Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Good News. . . For Sale

My mother has often asked me why I did not consider
becoming a "Gospel Rapper". I usually explain the ultimate truth to her, after regaining my composure from an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

Back when record stores still existed, a music fan would walk into one and find that the CD's would be separated by category: Rock, Rap, R&B, Country, Classical, maybe International/World, and (surprise!) Gospel. There was no shrine in the back that these discs magically appeared from. They were usually sent by a company that also supplied the CD's that filled the other categories. The people actually making the music may have been sincere to an extent, but the number crunchers who kept the lights on in the studio were not compelled by the Holy Ghost. I've never witnessed any customer looking to purchase a gospel album being given the disc for free and told to exit "with the blessings of God". In the end it is all cold, hard, business.

I could argue that to sell faith-based music somehow seems contradictory, but my heart would not be in it fully. What is truly of importance is the understanding that business is simply supply and demand, meaning that when the public stops wanting to hear about God, gospel will vanish. It is fairly common to see artists who start out as gospel singers, only to go "secular" later. In this way, God is put into a role of a Diddy or any other powerful music mogul who has people join/leave his empire.

In the end, there is no "good vs. evil" dynamic in commerce. The person who listens to music made by Satan worshipers and the one listens to only "inspirational" music are both feeding the same machine. Things automatically lose value once they are put on the market for sale. The authentic is forgone for the popular, which equals money. Music can easily have the integrity sucked out of it once everyone's tastes are taken into account, even for something as specific as gospel music. The problem, then, is not with the actual product, but with the system that controls all of this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Time in inches

As a child, I thought of time as a substance. I thought time had a definite beginning and ending. I really took the "sands of the hour glass" imagery to heart. Time is merely a measurement. It's existence hinges upon our own. It is not so much a function of nature as it is an increment that makes life make sense. We cherish it because, as far as we know, time only expires when we do. The fact that we are in constant debate about the beginning of time should give us an idea as to the true nature of this concept. Time becomes this slippery concept based on an agreement between us all.

Recently, Samoa has decided to skip a whole day in order to get in line with the time zone of their neighbors. This makes me think of when I found out that daylight savings time wasn't a natural law. I couldn 't understand why we needed to manipulate time in such a away. If we can change something as important to time as a day of the week, contemplate the implications of that! It almost gives one the idea that they could slow down or stop the aging process, based on those ideas. Aside from the energy benefits (which I, as a consumer of energy, am ashamed to admit, do not understand), on some level we always need to remind ourselves and teach the young that time is theirs to use, not the other way around.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

In a World. . .

Action flicks from the 80's would often have a scene where the protagonist spent time with his family before leaving for combat. Kissing his wife, ruffling his son's hair and/or picking up his daughter and kissing her on the cheek, the hero would head for the exit, more determined than ever. This scene gave the audience a sense of who the hero was as a human being. It also gave a sense of perspective as far as what he was fighting for, on a personal level. The worried look on his family's face as he departed rounded out the vision of this person as a the "good guy". My childhood was mostly made up of the parts of the movie that were never shown, the scenes involving the family prior to and following the treatment I just described.
Year after year, my father put his life on the line, flying missions in the Air Force. My sister and I inquired about whether or not he was coming back for at least the first couple of years that I remember being aware of what he did for a living. Professionally, He became a very big deal, receiving all kinds of accolades and, above all, a tremendous amount of respect from his peers (and many of his superiors). Unfortunately, all of this meant that he had to sacrifice a lot of his time, often living away from home for weeks at a time. He was never truly allotted the time to be with us during those years.
I don't remember having any thoughts in the front of my mind concerning my father going on his missions. I do have recollection of being physically aggressive to a point of it being disruptive to my otherwise exceptional elementary school career. This pointed to some kind of subconscious turmoil. I recall well coming home to find my teary-eyed mother sitting at the kitchen table, shakily telling me that the vice principal had called. He had informed her of the fact that I had been in several fights. She was feeling helpless. I didn't know what to tell her. I was 10! My father could only deal with the situation partially. It was time and change of location that ultimately calmed me down. We moved to North Carolina when I was 12, thus changing the balance of power between me and my peers (from the bully to the bullied).
The thing that I learned watching my father was that any job that leaves you with dashing stories of heroics also requires hours of preparation and planning, both on and off the clock. Families often suffer as a result. There is nobody to blame, it is just the nature of the beast. A price is paid by all. Unfortunately, It took me several years to realize that my father wasn't just an arrogant glory-drunk douchebag (although some of that was forgiven as a requirement to put ones self in harms way), but a soldier with a responsibility to his buddies. I now can remember that as my main thought when my Dad half headlocked, half hugged me while embracing my sister and kissing my mother, preparing to head off on another adventure. It makes me wonder if there is some truth to the idea that we never actually learn, only recall. Anyhow, the cheesy synthesizer driven soundtrack would play, my dad would get into his sports car. He would slowly slide on his aviator sunglasses and speed off, tires squealing. I can't be mad at that.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Vision of Heaven, or Not

