Your Guitar Weeps Because it is Terrified: The Beatles’ Scariest Songs

The Beatles get a lot of credit.  They are generally considered to be the greatest musical entity of the 20th Century.  This makes sense, because they were.  Much has been written by individuals more qualified than myself about how The Fab Four revolutionized not just an entire music industry, but an entire generation of youth.  This makes sense, because they did.

Within the hallowed realm of Rock and Roll, The Beatles were progenitors, spokespeople, influencers, or inventors of a wide swath of musical stylings, from straight-ahead 50’s-style rock n’ roll (“Twist and Shout”) to psychedelic (“I Am the Walrus”) to punk (the feedback opening to “I Feel Fine”, the entire post-1967 attitude of John Lennon) to heavy metal (“Helter Skelter”) to acoustic folk (“Norwegian Wood”) to protest rock (“Revolution”) to alt-freak free associative statement art (“Revoltuion 9”) to, of course, pop music (everything they ever wrote).  Their music was the stated foundation for acts as diverse as The Beach Boys and The Beastie Boys; Kurt Cobain and Katy Perry; Coldplay and The Clash.  Whatever music you are listening to right now- The Beatles influenced that sound.  Unless you are listening to Chuck Berry, JS Bach, or Gregorian chanting.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating.

The Beatles get a lot of credit.

But here’s a place where they are perhaps not as well-recognized as they could be: Liverpool’s finest could write some spine-tingling, dread-stirring, dark, twisted and disturbing material.  They were weird, they were imaginative, they had an occassionally morbid sense of humour, and they were way into hallucinogenic drugs: all of this translated into random spurts of darkness from the group most famous for wanting to hold our hand and only needing love.  To wit: this sunny little album cover of the boys in butcher gear, covered in raw meat.  Holding baby doll parts.

Beatles Doll Parts

Therefore, for no apparent reason at all, I present to you…

“The Ten Most Frightening Beatles Songs (according to my definition of fear, dread, and/or strong sense of discomfort) Of All Time”

10. “Eleanor Rigby”, Revolver (1966)
Sometimes, the greatest fears are existential ones.  Is my life meaningful?  Do my actions have any significance?  Am I missing out on genuine human connection?  Is my ministry actively saving those around me from eternal damnation?  Is this mason jar large enough to contain my face?  All these questions are pondered by our two lonely protagonists, Eleanor Rigby and Father MacKenzie.  And for the most part, it seems their greatest existential fears have indeed been realized.  (At least her face fits in the jar by the door, though.)

9. “She’s Leaving Home”, Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB (1967)
This is a song about a young person’s desire to escape the rigidity of the life laid out for them by their parents expectations.  It was a defining song for a defining time: in 1967, young people were moving beyond the moral, societal and spiritual fences established by prior generations.  It is meant to be a song of liberation, freedom, and progress.  Now that I’m of parenting age, however, I can’t help but empathize with the horror the parents feel  at the realization that they have pushed their daughter into lonely flight.  As the string section swells, I feel a pang of fear that, in only a few short years, it could be myself asking, “What did we do that was wrong”?  Then I remember that this is just a pop song, and I get over it.

8. “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, The White Album (1968)
Perhaps it’s the connection to “Bowling for Columbine”, as Michael Moore soundtracked the tail end of this song to video footage of military assassinations, school shootings, and other random acts of gun terror.  But whenever I hear the almost cartoonish harmonies of “bang bang, shoot shoot!” in this chilling White Album mashup song, the irony is lost for just a moment.  Or maybe it’s simply the fact that a line like, “when I hold you in my arms/and feel my finger on your trigger” is intentionally uncomfortable.  And to think, the song title was inspired by a line from a Charlie Brown comic strip.  Maybe someone should do a Top Ten Scariest Charlie Brown Moments.  (I bet Schroeder would feature prominently in that list, with his callous, icy gaze….)

7. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB (1967)
The background story of the song is touching: John Lennon’s son, Julian, showed his daddy a picture he had drawn of Lucy, his classmate with kaleidoscopes for eyes, floating in a diamond-studded sky.  Adorable.  Until the psychedelic imagery gets fleshed out further, and suddenly you are floating down a river of terror, surrounded by towering technicolor flowers, “rocking horse people” (?), plasticine porters, and a girl with KALEIDOSCOPES FOR EYES.  Killer harmonies though.

