God of Loss and Grace

The Anchoress tells of receiving heartbreaking news: the prospect of losing her hearing:

Yesterday morning, though, came a straw I have dreaded my whole life, and I finally drew it: the “you are losing your hearing” straw…

The loss was discovered, of course, due to that dismal ear infection of the past two weeks, but the hearing in that afflicted ear is only slightly worse than the other. Upon reading my test results the doctor asked if I had worked around airplanes for the past 20 years, or if I had fronted a rock band. “Severe degeneration! hearing aids!”

The pain of such a loss is real, and it is deep — it can neither be trivialized nor ignored. Some will deaden the pain by drink, others by denial or depression, or one of a host of other means whereby we mitigate the pain while refusing to embrace it.

We live with sense of entitlement: we should be free of pain and suffering. For most, such dire news — particularly about health and well-being — is a devastating blow, devoid of meaning and justice, a cruel trick of fate, perhaps, or some sort of karmic retribution for evil done in this life or one prior. It is at best random misfortune, at worst a cruel robbery, a brutal injustice. There is no making sense of it — it is without reason or purpose.

Yet for the Christian, things are supposed to be different. We serve — as an article of faith — a God of love, and when one has committed their life to such service, the reward of such a severe trial raises a host of uncomfortable questions: Is God unfair? Is this punishment for sin? Is He capricious, toying with me, playing me for the fool, demanding my obedience then rewarding me with pain and loss?

The Anchoress responds as many would — with rage:

“I drove home pounding the steering wheel and telling God I thought He was pretty damned unfair, after all. I demanded that He listen to me and make me a sensible answer about why things were going as they were, why at only 46 years of age I was increasingly debilitated, increasingly arthritic, increasingly feeling like a 65 year old.

It’s not enough that I must sometimes use a cane, or that I wear glasses, not enough that I am constantly bruised, often fatigued into stupidity and inarticulate, stammering aphasia, not enough that my body is scarred all over and that my skin is under seige simply because I am Irish! now I am going to need hearing aids? Now I am going to be deaf? What has my husband ever done to you, that you need to inflict this sort of wife upon him?

Oh, I howled. I ranted.

And it was so out of character for me to do so – this has not been my way, to shake an angry fist at God and make demands. I didn’t like doing it – it felt so wrong. So wrong, not to simply be thankful for my blessings – for all the good things, and all the “not too bad” things.

But I was so angry.

Anger at God — a frightening, even terrifying thought. At worst it presents images of lightning strikes, fire and brimstone, judgment, destruction. Better to pretend you’re not angry, hide it from God lest He send another, more awful plague in retribution.
Continue reading “God of Loss and Grace”

“I Totally Despised You”

One of life’s great pleasures for me is discovering new music. Now, mind you, this is rarely new in the sense of being a new group which has just broken onto the scene; in most cases, I’m discovering music, artists, or groups which have been around for some time, unbeknownst to me.

One such artist I have recently run across is Jonny Lang. One of his songs, Lie to Me, caught my ear on XM radio, and I jotted it down and subsequently made a beeline for iTunes. Turns out, this guy is nothing short of extraordinary. He starts playing the guitar at age 12, releases his first album at 13, and his second album — his first solo and signature blues work, Lie to Me — is released at age 15, and goes triple platinum. He blows away critics with a voice which, at age 15, sounds like a hardened blues player three times his age. It’s gutter-grating gritty, his phrasing and expression incredibly innovative, and the guitar playing is evocative of such blues greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn, with exquisitely blended influences of soul, R&B, Motown, and gospel music. Before he turns 20, he’s touring as the warm-up band for Aerosmith, Sting, Jeff Beck, Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and B. B. King.

Not bad for a kid with a guitar.

However, life in the fast lane is rarely kind. Many older and more mature troubadours than he have fallen to its brutal revenge — think Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Brian Jones, and a host of others — to whom the Roman candle of fame proved both furious and lethal. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll often prove a highway to hell, and Jonny Lang was driving that freeway with pedal to the metal.

Then something changed — drastically, almost cataclysmically. In what can only be termed an extraordinary conversion experience, his entire life is transformed, bringing with it his music, immediately terminating his addiction to alcohol and drugs, and changing his very face and disposition.

I was not thinking about God, not at all. In the middle of our conversation, from that same spot that I felt something had hit me earlier, I just felt something start welling up, just burning in me, and it came up out of my throat. It was like I was throwing up, and the name “Jesus” just came out of my mouth. I just said “Jesus!”

Interviewer: Mid conversation?

Lang: Yeah. And when I said “Jesus,” my whole body started shaking. Haylie was looking right at me (laughing).

This is the part of my story where I’ve just said, “Lord, if I’m ever doing interviews, what should I say?” People are going to think I’m insane, you know? Nevertheless, it’s what happened. I knew it was Jesus immediately from the moment I started shaking. It was like he just came up and introduced himself to me. I remember him saying, “You don’t have to have this if you don’t want it.” And I said, “No, I want it.”

I kept shaking, and I knew when it was done that I had been completely set free of all my addictions, and I knew that I didn’t have to smoke or drink or do drugs anymore. All I could do was fall on the ground, and I gave my life to him right there. I was just in shock. I thought, “I totally despised you, and you just did this to me!”

Check out his music video for “Lie to Me”:
 

 
Now, take a look at his face, and watch him perform after his experience. It is almost like he has been replaced by another human being.
 

 
Which, in a very real sense, he has.
 

 

 
You can read about his rather extraordinary conversion and the changes it made in his life here. Check it out.

Guitar Wizardry

For those of you who are guitar players (as I was in a former life), or admire guitar players, or have played air guitar when you thought no one was looking, here’s a rather amazing performance by John Butler.
 


 

What amazes me most about this performance is that he is working his magic on a 12-string guitar. For those unfamiliar with such things, a 12-string has two paired strings corresponding to each string of a 6 string guitar, either doubling the note or an octave higher. The two strings of each pair are struck in unison (not plucked separately), providing an extraordinarily rich and nuanced sound, with rich overtones and sonic saturation. Because of the added heft the the paired strings, however, it is far more challenging to perform agile fretwork (12-strings are often used for chording and accompaniment rather than detailed melody lines and arpeggios).

And speaking of wizardry on stringed instruments, this is another must-hear experience: Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — on a ukulele, by the world’s best player, Jake Shimabukuro:

 

 

It is simply not possible to get that much sound and complexity out of a ukulele. 4 strings. Unbelievable.