Being Alive Is The Only Way To Know You Were Dead

The chorus from the song Cardiff Giant by mewithoutYou contains a sentiment which has played through my mind a lot.

I often wonder if I’ve already died.

I keep looking back to my late twenties and wonder if I died back then. I wonder if I squandered freedom.

Subliminally, I think I died.

Superficially, I obtained multiple degrees (family cheers), I got the start of a technically skilled career (society cheers), and I even materialistically helped stimulate the economy by buying a car with said start of career (auto-makers cheer).

Prepared during my late teens and early 20’s with my arsenal of bibles, books and blogs, I knew I was entering my late 20’s (and the rest of my life?) with Jesus centered ways pinned to my chest.

I had my worn down Blue Like Jazz book. I had my copy of Irresistible Revolution. My NIV bible had my notes in the margins and underlined verses. My blog roll was a who’s who of Christian blogging at it’s finest (and worst) of the mid-2000’s. Blogging’s golden years.

I put in the work I needed to position myself to be in the world but not of it.

Vocation would eventually line up, I kept telling myself. My degrees could be justified in several ways once I started doing the tough, missional like work in my field. And I was certain I would be volunteering for key places doing incredible community development work.

But I wonder if I died somewhere before.

Which death had I died?

A death for freedom? Or a death for fear?


Cubicle sitting and eating
Desk + Fast Food

Death is cunning because it just sort of slinks in and sits back. It really doesn’t have to do much after a nudge.

I didn’t account for cubicle sitting. Sitting and sitting and sitting. I realize in college and for the previous 25 years in my life there were things like recess or the end of the 45 minute class. Or even the class of physical activity in and of itself. The desk job life was nothing I prepared for.

Sitting at work all day and doing a job would lead me to medicate at the fast food line carousel. Enabled, ironically, by the payment received for sitting at the desk and doing work.

An additional 60lbs later, the outward manifestation of my death was showing.

I also didn’t account for brain drain and video game indulgence. I played countless hours of video games after coming home from work. The last thing I wanted to do was think more, so why not mindlessly button mash? Quick dopamine surges to the brain in the form of taking the imaginary hockey team you manage to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third year in a row. Besides, healthier more put together people my age play way more video games than I do.

Another outward expression I had died at some point, pacified by a fake digital world.

I hardly needed to be coached about not buying a new car. Used will always be the best bet, if I even need a car at all. Financially it would make sense. But by the time I was done test driving the newest model car it wasn’t even logic anymore. New car it was.

More outward expressions I had died along the way. Shane Claiborne would be mad.

And there were the denials.

When leaving work early on a Wednesday a co-worker asked where I was heading off to. Instead of answering plainly “I’m heading off to worship band practice at the church I attend,” I would say “oh, off to something I got to do.”

Not only did ‘something’ satisfy the curiosity of my colleague, but it satisfied my dying state.

When writing up a meet the staff blog post about me, one of the interview questions was “Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?” I said that I have been playing the guitar since the age of seven.

But why, over two years into this job, would something so central to my core be a surprise to my co-workers? Why would this be something I need to hide from people?

What a weird surprise. I had slowly killed the musician in me the more I justified the pursuit of a career.

I don’t think I have to wonder too much if I had died.

Right now death is pissed off.

I came alive again. I woke up slowly inside safe, small community talking about several of the above items, while they were happening.

Only when you are alive do you know how dead you were.

All that preparation ahead of time in my life prior to my late 20’s didn’t go for not. All that digging into who Jesus really is and how I am to navigate this world was deeply embedded in me.

The problem was I didn’t allow any of it to release. I was letting death deal blows while life suffocated inside.

But now I am alive.

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Life + Value

I am alive because the fast food line doesn’t control me anymore. The 60lbs put on is now 80lbs I’ve lost over the past two years.

The guitar isn’t just back in my hands, it never left, but it is truly a mark of worship to the God who gave me the ability to play in the first place.

My down time isn’t spent playing video games to decompress, but to continue self educating myself with books I’ve always wanted to read.

And death hates this so much.

I often wonder if I’ve already died.

Well, I did die.

But now. Now. I am alive.


I leave you with what the singer of mewithoutYou has to say about this song, not only what I took from it. It’s a song off an album about a circus train derailing in 1878. Hence why he mentions the animals in the following interview responding to Cardiff Giant:

“That song is a dialogue between the tiger and the peacock, both of whom stayed in captivity for different reasons. The tiger was very deliberate in remaining because of his sense of internal freedom regardless of external circumstances, but the peacock just feels kind of stuck. And the first time it’s the peacock saying “I often wonder if I’ve already died,” meaning a sense of having squandered her freedom—she missed the opportunity to escape and she’s stuck in this life that has no purpose or growth. And then the tiger responds in the second chorus saying the same thing, but it means almost the exact opposite—the tiger is wondering if the ego has been annihilated, if the self has been totally surrendered, and the tiger has been taken to some new, higher level of consciousness or reality. So it’s taking the same exact sentence and flipping it on its head.

