The Return

6 July 2008

So I disappeared for a minute… or a couple years. An update: I graduated from college, moved to Bemidji (aka the middle of nowhere) and worked as a Direct Support Professional for people with developmental disabilities, applied to graduate schools, got accepted to my top choice, and moved to Chicago to find a job and a place to live before beginning school this fall. A lot has changed in my life, and my philosophical outlook shifted dramatically over the course of my remaining 3 semesters of college. Along the way, I was awarded a grant to study Flannery O’Connor and the nature of religion and art — you can find a sampling of my work at the blog I maintained.

Now that I’ve relocated and am beginning to make a lot of new and exciting connections, I’m interested in having an outlet for some of the books I’m reading and the thoughts they elicit. We’ll see how it goes — no promises, of course.


Sufjan vs. Santa?

5 September 2006

songs for christmasLook what’s coming! “Get Behind Me, Santa”? I couldn’t be any more excited.

The Enemy Is Within, Don’t Confuse Me With Him

30 August 2006

A major problem is making itself known.

kickballSince when do I spew out lines of the sleazy game show host variety? I hear myself say shit like “she’s fallen off the face of the planet!” with all the panache of a desperate traveling salesman with a sales-hungry erection and an ashamed panic kicks in. I find myself catering to what I feel people desire, but it manifests in a terribly off-putting way. As soon as the words leak from my face opening, I recognize that they are not clever or witty but instead come off as desperate. I am not this person, an eager beaver eager to please. While it is true that I have retained a desire to please others from my childhood playground “please don’t pick me last for kickball” (What was the logic used in creating this process? “Let’s teach children how to rank their peers!”) insecurities, I made a lot of progress in the last year and a half in terms of stretching out and creating my own identity, only to find that it has begun to erode out from beneath my feet this summer. What is the culprit?

I hate to pin blame… hell, who am I kidding, I smell a rat, and it smells like Residence Life. If any organization encourages an “eager to please” response to any and every situation, it is Residence Life. And, when I take into account that my behavior worsened and made itself apparent this month – a time when my Residence Life workload has increased tenfold – and the fact that when I’m not spouting Carson Daly-esque garbage, I’m sighing and complaining of the stresses and expectations of the Res, well, there’s little room for doubt. Thankfully, I’m done in three days, so I’ll be monitoring my process.

There may be one other thing to consider. Coming to Augsburg was the first time that I left the name that I had been called the entire span of my remembered life (“Tiffer”, a nickname assigned by my older sister and cemented by a mother who found it too cute to deny) and took up a more conventional name (“Chris”, established in an attempt to be taken more seriously). Could I finally be feeling the aftershocks of that decision? If so, I fear it may be too late to turn back now – while I don’t feel a strong connection to “Chris”, “Tiffer” feels too distant, as if a remnant of a former life. It seems I may have to make “Chris” my own if there is any hope to retain the individual I was becoming so proud to be – well, that, and survive my last days of Residence Life with a sense of humor and a pause before I open my mouth.


26 August 2006

mePerhaps it is my school’s voracious emphasis on this concept of “vocation” – which, mind you, is not pre-defined by the school but is something one must define in light of his or her own understanding of self, God, and world, steeped in personal experience and service learning, it would seem – but I’m more unsure about the future than ever before. Instead of resulting in a sense of satisfaction, or even some degree of excited anticipation, the future leaves me feeling harried and unfocused. Seminary? Journalism school? Peace corps? Enter the work force– uh, no thank you.

As of late, I’ve gleaned one idea from amongst the rubble (we’ll see how long that lasts) that has really sparked my interest – Columbia University’s dual MA-MS in Religion and Journalism. What would I do with that? Their focus isn’t my focus, but the education could serve a purpose.

What I’m really interested is exploring/writing on the ways in which popular culture speaks to the spiritual state of society. Where the fuck can I study the connections between Job and Lindsay Lohan, US Weekly and the Apostles?

Lions, God, and A Carotid Artery… Oh My!

6 June 2006

LionessYesterday in Kiev, a lioness at a local zoo went straight for the throat (literally) when a man entered the lion exhibit via rope and declared “God will save me, if he exists.” He went right to a group of lions and was immediately mauled, his carotid artery severed and his life ended. What does this say about the existence of God? When questioned, God responded with a line straight out of his autobiography: “Don’t test the Lord your God.” Point taken.

Scarier than a Hollywood remake of The Omen.

Sufjan Stevens’ “Night Zombies” & the Human Person in Christian Anthropology

4 June 2006

SufjanIn “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Are Back From The Dead!! Ahhh!,” a track off indie-spiritual singer Sufjan Stevens’ soul-searching 2005 concept album about the state of Illinois, Stevens intimately admits that he “tremble[s] with the nervous thought of having been, at last, forgot.” So is the sentiment of much of humankind. The idea of being utterly forgotten is one that has plagued humankind since the dawn of its time. This notion of legacy has lead humanity to some of its greatest achievements – and some of its most horrific happenings, too. We remember those who have made a powerful and positive impact on our world, yet regard historical figures such as Adolf Hitler with equal weight if not equal regard. No matter one’s status, hero or villain, if one helps shape the state of the world, a place in history is nearly guaranteed. Nobody wishes to be forgotten, and people will go to great lengths to leave their mark on the Earth before their time is up. We wonder, ‘will we be remembered?’ Even more so, we ponder in fear, if we are forgotten, did we ever exist at all?

