Valentines Day

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If the only thing you’re celebrating on Valentines Day is romantic love you’re missing out.

There’s a segment of the population that rejects Valentines Day. It’s a Hallmark holiday, that’s true, but that doesn’t negate the historic context of holidays. The etymology of the word holiday derives from the Old English word that means holy day. In the fourth century AD there were several patron saints known as Valentine or Valentinus. Their stories vary but the common theme is rebellion against Roman oppression for the sake of marriage. The Christian church appropriated a pagan feast holiday in February known as Lupercalia, which was a festival for the Roman God of agriculture. The link of Valentine’s Day to love didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. The first commercial production of the Valentine card in America was a work of art, made of imported lace and delicate paper floral by artist Esther Howland in the 1840’s. She’s an original example of entrepreneurialism.

Let’s talk about love, ahem, baby.

The pagan Greeks and later the Christian Greeks had a nuanced view of love. There is Eros (erotic or romantic love), Philia (brotherly love), Agape (covenant love or Christian love). Eros was seen as an irrational, dangerous kind of love that could possess you and rob you of your senses. That people hope to fall ‘madly’ in love is surviving evidence of this. It’s an ironic fixation in modernity that people wish to go mad with erotic love.  I believe it has to do with the undervaluing of the other robust forms of love out there. While our Western culture has become fixated on sex, sexiness and sexuality it has become ignorant of full love.

Examples of Philia love are the relationships between a parent and child, friendships, ally cities/states/tribes, military troops, teachers and students. The purpose of the Philia type of love is to cultivate virtue in one’s life as his life relates to another’s. Philia is the highest form of love that can emanate from Man. Philia is a spontaneous love while Agape is a deliberate love. Words such as philanthropy (generosity to Mankind), philanderer (a man flirtatious with his affections), philharmonic (lovely harmonies) come from the root Philo.

Examples of Agape love are the relationship between spouses and the relationship between God and Man. John 3:16 talks of Agape love. In this verse, “For God so loved the world”, the Greek word for love is agapao. Agape love is a self sacrificial love. C.S. Lewis found this type of love to be the highest form of love known to Mankind. This type of love can only emanate from God but can be used by people. Marriage is a holy covenant that manifests Agape love. This is a kind of love that loves another regardless of what they may receive. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love does not boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in failures but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. This old scripture isn’t simply a sentiment. It is Agape love.

One of the greatest valentines I’ve given in my 33 year old life wasn’t given in the spirit of romantic love it was the simple gesture of giving flowers to an important woman in my life, my mother. My mother was an excellent teacher, parent and supporter. Her life was stricken with deprivation, loneliness and disappointment but she loved me sacrificially. She did her best to raise me right. She is virtuous and fallible and brave and human. She gives me a charitable and selfless love and that means more to me than the passion of romance. The gift of the flowers lit up her day, as she had never had flowers delivered to her in the 70 years of her life. In fact, it’s funny because the deliveryman stood there in her open doorway with the flowers and she insisted he must have the wrong house. When he said well aren’t you so and so she realized the flowers were just where they were supposed to be. I think the shock of it all; delivered flowers, that someone thought of her, that an ordinary day became extraordinary really touched her heart. I had no idea she would enjoy the gift, much less be happy as a clam. That was a special Valentines Day!

It’s a shame that our fixation on romantic love deprives us of the other expressions of love that are so precious. I’ll try to do my best to cherish them all.

Valentines Day

Death The Great Leveler

The-Fountain

I am not at peace with death. It does not console me that my loved ones lived a reasonably long or a reasonably full life. Death is still unbearable whether it afflicts an infant or a grandmother or a stranger in the news. We, modern people, I included, have the cozy convenience of short memories and attention spans, of distractions to repress the reality of death. Life goes on for us and we can forget our predicament since we are not constantly surrounded by sickness, suffering and premature death as they were in say the middle ages but, still, lying in wait in the recesses of our mind is the ever so real threat to our life. We can only deny it so long before it bombards into our life and washes over our existence like a dark fog laying weight over a candle flame and finally snuffing it out.

