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?
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.
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.
Show Me your sorrow My love
This burden is the milestone ’round your neck
Convalesce and I will bear, bear your shame
Jesus bears our burdens. He bears mine. My shame feels exactly like a milestone tied around my neck.
It’s the beauty of this chorus’ melody and structure. The music is nearly perfect to me. It’s the message too that packs the punch where I need it.
It’s Jesus saying: Recover gradually son, you were sick, but I got you. Show Me your sorrow, I really love you. I’ll even take your shame with Me. But this milestone, this burden, this weight, this torment, it has to go. And I’ll take it. Recover gradually son. I love you.
It’s day one. Not just day 366. In fact, it doesn’t matter what length of time it’s been for me or for you.
The only thing I know for certain is the thing I’ve known since a child. Jesus has me, He has my burdens, He has my shame.
As I was laying out the concept of this blog I asked myself the following questions: Who am I writing to? Who am I talking to in this vast digital ocean? Whose heart am I really trying to stir with this central message of purpose and love and self worth?
A couple weeks ago I had an aha moment.
I realized I needed to talk with the person I am very familiar with. Someone like me. The person who needed this message of value the most:
The metal-head, the goth, the emo kid, the scene kid, the speech therapy kid, the misunderstood, the mistreated, the reject, the unloved, the ignored, the beaten down, the emotionless, the awkward, the pimple faced kid, the made fun of in church youth group kid.
This space is really for anyone and everyone. But I am hopefully reaching you. The Misfit.
The Misfit? I was going with outcast and baggy pants person from the 90’s. Who are the Misfits? I mean really, I wasn’t using that term just a week ago.
But then my friend starts bumping this rap group I’ve never heard of called Social Club Misfits. Their mantra jolts me because they are basically talking about how much they are geeks, weird, boring, rejects, misunderstood, etc etc. Stuff rappers shouldn’t be saying out loud. And they are comfortable with this identity.
This short sermon song pops up. I’m tearing up a bit hearing it. He’s talking to me. I’ve never heard the embracing of being a Misfit as he defines it with such confidence. With such assurance of self.
A Misfit is one who’s uncomfortable with his or her surroundings. Oh yeah, that’s me. Raises my hand slowly out of discomfort.
and is seen to be disturbingly different than others. Always have. And if you’ve experienced this too, you can rest assured you are not different. You’ve got me at least. And all of us Misfits.
And as Misfits one of our greatest discomforts is inconsistency amongst our peers. The dare is to be comfortably, consistently yourself. Be authentic. Be who you are. Wear socks with sandals if that’s your thing. You’re a Misfit.
There is a humble confidence, if I can use that phrasing, throughout this definition of a Misfit. They have put to words and music what my aha moment was trying to grasp at.
Trying, because I was only just beginning to become (finally) as confident as they are about being Misfits. It’s kinda amazing it all happens within a couple weeks of each other.
Social Club Misfits could not clarify any better in my mind what is pressed deeply into my identity and calling:
We are Misfits here if we are taking on Christ daily. And we are further Misfit (rejects, goody-two-shoes, freaks, geeks) if we are the kid who got picked last, the only non-swearing kid at bible camp, the person painting your nails black, the parent who is in prison, or the constantly laughed at.
I knew exactly what to do when my band came to an unexpected end while I was halfway through my undergraduate degree:
Triple down on getting a degree so you can start a career, so you can join the middle to upper-middle class the rest of your life, so you can do the responsible thing since you are already this far along.
No doubt back then. No more should I or shouldn’t I. It became clear as the view through the 28th floor office tower windows I could now picture myself looking through.
I wish it were as straightforward as that. But it wasn’t.
There are opposite forces at play in every interaction we have.
It’s very true when you apply this to inaction. Wise people constantly point out that lurking inside of inaction is, oddly enough, action. At the least a choice.
No action at all, playing it safe, actually leads to an opposite force’s favorite opportunity of all. The opportunity to seduce us into surrender through the distraction of a noble pursuit.
The moment we lay our guard down or simply stop acting we are not merely at rest. Resting is action and a signal to the opposite force to fill the vacuum with something else others will approve of.
And this opposite force at play strikes with great joy. You can hear the joy in it’s tone:
You want to give up on what you’ve always wanted because of a minor hiccup? That would be sad. Oh, but here, look over here! I found a noble distraction for you. Get a degree (which you would get regardless of anything you do on the side), but certainly don’t spend energy on a band again.
Twelve years later and I saw a 28th floor view once. I also have a clear, up front view of someone who swapped out their deeply ingrained identity for convenient pursuits.
We must pay attention to what makes our hearts leap and do more of it. We must value who we are at all times in order to do what we are. Otherwise, convenient fall back pursuits will fill in the void if we choose to abandon ourselves.
This song is an absolute highlight on Thrice’s album To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere. Drawn from J.R.R. Tolkien letters and concepts that he wrote about, ‘the long defeat’ is the belief that history is a slow march towards defeat, just when you think you are ahead you go two steps back, or really that all attempts at making progress seem to come up short. The lead singer’s use of this concept throughout the song is haunted by a hope though, “I believe there’s a joy that blooms beyond these walls.”
This is the weighty perspective carrying me towards any real hope in doing anything worthwhile, because even though madness and death are all around, and even though a great victory has already been claimed but is seldom witnessed, all current signs of defeat will be turned around. Perhaps it’s the long part then, the time factor that weighs heavily on all of us.