Category: symbolism and arts

The True Story of our Times

Watched the first “Mission Impossible” last night, after having recently viewed the third. Not really interested in a critique, though I think the first and the third are uniquely the best for different reasons. But what it got me meditating on was both generations and authority. Conjoined then, the different generations view of authority. I think my own generation inherited a distrust in authority, but expanded the field of distrust out onto all of reality. But before I get there, I was reading the New York Times as I try to do every sunday, and noticed that three of the four front page articles were about breakdowns or perceived breakdowns in authority. Thought I would write my way into at least a partial opinion or observation around this.

First I understand that the “boomer generation” which is a large part of the structure of the city I live in, felt abused by those in authority. They felt dupped and not blessed; and I recognize this left them feeling unvalidated and unaffirmed. So that in much of what has been planted over the past twenty years you have an implied “screw the man” mentality–even while becoming “the man”. This has translated into scores of films on hidden conspiracies in government and education, and to much focus on the aspects of leadership which appears or in fact has been corrupt. Some of the critique of culture coming from the boomer generation has indeed been accurate and needed, but also some of it has been born within their collective, and largely unhealed wound with their own fathers. Now how this wound translates into my own generation, and what parts of it, we took in, and have grown our own version of is an interesting question.

Going back to this film, i was trying to figure out what its idea of the heroic was. Like what was this film holding up as an heroic image. Part of it seems to be the image of someone who figured out the corruptions within the system, and stayed true to his personal sense of justice and right. I found that interesting in terms of seeds. For it seems that my own generation similarly values personal creed as being the only trustworthy ideal, but I’m not sure it still holds onto the remnants of justice and doing the right thing. It seems to me that the previous generation still wanted there to be justice and righteousness to put it in more biblical terms; but they had lost trust that the government or anyone in authority, including and perhaps especially in the church, was or is trustworthy. So we are left with something like this: to be heroic, is to find what seems right to you, don’t trust anyone in authority, and follow your own code. Now that is something my generation understands, but has expanded, as i said to all of reality. We might add, don’t trust the sun to come up tommorrow, cause everything is unreliable, and the only possible truth is personal. And what is “noble”-if we would even use that word-is to stay true to your own code. This, of course, in the end is very solipsistic–which I think is the inevitable outcome of throwing out all trust in authority. If there can be no parental authority whatsoever, then the child must find something within themselves to be the lodestar or guiding principle.

However, are we as a generation as cycnical or distrustful of all authority as the previous generation. I’m not so sure. We were less “hurt” by the fathers, and more simply didn’t have fathers. When you don’t have a father, you secretly yearn for one, you don’t hate them. And that may be a key difference between our generations.

Recently I have tried to befriend in my heart, some people from the “boomer” generation to feel with them what their hurt is, and to figure out why so many feel still so unvalidated, and a thrust to proove their own potency in the world. I have noticed over the years, that this need to proove our ability to make a mark on the world is less pronounced in my own generation than the previous one. As I have tried to grow closer to “boomer” friends, I have noticed, that they actually carry so much that my own generation needs, but the frame or package has such hostility towards “the fathers” that it is often hard to crack it open and get the “goods” so to speak. An example would be trying to learn a skill from them. If, say, you want to learn to garden from a boomer, first you have to sit through a lot of somewhat cynical philosophy about how poorly the previous generation took care of the earth. While true, it is often presented with such implied hostility that it is hard to swallow even the critique, much less find the truths embedded within it. I think this makes it hard to learn from. So then often, my own generation which is quite clever and can learn many systems at once, will just by pass the knowledge, and go on line, and ingest it for themselves. While, giving us the information, it does not impart the wisdom to know how to plant grow it.

Or, we will go to our grandfathers who knew how to garden less as a leisure activity and more as a way of life. And we find more holism there, but again, the world was indeed so different at that stage, that many things we need to grow things now, are not present. For instance, all my grandparents were farmers. They lived at the end of the agricultural south. At the birth of mills, factories-in short, industrialism-of the south. Well, they had, and the ones still alive, still have, the knowledge of the earth etc that we desire, but the package was culturally so different that we have to become translators to uncapsulate it. Now, I think our generation are translators, and actually have the gift of naming the other generations, and telling them who they are, and how they fit together; but it is still difficult for me to transplant what my grandfather knew about planting tobacco into the post-modern setting I find myself in. For one, it is no longer possible for me to farm one hundred acres partly for profit, partly for family need–though perhaps, it should be!

