Friday, June 22, 2007

"Gentle Pantheism"

Lately I have been contemplating God's immanance and metaphysical representation in our reality. For example, how does a pine tree portray qualities of God or speak God's voice or fulfill its function for which it was created? It grows. It is dependent; and unable to sustain itself alone. It contributes to and is part of something greater than itself. These are just a few qualities that immediately come to mind when I contemplate this issue. The same questions may be asked about everything in our world of reality.

The Post-Cartesian philosopher Benedict De Spinoza held the fascinating idea that the world is only made of one substance: God (Monism). He denied the distinction between attribute and substance therefore claiming that all things could be made up of one infinite substance (God) which contains infinite attributes. This allowed Spinoza the basis to believe in a Pantheistic reality in which God is exhisting through (and in and of and from) everything. Critics debate whether or not Spinoza believed in a strict Pantheism where God is literally the world; or whether he believed that all of God's attributes are somehow expressed in the world. Still, Spinoza's idea is captivating and I find there is support for his argument.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk and modern Christian contemplative, writes that the only true identity we can possess is to find our purpose in God just as a flower or a bird does. "Each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now." It is this fulfillment of function that grants Divine purpose. Therefore, I am led to believe that, in all its submission to function and purpose, all creation is representitive to God.

Aristotle touched on this idea of the fulfillment of function in his Nicomachean Ethics. According to Aristotle the only way to reach Eudaimonia - the happy life - was to figure out the function for which we are created and attain it. However, Aristotle was very vague in describing exactly what this function was.

However, of course, there is an exception to the fulfillment of Divine purpose in reality: me. And you and all human beings. Spinoza believed that humans were granted two attributes of God which were Thought and Extension. With these attributes we have the ability to maneuver away from our purpose. And, I would like to point out that it is obvious that the assumption at the base of these thoughts is the existence of God.

Though this is the end of my post, it is far from the end of my contemplation on this topic. Perhaps a future post ("Brutal Pantheism?") will be written on this. I have dubbed my idea here "Gentle Pantheism" because unlike strict Pantheism I am not avdocating the equity between creation and God; but I am perplexed by creation's gentle, hidden voice which speaks of purpose and Divine perfection.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Next Neil Young

Neil Young is arguably the greatest North American songwriter of all time. In 2002 Paste Magazine ranked Young #2 on the list of "Greatest Songwriters of All Time" - merely a hair behind Bob Dylan. He has been inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame - twice! From Buffalo Springfield to CSNY to Crazy Horse and many others, Neil Young and 'Old Black' have contributed a lifetime's work to the world of song and lyric. Even so, all legacies must come to a close. Although Young's career is not over, his achievements have in many ways been solidified in music history so that his role in this grand opera seems to have been fulfilled. With the loss of such a pioneer, there are some boots to be filled.

My friend is obsessed with Ryan Adams. He spends his hours at work networking Ryan Adams forums and befriending fans from across the globe. Just the other day he received a bootleg recording of a show from a fellow fan; it was postmarked from the Netherlands. It never ceases to amaze me every time my friend has a new album or song to show me; or a new story about this singer/songwriter; or tickets to another show. He loves Ryan Adams.

Of course he is not alone. There are millions of other fans out there who like the art that this man is creating. But my friend, well, I consider him a credible judge of music. You see, my friend was raised on the hands-down, critically acclaimed, "good" music. He was listening to Dylan/Beatles/Hendrix/CSNY mix tapes on his way to school in 7th grade while the rest of us were listening to Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumkins. He introduced me to Herbie Hancock's "Headhunters" in 10th grade when I thought Herbe Hancock was a ficticious character from some novel or movie. So when it comes to the artful critique of music, I trust him.

In the fall of 2003 my friend approached me with an album called "Heartbreaker" by Ryan Adams. He said I must listen to it, so I did. Once again his musical taste confirmed my trust. It was an honest album. It had a way of catching you that didn't seem dirty or fraudulent. It was just plain and simple songwriting. Nothing ever overdone nor underdone. Over the years I have faithfully admired "Gold" and "Love is Hell" and "Demolition" and "Rock n Roll" and "Cold Roses" and "Jacksonville City Nights" and "29," as well as various unreleased, live, and miscellaneous works.

