I used to always want more.
Growing up, I was surrounded by people who seemed to have it. Trophy houses, trophy spouses, trophy cars, even regular old trophies — galore!Read More
Alec Benjamin is a 24 year old breakout singer-songwriter with the 2018 album, “Narrated for You.” Catapulted into the spotlight through the featuring of his song “Let Me Down Slowly” on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist and Beats 1 A-List Pop, a sold-out North American tour is a far cry from his start as a parking-lot opener for Ed Sheeran.
He describes his role simply as a “narrator,” telling stories that he hopes will connect with the human experience.
I first discovered his music after John Mayer posted the song “Death of a Hero” on Instagram with the simple caption “This is the craft.”
That warranted a listen, regardless of your opinion of JM, he knows music. (He’s also in my top 5 favorite people to follow on social media. Very, very funny.)
The floating, harmonic acoustic guitar loop caught me off guard, expecting the normal 808 and synth-driven alt-pop that’s everywhere these days. This was something more organic, and human.
When I heard his voice, I was embarrassed. Not because it was bad, but because the style evoked something that reminded me of the bands I listened to as a twiggy teenager.
But, strangely, as I kept listening, that was also why it was good.
Alec captures something essential to the message of his music, and the message of the song in particular. Innocence.
His voice eases into the rhythm, reminiscing of a run-in with Superman, (p.s. I’d encourage you to listen to the song first)
I was in Pittsburgh when I saw Superman in the backroom
He was doing lines or something in the bathroom
I barely recognized him at all
I saw him doing things you shouldn't do with all that power
I wish someone would have thrown him in the shower
I barely recognized him at all
While you and I have likely never crossed paths with Clark Kent’s altar-ego, this is a story we know too well. We live in a cultural story marked by paradox; simultaneously immersed in the superhuman stories of Stan Lee, and the cultural refuse exposed in the Me Too movement. It’s a moment where many of our heroes, cultural cornerstones, have been undermined. It is an ever-unfolding narrative fed by a sickening abundance of stories, the clever tempo of the media repeating at a pace and frequency nothing short of overwhelming.
In one sense, it is a rare moment for self-reflection in our culture, acknowledging that we are not progressing in every area of life. It is also a nauseating display of the dark side of every intersection of influence and power.
I barely recognized him at all.
That haunting line brought me to tears.
A hero unrecognizable in the process of trading their role and influence to abuse their power for personal gain, at great cost to the other.
That night I put my youth in a casket
And buried it inside of me
That night I saw through all the magic
Now I’m a witness to the death of a hero
I burned all the pictures in the attic
And threw away all the magazines
That night I saw through all the magic
And now I’m a witness to the death of a hero.
A loss that is difficult to articulate.
Words often grasped for, but rarely found.
The loss, grief, and anger of a funeral.
A desperate attempt to remove the memory now shattered.
The irony that the memory is carried in your body.
A new role, a new responsibility — as a witness to a story you never wish you had to tell, re-lived in every conversation about what happened.
The loss of innocence is indeed a wound which stays with us. It is a betrayal, a death, a wound and a funeral in which we are the burial ground. Cynicism and mistrust are its children. Fractured intimacy rides in its wake.
There’s a powerlessness to witnessing the death of a hero. Powerless to help, and shackled to someone else’s train-wreck.
Unfortunately this is the refrain of our generation. Time after time, again and again, hero after hero implodes. The public veneer is pulled back, to reveal a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In every sphere from politicians and movie stars to spiritual fathers and teachers, leaders of all shapes and sizes have lost their luster.
I tried to look away but you can't look away from a train-wreck
These stories deserve a funeral.
In “The Death of a Hero”, Alec Benjamin performs the memorial that never was.
We’ve lost the way to mourning. It is a posture unknown to us; a foreign language.
The road to outrage is well traveled. We know how to condemn. We grasp for these emotions while trying to find our footing, a sense of control. It is only natural to recognize this is not the way it ought to be. It is only natural to respond to devastation with anger. After the tidal wave hits, after flood and destruction, the quiet pain of witnesses mourning their losses appears. An old way of living, washed out of memory. No way back. A questionable future.
Mourning is a recognition of our lack of control, of our pain, of loss, and a space in time to acknowledge that things will never be the same again.
It is the unfortunate, but necessary path to every new beginning.
May new life be the story of 2019.
“In the economy I am a poor and begging man, but in the currency of grace is where my song begins.” -jon foreman
I sat on the white sand shore of an Encinitas beach, watching the sun come down through a haze of smoke from the northern fires in Malibu.
