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Blood comes before the scar; hunger before the apple.

–Leslie Jamison, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”

 

“Defensive”

1. defending or protecting someone or something from attack: helping to keep a person or thing safe


2. behaving in a way that shows that you feel people are criticizing you


 

It’s not my fault the new rosebushes didn’t get watered. I was running errands, taking the kids to soccer and music lessons, and I have an essay for American Lit due tomorrow. Why didn’t you do it?

When my husband complains, I first point out that it’s not my fault, and then point out why he is culpable instead.

It’s not my fault the dinner burned. I had to get our son into the shower, and make our daughter do her homework, and couldn’t you hear the oven timer?

But more often than not, my husband was merely stating that the rosebush was suffering because everyone forgot to water it. He didn’t mention the burned dinner other than to ask, what’s that smell?

I grew up in south Louisiana’s Bible Belt. I read my Picture Bible, with its comic strips, until I knew all the stories. There were plenty of moments where Jesus gave women grace and forgiveness—the Samaritan woman at the well and Mary Magdalene come immediately to mind. But the women in the Old Testament were out of luck. Jesus wasn’t born yet.

I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe, over the past twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.

Help. Thanks. Wow.

You may in fact be wondering what I even mean when I use the word “prayer.” It’s certainly not what TV Christians mean. It’s not for display purposes, like plastic sushi or neon. Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding. Let’s say it is communication from one’s heart to God. Or if that is too triggering or ludicrous a concept for you, to the Good, the force that is beyond our comprehension but that in our pain or supplication or relief we don’t need to define or have proof of or any established contact with. Let’s say it is what the Greeks called the Really Real, what lies within us, beyond the scrim of our values, positions, convictions, and wounds. Or let’s say it is a cry from deep within to Life or Love, with capital L’s.

Next Week: Bonus suck! Newt announces he and Lindsey Buckingham are forming new supergroup “The Neuticals.”

Imagine you have in your possession a fantastic new game: a programmable, mechanical ant farm. This farm consists of some dirt and water and plants, as well as a few mechanical ants that have tiny programmable brains in them. These ants are also able, by a fun mechanical diversion, to reproduce.

When you first take the ant farm out of the box and assemble it, the ants can’t do anything. You alone are responsible for their behavior by using a set of rules that their programmable brains will follow. You don’t control every decision or motion they make (where would the fun be in that?) but rather you set up the rules and turn them on and watch what happens. Will their little civilization rise to greatness, forcing you to buy expansion modules to give them room to grow? Or will it wither and die before it ever really gets started? Oh, and one other fun attribute possessed by these ants: They know they’re in the game. Their brains are just smart enough to realize that their inconsequential lives are owed to you, the owner of the game. But they’re okay with it because otherwise they would enjoy no other existence.

“World domination”–two simple words that evoke visions of battles and conquest; of smoldering ruins and vanquished enemies; of being able to cut to the front of every line on the planet. Real power.

Whether seen as a goal or a lifestyle, “world domination” has been exhaustively explored in literature, yet never as boldly, crudely and hilariously as by guitar virtuoso Zakk Wylde, founder of rock outfit Black Label Society, church-going Catholic boy and all-around inducer of mayhem. Wylde’s new book, Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berzerker’s Guide to World Tour Domination delivers explicit, often jaw-droppingly graphic instructions for transitioning from fat-fingered guitar novice to flaxen-haired rock god, exploring everything from choosing the music you play to how to avoid being tea-bagged on a tour bus. Yes, tea-bagged.

the tramp of sacrificial animals says good-bye
they go carnal and bright carrying warmth on their necks
and ignorance of fate on foreheads marked with horns
they fall on their foreknees very surprised at their own blood
The elements the animals shout to you the road is open
-from “Altar” by Zbigniew Herbert

Behold, I make all things new.
-The Book of Revelation

We are not only permitted but required to believe that cosmic time as we know it, through all the immensity of its geological ages and historical epochs, is only a shadow of true time, and this world only a shadow of the fuller, richer, more substantial, more glorious creation that God intends; and to believe also that all of nature is a shattered mirror of divine beauty, still full of light, but riven by darkness.
-David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?