At 33, Ryan Adams is currently releasing his tenth studio album, "Easy Tiger." Not included in this library are the multiple albums Adams released with his first band, "Whiskeytown." He has also produced for the likes of Willie Nelson as well as backed Nelson on recent tours. His songwriting accomplishments need no embellshment, it is obvious that Adams has found his vocation.

Like Neil Young, Adams is a pure writer. He can tell a story. He can break your heart. He can fire you up. He can put you to sleep. And every time you hear a song you know that it is exactly the way it should be. Nothing missing. Nothing to be removed. It is pure Goldilocks perfection. And, like Young, I would like to believe that Adams is at the "Zuma" stage of his career; which, if you know Neil Young, then you know that there is plenty of Ryan Adams to come.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Last night Shooter Jennings, son of famous country outlaw Waylon Jennings, performed in Rochester. I was there. The summer sun set over the miniature Rochester skyline while the masses quaffed the contents of their plastic cups. I was standing at the front of the herd. The majority of the goers had no clue what was to happen on the stage that stood before them. I did. Only moments later did a rabid crew of Shooter junkies come rasslin' in behind me. These were my good friends. As time ticked away, and despite Rochester's great lack of blue-collar, redneck, country folk, there was an air of 'God Bless America' hovering the pack. We were ready for Shooter.
At last Shooter, Ted, Leroy and Brian took the stage sporting nothing but the best deep-south apparel. Shooter's black leather vest with the words 'THE WOLF' and his leather-bound confederate flag guitar only aggrandized his presence on stage. Opening with "Electric Rodeo" set the stage for a show that never lacked energy nor country pride. Songs like "Busted in Baylor County," "Manifesto #2," and "Steady at the Wheel" were high on my list of favorites.
If you have not yet listened to Shooter, and you wish to die a happy man/woman, I highly recommend you give him a listen and discover the hidden country bumpkin that lies deep within.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Matter of Pride, Not Principle

As we near the end of George W. Bush's second term in the White House it is clear to most Americans that the status quo is much worse than when he first took office in 2000. Multiple polls have confirmed this view as the current opinion in America among citizens of both political parties. This is a sign of how bad things truly are: Bush has lost the support of his army of admirers, his true-blue believers, his faithful followers. And despite the loss of support, the smear of scandals, and the exhaustively futile effots in Iraq, Bush has remained unchallenged by a substantial group of his faithful followers: the Church.
The Christian Church has consistently been one of the most outspoken bodies in America on issues of morality in society and government. However, over the last eight years American Christians have displayed nothing but blind loyalty to man whose walk doesn't come even close to his talk. And only now, as current trends illustrate, are Christians - who voted twice for this man - beginning to withdraw their support for Bush and his policies. Still, this recant of support is often unspoken and hidden in order to preserve the appearance of being without fault.
As years pass and situations in the world worsen I am disheartened to see so many Christians who would rather not talk about the shortcomings of America's leadership than to renounce their patronage. I am sickened to see the Church as a living body "affirm by their silence the most un-Christian policies of government" (from 'The Church Jesus Builds;' edited by Joseph Coleson). It is a fantastic dream in which Christians are living to presume that being correct has more to do with who you voted for than how you live! This lifestyle is the model for so many Christians because it's EASY!
I encounter Christians on a daily basis. They are good people with good hearts full of love and belief for God. Yet unfortunately I run into a dead end 90% of the time when I attempt discussing the dire need for change in America's leadership. I can often see the fear or embarrassment on their face. It is this reason that I have come to the sad conclusion that American Christians would rather hold on to their pride than actually live like Jesus.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Power of CAT POWER!