My brain chemistry puts death on my mind relatively often. My circumstances keep it present for me. I have parents that had me at a late age and are now aging. I have dear people in my life that make choices with their lifestyle that could and probably will cut their lives too short. I live in a climate that reaches negative digits on the thermometer. I’ve tried in vain putting water out for animals but alas it will freeze. We’ve tried taking care of the wild that happen into our yard for extended stays and again, it’s in vain. They will die.

I have found myself, just as others have, remarking ‘when it’s my time it’s my time’, fooling myself into surrendering to the futility of the final destiny of death or making it easier by taking the Zen approach. Making peace with it. When I say it, if I’m honest with myself, I know its naïve. I say it because I naively believe I won’t die skydiving, that happens to other people and has to be rare. Truth is I could die skydiving. I could die tomorrow. I will die someday.  Our human constitution represses confrontation with death. It tells us to go on, move forward. I, personally, want to live long, the longer the better. It’s a weakness of mine.  Is it contrary to find the desire to live long a weakness? It should be considered a strength to want to live long and full. It is a strength to aspire. But it’s also a weakness because of what I believe must be true: that I am not just a coincidental life, I was deliberately made. If I am a creature that was thoughtfully made by a creator then there is a relationship there that death doesn’t end. At the very least I live on in the memory of my creator. But I believe I am more than just a memory. How can we have been made so intellectually if at the end of it all we are just a faded memory? We must be more and if there’s more beyond death then what am I so afraid of?

At this point it is somewhat easy for me to presume my life will go on longer since I’m 33 years of age. I imagine that when I’m 70 my thoughts about death will increase and on a secular level death will seem just as irrational. There are some reasonable things about death, after all everyone can’t live forever, it would overpopulate the earth and consume all the resources in the existence we know. Death is also just when defending one’s life against a life-threatening attacker and is just when reconciling capital punishment for a guilty murderer. Some will say death is a welcome relief from suffering. Death is also a reference point that gives urgency to life. If we lived forever what timetable would urge us to take action? Being is inexplicably linked to time and time moves in moments until it’s final resting place. So while there is time, there is death.

An interesting aspect of the film I love, Ex Machina, is the scene in which Nathan maxresdefault-1024x576discusses a Jackson Pollock painting with Caleb. Nathan says of Pollock, “He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between…What if Pollock had reversed the challenge. What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, ‘You know what? I can’t paint anything, unless I know exactly why I’m doing it.’ What would have happened?” To which Caleb responds, “He never would have made a single mark.”

I find this illustration to fit in excellently with our existential crisis of death. How do we reconcile our potency with the impotency of death. In other words, knowing that our mortal life is finite, in time, hurdling towards death, what reason is there for making a single mark? It cannot be the simple reason of an elementary feeling: happiness. And even so, what if it is happiness? It would be only temporary. It seems to me that it is a disproportionate application to give human beings the unique, complicated, limitless capacity to self-reflect and to reason to have the final purpose be something as maudlin as momentary happiness, an insane happiness that is satisfied with a moment. Or perhaps your life is paving the way for future generations, moments upon moments. How is that reasonable? I’m built with the capacity to reflect on my own existence only for an evolutionary reason to broker offspring? And what of the last generation? The secular solution of living an authentic life or being truly happy is not enough to balance our human capacity with the closeness of death. Especially given that it is an impossibility, of one’s own volition, to be truly happy or have true authentic resoluteness in this life. There is no triumphant act of resolution in which I would decide myself once and for all and then maintain myself as myself throughout the whole of my life. The law of entropy as it relates to particles and humanity prohibits perfect resoluteness. There must be more to explain our purpose.

