Still Moving

In spite of everything, I still believe . . .

Here’s my song for week 10 of #songaweek2016.

You’re the wind and

I’m the good girl

trying to keep her skirt in place

You’re the music

I’m the stoic

fighting the urge to dance

you are the light

but I’m trying to hide

You’re the bread and wine but I have to fast

you’re the question I’m afraid to ask

you’re the letting go, I can’t hold you in my grasp

but over, under, and right through everything

your still small voice still calls

You’re the road and I’m the traveler

you lay your body down

you make a way through wilderness

draw me to the next horizon

spread your spirit out

You’re the paper I’m the pen

you give me space to think

let me bleed all over you

and you wear the mess like it means something

You’re the wave and I’m the sand

I’m trying to stand firm

but you keep on changing me

 

Lullaby for Climbers, Elephants and Divers (Shhh)

It’s already week eight of #songaweek2016! Here’s my song:

Climb up on compassion’s lap and have a good cry

Don’t be afraid to tell her how you’re afraid to die

Everybody feels it

no matter what they know

everybody wonders

where their last thoughts go

Shhh, shhhh

A pile of poached ivory burned in sacrifice

Some things should not be bought or sold at any price

Every year’s a circle

Every day’s a spin

We’re angel demons dancing

On the head of a pin

Shhh, shhhh

Maybe like an aging star you will expand

Grow brighter, hotter, stronger before the end

Shhh, shhhh

Dive down to the deeps of doubt, let the dark surround

Lose yourself where you started out, wait to be found

Let the waves wash over

let the great fish come

be swallowed whole

by this strange new home

 

Manifesto of an Unchosen Musician

Heaven and the music industry* have twisted themselves together in my brambled mind. I mean the heaven I used to believe in, and the music industry I used to dream about, and the way they both still affect me on a gut level I’ve not paused to think about before.

Something about being chosen, about higher-ups moving in mysterious ways, about knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time.

And clashing with that, having a voice and a soul that feel too large for my timid self, that come tearing out sideways if I try to box them up – but not having enough of the mysterious something – the look, the drive, the belief, the secret decoder – to make it with the gatekeepers.

Something about scarcity, about me and scads of people I know or have heard, who keep making music and living big soulful lives because what else can they do? – and the airwaves being just too crowded, the need for the higher-ups to choose only some, the ones who work the hardest, clamor the loudest, get born into the right family at the right time.

And how I don’t feel like I really want to be chosen in a system like that, and how I feel more alive outside the contrived paradise, where kids and old people and loud people and shy people and generally awkward people and anyone else below the industry standard are making their music and living their lives, sans audience, sans halo.

No mansion for me, and no platinum record. I’ll just be out on the front steps of heaven, singing my guts out** with the rest of the unchosen.

 

*Whatever heaven may be, this ain’t it; and “the music industry” is hardly such an easily-generalized monolith, and there are many highly successful musicians making music I love and doing good authentic work. This post is about opting out of elitist mentalities, wherever they crop up, and not letting fear of being unchosen keep us from being who we really are, making music whether anyone listens or not, searching our souls despite the disapproval of the gatekeepers of faith or tradition or clout in any form.

**“You’ve been singing your guts out / Is that not enough to do?” – I love this phrase from a Luka Bloom song, whose lyrics also seem relevant to this post: http://www.lukabloom.com/lyrics/riverside_album/the-one/

 

Extra credit – these songs:

 

 

Thirty-Nine

I couldn’t sleep last night. Nathan and I are getting ready to release a new full-length album, one we’ve been working on for, oh, five years or so, and the title we chose for it is Thirty-Nine. The songs are records and reflections from my personal journey through faith and doubt, and our working title was “FaithedOut” or “Faith-Doubt” or – well, we couldn’t figure out how to spell it to make it work without being spoken, mute on an album cover. Faith and doubt, but also faithed out, as in worn out, churched out.

I’m turning thirty-nine this year, this month actually, and we decided, when the guy we hired to master the album asked us for the title last week, to call it Thirty-Nine, partly because of my age, partly because 1939 was a dark time in history (the Great Depression in the United States, Germany invades Poland and begins the second world war), and mainly because of the not-quite-fortiness of it, the almost-there-but-still-slogging feeling of thirty-nine, no milestone, just faded-ness. 

That was all rolling around in my head last night, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep until I wrote something and put it to rest. Below is what I wrote. Most of my thirty-nine years have not felt like this, of course, but a considerable portion of my recent years have come closer to a “dark night of the soul.” I share this mostly to introduce some of the sentiment behind our new album title. Yeah, it’s really my wordy and hype-aversive way of starting a “launch” for the new album – coming to you (for free through Noisetrade!) on October 26th.

