Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The power of platonic touch for men

Two articles and a story.  It is funny watching him try to hold the baby.  He is so awkward.  He did not grow up babysitting or helping out in nursery all the time.  He holds the child too far away, at uncomfortable angles, but the baby is a smiler, and the baby smiles at him and loves him and wants to be held, and you watch him just melt before this beaming beacon of love, trust, and genial good cheer.  This is why some babies are adorable: because they adore you unconditionally. 

He is not married, has no children.  Some of his friends are having children, but, like most young marrieds with small children, their lives change so radically that they no longer really intersect his, and they don't stop to think that he might like to learn about caring for children that aren't his.

It's not like he can offer to babysit to try to stay part of their lives; he doesn't have the experience and isn't comfortable with it (he might be if someone could teach him, but most parents have so little energy to spare for that).

It's not like he even knew how rewarding (and challenging) the simple act of playing with children can be because when does he even get to do it?  Now that he does know, I wonder if he will be less afraid to help.  He will certainly be more sympathetic about how much work it is.  Maybe he'll realize how kind it is to volunteer to clean or cook or do the dishes or tag-team with a person with more child-caring experience to give weary parents some time off.

Maybe he'll become indispensable to his friends with small children because he will sometimes help them shoulder the burden and reap the rewards.  Or maybe he'll never get the chance to play with babies again until/if he has his own.

She Must and Shall Go Free, Part 3

I went to see Derek Webb perform a 10th Anniversary concert for his first solo album.  Here are some notes.  (Part 3)

After the request and new song time, it's back to SMASGF.

7 Awake My Soul
I always think of this one as "No One Is Good Enough."  Webb is starting to have increasing trouble with short high notes (his voice must be really getting tired/strained), but I'm amazed by how complex a sound two guitars can produce.

8 Saint and Sinner
People start getting clappy, which surprises me.  A lot.  Not sure why they picked this song to try, but God bless 'em, they tried.   Anyway, we're all complex moral beings, and just because we're saved doesn't mean our relationships with others only involve our sanctified parts.  We have to accept the saint and the sinner in each other. 
"I'm not a half a man./ A saint and a sinner/ is what I am."
9 Beloved
This song always gets me a little choked up.  He sings it with such sad, understanding warmth about the ways we enslave ourselves. 
"And now you would rather be/ a slave again than free from the law." 
"And don't you ever let anyone tell you/ that there's anything that you need/ but Me."

10 Crooked Deep Down
It's one of the most chipper songs about total depravity you will ever encounter.  Webb says it's one of the oldest songs, one he played with Caedmon's Call but never recorded.  He says it was "a song I wrote about Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Manson, and Me."  He also confides that he's glad he didn't try to record it before he meet Meeks, who brings an excellent, almost hillbilly sensibility to the song.  Pretty much all of the lyrics are funny and thought-provoking.
"My life looks good, I do confess./ You can ask anyone./ Just don't ask my real good friends/ 'cause they will lie to you./ Or, worse, they'll tell the truth."
"Good Lord, I am crooked deep down;/ everyone is crooked deep down."
11 The Church
The final song is one that's painful for me to listen to.  When I was really feeling pushed away from my white, upper middle class, suburban church and its lack of concern for the things God says he cares for in His word, when I was really feeling like I didn't want to be around his people--because most of the ones at my church service were all broken and desperately refusing to do anything but desperately hide their brokenness behind fake smiles and casual relationships--this song gently but very firmly reminded me that I am not able to have a relationship with him without them.  We are all the church, all his bride in all our broken, jagged-edged body.  If we love God, we must love the people He loves, and He loves His bride so much we really can't even comprehend it.  This truth didn't make it any easier to attend services on Sunday, but it made it harder for me to just give up completely.  God knows how bad church people are, really, and He still tells us to love them the way he loves us, despite how bad we individually are.  I cry whenever I hear this song because it is so lovely and thoughtful and true, and it is a struggle for me that hasn't gone away.
"'Cause I haven't come for only you,/ but for my people to pursue./  And you cannot care for me with no regard for her./ If you love me, you will love the Church./"

It's later than I expected.  As much as I would like to take him up on his offer to talk after the concert, to ask the questions about the things I'm not sure I understand, I instead get up stiffly and walk off into the cold night, carefully not slipping on the patchy ice, thinking about too many things, and humming quietly.

She Must and Shall Go Free, Part 2

I went to see Derek Webb perform a 10th Anniversary concert for his first solo album.  Here are some notes.  (Part 2)

Kenny Meeks plays 4 songs, and they are all different, but there is something blues-y and wistful and full of longing and soothing at the same time about his work.  Real Long Day was about the day his oldest daughter got married.  Shining as Stars took its inspiration from Philippians 2.  We're Gonna' Rise, "written and recorded in the way of old time street parades," actually got some heads bobbing and some off-beat clapping for a bit, which is really saying a lot from people in this undemonstrative state.

There are refreshments and restroom runs during the intermission, where they advertise gluten-free snacks and jokingly say they will also be serving extra gluten with a side of MSG and wonder if someone will get rich by finding a use for all that excess gluten.  I am in a place unfamiliar to me, a place where they ruin perfectly good water by putting cucumbers in it.  I do not belong here, or maybe I should say I don't fit in with the hipsters and the cool 30-somethings of the church.  That has never really bothered me.  I'm not here for them, I'm here for the music and to find out that Derek Webb is thoughtful and hopeful and not cynical. But cucumber-free water shouldn't be too much to ask for, should it?

The second half starts with requested songs.  There are several I want to hear (especially "This, Too, Shall Be Made Right"), but I can be quite the coward in group situations these days. 