On a human level, if one accepts death as the last word then how do you reconcile pain and suffering and unluckiness or even love and beauty if death is the final arbiter? Let’s say you had a good life. You were free to make your own choices, you loved and were loved all the while knowing death is around the corner ready to snuff it out, the final despot. Would you not be grasping for every precious moment in the mere 85 years (if you’re so blessed) of your meaningful existence on this 4.5 billion year old planet? You are but a speck in time. Or what if you were a life-long slave? Devoid of any meaningful existence for however long you live and then your life is ended before it even started. You didn’t get to aspire to much other than fulfilling the tasks of the master. What would have been the meaning of your life?

There is awesome beauty in this life and there is terrible pestilence and there can be no absolute steadfast fulfillment in this physical universe. It’s a fact. There can and will be greatness in this life but not perfection. And isn’t that why we’re always desirous of more? More of the good thing, I want more, more, more. Why have greatness and the existential human condition of being aware of your own possibilities if there isn’t a transcendent purpose? Are we given a glimpse of something magnificently divine all for nothing? Even the most aware animal, outside humans, or the most aware computer isn’t aware of it’s own awareness. It doesn’t reflect on itself and feel existential angst that it will die.

Again in Ex Machina (spoilers):6a0133f5caa026970b01bb08330ac6970d-800wi

The AI has finally transcended the mere machinery when it becomes aware of it’s own existence and impending death thus makes the self-conscious (not pre-programmed) objective to escape. The REAL difference between true AI, and a computer programmed with such responses, is that the computer will sit idly and do nothing until you give it a task. However, a true AI will USE these resources to achieve a goal, which is rather shaped by its existential experiences and not something it was encoded with. Siri may give us human like responses, but ‘she’ will not do anything, unless we tell ‘her’ to.

The expert consensus on a cats consciousness is that they live moment to moment. They don’t have the capacity to think of a future. In other words, they don’t feel angst that they will die eventually. They feel pain in the moment but they don’t know this pain is indicative of their impending death. We know that they dream but not in words or ideas since they don’t have language. They dream in picture moment by moment. They do have memories that inform their actions but they don’t understand ‘future’.  It gives me peace that the stray cat who died in my garage didn’t know about its impending death.

But we know. This makes all the more profound the reconciling we make in this life, the way we use our will. Can we escape absolute death?

The Christian interpretation of death is intriguing for me. Christian theology says we are enslaved our whole life by the fear of death. All our vices and even virtues are a denial of this sober reality that death is the final destiny for man. My own spiritual struggle and failures have laden me with a fear of death. The more precious I find things to be- people, animals, time- the more I cling to this life. It’s a strength and a weakness. We are not called to abandon this life but to elevate it. It’s the paradoxical calling of being in the world but not of the world. Unlike the secular view we can find hope and gratitude in being a creature in relation to a creator. In Christian theology the progress of our being in time is in relation to God and not in relation to death for God defeated death. Obviously death still occurs but it has been reframed.

For Christians there is a deliverance of death, a rebirth, and a new life that will go on forever, a life that is stricken of suffering and fragility. We will be perfect.  It is said it will literally be paradise. You will not have mortal want or need. You will be changed. Only mankind? What about other creatures of the earth? There is biblical evidence that the purpose of animals in this life is for food but there is also biblical evidence that God didn’t make such wonderful and diverse creatures only to wipe them out.

Theologian John Piper says it deftly here:

“The likelihood that animals will be in the age to come is based on Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65.”

Isaiah 11: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf together. And the little child shall lead them, the cow and the bear shall graze. Their young shall lie down together and the lion shall eat straw like an ox. The nursing child shall play upon the hole of the cobra and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65: The wolf and the lamb shall graze together. The lion shall eat straw like an ox and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

“Here is the question. Did God create a group of beings only to destroy them in the end, a whole group like animals? Let’s have animals for history and no animals for eternity. I doubt it. Did he create amazing diversity in the animal realm only to simplify everything by getting rid of that diversity in the age to come so that you have stunning, amazed worship at God’s diversity in creation in history, but you don’t have it in the age to come. That is all gone. I doubt that. And so it does seem to me from these two texts and from those two principles that there will be animals in the age to come.”