Thirty-nine is an unholy number. Noah waited forty days and forty nights in the ark while it rained and everything outside drowned. Moses spent forty years in the desert, and only then began his long journey leading Israel to the promised land. Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness before he started his three years of work that changed the world.

On the thirty-ninth day, in the thirty-ninth year, nothing happened. In the wilderness, in the womb-like tomb-like ark, it was only one more of a long string of the same – wandering, hungry, lonely, in the land of unknowing, a heart forsaking and forsaken.

It’s the second-to-last year, or day, of the long dark nothing. I’ve been keeping count, and I know it, but another year, another wasteland of a day, awaits me after this one. Even as hope begins to germinate. Forty is the pattern I know from my thirty-nine-year history reading Bible stories. I know that after forty has passed, something new begins.

So in the dark, on yet another impenetrable night in year thirty-nine, I feel tiny cracks in my heart. Something new pushing inside. An olive branch and a rainbow, a burning bush, food, water and comforting angels might be in store, on the path up ahead.

The dark still whispers fears in my ears, still tries to dress me down, show me wrinkles and withering and death to all things. But I’m nearly thirty-nine now. I’ve nearly made my peace with the dark, count her among my acquaintances now, need not run.

This next year will be bittersweet. And then, who knows? Who knows?

There now, dark. There, I’ve written it, or something like it, or something anyway. Now may I sleep?

The Rain

The rain, the rain, the rain on the roof. Her seven-year-old questions, large and painful as my 35-year-old ones. My quavering replies – it’s okay to not know . . . I don’t know for sure if we’ll live again . . . there’s so much that no one really understands . . .

I talk about Jesus. I say that we have stories from people who knew him that after he died he lived again, that he said we can too. She asks, what if they were lying? How do we know the stories are true?

She asks, what if I never see you again? What if after one of us dies we never see each other again? She is crying. What if? she insists. I attempt no more words. I am crying too, and we face one another in love through tears. The rain, the rain, the rain in the room.

I tell her that I do know for sure that I love her. I do know there is much goodness and beauty in the world, that life itself is mysterious in ways that comfort me, that I am trying my best to believe and hope that all will turn out well.

But what if it’s all a lie? she persists. And then she thinks some more. She talks about the trees, the kitty (who has climbed up the bunkbed ladder and nuzzled in next to her), the planets, the sun. Nobody could make that stuff up, she notes. That makes me think there must be a God, she says.

I agree, and I tell her there are people throughout history who have spoken of their experiences with God. I tell her I think God did bring forth life and does care about us.

It’s the best I can do. Into the silence creeps the echo of the words she prayed a few minutes ago, entreating God to help our friends feel better, our friends who last week held their newborn baby girls as they died in their arms. I wonder if she hears it too.

She asks if she can tell Jesus she’s sorry for all the bad things she’s done and then go to Heaven when she dies. I say she can always tell Jesus she is sorry for doing bad things. I have more to say about my hope in neverending life bigger than the Sunday School notions of Heaven she’s heard. But she speaks again.

Why would people just invent Heaven if it’s not really true? she asks. If I find out it’s not true, I’m going to be so mad, she rages, and she cries some more.

I was seven once. I had questions like these. But I didn’t ask them; at least, not for long. My parents and my Sunday School teachers had a ready answer for everything, in the form of a Bible verse or a doctrinal statement, and I went to sleep knowing I was saved and on my way to Heaven.

Tonight I failed to give my daughter the same thing. She handed me her painful questions and I didn’t make them go away like my parents did – at least for the short term. My questions never did go away; they just burrowed deeper and lay dormant, only to blossom forth in a withering sort of spring in my thirties.

Maybe I’m doing alright by my seven-year-old, letting her keep her questions closer to the surface, closer to the nourishing light of the everyday. She was crying tears of pain, even darkness and fear. But I hope they are cleansing tears, and I believe it is better to openly express the pain and darkness and fear than to feel ashamed of it, to believe it is incorrect, a sign of disobedience, and let it fester in a deep hole where it can do serious internal damage.

David the psalmist wasn’t afraid to express these things. He said, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up and do not know who will gather.

“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool. I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.

“You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath.

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears. Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” (Psalm 39)

Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again! Ironically, when I had no more words for Luthien, I sang her the “Barocha” blessing – “the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, and give you peace forever . . . the Lord be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face towards you, and give you peace forever.”

But she did lie down in peace, soft kitty cuddled close, soft raindrops on the roof.