What’s up, Morrison?

Not much. Had a reading last night. I’m eating gluten-free almond cookies and some kind of tea that claims to be able to balance my hormones. Or my chakras. Or, wait—maybe both. I didn’t look very closely at the box.

 

Are you feeling balanced?

Well—no. That’s why I’m drinking the damn tea!

 

Do those teas really work?

Sure, if you’re prone to suggestion, which I am. I’m the perfect candidate for the placebo effect. If you told me that eating a copy of Anna Karenina would make me the world’s greatest living writer, I would do it, and then, I swear to God, I would write some seriously awesome shit. Those less susceptible would merely shit some seriously awesome writing.

 

Are you working on a new book yet?

I am, as a matter of fact. Or I was, anyway, before I became a Yoga Bitch promotion machine.

 

Is your new book about yoga?

Nope. It’s called Your Own Personal Alcatraz, and it’s about coming of age on an island near Seattle. But mostly it’s about my first experience of being in love, of being young and craving both independence and intimacy, and how that struggle shaped me.

 

What are you reading right now?

I’m halfway through Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The dialogue is so good I have to read it out loud to my husband every night. I love Hemingway. I think about him a lot– about his extraordinary dialogue, about how deeply emotional his writing is, and about how, if I weren’t happily married, and he weren’t, sadly, dead, I would be all over that man like white on rice.

It’s also October, so I keep cheating on Hemingway with horror stories.

 

So, you’re into vampires and werewolves, or what?

Ghost stories. I’m obsessed. I have this secret desire (now a little less secret) to write a really excellent ghost story. I want to believe in ghosts the way I want to believe in God: helplessly, because you can’t force belief. But I can play at it.

 

So, you don’t believe in God, then?

Not exactly. I’d like to. I’m thinking about it. There’s a part of me that hopes I’ll write a memoir in my late forties or fifties about how I finally found God and the spiritual life. But then there’s another part of me that thinks that what I’m doing now—reading and thinking and trying on faith—is the same thing. It’s just not very organized.

Part of the problem is that I know my yearning for God isn’t just about desiring knowledge or transcendence. It’s about wish-fulfillment. It’s about heaven. I really love the idea of an afterlife.

 

Angels and harps? You love the idea of angels and harps?

Not even remotely. My husband and I made a pact that we would believe in a very specific afterlife together. It’s Borges’s idea, really: the afterlife as a giant library. I also decided that in the afterlife, everyone you know is an amazing storyteller. You get to hear all the exquisite gossip that no one would ever dare tell in life. I think that’s a crucial part of the heaven idea, because if folks were still tight-lipped around the really juicy stories, heaven would be awfully tedious.

I would also appreciate a screening room in the afterlife, and an endless supply of beautifully shot ghost stories, serial killer stories, and period films.

 

Let’s talk about Yoga Bitch. Have you always wanted to write a spiritual memoir?

In spite of myself, yes. I think one of the reasons I kept working on Yoga Bitch for so many years (from 2003-2010) was because I needed to get this spiritual thing out of my system before I could work on other stories. Yoga Bitch somehow became the perfect container for all of my mid-twenties angst. It was intended to be this light-hearted yoga smackdown, but ended up being about leaps of faith; in a spiritual leader, a religion, a god, a love. A handbag. I was so cynical about everything at that age, so afraid of having regrets, of making the wrong decision. It took falling in love and ruining my life for a while to grow the kind of courage one needs to have faith. Not blind faith, but active, questing, questioning faith. That’s the kind of faith I’m after.

 

How did you come up with the structure for Yoga Bitch?

