I have unwillingly listened to country music for the last three days at work. The songs are getting stuck in my head. I could probably sing along with about ten songs at this point. Did I say that THE SONGS ARE GETTING STUCK IN MY HEAD! But I’m okay, it’s okay. I will not complain, because the guy I’m sharing the workspace with has every right to choose what kind of music he wants to listen to. I will say, however, that I have noticed a few peculiar things. Aside from a little of the obligatory Johnny Cash, I have had almost zero exposure to country music. I am aware of its existence, just as I am aware of the botfly. But I would never choose to be in the same room with either of them. So, country music is a new world for me. It’s almost as if I went to hide in a wardrobe and discovered a magical realm of unpleasant experiences. But I am back from the Narnia of Country Music, and I have brought back an anthropological report of my findings.*
– I won’t speculate as to what this signifies, but something like 80% of the commercials on the local country station are for debt relief and/or loans.
– I have been told by several girls that they had high standards for men because of country music, and that country music taught them how a man ought to treat a woman. After hearing how the men of country music sing about women, and vice versa, I don’t see how this is possible.
– There isn’t much variety in country music. I felt like every song was just like the last one except with different lyrics. Same beat, same instruments same chord progression. The lyrics were pretty limited too. Most country music is made up of selfish love songs, and/or descriptions of what it is like to “be country.” Many will feature a reference to “this town” and “my chevy.” As far as I can tell, the ideal date for a country music singer involves either getting blackout drunk, or driving endlessly in a truck together. I swear that I heard one song that managed to combine every single one of those elements.
– There is, interestingly, a lot of plurality in country music. For every man singing about how he is breaking up with a woman because she is insane, there was a woman singing about how she is going to show a man who had broken up with her just how insane she is. If a man sings about how his wife loves him even though he’s a jerk, a woman will sing about how she loves her jerk husband. When you hear a song about how a girl’s daddy is going to beat up her boyfriend, you will certainly hear about all the things the boyfriend did to deserve a beating from her daddy in another song.
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive study of country music. But the study of country music has exhausted me. I refuse to force myself to think about it any longer. The remainder of my evening will consist of attempting to scrub these songs from my mind.
* If country music had its own Narnia, it would be populated with small, yipping dogs and index fingers on wings that only lived to poke people in the eye. The roads would be paved with poo. The only beverages would be cherry cough syrup or egg yolks. Anyone who visited Country Music Narnia would be cursed with a persistant wedgie and forced to wear really tight headbands.
Thank you to everyone who participated in my foolishness yesterday. Any stragglers are still very welcome to send me a story to post, firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is the story I wrote yesterday, (and edited this morning).
the man who hated cats
Once upon a time, there was a man that hated cats. By and by, he married a girl who loved cats. Everyday he came home from work and she would ask him, “Did you bring me a kitty?” To which he would reply, “No.” Because he hated cats.
Nevertheless, because he loved his wife, he got a kitten for her one day. When he returned home from work, his wife asked him, “Did you bring me a kitty?” At last he could answer, “Yes.” And there was much rejoicing. The man did not rejoice, however. The kitten was a nuisance in his estimation. It hid behind things and pounced on his ankles to bite and scratch him when he walked by. It clawed up his chair. It threw up on the carpet. But the man comforted himself in knowing that his wife was pleased with the furry pest, and he hoped that at least it killed some rodents when it was outside.
One day, the kitten came home from an overnight excursion without one of its feet. There was much distress. If the man had been home, he likely would have shot the animal in order to put it out of its misery. But he was at work, so the kitten was taken to a veterinarian and had its whole back leg amputated. So it goes. The man’s wife made the cat a bed so that it could sleep in the bedroom while it recovered. Late that night, the man awoke to the sound of the kitten howling miserably. His wife slept on, and so he got up to check on the animal. It was asleep, but it was obviously suffering. The man pitied the kitten even though he did not like it. He crouched down and stroked the kitten’s fur. It quieted almost immediately. The man returned to bed, and the terrible howls began again soon after. So, he sat himself down next to the kitten’s bed and stroked its head all night long. Three sleepless nights passed this way, and the kitten began to get better.
It wasn’t long before the kitten was back to normal, although he had one less leg than he began with. It bit the man, tore up his things, and generally did everything it could to make itself unwelcome. Only now, the man couldn’t comfort himself by sending the kitten outside to murder rodents. His wife gave strict orders that the kitten was to remain indoors for the rest of its life. The kitten grew into a cat, and the man and the cat grew into enemies.