If we look at generations as “generations of God’s purposes on earth”, then we have to say that these three generations have unique purposes that should fit together to form a pattern. If I say a spiritual “season” is three of these generations, we should be able to name what this season on earth is all about, and see our part within it! So what season are we in. What has been God’s purpose for the past three generations and how do they fit together. This is a big question, but one worth at least skirting the edges of. Starting with the “boomer generation”–what was their purpose? Why so many of them? Where did this purpose get thwarted, and how is it being redeemed?

Well, I would say that the purpose of the boomer generation was to evangelize. I know that may sound too religious for some, but let me explain. They were meant to convert energy–the solid, well held energy that the previous generation had stewarded, and to carry it out to the nation and other nations. They were to download the winds of heaven into the solid frame that was given to them, and expand that frame creatively. They were not to just create in reaction to the previous generation, but to expand what had been put into place, and bring wind and creative life into it. Instead, we see that it got hurt by the distance of the previous generations fathers (among other things), and, from an unaffirmed place, tried to build structures in reaction to it–sort of “look dad, at what I made–how creative and colorful and unlike what you made.” That late adolescent attitude still pervades many of the companies created from the boomer generation–what the phychologist might call a “reaction formation” stage of development. “Individuation” would be less this identity formed in pushing away from parent, and more, the actual expression of the intrinsic idenity of that person or group. We see this rarely, even at this stage in the boomer generation. There is, as i said, always this need for validation, or this “look dad, I did it cooler”. And there is still this constant tearing down of the father–hence, the endless, corruption in government and church articles on the front page.Or within the church circles, the tearing down of how the previous generation “did church”!

So we might say, the purpose could be named, creative reframer and expander; and the wound created instead, “reactor/ deconstructor”. By deconstructor I mean to tear down what the previous generation built in anger at having not gotten its blessing to expand. Now comes my own generation. We picked this up, and took it out into deconstructing all of reality. If the fathers are hopeless, and there can be no reliable authority to look to, then we will create our own reality–the obvious shadow of which is solipsism-a completely self contained universe–gaming, web-based reality, a virtual life with no rules outside of itself. Now, if, and i believe we are, my generation is a watershed generation at the apex of a turning-at an axial moment in generations and seasons; if we are to be one who names and teaches the generations to themselves so as to discern God’s pattern or purposes, if so, then my own generation has gone even deeper into the rabit hole of self than the boomers. For we no longer even react to things ourside ourselves, we have gone into the complexity of naming the labyrinth of our own imaginary worlds which we ourselvs create.

My own generation is meant to be a prophetic generation in this sense–we are to help name from above, tell things who they are, and how they are to work together. We are not necessarily great builders, but have inherited much of the creativity of the previous generation. But in addition, we have an awareness which can see outside of all the systems-even the ones we are in, and name from that awareness. This is definitely a teachers gift. I would call my own generation “prophetic teacher”. Now it seems obvious to me, what our “fall” was–we turned our great naming gift in on ourselves, and have only been able to constantly name the already deconstructed floating blocks of reality left from the previous generations dismantling of our grandfather’s generation’s work. We have become namers of debris, and will remain so, if we do not have our vision contextualized by something higher, something more spiritual–ie by God and His Kingdom. When those of my own generation enter the reality of the kingdom, we then have a purpose for our naming gifts, and can be useful on the earth again. You see this in the case of Bono, or the few others, from my generation who have found a larger context for their giftings.They are able to name things accurately, and in a helpful way, while remaining somewhat “outside” the systems which they are naming. There is this ironic emersion as Bono calls it, in life. This ironic awareness, was not just given for us to be endlessly clever in our advertizing or mags, but to actually offer to the other generations as larger naming of the context they are in, and help people know their place. This is the one of the roles of the prophetic in the culture at large. And a few who have gone through the Christ-centered transformation necessary to know one’s own identity, are starting to stand into this role. And many are not.

I recently went to a viewing hosted by Quentin Tarentino and another teacher from my generation, and again was shocked by the endless naming without any interpretation or contextualization. This is not to say that these two film makers are not brilliant and clever and really new in many ways–but they were unable to get “outside” the naming of the debris, and really speak truth and contextualize things in a way which could teach–in short, they were unable to offer the gift they carried to others. And, maybey worse, to have the humility to see that it was indeed a gift. So I think one of my generations troubles is that we don’t know why we have this gift of awareness and the ability to understand the symbolic level of things.