Yoga Bitch was originally a one-woman show. In 2004, I decided to adapt it as a sort of roman à clef, and I had a doozy of a time figuring out how to structure it. One afternoon, I was sitting at the B&O café in Seattle, chatting with a PhD candidate I knew, this Spanish guy named Nil, and I asked him how he would structure a spiritual journey. He didn’t hesitate: As a diary, he said. A spiritual journey is so personal, the struggle so hushed and unseen. We need to be inside the character’s head to really experience the sturm und drang of it all.

I couldn’t imagine writing my story in diary entries without it starting to look like my actual diary, which was an unholy mess of narcissism, self-loathing, and sex dreams that I couldn’t imagine being interesting to anyone but myself. So I dismissed the idea and spent the next four years writing the novel in sprawling chapters, past tense.

That novel now sits in a little coffin in my closet, thank God. After it was rejected, my agent suggested that I try to rewrite it as a memoir. I told her I would think about it, but in my heart I knew I was done with the story. Yoga Bitch had already been a one-woman show and a novel. If I went ahead and wrote it as a memoir, and the memoir failed, what would I do next, write it as a libretto? An epic poem?

But about a year later, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea: If I did write a memoir, I wanted it to be a dialogue between the present and the past, between perspective and no perspective. Memoir is uniquely suited to that task, and suddenly the challenge was appealing. When dreaming up how to recreate my life without perspective, there was only one way that really worked: the diary format, broken up by essays from the perspective of today. It wasn’t until I had written the first chapter that I remembered Nil’s good advice from so many years before.

 

You seem quite amused by bodily functions. It’s kind of astonishing how much space you devote to the fact that your yogamates drank their own pee every day. Are you actually a twelve-year-old boy?

No. I just have the sense of humor of one. My idea of a restorative Saturday afternoon is sitting around making fart noises and laughing. I’m simple like that.

 

You end up understanding your fallen yoga teacher through your own love life, which mirrors hers. Were you saved by a man? (You know that’s not allowed, right?)

Yup. Call me Cinderella, I was. And my cousin was saved by her wife. Love saves. It’s just an idiotic kneejerk feminist trope that says we shouldn’t celebrate a love story. There’s nothing better or more important in life than to be cherished by another human being, except, perhaps, to cherish another human being. Feminists need to drop that bag.

 

Are you a feminist?

I dunno. These days I am nothing, really, except anti-ideology. Ideologues make me break out in hives. And that’s a real problem, cause those motherfuckers are everywhere. Many of them live inside my head, and I don’t even know it until I hear what they’re saying in my voice. It’s like I’m possessed, sometimes.

 

Who have you offended with your book?

Clearly, not enough people. If I were more offensive I think sales would be better.

 

How have sales been?

Good! Solid.

 

What do you enjoy most about writing?

The most enjoyable aspects of writing have got to be the night sweats, the panic attacks, and the carpal tunnel syndrome, for sure.

Just kidding! Those parts aren’t fun. Writing is hardly an enjoyable activity; but it is the most engrossing activity I’ve engaged in. I had a professor in college tell me that art will never make you happy, but it will demand all of your concentration. And concentration, he said, is the closest thing to happiness that exists in the world. In that sense, it’s a lot like meditation, or the state of mind that precedes meditation. When I’m not writing, my mind has nothing to chew on so it starts to eat itself. Like right now—that’s why I’m drinking all these hippie teas, because I’m not writing. I start imagining worst-case scenarios, I obsess over past mistakes or future concerns. One minute I’m telling myself I’m amazing, the next minute that I’m a fraud, a fake, a hack. When I’m writing I’m mostly just thinking about the writing. That is such a relief.