I was the peacock certainly. Death had me trapped and was convincing me I squandered my freedom. Give up. You’re dead.

But I’m the tiger now. Death got me for sure. But it never got me internally. Death can’t trap me anymore. I am surrounded by too much life, life abundant.

 

Fever Purge

The fever dream clears all present worries,
A sickness which purges pitiful pursuits,
Clarity pierces in the softest of forms,
Pasts are washed ashore, clean, bright, zealous.

Death started as soon as life began,
Hastening death only means to turn the fever
Into a victor for which it is not. It is a lie.
The fog lifts, the disease dies, and life loudly whispers.

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Dying Too Fast

You are killing yourself when you intentionally stop doing things you are good at and enjoy doing. There is no way to soften the language. You are allowing a part of yourself to suffocate slowly. Death may not come tomorrow but it’s accelerated now.

I know. I saw the results up close and personal.

For reasons I am only scratching the surface in understanding, I stuffed things I enjoyed inside a ‘to-do-later’ box. Of course the intentions were to open the box when convenient. Maybe after I earned X amount of dollars. Maybe when I gained middle management status type security. Probably by the time I forgot what I liked and was good at all together.

The side effects of this? Well you end up having to fill your void of what you love with something. I got real fat, I didn’t personally grow, and I used my ‘free-time’ and those X dollars on things I ‘liked’ such as video games, beer halls, and fast food lines.

I’ve conducted a lot of research on this recently, having read several people who express a very similar message: most of us end up placing things in a box we had a child-like faith and love for. Things we scoff at now because we don’t think we are that good at it. Even though we are good at it. Things we deeply love.

Some of the most common themes in explaining this curious behavior are the following:

We are most afraid of what we love.

It sounds counter-intuitive, and if you are afraid of spiders you may have a point, you actually don’t love spiders. But what several authors have pointed out which is true is we are afraid of failing at what we most love.

In a vain attempt of keeping ourselves safe, we preserve our current state of having never risked anything in order to not experience potential ridicule messing up something we love. It’s kind of like plastic covering your couches to prevent people from sitting on them. Seriously, what on earth is going on there.

We can’t do what we loved and were good at doing as kids because we are not kids anymore.

Well, right. But the problem with that line of thinking is you stop at applying the reasons why you would flip through baseball cards for hours, diligently categorizing them by card number, memorizing the patterns of each page as you flip through the thick binder because of your photographic memory, and being pleased Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire’s rookie cards are in your collection (I’m a child of the 90’s, so much hope in all those pure home-runs paying for college).

Unless you own a card shop and need to flip through baseball cards still, that’s not what you are suppose to be doing now. You are suppose to be categorizing items, putting them in their proper place, creating order out of mess, recalling things with your photographic memory and being an on demand human Google resource by putting ideas together.

We have created a mess by now and are slogging through triage just to maintain.

Sure. But. Here is an incredible discovery in the midst of triage. If you start piece by piece, a moment here and there, to let back in the thing you love so much and are good at, it not only starts to establish itself again but actually helps in the process of triage.

So we’ve made a mess by taking the wrong career path, or creating obligations we must tend to (ahem, creating offspring), or signing up to volunteer for things society or someone outside our selves said was a good thing to sign up and commit time and energy to. In the midst of all that, you have to intentionally carve out time (which you have if you actually love the thing) to get what you love going again.

Or better yet. You start applying what you love and are naturally good at to the commitments you’ve made. They may be not ideal obligations, but today is literally the time to start applying what you love to do towards what you do now. Maybe your kids never knew you were a woodworker until you pick it back up and teach them how to use a wood lathe.


If you don’t pick whatever your ‘it’ is back up, you might as well hire a woodworker to build your casket. You’ve essentially said no to living out what you are good at and love.

Stop dying by doing. Become a kid again. Put it to practice even in the middle of the mess you are in.

Ode To September

Things change for me in September. Always have.

I even changed from not being born to existing all of a sudden.

And there have been several rebirths of mine in other Septembers. Killed off. Born again. Killed off. Born again.

And in birth, I find there is more pain than in the death. There is always pain.

But afterwords, there is life. There is always life.

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Tear Your Hearts Instead

Because you haven’t died yet
You can’t be swept into life,
You’ll always find that one lie,
That one distorted truth you value.
Take in the last of winter
Let it crush you and overwhelm you,
Spring will then be spring,
Not just a shift in the weather.
Passing through a night means
You are still moving,
So “Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
But tear your hearts instead.

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Live Your Identity

When you live with a shovel in your hand,
Tossing dirt on yourself in the pit you made,
You are dead.
When you live adjusting your mask so others see it just right,
Assuring others are fooled with your perfected painful presentation,
You are dead.
When you live running past opportunity,
Fearful of all the failures you foresee,
You are dead.

But when you find your identity
you serve others,
When you live your identity
you live wide awake,
When you rest in your identity
you honor what you are made for.

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