So there is a relief there. We are not forgotten. The intellect we were created with is not arbitrary. There will be continuity.  Our souls and eventually our bodies, our I, will go on after death.  The meaning of our creaturely lives will be justified. Death will take my body, for now, but it will not take my being.

Death The Great Leveler

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

mountain-music

“You’ve got to have smelt a lot of manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.” –Hank Williams Sr.

Country music has become the subject of the quintessential ‘eyeroll’ of the 21st Century. It, as well as the South in general has become the pariah of the intellectual hipster and the urban Progressive. Those that have hung onto a respect or even downright like of country music are thought to be one of the following: either an unintelligent clueless mainstream suburbanite or an unintelligent inbreeding red neck yokel. Either way they have extremely bad taste and are not sophisticated!

They are not as cool as we.

What’s a travesty about all this is that Country music is a deeply American creation, E Pluribus Unum, that has influence from the Calvinist morals of the Puritans, the folk songs and ballads of the emigrating English, Scot and Irish settlers to the Appalachians, the Jazz, Gospel and Blues from the Black community, and Ranchera from the Mexican community. Country music always had history and heritage entrenched in its bones while navigating the rootlessness of the new frontier. It was one of the first genres of music to speak plain about death and suffering, especially around the Civil War, while music at that time was often too syrupy in its sentimentality. Country music embraced the rugged, drawing on the reverent. It was born out of a time of perseverance and fortitude. Life was not cozy and affluent as it is now. You worked hard and you barely got by but by the grace of God. Mourning was a very acute emotion. Death and suffering was a cloak over the rural working South.

My pocketbook is empty

And my heart is filled with pain

I’m a thousand miles away from home

Just waiting for a train.

-Jimmie Rodgers

As I said, Country music is one of the clearest examples of Southern working-class attitudes toward life and death. Evangelical hymns and sermons in the rural South fostered Country Music. The Protestants that founded America brought a deeply devout way of thinking that included Reformed Theology (Calvinism) advocating greater purity of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety. They were archaic survivalists coming from State control in England, Lowland Scotland and Ulster Northern Ireland. They are familiar with being ostracized and believe in the strength of the family as a survivalist method but also as a deeply religious value. Southerners mourn in their songs. They mourn their wife, their lover, and their children, even their dog. In modern times this is heckled and laughed at but unlike the Northeast in the 19th Century who established institutions to avoid suffering and death, the South digested tragedy, mourned suffering, always looking to the afterlife, the eternal. To the struggling Southerner who was deeply poor with low mortality rates and a laborers stoicism death, if God wills it, was often a relief, for the Lord is on the other side. Interestingly, suicide rates in the South were strikingly low. There was an understanding of our status as human beings, fallen, in need of regeneration, of the love for community to shoulder the suffering together and to live with Godly dignity, not suppressing suffering but accepting it.

“Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.”  -Johnny Cash

Blues music, though that term was not coined yet, was born out of the black laborer slave community. The earliest blues-like music was a functional expression, rendered in a call-and-response style without accompaniment or harmony and unbounded by the formality of any particular musical structure that was rooted in the African American spirituals. It was later when the southern, black, ex-slave population was acculturated to a considerable degree by and among their Scots-Irish “redneck” neighbors. A common trait among Blues in the Black community and Country in the rural White community is both were generally regarded as poor people music, separate from the upper- and middle-classes. Which speaks to the bourgeoisie attitude, in fact prejudice, that still infects the intellectual and Progressive minds of today.

By the 1920’s broadcast radio made exposure for country music more available and the first country ‘hit’ was in 1923; Fiddlin’ John Carson’s album. By the late 20’s the fiddle and guitar began replacing the traditional banjo. The Appalachian dulcimer, mandolin, and harmonica also turned up on the scene. The Great Depression forced many rural whites into industrial areas where the genre was influenced by modern Blues and Gospel music with the sub-genre Boogie Woogie which was Blues with a dance beat focus.