 

paramount theater marquee

My love affair with movies may have begun with, though not necessarily at, the Paramount Theater in my hometown in Virginia. It’s no accident that the Paramount shared its name with a Hollywood studio; in the early days of the movies, studios owned theaters throughout the country, a practice eventually stopped because of antitrust laws. The Paramount in my hometown was built in 1931, when theaters were palaces, or anyway designed to resemble palaces, so as to treat the little people, then in the grips of the Great Depression, to a fleeting sense of grandeur. The grandeur of the Paramount had dimmed by the time I first saw a movie there forty years later, though the marquee alone, with its hundreds of blinking bulbs, thrilled me as a child whenever I glimpsed it from the backseat of my parents’ car. It made me think of the nightclub marquees I’d seen in Elvis Presley movies on television, quick establishing shots that cut to Elvis performing onstage for girls who, driven wild by the music, spontaneously danced on tabletops and spent the night in jail after the compulsory brawl. There were no such clubs where I grew up, as far as I knew; the Paramount was as close as I could get. From the ticket booth, just below the marquee, a long, wide corridor with a slight incline led to the concession stand and, just beyond that, the theater, and to walk the length of the corridor, ascending step by step, was to have a growing sense of anticipation. The carpeting was dark red, almost burgundy. The only light came from tiered chandeliers with dangling glass beads, and, on either wall, there were gilded-framed murals of powdered-wigged, eighteenth-century aristocrats, shades of Gainsborough. In later years, before the Paramount went out of business (it’s since been restored and reopened), tickets were sold inside at the concession stand, where, when I was child, posters of movie stars were sold: Brigitte Bardot in black leather on a chopper, Raquel Welch in the fur bikini she wore as a cavewoman in One Million Years BC. Victoria Vetri, a Playboy Playmate of the Year, likewise appeared in a fur bikini as a cavewoman in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, the first movie I remember seeing at the Paramount; and Vetri, as well as Welch, stirred things in me that, as a Christian child, I wasn’t sure were right with God.

Many of you already know Richard Cox, since he has been a part of The Nervous Breakdown since January 2006. His posts have started many interesting conversations, including some about magic, rage, and even being human. Recently I sat down with Richard (I can’t even call him that…his name is Richrob!) to discuss the upcoming release of his third novel, Thomas World. The conversation found its way to ants, love, and even (unfortunately) the Eagles.

I broke up with God. The breakup was devastating. It was like a divorce when all the friends you had as a couple are forced to choose sides and end up not choosing yours. It was like waking up in an empty bed in an empty house. It was like someone I loved died. It was like when Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome arrive at Jesus’s tomb with spices to anoint his dead body, and they find the stone rolled back, and they look inside the cave, and he’s gone.

“God loves you,” church signs announce when I drive by. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, Jesus says when he’s asked which commandment is the greatest, and in the river, when he’s baptized, God claims Jesus as beloved. It’s the best love story ever told: God chooses you, sacrifices for you, kills for you, knows you, sees you, saves you. No wonder losing my religion felt like heartbreak.

Still, I hesitate to call what happened to my faith a breakup. I’m not completely comfortable portraying it as a love affair gone wrong. Figuring it as a romance seems simultaneously so medieval-mystic, so patriarchal, so oedipal that it makes me cringe. Even worse, calling it a breakup means I have to come out: I have to admit to myself and to the rest of the world the kind of God I loved—namely, a man. I’m a feminist theologian. Saying out loud that I believed in a male God is like a yoga teacher smoking a pack of cigarettes every day between classes behind the studio. So let’s get that part out of the way: I believed in a male God. I loved him. I needed him. Sometimes he was gentle and kind. Sometimes he frightened me.

You could say God and I lived together, which made it hard for me to admit the relationship was over. Staying was easier than looking for a new place to live. God might have been invisible, but he took up a lot of space, and I had never been alone. Sure, the passion had gone out of our relationship, and he wasn’t who I thought he was anymore, but we were still comfortable together. Habits, routines, rituals. If you’d gone out to dinner with us, you wouldn’t have noticed that anything was wrong, but we definitely didn’t run home to tear each other’s clothes off. Sometimes we stay with what we know—even if it makes us miserable, even if it makes us feel small—because it’s familiar. It’s not that misery loves company, it’s that we’re willing to be miserable if it means we’ll have company. I was afraid of being by myself. A dead relationship seemed better than coming home to an empty house.