Any time a window in the house was opened, the cat would tear holes in the screens. It crouched near the front door so that it could dart outside if the man was not vigilant. He would then be obliged to retrieve the cat, who would lead him for long walks through the underbrush, always staying just out of reach. Sometimes the man would have to crawl under the house in order to fetch the cat. And the cat did many other things to vex the man. Once, when the man returned home from a long journey, he shucked his favorite jacket off onto the floor. The cat immediately rushed over and peed on the jacket. Such was his way. He no longer had the excuse of being, “just a kitty.” He was just a jerk. Many times the man looked at the cat and though, “If my best friend in the world came into my house, destroyed my belongings, scratched my children, and pooped in my closet, as you have done many times, I would violently remove him. And everyone would say I was right to do so. Yet I must tolerate your presence here indefinitely.”
Gradually, however, the cat mellowed out a little. As many villains do as they mature, he became less aggressive, but more devious in his villainy. He would often feign affection for the humans with whom he lived. If he was hungry, he would meow and rub on people’s legs. If he wanted a comfortable place to rest, he would purr and cuddle with someone until they allowed him to sleep on their lap. But all of his affection was purely selfish. The man was not deceived. When the cat tried to crawl onto his lap, he would place it back on the floor and say, “We are not friends, cat. Go away.” When it would rub on his leg and beg noisily for food, he would push it away, saying, “Shut up, cat. Nobody likes you.” Once, his children heard him saying this to the cat, and they protested.
“Don’t say that to the cat,” they said. “He’s our cat, and we like him!”
“Very well,” the man replied. “You can be responsible for feeding him, giving him water, and scooping out that ridiculous box of sand and poop we keep in the laundry room, if you like him so much.”
“We will! We will” they shouted back.
And oftentimes they did. But they also forgot to care for the cat many times, because that is their way. And when the man rose very early in the morning, the cat would be waiting for him. He would trip over it in the kitchen as it rubbed on the same ankles it used to bite. The cat would meow, and meow, and meow until the man would almost shout at it in the dark, quiet house, “SHUT UP!” But the cat would not shut up. And so the man would feed it, and give it water, and then he would squat down and stroke the cat’s fur while it ate, just as he had done many years ago. And so they still live, until this very day.
The moral of the story is this: If a man who hated cats would adopt such a miserable creature, will not God, who loves mankind, adopt such miserable creatures as us? And if a man would care for an animal he hated because of pity, will not God care for us, whom he loves? And if this man continues to feed the cat, whom he would much rather throw as far as possible out the front door, simply because it repeatedly asks, will not God who loves us give us all that we need?
A dog yelped, drawing my attention. It stood on a wall, its leg wrapped up in the chain leash around its neck. Something struck me as odd about the scene. After a moment’s consideration, I realized it was the first dog I’d seen chained up in Ghana. There was another at the end of a rope laying at the bottom of the wall. I looked further and saw a whole group of men standing in a rough circle with about thirty dogs on leashes. “Hey, Jeff,” I said, “there’s the dog market.”
Every once in awhile, I dig around in my archives and read my old writing. It’s an exercise in vanity, but maybe not as bad as you might think. Most of the time I don’t like what I find. I’m much more critical of my old stuff than whatever I’m currently writing. Sometimes I find something to read that I’d forgotten writing, that’s my favorite. But today I told a story in person that I’d written out a few years ago. Later on, I sat down to read the old version. Once again, I’m not such a big fan the quality of the writing. But the story itself is a good one. As I prepare myself for Ghana, I thought it was worthwhile to revisit.
My very first interaction with a high schooler after it was announced that I was taking over the youth group went like this:
“So, you… uh… got through high school? You survived?”
“How’d you do it? What’s the trick? Do you have any advice?”
And if I’d had any lingering doubts over whether or not I was in over my head, (I had none), they immediately disappeared. What’s the trick for getting through high school? How was I supposed to know? Do I have any advice? Not really.