In a single moment, surfers played in the sea, while simultaneously, a few hundred miles north people were losing their homes; a juxtaposition crashing in on itself with force of a wave.
I had seen many sunsets like this one in my life before. As a boy growing up in Irvine just a few hours away, the pace of the beach feels like a forgotten first nature. The simplicity of interacting with a sea so wonderful — yet so powerful. Dangerous and kind; totally out of our control.
At some point, this lack of control becomes clear. A wave crashes with a force you didn’t realize it had, and power turns to violence. Weight, force, momentum combine and sweep away all in their path. Sometimes this happens even if you’re watchful. Other times, enraptured in play, you forget the power of what you’re dealing with. Turning your back, you find yourself experiencing the weightier side of the ocean. As a wave pounds over you, your mind reminds you that you knew this was possible all along, but figured it wouldn’t happen to you.
In Hebrew thought, the sea was seen as all these things. Dangerous, untamable, violent, teeming with life and mystery, yet totally foreign to humans. An environment where we are weak, vulnerable, and at best visitors in an unknown way of life.
This is an accurate reflection of our life on land as well. Life can painfully remind us that we are at the mercy of something larger than ourselves, a force which we cannot withstand — and if caught in the wrong moment, can totally wipe us out. While often times we’d like to believe that we’re in control, that we can insulate ourselves from the weather, avoid the pitfalls, scheme our way out of trouble, there come a few moments of clarity and accurate self-reflection where we can observe our place in this ecosystem. Small; not as crafty, talented or important as we had considered ourselves to be. Yet, at the same time, perhaps more valuable than we thought. In the stripping away of the proud narrative of our accomplishments, direction and cultural currency, we make space to hear a voice that speaks meaning into our existence. A love that goes beyond performance. A relationship that isn’t looking around for a better option. A person who seeks the others best, even at tremendous personal cost. The noise of flashier, better looking, more immediate offers often drowns out this odd one. This feels like fiction.
As a young boy I had an incredible amount of innocence. My family gave this to me as a gift, and I can still vividly remember moments immersed in innocence. Unconcerned with targeting your words to catch someone’s eye, unflinching and open in relationships without memory of failure, heartbreak, abuse or pain. Trust, unbroken.
These things often feel as foreign as the sea.
After being crushed by a wave, you’re disoriented. Head throbbing, eyes stinging and mouth full of with salt water, the first instinct is to get out. Get somewhere familiar and safe where you can find equilibrium. It’s easiest to withdraw. And for a time, this is necessary, even healthy. It may not be time to enter the water again yet. But once on land, it becomes apparent that it might be easier to stay there.
And in many senses it is.
In a thousand ways, safeguarding, defending and creating distance in resistance to the pain, disorientation and loss of innocence. It can be done so subtly we don’t even know we’re doing it.
It is said of Frodo after he receives a wound from a Nazgul blade that he will “never really heal.” He will carry the wound with him for the rest of his life. And he does. Every time his enemies draw near, seeking the ring he carries, the wound reawakens, as if it were fresh that very moment.
Like Frodo, we live with the ache not of one, but of many wounds, reawakened from their dormant sleep through memory and re-injury. And we carry a burden on a journey on which it would be easier simply, not to go.
It is easier to withdraw to our insulated existences, and to avoid risk, loss or re-injury.
We cannot imagine innocence again.
But fortunately, our imaginations are not required here, but rather the our willingness to experience it firsthand.
A man named “deliverer” reached into the fullness of our wound, and was profoundly wounded. His scars remain as a memory, not of loss, but of victory. He was undeterred by our withdrawal, and simultaneously unabashed at encountering our hemorrhaging vulnerability.
He was a man who said to the sea “be still,” — and it listened.
He made a way for there to be innocence again.
And I am in the process of rediscovering it.
Contained within this are both the reality of allowing my wounds to become memories, not of loss, but of victory, and the commitment to learning a new way of not being a wounder. The irony of this conversation is that we also have power to bring life, or to wound. The way of Jesus is one where power is to be used, not as a weapon — not as a careless, crushing force, and not for gain, but as dynamic movement for serving others.
Jesus is our example in this.
Though he was God, didn’t consider equality with God as something to be used to his own advantage, but made himself nothing taking on the nature of a servant, and becoming obedient even to death on a cross, so that at the right time he might be exalted as the highest name on heaven, earth or anywhere else.
I’m far from understanding this life, but it intrigues me. It’s simultaneously foreign and familiar, like a stream running underground whose effects we had always observed, but never encountered its source.
…as if it was always the way things ought to be.
p.s. If you’d like to help keep the blog going, click the link below!