My feeling is that Heaven is a mindset, not a destination. I do, however, sometimes think about what type of place Heaven would be if it was in a fact a "place". I came to the conclusion that for a location with such expectations put on it to serve purpose, it would have to combine some aspects of life as we know it with the completely fantastic. There would have to be no ill will. Disagreements would still happen, but they would always resolve amicably. There would have to be some way of making progress. Without advancement, even utopia could get extremely boring.
The main concept that has to go is a huge one: Hell. I don't see how a place could ever be regarded as "paradise" if we aren't all there. How could one live in eternal bliss knowing that most of their friends, loved ones, or even just influences are languishing in damnation? That seems contradictory to what I understand being an "angel" to be. I imagine a place where Hitler and Jesse Owens play chess together. J. Edgar Hoover and his partner would have MLK and Coretta over for dinner. Tupac and Biggie headline Summerjam in Heaven. The absence of evil and hatred in people would be the primary difference between Earth and Heaven.
There would have to be some sort of challenge still in existence in Heaven. The feeling of rising up from something seems like a feeling that any place that is eternal would need to have. I just imagine that "suffering" would not exist. There would have to be different levels of bliss on order to prevent boredom from setting in.
Honestly, the more I actually entertained the idea of a Heaven, the more I saw how preposterous of an idea it is. The existence of an afterlife is not a silly concept. It is the idea that we could possibly fathom what life after death is when we do not understand what life itself is, that makes the conventional view of Heaven seem insane.

My Vision of Heaven, or Not

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Veil is lifted!

It has only been recently that I have been able to honestly give an appraisal of my parents. The reason for this is that no matter how old my parents get, and no matter what my age is, I measure myself against the way they were in their thirties. I am currently in my early thirties, so I am entering a phase that is congruent to my "yard stick". As would be expected, I find myself empathizing with my parents in most cases. My mother is very, very cautious yet happy. She grew up in a fairly controlled environment, racial tensions not withstanding. My father is fearless, to say the least. He flew airplanes in the Air Force. He was color blind for Christ's Sake! Fear is not so much of an issue for my Father, but I can say that his happiness is more subdued. I can look at each's handling of their lives (parenting included) and see what they were going through. My mother believes that the world is a much more dangerous place today than it was 50 years ago. This is because in the 60's (my Mother's "golden era"),there were not 500 tv channels, each with their own version of "Fear Tonight" (also known as "The News"). Even with my mother being young and Black at one of the most racially tumultuous times in our history, she still thinks more perils exist today for the youth. What this means is, the more information she receives, the more scared she becomes. Ignorance keeps her happy! However, she is unaware of the statistics that tell us that several fatal situations occur less often than ever ( car crashes, AIDS related deaths, etc.). There is a delicate balance she maintains to be positive, nonetheless. As a child, I thought that my mother knew everything. There appeared to be no way that someone could point out that many without having an endless amount of knowledge about the world. I did not have the maturity to see that knowledge begets more knowledge until one is left with a healthy understanding of say, what causes a cobra to strike, as opposed to an unhealthy and paralyzing fear of cobras all together. Boiled down to it's stock, my Mother's fear was of the unknown. Fearing the unknown is like fearing failure: The fear as an emotion creates more of the very concept one is seeking to avoid. My father is nothing if not a hoarder of information. For him to not know is for him to be somewhat crippled. There is no balance, it's know or die. He spent the late seventies and virtually all of the eighties flying planes, which of course provided him with a certain confidence. The statistics concerning one's chances of being in a car crash versus a plane crash on his side, his taste for life has a more adventurous flavor. He's a modestly happy guy. He has fond memories of comrades and heroic missions, but also of crushing defeat and the loss of some of those same friends. I did not realize it, but when I saw my dad coming out of a huge plane in a flight suit, I was seeing someone who had just encountered unfathomable dangers. He would be home for a short time, then it was back to the skies. I'm sure there were time's where the hug he gave me upon returning home was more than just a formality. When I was nagging him about getting a shot at Burger Time ( his favorite video game), the thought never crossed my mind that he may have been trying his best to balance the banality of home life with the insanity of air reconnaissance. First of all, I must state how fortunate I feel to know both of my parents, and to have them living. They aren't just clues to who I am, they are parts of the source. As an adult, what they were able to accomplish is no less amazing. Their shortcomings actually add to this, seeing as they are just more obstacles they had to overcome to enjoy the comfortable lives that they do today. Our relationship has transitioned to more peer-like, which in my eyes garners no less respect than they do as parents. I understand that you spend all of these years thinking at some point you'll be a grown up, but instead grown up things happen to you and you scream "I'm too young for this!", even if you're 33. I can hardly imagine how surreal it must have been to be flying through the skies at my age, but that is what my father was doing. To take care of two children while constantly thinking of a spouse who is in harm's way must have been almost debilitating at times. I hope that my wife and I can stick to it in the manner that my parents have. If my heritage is truly a barometer, the future is promising.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Intimacy with Enemies: "You Don't Know These People!"