Then, I remembered Jeff Alaways’s tip for how to be a good coffee roaster, I prayed to God, and I opened my mouth to speak. I can’t recall what I said, but I do remember being shocked to hear that my own words were actually a good answer to the questions that had been posed to me. But right now, what you are wondering is what Jeff Alaways had to say about being a coffee roaster. And how does that have anything to do with the youth group? Well, when he told me, I thought, “That’s a good general policy for life.” Here’s what he said:
My friend Justin used to wear these ridiculous little socks. He was really particular about them. They would just barely hook over his ankle, and no bit of them could be showing above the line of his shoe. I guess that style is popular now, but back then he was the only person I knew that wore it. We used to tease him, ask him if he ran out of laundry and had to wear his wife’s socks to work. We teased him a lot, mostly because he’d get so worked up and defensive. And then we’d calm him down by telling him we only messed with him because we loved him. It was true, and he knew it. Justin died of cancer seven years ago. Every year on the day that he died, we who teased him raid our wives’ sock drawers. So go ahead and mock me and my ankle tan-lines. I’ll know it’s just love.
I’m probably about to repeatedly put my foot in my mouth on a lot of different topics. I don’t care, I had a funny experience today that I want to relate.
My wife and I were talking about environmentalists the other day. See? Right away, I feel like I already sound like the kind of right-wing bigot that the internet loves to hate. You could read a lot into that opening sentence if you wanted to. You could infer tell that my wife and I are not environmentalists, which seems to some kind of unforgivable sin nowadays. And you could take it a step further to say that we’re the opposite of environmentalists, since when I say that we were talking about them it kinda sounds like we were making fun of them. Well, we were. Continue reading
Two years ago today, I watched a man drown in the Yuba River. And, as we did last year, Eric and I are going back to the spot this afternoon. It’s been on my mind and in my heart to write something up about Ray, or perhaps about what I’ve learned over the last 730 days. Something.
I wrote this: Life and Water, on the day that he died. And this: The Heartless, a few months ago. Those pieces sort of just flowed out of me without my even paying attention. But when I intentionally sit down now to give words and meaning to that death, I find myself perplexed. Nothing comes out right. I’ve written, erased, and started over on this at least four times. Last year was the same way. My thoughts and feelings about life and death have changed from a simple, straight line into a tangled knot. I can still carry it around. But I can’t give it any order, or make anyone else to see its sense. And that’s alright, I suppose. It will have to be. Maybe in a year from now, I’ll be able to explain. At least until then, I can say that the conclusion I reached two years ago still holds true: Life is short and unpredictable. Let’s live it well, and be ready for when it ends.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:17-18
Have you ever stopped in the middle of what you were doing, or paused in the middle of a conversation, and realized that you’re being a complete jerk? However it happened, however you got there, you are in the wrong. That happens to me frequently. When you’re generally mean, you have a higher occurrence of these sort of revelations proportionally. And don’t think that I’m judging myself too harshly, or being self-deprecating for the sake of pity. I recently had one of those moments as I made fun of a lady, to her face, because she’d had brain surgery.
Of course, I have my excuses. I’m really tired, I haven’t been sleeping lately. Money issues are stressing me out. When I am around people too much, I get ideges. Want me to go on? I could, probably indefinitely. But so what? That doesn’t change the real issue, which is that I’ve been laying about me with the kind of irony and sarcasm that has nothing to do with humor, and everything to do with malice. The sleep, the stress, the whatever, are just excuses. They aren’t reasons. The reason is that I’m a self-centered jerk down in my heart.
Chuck Smith says that the same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay. Circumstances may be good or bad, but all they can do is act on the nature of the material. And it seems that my heart is hardened clay. Jesus said that it’s the things that come out of us that ought to be our concern, Mark 7:14-23, not things that come in from the outside. Yes, I know that he was talking about food. But the point that I’m trying to make is the same thing one that Jesus made. It’s not about food, it’s about watching out for the things that come out of your heart.
So, the next time that you discover that you are the villain in this episode of your story, don’t turn and look for a circumstance that will make a good excuse. Own it. Apologize. Confess. Knock it off. And move on with life.
And, folks, sorry for the way I’ve been.
I’ve got a lot going on in my mind lately that I don’t want committed to a public record. But the general idea is that I want exactly what I want, and I want it precisely right now. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. It all boils down to doubt. When doubt crops up in our lives, all sorts of other garbage come rushing out right along with it. Confusion. Regret. Malcontent. Worry. Fear. And it almost always adds up to disobedience. All that because I’m not getting what I want.
The situation serves to remind me that no matter how stubborn, demanding, and self-serving I become, I still won’t be in charge. I can’t make my plans come to pass. I can’t make God do anything.
On the other hand, I could be trusting God. I could recognize that he is really the one in charge. Then I could rest in his goodness. I could take comfort in his love. I could have joy in the sureness of the success of his plans. That would be better, wouldn’t it?