Please Believe

This past week, my seven-year-old daughter asked me if I believed in Santa Claus. Not one of those parents too concerned about scarring my children for life, I told her, “no.”

“But, Mom, [neighbor girl’s name here] said that she got a present last year with a card that was in handwriting that was not her mom’s! Do you believe now?”

“Well, no.”

My four-year-old son chimed in. “[Preschool classmate’s name here] said that Santa came to her house last year, but he was very quiet. Do you believe now?”

“Sorry, no.”

Daughter whispering to son, something like, “if Mom and Dad don’t believe, Santa won’t come to our house!”

Then, aloud in ragged unison, “Please, Mom and Dad, believe in Santa Claus! Please!”

In his book Losing My Religion, William Lobdell says that Pascal’s wager just doesn’t work for him, because he can’t will himself to believe something he simply doesn’t believe. Lobdell says, “it seems to me that to indulge in Pascal’s Wager, you actually have to believe in Christ. The Lord would know if you were faking. I could no longer fake it. It was time to be honest about where I was in my faith.”

Christian apologetics seems to function from two underlying convictions – nonbelievers are either:

a) ignorant, and therefore needing to learn more information, or

b) rebellious, and therefore needing to repent.

There are other ideas, too, like the one I most easily gravitate towards. I can identify with wounded ex-believers, and think that the only thing holding them back from belief is healing and an introduction to the real God, the right God, i.e., my current understanding of God.

A truly difficult thing for believers to do is to simply believe nonbelievers’ explanations of their personal faith stories. When Lobdell, and others like John Marks (Reasons to Believe), tell us that they tried, they really tried, to hold on to their faith in Jesus, even their faith in God, and lost it in spite of their knowledge, their desire, and all – it is often incredibly difficult for believers to take that simple explanation and let it be.

It’s ironic that people who treasure a belief in the unseen can have such a difficult time believing what is plainly spoken to them. I know from personal experience that with enough practice believing “impossible” things, it becomes easier to discount obvious things, including the weight of doubt and unbelief going on inside one’s own self.

What good is a faith that feels compelled to ignore or explain away the disbelief it encounters in others and oneself? I think that sort of faith is rightly called blind faith. What I’m after is a wide-eyed, open-eared, expectant sort of belief that takes for granted that the world is bigger than me, that other people have wisdom I don’t, that if I feel my belief system is threatened by someone telling me the truth, then it’s time to do some reworking with that belief system.

Which reminds me of another post I promised recently and have not yet delivered – thoughts from The Myth of Certainty. That would be a counterbalance of sorts to this post. Belief systems are never complete, are always needing reworking, and yet – to gain some traction, one must take a point of view from time to time.

My point of view at this moment is that I have written enough and I need not bother with a tidy conclusion. Feel free to write your own conclusion as a comment!

Maybe Not

Here is a new song, and the first one we’ve recorded as a video and posted on Youtube.

Lyrics –

Maybe Not
copyright 2010 Julia Bloom

My life is a movie edited for TV, seething under docile mediocrity, and if you paint pictures better take a good look, if you like stories this would make a good book. Or not, maybe not.

I grew up in the back seat of the family Ford. My daddy was a preacher traveling for the Lord. My momma smiled sweetly and dressed us up well. We labored in the vineyards keeping sinners out of hell. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve gazed at stars until they burned my eyes, drunk living water till my throat was dry.

I had a hundred crushes but I never caught one, I had a couple boyfriends and we had a little fun, I had a couple babies with the man who calls me wife. We’ve been together twenty years, we’re bonded now for life. Or not, maybe not.

Sometimes under my feet I think I feel the world spin round. Is each day going faster now or am I slowing down? Once when I was concentrating, unafraid to see, speeding past myself I saw a lively younger me. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve kissed the hand that held me in my place, I’ve wiped each wisp of wonder from my face.

Every time I think of getting something off my chest, my barricaded broken heart cries, “citizen’s arrest!” I never can remember why I left the womb. I maybe lost my keys, I’ll maybe find them in the tomb. Or not, maybe not.

I used to paint pictures when I was a little girl. I used to write stories that could echo round the world. The colors are all faded now, the pencil marks erased – those scribbles of my childhood were nothing but a waste. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve lain awake just waiting for a dream. I’ve held my tongue until I want to scream. I’ve kissed the hand that held me in my place. I’ve wiped each wisp of wonder from my face. I’ve gazed at stars until they burned my eyes, drunk living water till my throat was dry.

Or not. Maybe not. Or not, maybe not.