The restoration of the symbolic is another topic, but one which I think my generation should be heralding! We are in fact the beginning of this restoration in many ways. When the symbolic realm is once again connected to the earth, we will see on many new levels, what God is trying to teach about Himself through life. This is the true role of all artist–to help us learn to understand the symbolic and to discern that realm of dream, vision, and ritual. But, this is another topic for another essay. Here, just to mention that this is one of our roles in the story as a generation.

My parent’s generation, which I have only hinted at, had the role of building and holding solid structures, which could provide resources for the aquadic generations to come. There characteristics were meant to be steadfastness and faithfulness and value holders. As you see, they fell short as all other generations have, and many started putting their personal security in these structures which they created–this creating a new form of idolatry. Still, the solidity of the infrastructures built were meant to allow freedom of form for the two following generation to flow within.

In closing, I want to suggest that there is a connection between the past three generations, and that part of my job as a member of the last one, is to name this connection. This is just a rant, but we will be writing more on this topic in the not to distant future to explore it with more balance and gusto. I think it is helpful when you go to movies to ask which generational perspective it contains. And then place it in a larger pattern. To get the story of the generations will take patience and probably some healing on all our parts, but is worth it to get at the true story of our times!

being signs

The restoration of the symbolic dimension will mean truly unique languages flowing from truly unique identities within the Body of Christ. As Christ starts to restore the symbolic expressive dimension in His People, we will start to see brand new forms of expressing, which match a person’s true identity. Identity will then flow forth in new forms of expression. What this would mean to traditional discipleship language, or missions language etc, will be radical. In that we will see entirely original ways of naming how God is forming and moving through and in His People.

God is restoring the symbolic dimension on earth. Not only is this seen in the arts, but in the increase of prophetic dreams, visions-and in this part being integrated in a greater number of His People. The prophetic movement is nearly two generations old now, and is becoming well accepted and established even in the mainstream Body now. Still, it itself has not had its symbolic fully restored yet. For when it does, we will see the word matching expression. The message AND the medium will be symbolic–so that people themselves will become signs.

Paul wrote to the corinthians that they ARE epistles. In ephesians, he wrote again that we ARE God’s poems. When the symbolic is fully restored, people will indeed BE the teachings of God. Just as an oak tree speaks of righteousness, so an andy or tom would speak of God’s flourishing nature, or His dependability. When we become living symbols, we will see that many people will see a fuller picture of who God is and turn to Him. This is one of the primary reasons for the restoration of the symbolic.

As artist deal in symbols, it is easy to see the beginnings of this restoration through the arts, but I believe we will also see it in the entire Body, as He restores this part of Himself onto the earth. The prophetic movement itself is then prophetic of a further restoration of this enormous dimension of who God is being restored on the earth!

art and commerce, OR: blogs and google.

Last night I had a dream where I was talking to an old friend who is kind of a punk-anarchist-thinker-believer. He’s an interesting writer and thinker, and in the dream I was telling him it was time to publish that zine he had always wanted to do–but he said, ‘oh zines are dead. We are living in an age of marketability and advertising. Nobody wants to read a zine. Books and writing are disappearing, you can’t do them anymore.’ He said this without a shred of cynicism.

I think the dream was more or less about some of my own fears, but also about some of the lies that come after artists. We are living in a time when communication and tools are so democratized–anyone can have a blog, anyone can make a CD. While some of this helps to take the pretension and exclusivity off of art, it does homogenize unique gifts. This happens in the church as well as the art world. A lot of preachers or ministers, even if their gift is more oral than written, feel pressured to write a book… it is kind of an expected thing in church circles. As a result there is a lot of mediocre writing and teaching in Christianity–not because the teachers are mediocre but because they don’t really understand acutely the areas of their own domain–and so as a result the book has less of an impact than the spoken message. Their domain might not be a book or a blog, but since everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t we? As a result writing as a separate gift from teaching, or preaching, becomes devalued.

There are so many blogs now that review fashion, music, products from a unique voice but they are employed and contracted with advertising. Leave aside the fact that there are now exclusively advertising blogs, many otherwise creative blogs now have Google advertising on their sidebars. This is becoming more common than not. For the purposes of this essay, I want to separate blogs and websites that are used for communication and networking purposes, and blogs that are used for writing and expression. In the latter case the democratization of blogging and websiting has given room to a lot of people who otherwise had no outlet, a new outlet. But because the standards are low, writing on the net gets very sensationalist and cheap. This is why it becomes such an easy target for marketing.