6. “Helter Skelter”, The White Album (1968)
Even if a notorious cultic murdermonger (Charles Manson) hadn’t ordered his lackies to murder several wealthy socialites and then paint the words ‘Helter Skelter’, among other phrases, on the walls and refrigerator of their home with the blood of their victims; even if Charles Manson hadn’t believed his own twisted version of the lyrics to this song, wherein an apocalyptic war between the races would be ushered in by his sinister guidance; even if a book about these infamous murders hadn’t been written under the title “Helter Skelter”; even if none of that had ever happened, Helter Skelter would still be kind of scary.  You know, because it’s aggressively loud and stuff.  Maybe blisters on your fingers are the least of your worries.

5. “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, Abbey Road (1969)
Apparently, this song was Paul’s expression for how things can suddenly go wrong in life.  Well, things certainly go wrong for Maxwell Edison’s teacher, girlfriend, and even the judge at his trial, as they get their heads smashed in one-by-one with Maxwell’s expensive piece of custom hardware.  Upping the song’s creep factor are (a) the cheery, perky rhythm and upbeat tune (a homicide ballad you can whistle along to!), and (b) the ominous tones of the Moog synthesizer stabbing out from the background shadows in moments of murderous release.  The fact that this tune is sandwiched between two of Abbey Road’s sincerest love songs (“Something” and “Oh! Darling”) means that Paul intended this to feel like a bludgeoning to the shocked audience.

4. “Run For Your Life”, Rubber Soul (1965)
“Well I’d rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man/you better keep your head little girl, or you won’t know where I am”.  No, this isn’t Metallica, or Sex Pistols, or Insane Clown Posse, or Wu Tang Clan, or any of the other hundreds of artist who use dark imagery to make a point or shock an audience.  It’s John Lennon, who later called this his “least favourite Beatles song” and “the song he most regretted writing”.  Why, John?  Is it because you menacingly promised to hunt down an innocent woman for leaving you?  And, follow-up question, John… just why do you think she may have left you in the first place?  Perhaps your murderous rage?  Somehow, I get the impression that a song like that wouldn’t have gone over too terribly well with good ol’ Yoko.

3. “Tomorrow Never Knows”, Revolver (1965)
The fear in this song is not derived by the lyrical content- a mash of Tibetan spirituality, stoned placidity, and generic platitudes about love.  No, the unsettling nature of this song is found entirely in the musicianship and studio wizardry.  Those bombastic drums (in my opinion, some of the best-recorded percussion in human history)!  Those backwards looping guitar shrieks!  That snaking line of sitar, or taboula, or synthesizer, or whatever!  This song is perfect, but if you turn off your lights and relax to it, you might float downstream into some dark and harrowing mental experiences.

2. “Strawberry Fields Forever”, Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
This has to be one of the loveliest songs The Beatles ever wrote.  So how did it make #2 on this list of fearsome Fab Four tunes?  I feel like any explanation I attempt will fail to capture the sense of dread I feel in the pit of my gut every time the chorus stomps through.  Combining the “let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to…” lyric with the deep sweeping rush of cello and the jarring, restless Ringo drum fill creates a real sensation of dropping into an abyss.  A beautiful abyss- perhaps an oxymoronic phrase, but one that captures the original inspiration (an orphanage’s playground) perfectly.  Heightening this palpable tone of dread is the false ending, which returns with military drums, skittering flute, and alarm-bell guitars.  Beautiful and evocative, certainly; but with haunting undertones that can catch a listener unaware, like a kaleidoscopic python.

1. “Revolution 9”, The White Album (1968)
The first time I ever listened to this, uh, “song” was formative for my belief that there are few more terrifying works of art in modern musical history than this.  I was home alone, working in our living room, with the White Album playing on vinyl in the background.  I had seen on the album sleeve that a song titled “Revolution” was coming up, and I immediately assumed it was the eletric-guitar overload of John’s protest tune (you know, “you say you want a revo-LU-tiooooon, we-e-ell ya kno-o-o-ow…”).  Instead I got the unnerving audio equivalent to a David Lynch film.  As some lunatic repeatedly calls out for “Number 9”, slashed snippets of orchestra and crowd noise meander in and out, panning across the left and right stereo like a drunken brawler taking swings at a funhouse mirror.  When the maniacal laughing hit at 1:48, I remember realizing that, alone in my living room, I suddenly had goosebumps.  I had to turn it off before it was halfway through the 8:22 running time because it was so disturbing to me.

[Editor’s Note: I am writing this at midnight.  Angie is in Ontario.  I am attempting to listen through it again.  The hair on my neck is sticking out.  I gave up after 2 and a half minutes.  “Revolution 9” retains its fear factor.]