Further Thoughts on Redemption

Commenting on my last post, Nnox sees no grounds for a redemptive view of things. I said that redemption is not my observation of the way things (usually) work, but my hope. I wanted to add that this doesn’t make me a helpful optimist and Nnox a harmful pessimist. On the contrary, it has been mentioned by others with good reason that many people who believe in “happily ever after” tend to trivialize life (“so heavenly-minded that they’re no earthly-good”), while some who don’t believe or even hope in a happy ending to the cosmos are deeply-committed humanitarians and joyous lovers of life. In their perspective (as I understand it), birth to death is all we have, so we may as well enjoy it and do our best to help others enjoy their lives too.

But it’s painful to know that many – maybe most? – of the men, women, and children who live and have lived and will live on this planet have not, do not, will not enjoy a life like the one I was born to. I expect to eat whatever I want, go wherever I want, live wherever I want and with whomever I choose, have uncensored access to information, stay warm and dry, receive proper health care should I need it, and above all that, find my calling in life and live it out in a fulfilling way. It’s difficult even to make a list like this because all these “basic needs” are met without my really even thinking about it. It could be a book-length list. (When was the last time I felt grateful for the well-maintained streets in my town?)

So why do I get this, and a woman in Haiti does not? It regularly breaks my heart to gaze at my beautiful children, so safe and healthy, well-fed, well-dressed; and see in my mind’s eye pictures of another woman’s children starving.

Do I hope in redemption because it is a good excuse for me to get on with my beautiful life? Otherwise, how can I justify these discrepancies between my life and most other people’s lives? And yet, suffering seems hardwired into existence. If I live long enough, I will inevitably lose someone I love, become terminally ill or injured, or simply experience the pain of aging and the unknown cliff-edge of death as it looms ever nearer. If I don’t live that long, then I will have died young and tragically missed out on living a long, full life.

In earlier years of my life, awareness of the pain and loss and seeming futility of existence would drive me to tears, moodiness, some winter evenings even to what felt like the brink of sanity.

Then I had children, and after the predictable (for me) post-partum blues with my first child, the dark and heaviness lifted. Why was that? Is it a typical survival instinct, something to ensure I bring up nurtured and well-adjusted children – who will at some point learn enough about history and current world affairs to question me about my beautiful life and insensitivity to the suffering of others?

My ready response is, “I am not God. Even if I devoted all of my energy and resources to lifting others out of suffering, it wouldn’t be enough. So I’ll live with the painful awareness of worldwide suffering, and make lifestyle choices with that in mind. I won’t try to shield my children from the truth. And I’ll hope in redemption, because to be aware of so much senseless violence and global inequity, and not to trust in a final remembrance and making-right of all this wrong, will either desensitize me or drive me to insanity.”

And so, perhaps I am a good illustration for those who hold that God is an invention of the human psyche. Maybe this is just the best coping mechanism we as a species have yet come up with. It is certainly a persistent one.

Some people say that God speaks to them often. What do I know about that? I have no grounds for disagreement. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard God speak, but there are three distinct times when I thought it might have been God – and these are the words I heard:

“They don’t own me. And neither do you.”

“Take your time.”

“Don’t be scared.” (yes, “scared” is what I heard, not “afraid;” let the reader decide whether this could possibly be the language of a proper God!)

No tidy conclusion here. Further thoughts tend to lead to further questions, and this post is a prime example.

Guys and Dolls and God After Darwin

Recently I discovered the old news that a songwriter hero of mine had divorced from his wife of 24 years. At concerts, in song lyrics, she had always felt present, even when not physically there or mentioned by name. I had read dozens of interviews with him, and even had a few conversations with the two of them when my nonprofit day job included working with them at a summer music festival. News of their divorce left me feeling duped. I had been hopeful and naïve enough to see them as forever joined.

The aforementioned songwriter hero remarried a woman who also plays music and tours and performs with him. With this bit of observational data, my brain kicked into gear producing a theory about what makes love last, especially for artsy singer/songwriter types like my aspiring self. That brain, desperate to protect my own marriage, noted that just like Songwriter Hero 1, the longish first marriage of another songwriter I admire ended in divorce and sequelled with marriage to a woman who now sings and performs with him.

This led me to posit that love, at least for musicians, works best when the lovers share their life’s work. I thought of Robin and Linda Williams, Buddy and Julie Miller, and young but oh-so-fitted lovers Nataly Dawn and Jack Conte of Pomplamoose.

There it was – my comfort that all would be well for me and my marriage, because my husband Nathan and I make music together, and have been doing so quite happily ever since we met fourteen years ago. I shared the bracing news about my newly-composed theory of happy musician lovers with Nathan, who listened patiently to my list of loving couples and then said simply, “Sonny and Cher.”