That question is never more overt than it is in the social structure of Hollywood and celebrity, where it becomes crystallized into a question of business. Musicians Tupac Shakur, Aaliyah, Elliott Smith, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez of TLC, Biggie Smalls, Selena, Ray Charles, and Johnny Cash have died in recent years – and their managers have consequently seen their stock rise considerably. An entertainer can go from famous to icon overnight, as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe did. Even political and social figures can transform into legends upon dying, as happened to Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy (and, for that matter, several others in the Kennedy clan). The business of celebrity is the business of exposure, and what grants more exposure than a premature and/or tragic death? In the standards of Hollywood, sometimes a person is more of a person dead than alive.

This mentality is portrayed in the previously referenced song by Sufjan Stevens. In it, Stevens sings of “night zombies” or “the ghost community,” including such deceased historical figures as Ronald Reagan as participants in this “night of the living dead” – using the cultural reference “night of the living dead” to highlight the way in which these individuals are, almost, more “alive” now that they are dead. Stevens recognizes that this fear of being forgotten exists on a communal level (“I know, I know the nations past/I know, I know they rust at last/They tremble with the nervous thought/Of having been, at last, forgot”) and an individual (“We see a thousand rooms to rest/Helping us taste the bite of death/I know, I know my time has passed/I’m not so young, I’m not so fast/I tremble with the nervous thought/Of having been, at last, forgot”). As Stevens brings his repeated exclamations of fear over being forgotten to an end, a chorus closes the song with the lines, “I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S! Hold your tongue and don’t divide us/I-L-L-I-N-O-I-S! Land of God, you hold and guide us.” In the end, Stevens recognizes that God plays a key role in the issue of the human self in the context of legacy.

Stevens poses a question of existential and Biblical identity: if one is not known, does one exist? One mode of Christian Anthropology states that “it is in relationship with other persons as well as with God that the divine image is expressed” (McGrath 1993, P.7), or more simply, that “humans are meant to be in relationship with one another” (Hanson 1997, P.85). Even the Biblical story of the creation of humankind – both versions, but with particular emphasis in the version found in Genesis 2 – seemingly emphasizes the necessity of human relationship in the context of the human person. In fact, in the King James Version of the Bible, Genesis 2:18 finds God explicitly stating that “it is not good that the man should be alone.”

Throughout Stevens’ ode to the human person, several lines are repeated for seeming emphasis. One such sequence says, “Who will save it? Dedicate it?/Who will praise it? Commemorate it for you?” In essence, Stevens is tackling a simple yet universal concept: the curiosity over what people will say about us after we are dead. While we may never know firsthand, in musical conversation Sufjan Stevens gets a step closer to an answer through an obliquely Christian Anthropological understanding of the human subject in the context of relationships. Maybe it says something that he releases his records independently, avoiding the Hollywood hierarchy of death and worth.

Sources: “The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Christian Thought,” edited by Alister McGrath; “Introduction to Christian Theology” by Bradley Hanson; King James Version of the Bible; “Illinois” (music recording) by Sufjan Stevens.

Neko Case Loves Satan!

3 June 2006

Neko CaseNeko Case sings “now it’s the devil I love” and that makes her a Satanist? How can you deny this website’s claim with logic like this: “When you sing about loving the Devil Ms. Case, in light of the abundant evidence of Satanism in the music industry, you have to expect to be exposed.” Uh oh… looks like I better start filtering my music for Lucifer references. All this time I thought Ms. Case’s sublime vocals and down-right lovely musical stylings were heavenly. Oops! And to think I was risking my place in eternal glory over some devilishly good alt-country music!

I just love a good essay tying so-called “rock music” to Beelzebub: “Hypocritically, Neko Case sings ‘This Little Light’ on her ‘The Tigers Have Spoken’ album. In the song she sings, ‘Jesus gave me light, I’m going to let it shine…’ You’ve got to be kidding? When asked in a Playboy interview if she would pose naked for Playboy, Neko Case said… ‘Well, of course I would consider it! But I certainly need time to think about it. It would be a lot of fun…’ Is this how you’re letting your light shine for Jesus Ms. Case, by telling others that it would be FUN to strip naked for millions of men to commit adultery with you? Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, ‘…whosoeverlooketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’ Why would you even speak of doing such an evil thing Ms. Case? I mean, you can’t sing about letting Jesus’ light shine in one breath, and then say in an interview that it would be fun to pose in a lewd Playboy magazine. You can’t sing about loving the devil and then expect people to understand what you MEANT, when it’s not what you SAID.” Ahh, what goes better with rock music than lust and Satan?

If you didn’t get the point yet, Mr. Stewart will be sure you do: “Rock-n-roll music is of the Devil, and Neko Case is just another testimony to this fact… Satan desires to sift our young people as wheat, just as he did Peter (Luke 22:31). To sift wheat, you beat it against a stone to separate the wheat itself from the plant. Literally, Satan wants to beat us to death (John 10:10). Rock-n-roll music is a vehicle by which we subtly invite Satan into our minds. Rock music is of the Devil.”

Can I get an “amen”?

Missing in Action in America

27 May 2006

M.I.A.According to a post on one of her official websites, M.I.A. has been denied a visa to enter the U.S. She was set to record with Timbaland for the follow up to her debut record "Arular," one of 2005's best. Rumor has it that M.I.A.'s lyrical flirtations with terrorism, as well as her affiliation-via-birth with a Sri Lankan rebel political movement, did in the British citizen's bid to enter the states.

"Roger, roger, do you hear me, over? The U.S. immigration won't let me in, I'm locked out," wrote M.I.A., born Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam. "They won't let me in. Now I'm making my album outside the borders" (source). No word on when the follow up will be finished and available for purchase.

The incident follows a similar controversy last year, when MTV banned the music video for single "Sunshowers" over its controversial, terroristic lyrical content.


25 May 2006

Site launched 25 May 2006.