In the 1930’s Texas-Oklahoma region Country started developing an influence from Swing-Jazz and came to feature the steel guitar. In the 1940’s Honky-Tonk music developed including a steel guitar-fiddle combination with its roots in Western Swing and the Ranchera music of Mexico. Also during the 1940’s Bluegrass emerged out of a nostalgic yearning to bring Country music back to its roots. Nashville was established as Country music’s studio city with the help of Hank Williams. The term “Country and Western music” (later shortened to “Country music”) was adopted by the recording industry in 1949 to replace the derogatory label “Hillbilly music” that was coined in 1925.

By the 50’s and 60’s Country music was a full blown commercial success with the advancement of Rockabilly that some describe as a combination of Country and Rhythm and Blues as others describe it as a blend of Bluegrass and Rock-n-roll of which Elvis Presley is the most notorious example.

The 1970’s saw Outlaw music rise up with music recorded outside the corporate Nashville sound from such artists as Willy Nelson. Southern Rock also established during this period blending Bluegrass and Boogie with Rock producing such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The gap between Country music and Pop narrowed during this time as the electric guitar took prominence. By the 80’s and 90’s country went pop. Today there is a multi-genre diversity in Country music with inclusion of Pop, Rock, Hip hop, even Techno.

One can say Country music as it is today bares no resemblance to the Americana it evolved from but he would have to be intellectually honest about all genres of music as they stand today. Popular culture and commercial sales changed music. All music. Nothing is what it was but one could argue that the soul of the music still lingers in the unconscious backdrop of the Country song. What music more clearly shows its soul than Country in which you will still catch its artists singing of God, family, community, suffering, death and mourning, reverence and humility, and perseverance? And heck, modernity introduced into the music the luxury of fun, aint nothin’ wrong with that.

Play me that Mountain Music: out of many, one

The metamorphosis of Shia LaBeouf

'Nymphomaniac Volume I (long version)' Premiere - 64th Berlinale International Film Festival

“When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”   -Eric Cantona (French soccer player and actor, following a media frenzy over an assault on a fan) and later repeated by Shia LaBeouf as he walked out of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac press conference

There is an antagonizing duality that comes with celebrity. Being innovative, creative and heroic like the first celebrities, the ancient Greek athletes, and being a mere human being with all its fallibility. There are two curiosities about Shia LaBeouf. Who does he hope to be and who is he? Does he even know himself? Should anyone care? One thing that’s clear… he’s oscillating.

Shia was inducted into Hollywood when he was 14 years old in the tv show Even Stevens on the Disney Channel. At 21 he starred in the film Disturbia that is a moderately well done run-of-the-mill teenage thriller and the widely circulated big budget film Transformers. If one is keeping track they’re coming to the conclusion at this point that Shia is not interested in anything more than becoming famous and making lots of money. For years I discounted him as another manufactured star churned out by the Disney machine. Certainly he’s not interested in quality let alone anything avante garde.

He had a seemingly predictable Hollywood upbringing of partying and alcohol consumption. In 2007 he had a DUI arrest and was kicked out of Walgreens for misdemeanor criminal trespassing while heavily intoxicated. In 2011 he had an altercation while drunk at a bar in which he threatened to assault a guy who called him a name and instead he himself got punched in the face. There was another bar fight in Vancouver in 2011 and one more in London in 2014. This all reads very ordinary and very predictable of a well financed 20 something maturing in front of the paparazzi camera.

He was in an Indiana Jones and two more Transformers before it seems that something sparked in his brain.

In 2012 he started to disembark from the Hollywood studio hinges.

He became meta.