The title of this piece is slightly misleading. The term "enemy" is not meant in the broad sense. This is not always something that involves malice. "Enemy" actually refers to that tiny thing inside of all of us that clashes with other people (and sometimes turns it's wrath inward, but that's another essay entirely). The only thing that matches the intimacy of sharing love, is sharing a battlefield, literally and figuratively. For me, this brings home the idea that love and war are not opposites, but variations on the same basic passion play. The closeness that comes with so much as a brief aggressive exchange with a stranger is not to be taken lightly. I've examined this concept in my life and observed my varying degrees of success in handling it. The lines are clearly drawn in the workplace. Socially, meaning outside of work but not inside my home, the same rules apply. Surprisingly enough, I am finding that the same axioms can be followed at home.
In my experience, the place where people are most likely to abandon any kind of code of civility is at their places of employment. The reality of it all is that it is an unnatural environment. Wildly different people gathered in a structure of some sort, all trying to make money while at the same time trying to give each other the impression that they are "team players". Signals get crossed from time to time. The basic problem is that most enter this environment, wanting it to be a certain way without effort.
Working and making money with other individuals requires remembering one simple fact: You do not know any of those people! For over six months I worked very closely with my wife and realized that the woman that I shared a home with was very different at work. She was strict whereas I was more loose. We switched roles at our apartment. One realizes how foolish it is to fight with co-workers with this in mind. Those postal workers cowering under their sales counters ducking bullets from a former colleague had no idea if it was some off-color comment they made next to the coffee machine that caused the shooter to go off the deep end. An argument requires a knowledge of a person that one generally does not have under those circumstances. You should no more verbally tussle with a co-worker than you should bed them. The next time someone who works with you attempts to engage you in verbal (or God forbid physical) combat, say something like, "That is a little more intimate than I would like to be with you. Let's re-visit this later." The uneasiness will be palpable.
In our society, if one craves altercation, there are fixes abound. The young often are casualties of violence as a result of basic misunderstandings because they can't see the whole situation play itself out beforehand. I once knew a young man who kept lots of money laying around his apartment and had a lot of "traffic". I remember commenting to my wife that he was " leaving steak out for wolves." I could not understand how he could not see this. The environment we lived in had a sort of undercurrent of violence that was somewhat legendary. Sure enough, he was robbed and murdered soon after I left that area. Someone with "traffic" has many, many casual yet intimate encounters a day with people of varying trustworthiness. A lazy eye soon becomes a closed one.
"You don't know those people!" Once again, this is the rule of thumb. You either prepare for anything or do not engage, period. With the rise of mixed martial arts, a combination of all the fighting disciplines, and more firearms than ever before, starting a fight is a gamble of extreme proportions. Of the aforementioned dangers, firearms are by far the most dangerous because children as young as 14 carry them. If combat is unavoidable, one must get to know their target better than they know their own children. As dramatic as this sounds, it is very necessary. Ultimately, the best defense is kindness (yet another cliche that is inescapably true). Treating people with respect does greatly decrease the chances of something bad happening. Where the danger lies is in everybody's different definitions of respect.
The family unit is the ultimate intimate relationship. My single friends giggle when they hear me speak of the pressures of being "head of household". They barely conceal their pity. They often say that they want a group of people who know them deeply, and vice versa. A cheering section of dependents. They speak of hookups with strangers and the "emptiness" they feel. "At least your wife and kids REALLY know you," they say. . .
" I don't know these people!". With every day that passes, I am confronted with the realization that my family is not just a group of cheerleaders for Team I, but individuals with their own ideosyncracies, hopes,dreams, pet peeves and annoying habits that are ever-evolving. The more I try to settle into their way of being at one moment in time, the more confused I end up being when I find that things have changed. The closest relationships are not among people that know each other inside out, but those that are willing to ride the waves of change with each other, no matter what.
There are new experiences to be had daily when it comes to dealing with human beings. The very technologically advanced society that we live in today has made it possible to have more personal interactions than ever before. The boundaries that protected us previously are slowly disintigrating. Life itself is becoming more intimate. It is a time where the wisest of us realizes that understanding people is an ongoing process that one can never take a break from. The "enemy" within only is so because of a lack of acceptance. As we get closer to each other, through the Internet and a global economy, we are forced to re-evaluate our ways of interacting. Proximity makes us feel like we know each other better than we actually do. There is a wall of assumptions keeping us from really knowing each other. It was Abraham Lincoln who said, "The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend." This can only happen with an honest view of ourselves and in turn the world around us.