The foreigner comes into center-focus as the world steps into a new moment. With the executive halt for refugees, and travelers of all kinds from seven countries, many are left asking "Wait. Can he do that?"Read More
When I was a kid, I practiced a martial art called Aikido(eye-key-do).
Each class, we would work on the same techniques over and over, covering different scenarios and working with different instructors. We put in the work. We practiced.Read More
An example seems in order to start this conversation. So I'll start with common ground.
Exercise is hard.
My alarm goes off an hour earlier than usual, my eyes open to a night-dark 6am, it's cold out and I had a long night out at an event the night before.
The only reasonable response to such a ludicrous scenario is to reset my alarm, and get some much deserved shut-eye. I'll exercise tomorrow.
In the short term I won't feel many of the consequences (and I'll certainly appreciate the extra sleep), but in the long term if I keep making that choice day by day... The natural results of that choice will show up. In the form of an extra-svelte figure. Oh wait...
You might be familiar with my story above, or you might come at it from a different angle.
"I can't afford a gym membership."
"If I did get to a gym, I don't want to look like an idiot"
"I think I might be getting sick" (everyday)
"I don't have time"
"Everything within me doesn't want to to do it."
But we're not talking about exercise here, and I'm not here to make you feel guilty about not exercising this morning. We're talking about rest. So let's draw some wisdom and move on.
The things that we know will be good for us, are so often the things that we resist because they challenge us at a fundamental level, and quite simply, cost us something. They require us to change things about ourselves that go far deeper than just activities, they change who we are. Ironically, we're often more creative to find ways to not do the things we know are good for us, than we are to them.
A little over a year ago, Kelsee and I had just come off of (what was then) the busiest summer of our lives. Between weddings and camps, our calendar was overflowing in different directions. Neither of us could seem to find time to catch our breath. We kept telling ourselves, "it's just 'til ____." But even when the chaos of summer slowed down, I realized that I didn't know how. Slowing down at the time meant being out 5 nights a week and starting graduate school. I knew that I needed to figure out what rest looked like. I knew it was the thing that I desired most. But even with that knowledge, when I moved past the idea of rest sounding good, and I actually tried, I met resistance.
It was like exercise. It was like a foreign language. It was like being allergic; physically and philosophically opposed to engaging in rest. I felt lazy, self-loathing, indulgent and I didn't even know what to do. It felt like there was not an activity on earth that could assuage me. It was frustrating. I was riddled with anxiety, and ended up most "rest" days disappointed and depressed. At the end of all my pursuits and "relaxing activities," I was no better off than I was before.
What does any rational person do when you feel like that? Watch Netflix! Play video games! Work more, buy more, eat more, Escape.
Of course, we know that escapism only complicates and layers the problem. I knew that rest was good for me. I knew I needed to do it, but I met resistance. Have you experienced the same? What resistance do you face? Maybe it sounds something like this?
"Aren't busy people the ones changing the world?" (Busy=Important)
"When I rest, I feel lazy"
"If you're not busy, someone might be able to ask something of you"
a.k.a. "Stay busy to prevent getting busier." and "Rest is not a legitimate activity"
"If I rest, then I can't talk about how busy I am."
"I'll never be able to finish all I have to do in time"
Fill in the __________________
You get where I'm going with this? When we want to produce a change in our lives, like exercise or rest, we encounter personal resistance. Even though the activity we want to do is good, there seems to be a thousand reasons to put it off.
If we get past all that and actually do it, at first it can be frustrating, awkward and unnatural. When we know that something is good for us, we need perseverance and a firm belief that the change we're making is actually worth it. We need discipline to practice something that feels foreign and strange. For today the point is that, in this case, we experience resistance because it's worth it. We're on to something.
Who would've thought we would find ourselves saying, "rest is like exercise?"
Let's get to work. (whoops! err. rest.)
We'll take some time to define rest. What is healthy rest? Is there unhealthy, or less healthy rest? Is it different for different people?
In fact, leave a comment here if you have a question after reading this, and we'll see if we can't address the majority in the next few posts!
Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing a series of posts on one of the most frustrating, confusing, and critical parts of my life:
Make sure to Subscribe below to make sure you don't miss next week for more, but for now enjoy a playlist I put together meant for a relaxed saturday morning.
We're all over the place right now. Emotions, ideologies and comments are flooding the digital world. Questions about the future sit heavy with many.
There's no doubt that the road ahead will be complex. There's much work to be done in the soil of our cultural moment.
As the emotions and frustration settle, the way forward is dealing in wisdom.