Well, there you have it folks.  Ten Beatles songs that evoke in me a sense of fear.  I suppose you could add “Sun King” to this list, which is sung at least partly in Italian (or Spanish, or something).  Since I don’t speak the language, it’s entirely likely the Sun King is in fact some kind of soul-devouring Necromancer.  I doubt it, but as you can tell from the above list, the boys were up to some weird business in those crazy 1960’s.  What Beatles songs would be included on your list?  The claustrophobia of living in a “Yellow Submarine”?  The creepy stalker-ish pleadings of “Please Please Me”?  Perhaps you are unsettled by garden-tending octopi, or penny-grabbing Taxmen, or meter maids, or eggmen, or Mother Mary.  What Beatles tunes fill you with fear?

Posted in Art, Drums, express, Fear, lists, music, society, The Beatles, Uncategorized | 233 Comments

“Measure Your Best” -Styrofoam Apache

Hello.  My name is Chris Lantz, and I prefer rap music to most any other types of music.  Not that I prefer to fill my mind and iTunes library with stories of dope deals, pimp violence, casual gunplay, or any other stereotype-fulfilling hip hop garbage.  I actually find that stuff ranging anywhere from ironically hilarious to squirm-inducingly uncomfortable to outright despicable.  But there is something about the best hip hop that I connect to, making it one of my favourite art forms and means of poetic expression.

Maybe it’s because I’m a language nerd, and rap is wordplay at its finest.

Maybe it’s because I’m a huge fan of big fat (sorry… phat) basslines and drumbeats.

Maybe it’s because I have a secret African heritage heretofore unexplored.  I doubt it though, since I’ve never heard a genuine rap star use the word “heretofore”.  I just like some rap.  And yes, I am aware that I am a white pastor from north-central Alberta.

Anyway, being a fan of hip hop, I am also a casual rapper.  Several friends of mine formed a little electropop band called (for no particular reason) Styrofoam Apache.  They recruited me to write a few lines of rap; and when I say “they recruited me”, I do in fact mean “I begged them to allow me”.  We quickly got hooked on this, and over the course of a year, produced a Shakespearean concept album about two pirates who fall out of favour with each other over their shared love of a woman, Maria.  It meant we got to write pirate battle raps, and that was way more fun than I ever expected it to be.  If you are interested, you can find the album, Captain Jones, here on Soundcloud…. you might even enjoy a track or two!

We are now working on a follow up album.  Mostly, we just think it sounds really awesome and somewhat Super Official (that’s a reference, y’all) to say “follow up album”.  We’re in it for the fame and not the paycheques, to quote some early Styrofoam Apache; but we’ll settle for having thirty people think one of our songs is worthy of being played in their car on the way to get groceries.  It’s a nice little artistic outlet.

(Styrofoam Apache, live at the Clyde Summer Solstice.)

_________________________________________________________

All of this is to introduce you to one of our songs- one that I am proud of enough to post to my blog.  I think my bandmate, Stephen, absolutely nailed the instrumental feel of the song, which is an attempt at something slightly more serious than pirates puns.  This is “Measure Your Best”.  I’ve included the lyrics below so you can attempt to unravel the various Biblical references, personal opinions, and pop culture shout-outs crammed into three and a half minutes of guitar-driven hip hop.  Enjoy!

Click here to listen to “Measure Your Best“.

“Measure Your Best”
Music and production by Chief Dirty Beats (Stephen Robinson)
Lyrics by Ghetto Blaster Pastor (Chris Lantz)
Vocals by GBP, CDB, Aloha Wolf (Geoff Rimmer) and Orange Juice (Jackson O’Brien)
Live Instrumentation also includes Perryfunkle (Kevin Peyre)
(Shout out to Mike-Cool Robinson)

Yeah, the lilies never spin or toil
But they’re a bright beacon of glory beaming from the soil
Like Isaac Brock wrote, there’s “So much Beauty in the Dirt”
And Johnny Cash knew of redemption hidden in the “Hurt”
In fits and spurts you slowly grow up closer to the Son
The pain you face is just a taste of being made strong
You don’t know all the steps but it’s the dance that you embrace
And baby, you’ve got time to learn the rhythmic pace of grace- Wait…
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike?
And both the righteous and the wicked feel the chill of night?
Doesn’t that free us up to see we don’t control our lives?
So drop your bitterness and stress and try to [measure your best]

Yeah, I think it’s time we confess
We’re both a masterpiece and a work in progress
We’re aware that our abilities can impress
But then our egos overflow and make an ugly mess
I know that I don’t rap the best, and that’s okay with me
I’m not Kanye West, MCA or Jay-Z
Of course we want other people to enjoy our music
We want our friends to laugh, think and even groove to it
Remove pride from the equation, life is more fluid
Because a healthy tree will bear the most nourishing fruit
And judging others by their wallets shrivels up your roots
So trim your dead branches back and send out tender shoots
You’re only as good as you are in your weakest moment
Explore the dark caves within and see what lies dormant
You know the good we do tends to multiply, don’it?
You’ve already been blessed, time to [measure your best]