My relationship with God was never casual. When it began to unravel, I was going through the ordination process to become an Episcopal priest. I was the youth minister at a church in a suburb of Boston and a doctoral student in theology at Harvard. You might say God and I were engaged and the wedding was planned—church reserved, menu chosen, flowers arranged. Calling it off would be awkward.

Breaking up with God meant letting go of someone I had believed in, loved, and built my life around, so I hung on for a long time because I was scared of what would happen if I let go. My relationship with God was connected to everything—my family, my friends, my sense of justice, my vocation, my way of being in the world. I lost more than belief. I couldn’t go to the places we used to go anymore. I couldn’t use our special language. I couldn’t celebrate the same holidays. I even had to trade red wine for beer. People say you can use a simple mathematical formula to figure out how long you will feel like shit after a breakup: one month of pain for every year you were together. God and I were together for my entire life. Thirty-four years. Which translates into thirty-four months of post-breakup misery.

Almost three years.

 

 

Excerpted from BREAKING UP WITH GOD by Sarah Sentilles. Copyright © 2011 by Sarah Sentilles.  Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

 

Many reviewers have described Breaking Up with God as “brutally honest.” Do you wish you had been less forthright (or even fibbed some) when writing your memoir?

I am a terrible liar. I can’t lie to save my life, so it would have been impossible for me to write a memoir that wasn’t true. I have asked reviewers what they meant when they called my book “honest,” and most responded by pointing out that it is unusual for people to make themselves look bad in their own writing, which made me realize that being called honest is not necessarily a compliment. I didn’t write the book to create a flattering version of myself (I hope the author photo does that work for me). I wrote the book to try to understand how I went from almost being a priest to not calling myself a Christian anymore. That said, I understand that memoirs—like identities, like theologies—are constructions.

 

What do your parents think about your breakup with God?

It doesn’t bother them at all that I no longer call myself a Christian. They raised me with a healthy dose of suspicion and taught me to be a critical thinker who asks questions. They understand that the book is about breaking up with a particular version of God—the man in the sky who watched over me and protected me when I was good and punished me when I was bad—not about breaking up with all versions of God. My parents have always cared more about what I do with my life than about what I believe, a sentiment that is mirrored in the sorts of theologies to which I tend to be attracted. I sent them a draft of my book before it was published. I thought that was a fair thing to do given they both make appearances in the book. My mother was not upset at all about my journey out of institutional Christianity. She was, however, mortified that “everyone in the world” was going to read about me having sex in the back seat of a car.

 

Do you think you’re going to hell?

I don’t believe in hell. I also don’t believe in a God who would send someone to hell based on whether or not they believed in God or that Jesus was the son of God. That seems very narcissistic to me. I can’t stake my life—or my afterlife—on a God who would peer inside my mind and look only for himself. Enough about me, I imagine this God saying. What do you think of me? I also don’t understand why we need to invent an afterlife when there are already so many people suffering in various forms of hell on earth. I am much more concerned with trying to end suffering now.

 

What if you’re wrong?

I think “What if I’m wrong?” is the most important question we can ask ourselves. I call myself an agnostic. Although “agnostic” is a philosophical term, I claim it for primarily ethical reasons. My mentor at Harvard, the theologian Gordon Kaufman, taught me that the question of God’s existence is not a question human beings can answer. As a result, it’s time to start asking different theological questions: How are we to live? To what causes should we devote ourselves? How will we make the world a more just and life-giving place for everyone? It seems to me that we get in the most trouble and do the most violent things to other people, animals, and the environment when we forget that our ideas about God might be wrong. This is one of the biggest dangers that can come with religious belief—instead of recognizing that God is a mystery and that no human being can speak for God, some believers put their own words in God’s mouth. They use God as a way to justify mistreating others.

 

You’re a theologian who doesn’t believe in God. How does that work?