Now more than ever, we need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. (james 1:19)
That certainly doesn't mean that we don't speak. There are cultural, social and political issues ahead that followers of Jesus will have to work through and respond to.
It does mean that we need to think it through before we speak, and before we slap the banner of Jesus on a political candidate or ideology.
The way of Jesus and his kingdom are different from our system from the ground up. Jesus is on the throne in the sense that he is ultimately bringing about the world to justice, peace and righteousness. But his rule is not currently experienced to all people dwelling on earth. And we need to be sensitive to that as we move forward, keeping in mind that God has deep compassion for the oppressed. We do need to partner with Him in that.
It's essential that we be guided, and filled with the heart of God to walk in careful, winsome, wisdom. It's all too easy to speak our feelings instead.
"Make your ear attentive to wisdom (this is the author of proverbs talking)
Incline your heart to understanding;
For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
Guarding the paths of justice,
And He preserves the way of His godly ones.
Then you will discern righteousness and justice
And equity and every good course.
For wisdom will enter your heart
And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Discretion will guard you,
Understanding will watch over you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things;
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
Who delight in doing evil
And rejoice in the perversity of evil;
Whose paths are crooked,
And who are devious in their ways;
This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him
And saved him out of all his troubles.
The righteous cry, and the LORD hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
We are to be a preserving agent in our culture, and a beacon of a different way. The goal of living this way is that people might see the way of life and "give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16).
There's a multi-directional call for people to move towards the God who is near to the brokenhearted and cares for the oppressed. This comes along with a call to do right, to be aligned with the God who is the source of justice. You can't separate the way from the teacher.
Let's approach this thing with wisdom, kingdom and hope. Let's do as much as we speak. And let's do it a bit more quietly. There's plenty of noise out there.
Today is not the end of the world.
It is one of emotion, insult, polarization and anxiety. It is one of incredible importance. There are issues that our culture is facing which need the utmost care, attention and wisdom. But, (exhale as you read this), the election is not everything.
In this shared moment, we sit together and cast our votes into the unknown hoping that this time we will find a leader who will bring about reform, peace, wisdom, education, longer life and overall progress. Perhaps now more than ever we desperately look to our national leader to save us.
There is a reason that we call this process the election cycle. There is a tangible rhythm of expectation, hope, excitement, and anxiety each time a new leader is elected. The message that they present to us is one of salvation. Obama’s iconic Hope campaign stirred hearts in the midst of the financial tumult of 2008. His Change campaign held our attention and bought our trust. Hillary’s Stronger Together, meets us in a moment of deep division in our country. Even Trump’s Make America Great Again sounds appealing in a moment where the distant vision of American superiority has been severely fractured. These narratives press on the things that we hope for most for our nation. Yet, if history tells us anything, at the end of the campaign trail, after the streamers fall, we’re confronted with the complexity and scope of the issues that humanity really faces. And there’s something undeniably hollow about the story of hope that we hoped in.
In the midst of the noise, arguments, and social media explosion of today, the words of Jesus hold incredible relevance to our shared cultural moment, whether you’re a follower of his or not. He speaks of a different way, a different kingdom, unlike any other. His message is profoundly counter-cultural. In a moment with so much noise, opinion, and conflict about who will lead the American nation…
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
like the joy at harvest
as with victory.
The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
all their whips and cudgels and curses—
Is gone, done away with, a deliverance
as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian.
The boots of all those invading troops,
along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
a fire that will burn for days!
For to us child has been born
to us a son is given;
And the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace,
there will be no end,
He’ll rule from the historic David throne over that promised kingdom. to establish it and uphold it.
With justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:2-7 (esv/msg)
“Turn around and live differently, for the Kingdom of Heaven is arriving.”
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field.”
When Jesus was asked if he was a king by the man with the power to put him to death:
“My kingdom is not of this world. “My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”
There is an alternative kingdom, in the most profound sense of the phrase. It overturns some of our greatest assumptions about life, culture and how we are to live. It speaks of a different way, one of life, peace, and a good king. The rule of this king is characterized explicitly by “justice and righteousness” (Isaiah 9:7). It exists now in those who choose to live according to this different way; the way of Jesus. It is coming in a fuller sense, where this way will be experienced across the borders of the earth. The description of that kingdom is one of restoration.
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will live with them.
They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”
“The One seated on the throne said ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”
(The Revelation 21:3-5)
It is not strange or overly spiritual or underly spiritual, or anything in-between. It is revolutionary, upside-down, foreign, and fraught with hope.
Don’t we hunger for a way of life like that?