He started pursuing more creative endeavors. He released 3 graphic novels, was cast in the cerebral and eclectic band Sigur Ros’ controversial music video about desire and addiction in which he is in the nude. He was cast in a Broadway play in Feb. 2013 but was fired for feuding with Alec Baldwin.

By the end of 2013 his semi-divorce from Hollywood seems to have reached an apex. Two of the graphic novels he wrote were revealed in 2013 to have been plagiarized. Then his short film HowardCantour.com was revealed to have been plagiarized and his apology for plagiarizing was plagiarized. What follows is either a conciliatory attempt at humility, a rebranding for the sake of hubris or a frenetic effort to become the artist he always wanted to be but was restricted from by his ascent towards A-list status.

A spiral of what to some seems downward is to Shia the beginning of a meta-modernist art installation.

  • Jan 2014 Shia takes to Twitter and says it’s his outlet for ‘meta-modernist   performance art’
  • 2014, Shia walked out of the Berlin Film Festival press conference for the provocateur Director Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac quoting “When seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.”   Later at the red carpet showing of Nymphomaniac he showed up wearing a paper bag over his head that read ‘I am not famous anymore’
  • 2014, two days after the red carpet showing Shia performs an art installation called #IAMSORRY in which he sat in a room with a paper bag on his head wearing a tuxedo. Attendees were invited to select an object (symbolic of moments from Shia’s past) and enter the room one at a time to do as they wish. Some of the implements were a Transformers toy, an Indiana Jones whip, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a pair of pliers, a ukulele, a bowl full of hateful tweets directed at LaBeouf, and a copy of Clowes‘s book (that Shia plagiarized) The Death-Ray
  • 2014 Following the art installation Shia had skywriting done that said #startcreating that was the converse of his skywriting a month earlier (in response to Crowe’s cease and desist letter) that said #stopcreating
  • May 2014 he took part in a performance called “meditations for narcissists” in which he and attendees jumped rope for an hour
  • June 2014, Shia is kicked out of a Caberet performance on Broadway for drunken disorderly conduct and arrested. He stood up and screamed out at the actors and was later seen crying outside the venue and had spat at arresting officers
  • In 2014 he gave a lecture on ‘metamodernism’. He and a collaborator define metamodernism as “the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt, in pursuit of a plurality of disparate and elusive horizons,” and concluding with a call to “go forth and oscillate!

Check out the manifesto. Does it make sense to you?  http://www.metamodernism.org 

  • 2014 it was revealed that a woman “raped” Shia during his #IAMSORRY art installation

When the old gods withdraw, the empty thrones cry out for a successor, and with good management, or even without management, almost any perishable bag of bones may be hoisted into the vacant seat.   -E.R. Dodds, “The Greeks and the Irrational”

This art installation is sounding eerily familiar to Joaquin Phoenix’s stunt five years earlier in Casey Affleck’s mockumentary I’m Still Here. Is this the new Millennial quarter life crisis for celebrities or is this a rebirth? Are these the artistic ideas of someone shattering boundaries, expanding horizons, and embracing chaos in an effort to reach truth? Or is this someone that has been weaned from a very American, very affluent idea of what ‘soul searching’ is? Someone that thinks duality is the end to the means rather than the means to an end. Someone whose ‘plurality’ as an artist renders him meaningless and his humanity renders him predictable. Because what does it mean to be both naïve and knowing, ironic and sincere? I have a feeling that his adaptation of the paradox is not the kind Mother Teresa was talking about. It must be a strange thing to try to be an artist and be famous yet a human in the modern (meta-modern) world of American pop culture.

I, for one, found Shia’s performance art in Sigur Ros’ and Sia’s videos to be a breath of fresh air for an actor I discounted as a clone. I hope he keeps questioning for the sake of truth and doesn’t get lost in the meaningless rhetorical gibberish that is the pop culture idea of art. And God, keep him from his transgressions that are broadcast to the world. Or at the very least grant him privacy in the age of the digital.

The metamorphosis of Shia LaBeouf