his help.  If I had it to do over, I’d take his hand.  I also like the image of a “flying amphibian,” which in its ridiculousness does make me think of Andy.  He had a menagerie of animals in high school, from an iguana to an albino python.

 

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