One of the things that was spoken to me in the dream was, “no one wants books anymore.” Which I immediately knew was a lie. People are not going to stop reading The Brothers Karamazov, because it has truth in it. Books are going to keep going, because there will always need to be an alternative to what constitutes most of internet writing, which is becoming more and more market-driven. Art is becoming increasingly a marketing product. Artists are not products, we know this. But because my generation is one of the most creatively-bent generations ever, the lines between art and commerce are increasingly blurred. Most of our gifts are channeled into marketing and design–creating products, selling things. Advertising has become a viable creative field for artists. The most creative films I’ve seen lately are commercials. However, after watching one such commercial, I had a hard time trusting the humor in it. The humor was made to explicitly sell a product. This is the same problem that happened to the Soggy Bottom Boys in O Brother Where Art Thou; their song and even their freedom from jail became manipulated by a politician for his own election.

My point is that advertising and the marketplace, if they are the primary frame behind art, quickly cheapen the creative vision, or overcome the creative vision for the sake of promotion. It is really important for my generation to separate the terms culture and art. What we often call “culture” includes art, but culture is usually a frame through which something is sold and promoted. We often are told to go buy something or visit something because it is interesting culture, or it “has a lot of culture.” Now when we say, “I want to go there because it has a lot of culture,” what exactly does that mean? Sometimes we mean the collective creative expression of a certain place or group of people. Usually, we use it to describe a part of society that promotes the arts. Now that “culture” has become a marketable thing, cities and communities are able to draw people by levying “culture”. Starbucks is “cultural” by that definition, but is it artistic?

There is a place where art and commerce are supposed to intersect, but artists and those in business need to really re-evaluate where that intersection point is. Artists are by natures teachers and demonstrators, and so when commerce is the frame around art, or ministry becomes the frame, whatever, the art quickly loses its value as truth. Both artists and commerce are guilty for this. Truly, artists are often poor, touring around in their beat-up vans, exiled from mainstream culture, scrounging up tools to make their vision. (Just read Van Gogh’s letters to his brother.) This is not always a depressing fact, but it is a fact that artists often produce their most valuable symbolic insights–whether they are writers, visual artists, dancers or musicians–when they are challenging the status quo. The most profound books of the 20th century came often from writers who were either exiled from their own country, or in prison (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whom I’m reading right now), or simply without a book contract.

The other day while I was walking about praying, the Lord showed me that artists thrive best in adversity. Not just because they like railing against the system, but because they are meant to break barriers, break conceptions, and ultimately, break open to new areas of truth that have been long neglected by society. When there is a lot of support or even financial comfort around an artist, artists often quickly lose their vision and while they still produce meaningful things their connection and dependence upon commerce for their livelihood is difficult to entangle. For the same reason the church grows the most amazingly when there is persecution.

This is not to say, ‘go seek persecution’ or ‘go seek poverty’ or live without a record contract. Many of my artist friends are going to have a lot of financial and commercial success, and I think this is part of their destiny–because God is giving that to them to give them a platform. However, there should be new ways of supplying artists with their tools, and there needs to be a bit more distance between artist and industry. Starbucks, for example, is now a driving force behind music; however the music becomes “starbucksified” and neutered, in my opinion. There was a time when Leonard Cohen or Muddy Waters were something you discovered in a corner somewhere with a friend, like a delightful surprise, a gem–and it changed the way you looked at things, heard things. But when things get oversaturated and given the homogeneic beatnik tone of a Starbucks frame, they really lose their originality. This is unfortunate for the artists. A live Rothko painting was not meant to be printed out en masse to decorate coffeehouse walls… No matter how hip it is to like abstract expressionism, it takes the emotion and revolutionary energy out of it. I had always seen Rothko prints everywhere and always thought ‘oh that’s nice’, until it became bland and uninteresting. It wasn’t until I got up close to one of these enormous paintings that I nearly cried and realized what it was about.

The world of commerce, and especially the church, need to understand that artists have a job to do, and that they have a vital role in society which is far more than “cultural”–they are not just here to decorate and make things more interesting, they are here to teach us something. Artists on the other hand, need to evaluate the degree to which they actually need the support of google ads. It is really important for artists to have a vision of how far their work should go–is it meant to be on iTunes or is that just an accepted fact of being a musician?