Oh yeah, I said, crestfallen, and Sam Phillips and T-Bone Burnett. Oh, and Gene Eugene and Ricki Michele.

There are many more happy musician lovers and many more sadly parted ones who could be added to these lists, but just these were enough to get me off my work towards a grand unified theory of marriage for musicians. As an interesting aside, I learned only recently that Tom Petty was married for 22 years to his high school sweetheart, who he married just before he hit the road and got famous. Who would have believed an international rock star could last so long with one woman? I suppose we could discuss Bono too.

But let’s not. Instead, I’m going to rehash another post of mine. Labels, when it comes to human beings, are mostly unhelpful. No one I have mentioned deserves to be stuffed wholesale into the niche of classification called “musician” or “artist” or even “happily married” or “divorced.” These are descriptors, words we use to talk about what someone does or what has happened in their life or how we perceive things to be going for them at the moment. I don’t want to flatten people under labels.

I also emphatically do not want to flatten anyone, including myself, under the past. The book Nathan and I are currently reading together, God After Darwin by John Haught, is throwing its light all over my thoughts these days, including these thoughts about love and splits. Haught speaks of a metaphysics of the future. The future, he says, is always arriving, always presenting itself. This, he says, is the fundamental spirit of religion – that rather than calling anyone back to a “perfect past” (the mythic but poetically instructive Garden of Eden) God instead is drawing humanity towards a wide-open future.

Long after the adrenaline rush of first love faded in my marriage, the future keeps arriving, every moment. True, someone called Julia has been married to someone called Nathan for twelve years now, but confidentially, new people keep showing up in the house, and they don’t spend much time pining for the old ones.

A God of Mythic Proportions

What if God really is a construct of the human mind, collective human consciousness, generations of human culture? Does that mean we’re not still on to something? Our stories about transcendence, our yearnings for immortality, for perfect love and world peace – are they really only wishful thinking, or could they be baby talk in a real language we hear but cannot comprehend or speak yet?

I suspect we the human race have never gotten it right in our attempts to fully describe it – and it’s possible we’ve not hit on anything remotely close yet to the reality of that being/force/substance/unimagineable I Am/none of these things.

Are we truly naive and destructive for reaching, seeking, asking, theorizing? Of course not, not for those things. But for insisting, grasping, lying (willfully), closing eyes to the observable truth, claiming superiority, excluding, and faking – therein lies religious humans’ ignorance and destructiveness.

I can’t think like I used to – or pray like I used to – can’t sing or talk or go to church or get into a Bible study – not like I used to – but I can’t let it go either. Is it embedded in my psyche because it’s what my ancestors did? Partly, I’m sure. I can never know what it would be like to encounter my faith tradition with the wisdom and discretion of an adult. I can’t completely separate personal nostalgia from the stories of my faith, can’t divorce the little-girl wonder and comforting taste of church potlucks, soft embracing arms of Sunday School teachers, smell of glue and construction paper, sound of rich organ strains, from the doctrine of the Trinity, the gospel of Jesus.

I also can’t completely filter out the shaming looks and words, the hateful tones used of people different from us, the arrogant proof-texting and the general dullness and deadness – the constricting sameness, the denial of humanity in its richness, brokenness and wildness – that hummed around me like the radio station always tuned in and played low.

No, all of that is there, mingled with the body and blood of Christ, between the lines of the King James Version Bible memory verses filed away in my brain.

But it breathes like a living thing in me. It does not lie there mutely like a sterile model under museum glass, oblivious to my scrutiny.

I respect my fellow humans who see no sign of God. Their ideas have given me courage to explore my own – to go down deeper, unafraid (well, less afraid) of people’s opinions of my excavations. I have been changed, and am being changed – I am plunged more into myself, more into humanity, more into life and truth and this shattered, shining world.

The God of my past looks increasingly like a puppet, stitched together from Bible stories, religious aspirations, moral intuition; and animated by power-hungry men. But somewhere in there, I feel so sure, is a beating heart.

Lately I’m letting go of the fairy tale god who came prefabricated for me, all outlined in the Christian school curriculum, and pursuing the living God who cannot be contained in anyone’s mind, or so the stories go. Maybe this God is only a myth in the not-real sense of myth, or maybe this God is deeper and weightier than anything I’ve experienced, which is why this God for now resides in myth.

I journey on, a pilgrim in search of God – and I think it will be a lifelong quest, which only underscores the worthiness of the One I seek.