You don’t have to believe in God to be a theologian—just like you don’t have to be a politician to study political science or a bird to study ornithology. The word “God” is out in the world doing all kinds of work, good and bad, liberating and oppressive, and I understand my role as a theologian to be evaluating the effects of people’s beliefs. My theological project is both critical and constructive. I don’t really care what we believe; I care how our beliefs influence the way we live in the world.

 

You’re a scholar of religion. Do you have any marketable skills?

I am really good at reading. Is that marketable?

 

No. Reading is not a marketable skill. Name three things you are good at doing.

Reading, grammar, and predicting how much my groceries will cost in the checkout line.

 

Name three things you are not good at doing.

Skeet shooting, orienteering, and acting.

 

What does your writing practice look like?

I do my best writing early in the morning. It is imperative that I start writing before my critical brain is awake, before my censor starts telling me my writing sucks, my book is stupid and makes no sense, and I should just give it up and stop pretending to be a writer. So much of writing—so much of any creative activity—is about cutting through self-doubt and self-sabotage to make your way to the page. I have to work hard to get out of my own way. I have to work hard to trust myself.

 

What are you writing now?

I am writing a novel about a conscientious objector during World War II. I am also working on two edited volumes—one about Christianity and torture and one about artists’ responses to torture.

 

You spend a lot of time writing about torture. You must be fun to hang out with.

Is that a question?

 

Are you fun to hang out with?

It depends.

 

Do you think you and God will ever get back together?

It’s possible, I guess, but unlikely. Right now we’re seeing other people.

1. Rather than a God of occasional disaster rescue miracles, I want a God whose miracles prevent the disasters in the first place.

2. Rather than a God who needed to retreat in order to leave room for human freedom and love, I want a God who finds a less painful way to make freedom and love work.

3. Rather than a system set up so that those who suffer most are also the most vulnerable (usually those who are poor), I want the wealthy to be the most vulnerable. An increase in money beyond one’s necessity could inhibit the body’s production of antibodies.

4. Rather than children being at the mercy of nature and of other people, I want no one to die or be physically or emotionally traumatized before turning twelve years old. Nobody. And the only ones who die between thirteen and eighteen should be those whose decisions represent a clear and present danger to others.

5. For every unethical action, there should be an equal and opposite reaction—immediately. If you inflict suffering, you should immediately suffer accordingly.

6. I want a small indicator button, like a low­ battery light, on the prominent C7 vertebrae that protrudes slightly on the cervical spine at the base of the neck between the shoulders. A gentle red light would glow forty-eight hours before death is irreversible, when the downward spiral toward unconsciousness or pain has won. It would indicate time for final goodbyes with loved ones and that a final welcome from God is imminent: “You’re released from this life. Welcome into the next one.”

What music are you listening to as we start this interview?

Frightened Rabbit. A friend gave me the CD a few weeks ago. I’ve been listening ever since. The music is beautifully ragged. Like Mumford & Sons, but with more alcohol and electricity. I’m not saying anything about the alcohol consumption in either of these bands. Just the sound. I like art that’s a little ragged around the edges—and a little ragged in the center too.

 

So how does that “ragged-ness” guide how you write?

Writing my new book, After Shock, was visceral. It was in the midst of responding to the January 2011 earthquake in Haiti, where I’ve worked since 2003. (First living there, now back and forth from Florida.) The earthquake was devastating; more than 230,000 people died. This book was written in the midst of it. It’s naked, honest wrestling with faith and doubt and suffering, with God. The temptation was often to smooth things out in the writing or the rewriting or editing. But I consciously tried to keep it ragged. I distrust art or ideas that aren’t a bit messy, like reality, so I don’t want to create art like that either.

 

What right do you have to take on these biggest of questions about God and life and meaning and suffering and hope?

None. Or as much as any of us. Depends how you look at it.

 

So your book is about suffering and the people you’re with are in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and just went through a horrific natural disaster. You’re just going to make us feel like whiners, right?