I am in the midst of publishing my first book, and I know that in my life I will make books with more official publishers, but this particular one God told me to spend my own money on it. It is going to be letter-pressed with a gold ink-stamped cover. This is not a cheap project, but he wanted to reinforce to me the beauty of books in his kingdom. In the church, books have become cheap, covers are cheap, design is cheap. Sometimes something does need to be done quickly but some things are meant to take time and honor.

In the case of blogs, there are some things that I write quickly but some things that are real pieces. I spend time on those. I edit them and think about their content. I ask myself if what I’m saying is true, because I realize that as a writer I have the ability to impact people. As well, I also realize that this medium is not my best medium. For that reason, I have saved a lot of mine and Derek’s blog entries which were more “timeless” pieces, and I want to publish them someday as a series of essays. I consider them worth making the leap from blog to book. Even if blogging is not my “best” medium, I still feel like challenging the cheapening of internet writing. Writing is not just a gift, it is something that is meant to be honed. Years ago, when I used to publish columns and poems for newspapers and magazines, I was rejected so many times that I started to wonder if I’d ever be a “writer”–but now I am thankful that I was rejected because rejection really makes you challenge yourself creatively. I’m a much better writer than I was 10 years ago.

So, what I want to say to you, if you have a dream of a punk-anarchist-zine, and that is part of who you are, you should do it. That is where the truth will shine the brightest.


So we figured out how to stream Live 8 all day. AOL was broadcasting live from all the stages today–London, Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, Philadelphia and Canada. I got up at the ridiculous (for us) hour of 7 a.m. to catch U2 opening in London. Thanks to my brand new Bose speakers, these teeny weeny little things that transmit the sound of a massive stereo from my computer, we filled our house with sounds from around the world.

This event is just amazing–in that it literally consumed the news for a day. For one day we were relieved of Iraq and even the normal slime of MTV and given a taste of something noble. But last night we were reading about it, we really felt God’s hand in it–that he was directing hope to Africa. Money or not, it seems like a wave of blessing going out to the continent.

Some bite-sized thoughts on live 8:

when artists mobilize to voice like this, it is really powerful. Music makes a very big space on the earth, if anyone doubts it!

Some artists that we can pray into Jesus–Richard Ashcroft, Madonna, the singer from Razorlights, Dave Matthews. Sometimes you can see when someone is going to “pop into the kingdom” as Derek puts it–and we really feel that around these special people.

Funny, because this week I was listening to “Bittersweet Symphony” by one of my old favorite CDs and we were walking about last night singing it… and telling Derek that Richard Ashcroft (the singer) is made to open realms of heaven. And what do you know, there he was this morning, right after U2, on stage with Coldplay to perform this amazing song this morning. He has a job to do–I am praying for his discovery of God and deliverance.

Bono is a general in the spirit. He’s pretty much doing his job and consecrating things to the Lord.

The Irish have a passion for justice, and it is going to get louder. You can see this obviously in both Bob Geldof and Bono. I once had a dream about Ireland. It was a lone bloody warrior at the end of the world and was limping, bruised and beaten, and complaining about it rather loudly, but its heart was still throbbing and it still thrust its sword out. The love of many will grow cold, so it says, but the Irish were made to make it to the end.

Eagles are going to land in Scotland during the G8 meeting. This is really a time for the intercessors!

Dave Matthews’ song breaks a space open for prayer of America, whether he knows it or not. He also has a destiny.

Africa is on the rise. In general we are going to be hearing a lot about Africa in the next 10 years. God is going to change the face of the entire continent. Poverty is a spirit before it is an economic problem. This is a continent that has the world’s richest gems buried in its ground. Diamonds! The world has stolen them, but Africa is going to access supernatural power like few other nations, and this is going to transform many other nations. They are, along with Australia and Norway, one of the places in the world that are going to be the new “New World.” They are going to develop their own ways of doing things outside of even America’s influence.

Jamaica is supposed to be a island of color warriors. It feels like a lot of reggae gets stuck in repetition and a weak protest that never really breaks out into real liberation. Not just liberation from the colonizers, but the liberation from the enemy!

This brings me to a thought I’ve been having lately. A lot of protest art is just reactionary, and this is kind of a trick to keep artists from actually being real freedom warriors. There is genuine protest, but then there is just reaction to the past or to perceived limitations. So few artists–even watching them all day–really believe and know that they can go where no one else has gone before.

Berlin rocks. Boy, is that city intense! Another place of destiny.