Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Shack

Someone felt that my reading "The Shack" would help me emotionally. I'm always looking for new thoughts, so I read it. Today. In Massachusetts while my host seems apt to sleep away the entire day. 
    In terms of word choice, it is staggeringly poorly written, but the ideas behind why he chose to write it, which the whole badly-written fictional novel exists merely to present, are important ones most people don't know about. The style reminds me of The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew in a bad way 
("Quickly he quickly ran into the next room, adjacent to the one he'd sat perched cheerily in for so long, eyes wide with excitement, ready for a new tussle with the no doubt soon-to-be-exciting events of the day. He enthusiastically looked quickly around, and then quickly began to unpack his nearly overflowing suitcase, face reddening under his tan and eyes filling with tears while he thought mournfully about what his mother would think if she could only see him now and what he was doing, besides quickly unpacking his briefcase. She wouldn't like it at all, he quickly knew as he sampled his camomile tea and pondered the perplexing nature of it all.") 
    I get that the author had to set up a pretend-real character and introduce the idea that he'd been through a cool experience with God which changed him, before he could get across all of his ideas. I realize that, but felt all the parts of the book which don't directly serve the author's pretending God chose to speak to us in words recently, with a personality, really suck. The fact that he even alludes to, let along goes into and expresses opinions upon the topics which he touches upon completely redeem the book, though. 
    The fact that this book is available in the grocery store, and in #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in this secular society, boggles me. It's so badly written, and so full of things about God and religion and good and evil! People aren't allowed to think about that stuff anymore! They're just supposed to pick a side, unthinkingly believe it and blindly support it. 
   Curious, I looked at the reader reviews, and saw that almost no one alluded to the ham-fisted, amateur writing style, but rather that many felt liberated and enlightened by its looking at God and religion as separate things which have been grossly misrepresented. The reviews are almost all 5s and 1s. Characteristically, many conservatives were frightened by it and sought to "warn" everyone not to read it. 
   What amused me most was one guy whose most heart-felt, personal discomfort with it was that it had "an air of subversiveness throughout." He meant that clearly the author feels that religion, bible courses and colleges, and pulpits-and-pews churches don't do a lot of good most of the time, and so he just, like many of us, kind of cavalierly discounts them and is moving on to learn about God in his own way, without waiting around for them to deliver. How subversive! If that kind of thing catches on, people will stop attending churches in droves! (Oh, wait...) Those people show no faith that between them, God and a seeking person can EVER get anything right without church intervention, book study guides and supervision to eliminate any risk of error from the equation. How boring and ineffectual. Makes the whole thing an exercise in not colouring outside the lines, without ever looking at what the picture represent. 
   The God in this book makes points about relationship and loving and living being the central point of our existence on earth, rather than spiritual performance, correctness, obedience, duty and responsibility. Amen to that. We're supposed to play. It's how we learn, and how we most naturally interact. We have a duty to explore what He put here to live in. 
    I have been thinking lately about how very often religious (and zealous) people cause endless, lifelong trouble purely because they don't want anyone who says things they feel are incorrect or unusual to be allowed to speak. They are always warning of the harm in something or other. (Paranoia: Is It Eating Away Your Soul Without Your Knowing It?) They are more than willing to choose not to have any kind of human connection or relationship with the giant number of people on the planet who they judge to be incorrect, just to avoid proximity to what they feel is corrupting incorrectness. Cold. Closed. Not what anyone should see as holy or spiritually clued-in. 
   The same character (God as Mother/Father) also makes the point that just because you forgive someone something, doesn't mean you forget about it, or don't get to be angry, and it CERTAINLY doesn't mean that now you need to form a close, healthy relationship with him or her, just 'cause. The God character says that forgiveness isn't forgetting what the person did, or being ok with it, or understanding, it's just taking your fingers off their throat and leaving them alone. (sorry about using "their" and "them" as singular non gender specific pronouns) 
   I liked the point made in the book that "religion isn't about having the right answers" and as anyone who's ever been to school can tell you, often the kid with all the right answers has the least clue of anyone as to what is (or should be) going on in so many other ways. 
    I was going to say "Of course there's no harm in knowledge and duty" but then I remembered that knowledge, though as necessary and useful a tool as a chainsaw, hammer or axe, carries scriptural warning with it. "Knowledge (not exempting scriptural or religious knowledge) puffeth up" the King James puts it. Knowledge, however useful it turns out to be, inevitably makes people arrogant, and arrogance is a kind of self-centred blindness, no matter how informed you feel you are.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Performing at the Puppets Up! Festival

Here's us doing "All Apologies" by Nirvana.  Note Regan the Sound Guy in his canvas utility kilt.

Puppets Up!

It was the annual Puppets Up! festival where I live, which is kind of like a huge Mardi Gras for kids.  Our band performed twice, and it was quite a success.  Both times we got a whole lot of "people stopping to listen who'd been in a hurry a moment ago," which is great.  Also, my landlord and downstairs neighbors all came out to hear, and were taking pictures of us.  In other years we have played nice but more low-key sets with some teachers we work with who we constantly struggled to agree with as to song choices.  For instance, they did Hootie and the Blowfish, which wasn't a direction we'd have been comfortable with, I don't think.  
   We did a song of mine this year, which makes it really worthwhile for me. Sat in the pub and chatted with bandmates between sets while women's beach volleyball from the Olympics was on.  Talked with Katie Mulligan the local photojournalista about how to take good pictures (because she's excellent) and the like.   My whole family except my dad came (arriving an hour after we played and leaving two hours before we went up again) but it was nice to see them.  Some high school kids came over to talk.  I had my newly-acquired 310 to Yuma/Lynyrd Skynyrd hat on, and looked very much the part of A Musician.  That's cooler than "the English Teacher" or "That Weird Jesus-looking Guy who seldom leaves his apartment all summer."
I don't have any pics yet, so take my word for it that I looked uncannily like the late Ronnie Van Zandt from Lynyrd Skynyrd, but without the big belt buckle or black jeans.  
   The sound guy looked cooler than ANYbody.  Puppets Up attire often involves wearing motley (court jester kind of wear) and Regan the Sound Guy had a court jester's hat, a vivid tie-dyed shirt, a beard, a pipe, big boots and a giant tan canvas utility kilt you can hang hammers and power drills from. 
   It rained pretty hard, so when we played before supper with the rain having just let up, we didn't expect anyone to listen, but what happened was the entire street suddenly went from completely empty, to being lined with people who materialized from buildings or came and stood in doorways in case the rain started again, so we were on this white open trailer bed at the top of the hill at the end of the closed-off street, and we were looking down at a street sparsely dotted with stragglers, but all the doorways had people leaning in them, smiling at us, and people who were scooting by in a rush all smiled and stopped.  Hoorah
   The really surreal thing was that a fairly cracked-out, not at all sober-looking middle-aged couple with headbands and tie dye (she quite apple-shaped, and wearing a perpetually slipping tube top) were shouting stuff about "this is just like Woodstock!" and dancing to every single song we did, right in front of the stage.  This was very cool, actually.  You can't buy that.  (or me getting to say "This is a song by the funkiest man in music today" and then playing a funky version of "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" by Neil Diamond.)