Nirvana

Dancing

Last week, I said we were going to “talk about obedience and sin in this context” and I’m not sure that was the best idea because I have no idea what that conversation was supposed to be. Maybe this comes with age – I’m older than I used to be, you know.

Anyway, this series began with this:

“May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.” – Cyn Morgan in her excellent book Misericorde

In this gorgeous prayer, the first implication is that we notice and appreciate the many blessings we have been given, the second; that we are thankful. The big question is, do we? Are we?

Or are we simply entitled consumers?

I think the Bible is ordered the way it is because without the condition, the gift means nothing, it’s our birthright/what we deserve, and what response could that demand? Besides shopping for more, I mean? What can it, or you, do for me? The wise philosopher Kurt Cobain once famously screamed, “Here we are now, entertain us.” I wonder if he ever knew how right on he was, or would be 30 years later. That song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”) was released in 1991 and I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment or a characteristic of a lived well lived, but it seems that’s how we took it.

I don’t have to tell you I love that song. Once, I played the iconic music video at our Sunday service. I’ll never forget watching an elderly man exit his car to visit the Bridge that morning, knowing what he would hear & see, so far from what he was expecting (surely much farther than he would be willing to go)…and 1 hour later watching him hurry away without a word to anyone, never to return. I still don’t know exactly how I feel about that. I do know exactly how I feel about the song, though.  

So. How do we perceive our lives or the groups & communities to which we belong? As products that have a duty to satisfy us? Is the purpose of everything only found in what benefit it can provide or how it makes me feel?

And if those answers are ‘yes,’ what do we do when those products inevitably disappoint? When our spouse or partner or supervisor or group leader or pastor;) or coach or neighbor offends us or makes us uncomfortable or makes a decision we don’t agree with or takes a tone of voice or doesn’t return our call or disciplines us, then what? Of course, we move on. We take our talents and expectations down the road to the next new model. And then the next. And then the next. You get the point, nothing on earth is perfect. Nothing on earth will always satisfy. (Except maybe “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”)

In the Genesis account of Creation, the people are given many responsibilities (work, tend, care for, reproduce, etc) – as far as that goes, the plants and animals are given the ability to do the same. This is before the ‘fall’ in chapter 3. That’s interesting because in a state of shalom (peace, harmony), the point was never for us to sit idle and be entertained or passively stimulated. The point was active participation, then as it is now. Maybe the ideal role of my wife isn’t to feed me grapes or quench my every thirst, as much as I might like it to be. Maybe my church isn’t supposed to be a tv program or rock show. Maybe the people in my life aren’t just commodities to be used up and abandoned. Maybe all of these things were intended to be much closer to actually dancing (instead of just watching from the sideline), all of us sweaty and exhilarated because we’ve all lost track of who gave what (because we’re all giving and receiving all we have) and we’re too busy truly living to even stop to consider if we’re ‘satisfied.’

Smells Like Real Life

Around the same time, also in 1991, a band from Seattle called Nirvana released an album that would change everything in music, fashion and culture as a whole. This album would also give me a space (even if it was only in my head and heart) and in doing so, make me not as much of a weirdo, not as much of a misfit.

While we were all trying to be perfect – and what I mean is that while we were all trying to show everyone we were perfect – here was a band and a singer who looked like we all felt. The music did, too. We were insecure and inadequate in a land of make believe and that made so many of us so angry. We were desperately searching for meaning and purpose (there just had to be more than hair spray and insincerity holding us together, didn’t there?) and not only were we not getting answers, our questions were being ignored.

Now. The song. The drums perfectly sounded like doors being kicked down, which of course, they were. Then, the voice of Kurt Cobain mumbled: “Load up on guns, bring your friends. It’s fun to lose and to pretend. She’s over-bored and self-assured.” Hello, hello, hello, how low. Then, our worlds collectively fell apart (or together) at the chorus: “With the lights out, it’s less dangerous. Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now, entertain us.”

We might talk about “here we are now, entertain us” as the anthem for a generation, and generations to come, but it’s that “stupid and contagious” line that broke my heart. You know when someone says something and you think, “how did they know?”

How could a guy in the Pacific Northwest know who I was and exactly what I was going through? He couldn’t, and that meant there were more like me, disaffected, lost, lonely, and that was unbelievably comforting. There were more like me, I wasn’t alone.

The song destroys all pretense and perfectly sums up the ache in us all and ends… wait’ll you hear this… “Oh well, whatever, nevermind.” Whatever, nevermind!!!! Awesome. It’s angry, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, honest, cutting, and hilarious. It is overwhelmingly real.

People began dressing differently, doing (or not doing) their hair, speaking truth, showing their wounds and scars. We started to think about confessing that no, things might not be ok.

3 years later, in April of 1994, Kurt Cobain killed himself. Sigh.

But the world had changed, he shined a light into our souls and exposed us. The images and facades were hollow, the emperor had no clothes. So now what? We could start to find the clothes that did. We could be whatever we wanted, whatever we actually were. So who was I in 1991? Nobody knew. I sure didn’t. I had spent so long being what you wanted me to be that I hardly noticed who I truly was.

I didn’t know how or where to find out – only that it was absolutely necessary. One thing I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t find anything in Mariah Carey videos. Or the church.