A  I want a broken heart
This song is from his second (and apparently worst-selling album). 
"faith in the bank and money in my heart"
"the cattle on a thousand hills were not enough to pay my bills"

B  I repent
Also from his second album.  He agrees to it and then realizes he isn't sure he remembers it.  He refers to it as the anti-song to the one he ranted about last year.  Not sure what he means because Stockholm Syndrome was more than a year ago, and his most recent album was instrumental.

C Mockingbird
He calls this the thesis statement on his third record, and it is a powerful and slightly tongue-in-cheek song about cliches in the church.
"I'm like a mockingbird:/ I've got no new song to sing./  I'm like an amplifier:/ I just tell you what I've heard./ "

D Everything Will Change
This  is from his new album that has yet to be released (I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, I Love You).  He talks a bit about his process as a lead up.  In his life, songs only show up for a reason, and he says that folks who have been following him from the beginning have heard every song he's ever written.  For this record, the songs that started showing up were about questions he wanted to ask the church and issues he sees in her now, 10 years after his first album about her.

He considers it a sister album, a later follow-up to the first album (the reason we are all here at this concert tonight).  He said earlier that he could still stand behind everything on his first album and that he considered this fact important.  He now adds, "If I agree completely with everything I said 10 years ago, there's something wrong with me."

And then he says some important things about cynicism.  He says that this song will "put to rest the idea that I'm providing proof texts for cynicism."  He defines cynicism as believing there's no way this thing is ever going to change, there is no hope, deal with it.  "If I really believe in a day when all sad things will become untrue, then there is nothing that my hope is wasted on."

He says, "Cynicism is the opposite of the telling of the story of the kingdom."  And this song tells the story of the Kingdom in a way that makes me think a bit about his Jesus autobiography song ("Lover") from earlier in this album. 

She Must and Shall Go Free, Part 1

I went to see Derek Webb perform a 10th Anniversary concert for his first solo album.  Here are some notes.  (Part 1)

The concert is in a tiny church repurposed as a concert venue with a stained glass taking up half the back wall, 3 shaded chandeliers, and 5 windows along the north wall with an interesting fish scale shimmery iridescence to them; great for diffusing the candle light from tables around the edges.  Two fans spin up high in the ridge line of the vaulted ceiling.  There are these huge, dark wooden sliding/folding doors block off the fellowship hall and make me curious.  Sara Groves and her husband own this venue, and they introduce Webb.

What he thinks people are coming to the show for: "He can talk about politics and vent about the church, and maybe he'll swear!"  He calls the songs on the album "songs without certainty."

The stage is small even though it pretty much takes up the entire short wall.  Even so, Webb seems small standing up there.  He's a tiny man, compact and fine-boned with his shaved head gleaming.  Kenny Meeks is with him, a tall, sort of rawboned and rangy looking fellow who plays bass now and did the same on the record (along with producing it and providing the background vocals back in the day).  This guy is kind of a legend in Christian music.  I feel like I may have seen him at Alive '88 or something years ago. 

They are making things up a little.  This is the first stop on the limited tour, and they've never actually practiced together.  You might not know this if they didn't tell everyone.  You wouldn't likely care whether you noticed or not.

1 Nobody Loves Me
"I'm really glad I have a record from 10 years ago that I can still sing all of today."
"I don't disagree with a word of it."
"The truth is never sexy/ So it's not an easy sell."
"So I'll do whatever it takes/to squeeze us into this wedding gown./  I'll say words that rattle your nerves/ words like sin and faith alone, now/"
"Lord knows I've got something to say about every one of these, but I'm going to try not to," he says.  And I think, "Are you kidding?!  That's what we're here for.  If we just wanted to hear the album, we could do that any time.  Talk a lot!"  But his voice is a little rough, and he needs a lot of water, so I'll understand if he has to talk less as the night goes on.

2 She Must and Shall Go Free
He says this is an orphaned hymn, one where no melody was ever written for the words, so they just used one of the 4 basic tunes.  He decided to give it a tune.

3 Take to the World
 It's based on an Episcopal benediction and is the third song on the album . . .  He points out he might arrange the album a little differently with his current knowledge.
"Take to the world this rare, relentless grace."
"Know you must become what you want to save/ 'Cause that's still the way that He takes to the world."
"If you know Caedmon's Call from the radio, you never heard any of my songs."
"When Kenny Meeks makes a mistake, it's called a new revelation."

4 Nothing (Without You)
The pews are going to make my hip limping sore tomorrow.
"Kenny plays one note better than I play 10."

5 Beloved
"The word 'Christian,' when applied to anything except a person, is a marketing term, a term used to lead consumers to the thing they want to consume.  It can't mean what they want it to mean."
"This song originally had about 12 verses" because he was trying to do a song about the life of Jesus.  He edited it down to 5 verses, in the end, and I want to hear the other 7, too.  "How do you edit the life of Jesus?" he asks rhetorically.

6 Wedding Dress
The first single he wrote for this first record (but at the time, he thought it was a Caedmon's Call song). 
"Once you write it, there's no going back."
"It is still an offensive song for me to sing. "
"It's based on some of the most offensive parts of the Bible, which are there to offend us."
"Ezekiel and Hosea are designed to make people uncomfortable."
"I knew there would be some blushing."
"If I got up to read Ezekiel 16, I could clear the room."
"The comfort I got was that the most offensive parts were from the Bible."
"This was the song that got the album banned."
"They have every right to censor what they sell.. . .  I'm comforted by the thought that the last thing to go would be the Bibles, so the offensive content is there in every store."

He talks about how some people write to him as if he is angry and bitter and cynical.  And I'm surprised by how very much I need for him to not be bitter or cynical.  And he's not.  Maybe it's just his stage persona, but I really needed it anyway.  He says that cynicism is what happens when you give up hope.  And he hasn't given up.  He still has hope.  He still believes we can be better than we are, and he still believes God loves us even when we aren't.