If you haven't already, do it. Listen, that is, to Cat Power. Chan Marshall is the singer/songwriter behind this band of one. You can find her on Matador Records alongside the likes of the New Pornogrophers, Belle&Sebastian, and Yo La Tengo. In addition to praise from critics everywhere, Cat Power won this year's Shortlist Prize for "... artists whose small commercial ripples belie their wake-making creative waves."
Her latest album entitled, "The Greatest" is so well put together that one cannot help but listen - everytime- to the record in its entirety. From the first dense piano stroke to the last gritty guitar, it is obvious that this album was produced over and over to reach its final state. And it's not exactly the worst singing you've ever heard either. Cat Power's voice is a paradox of subtly and authority.
And, on top of it all, this talented singer/songwriter is about the closest thing to a Victoria's Secret model that the indie music scene has produced. With her stunning looks on top of her musical talents, this brilliant belle is sure to continue making waves in the industry.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth: A Flawless Fairy Tale

Last night I watched Pan's Labyrinth for a second time since first seeing it in theatres back in January. Once again Guillermo del Toro's beautiful fairy tale drew me into a world in wich all that mattered was the story itself. Unfortunately, in the viewing room with me were two 18-yr-olds who could not fathom such a tale as they heckled and harassed implausible scenes. Ironically, the two skeptics did not criticize the blatently fantastic scenes involving Ofelia and her extraordinary advenutres, but rather the scenes involving humans in more realistic situations. This caused me to wonder why it is often easier to understand and believe the truths and meaning behind a fairy tale than it is to believe those of reality. As displayed by the two 18-yr-olds, it is often easier to lose oneself in the fantasy world than to understand and accept the flaws of the real world.
I think this is partly what Guillermo del Toro was trying (and succeeded) to do. By employing brilliant symbolism and artistic perfection, del Toro allows his audience to understand the story of young girl and the horror of human nature during the Spanish Civil War without clear-cut references to details. Ofelia's imaginative excursions all symbolize aspects of the Spanish Civil War, however, despite exhaustive internet search, I have not found exactly what they mean - perhaps it is better this way. Nonetheless, del Toro's use of the fairy tale is a reminder of how stories are often better communicators of the truth than reality itself.

The Things They Carried

For the past week I've been reading Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." It is an experimental novel of short stories about the Vietnam War. O'Brien actually served in the war and narrates the work as a veteren retelling his stories twenty years later. This allows him the opportunity to tip-toe between fiction and non, leaving the reader to decide.

In the story entitled, "How To Tell A True War Story" O'Brien explains that a true war story can neither be told nor believed. The title alone plays on the word 'tell' - does he mean to Recount or to Perceive? In any case, O'Brien emphasizes one true point about any war story: there are no rules. However, as the theme of the book is plain to present, it is obvious that this goes not only for stories of war, but in war itself as well.

As the storyteller narrates he states various attributes that verify true war stories; many of which are paradoxes negating a statement from the previous page. For example, "...a true war story is never about war." The inconsistencies and contradicting characteristics are an obvious metaphor to the random turmoil that is war. According to O'Brien, war has no uniformity, no stability, no predictability.

After telling one single story four different ways, O'Brien confesses to his reader that his memory has served him wrong. In fact, none of what he has written actually ever happened. Each vignette was told in a certain manner to evoke a certain truth because what matters is not the name of the character, nor the setting of the story, nor the details left out here or there, but rather the ultimate truths of human nature. In this particular story the love between two soldiers and the burden of grief is what matters.

O'Brien captures a heavy truth in that stories of war are not obligated to be recognized in the context of past tense. The real truth found in stories of war is the human nature that is bound to be recognized forever in the present tense.

"... And if it did happen happen, it didn't happen in the mountains, it happened in this little village on the Batangan Peninsula, and it was raining like crazy, and one night a guy named Stink Harris woke up scream with a leech on this tongue. You can tell a true war story if you just keep on telling it."

Video! Audio! Disco!

"To see. To hear. To learn." This is the Latin translation of the words that are both the title of this post and of this entire blog. My hope is to use this blog as a means to appreciate the arts and contribute to a community of critical thought. Please stay tuned for new posts coming soon . . .