No. I promise. I was overwhelmed by how much people were and are suffering in Haiti. But there is something fundamentally human in this book too. Because wherever we are, whatever our income, whatever our passport, life can crash down quickly or slowly, existentially or with a cancer diagnosis, with a child’s accident, with watching a friend gripped by depression, with seeing the aftermath of tornados on TV. We’re so vulnerable, even if life is going well. How can we be honest—and maybe find faith—in the mix of so much pain and beauty, suffering and hope?

 

What is the right time/mood to read “After Shock”?

I was talking with my brother recently and mentioned that my wife and I had the Netflix sleeve for the documentary “God Grew Tired of Us” sitting on our kitchen counter for several weeks. It’s about the “lost boys” of Sudan. He laughed and said, “Really, when is the right time to watch a movie with that title?” It’s a heavy title. When you’re happy? Not really. When you’re already way down? No way. Is mildly depressed but on the upswing the sweet spot? I don’t know. Maybe there’s something like that with my book. But I hope it’s also compelling enough, honest enough, humorous enough (my friend Owen’s dating life, for example), and hopeful enough…

 

So the right answer is…

Now! The right answer is that now is the perfect time for you to read it…maybe, hopefully, surely.

 

So the billion dollar question: Where is God in all this?

I don’t know exactly. God is distant. God is near. That’s my experience. I want a God who prevents disasters. We don’t get that, and it’s crushing and baffling. But then somehow, at the same time, it seems the same God who doesn’t prevent the awfulness is, well, sometimes we experience God right in the midst of it.

 

For example?

For me one powerful experience that I write about in the book is a few weeks after the earthquake. I went to a church that my wife and I had attended while living in Haiti. Close to the epicenter. Now it was a pile of rubble. A teacher had died in the school right beside it. I went to the church on a Sunday morning. A lot of people were there. A full congregation. The words of communion, of Jesus, “This is my body broken for you,” sounded different than ever before right next to the rubble. I felt my faith, which was on life-support, resurrect a little through the faith of the people around me who had lost everything, everything. I don’t know if God was there. It seemed like maybe so. But if God wasn’t there, if God doesn’t show up in these conditions, then I’m not interested in finding God anywhere else.

 

Lessons learned?

No. Well, the seven easy steps to… No, that’s too simplistic. But I found strength in being connected with others, with being engaged with helping instead of just being a distant observer. And I found strength in being completely honest about both the faith and the doubt.

 

What’s the band singing now?

Swim until you can’t see land,

Swim until you can’t see land,

Swim until you can’t see land,

Are you a man or are you a bag of sand.

 

Meaning?

I don’t know what they mean to say, but I like it as a picture of both the search for God and the grace of being found. So there’s my interpretation, knowing only the chorus. Swim out there. Let’s search as hard and as far—and giving every bit of ourselves to help and to find meaning and to grasp for God. And there’s grace out there, whether we get to keep swimming or whether we sink down into grace like a bag of sand.

 

What do you find?

To this point, I keep finding God and faith. But I only want that to keep coming up as the answer if it’s true. Life is an incredible search.



Vox Rockuli

By Joe Daly

Notes

It is the most important instrument in rock and roll and far and away the most underrated.

It takes years to finesse and the cruel irony is that just when most musicians start to master its many nuances, their physical aptitude for it begins to diminish.

It is the voice. The vox. The pipes, the golden throat, the mouthy spitter of words. OK, I made that last one up. It’s late. Cut me some slack.

The delusion persists that while you can teach yourself an instrument like the guitar or the piano, the voice is something you either have or you don’t- you spit out of the womb and either you sound like Aretha Franklin or you’re the next Bea Arthur. Sure, it’s understood that talented people might be able to improve their range with a vocal coach but most are convinced that they either sing like a bird or that they can’t sing for shit. Good luck convincing the latter folk that with a little training they could have million dollar voices.

But they could.

In fact, they have.