If I’m an artist’s composition, I’ve been vandalized
Since my strength is insufficient, I’ve been scandalized
Yet there’s power in submission to a hope divine
Take my ego to the kitchen, have it euthanized
I’ve got an ugly heart condition known as self-reliance
Sometimes I need some demolition to adjust my eyes
I can’t accept just any mission, that’s a social lie
Just ‘cuz I wish it; doesn’t mean that I can fly
But here’s the first definition of a blessed life:
My daughters are my prized possession, and I love my wife
The Grand Musician calls to sing in both the lows and highs
From the soil to fruition goodness always thrives

Posted in Art, express, friends, hip hop, music, Styrofoam Apache, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“Her Name is Life”

Following is a poem I wrote in my head on the way home from the city last night.  It commemorates some of the deepest feelings of wonder and peace and joy and uncertainty I had in my initial encounter with my firstborn daughter, Zoey.

I don’t usually write poetry (read: NEVER), and it’s certainly not the norm for me to post it for all of my cyberworld to experience.  It feels almost scandalously intimate to be posting it, but Angie encouraged me to do so, and here it is.

Zoey, I hope you read this one day and are reminded of just how deeply and thoroughly I (and your Mommy) love you.  You are still a source of wonder and joy; you still introduce us to new and fascinating worlds; you still draw our attention to grace; and you still enrich our Lives with your own vibrant Life.  May your eyes be always open to the world of beauty around you.

Her Name is Life

Genesis.
The rain stopped.

I was the first to hold you
eyes open
always OPEN as you
studied my face

an astonishing new world
opened up to you

and me.

A fresh spinning cosmos
life dances on tiptoes
and my arms have never felt strength like this before.

still soaking me in
searching me already
awake, anew, alert
alive

Amen.

suddenly staggeringly aware
of grace-
I have never felt His strength like this before.

I was the first to hold you.
Revelation.
Her Name is Life.

-For Zoey
April 5th, 2012

Zoey: Day 1

(Reader’s note: the name ‘Zoey’ is taken from the Greek word ‘Zoe’ (ζωή), meaning ‘Life’.  It is used throughout the New Testament by Jesus and others, especially by the Gospel author John (my fave).  It is a delightful word, and fitting for our lively Zoey, who enriches my life every day)
http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/zoe.html

Posted in Art, Birth, contentment, express, Fathering, Life, Poetry, Uncategorized, Zoey | 1 Comment

Sneezes & Jesus: Blessing Others

It’s a bizarre little social expectation/superstition that dictates the issuing of a “bless you” after a sneeze.  I’m sure it started as some sort of medieval protection against the devil, or a way for the dignified upper class of the Renaissance to save face after a minor public display of bodily functioning.  The German “gesundheit!” makes more sense… my understanding is that it translates as “Good Health”, a lesson I gleaned while in the Frankfurt Airport, seeing anti-smoking posters signed by the “Gesundheitminister”, or Minister of Good Health.  “Good Health.”  I get that.  But “bless you” after a sneeze?  There are far more uplifting things we could say after a nasal explosion, as chronicled by this memorable Seinfeld clip.

And yet I cling to the “bless you”.  It has been ingrained in me from an early age.  In my family, everyone said it after everyone else’s sneeze; cold & sinus season was a resounding chorus of reflexive ordinations.  A visitor to the Lantz residence could reasonably expect a bombardment of blessings- not by virtue of their worthiness, nor by virtue of our outstanding hospitality, but by virtue of their sniffles.  That was how it worked.

And there was power to the economy of the “bless you”.

I can vividly recall being upset with my Mom several times over some perceived injustices, and sure enough, several minutes later, she would sneeze.  In my great act of juvenile defiance, I would cross my arms, arch my eyebrows, purse my lips, and turn away dramatically in a manner that made clear, “your sneeze shall receive no blessing.”  It was damning.  I behaved this way with each of my brothers as well.  Were they being annoying in front of my cool friends?  For at least an afternoon, no gesundheits.  Did they lose my brand new road hockey ball?  Forget it… today, the blessings are withheld.  But fear not!  For in my wide and resounding grace, upon the morrow, thy sneezes shall receive verbal reciprocation.  My wrath lasts but an evening.

This, I hope you can see, is ridiculous.  But it highlights a neglected truth that I and many other Christians often fail to take seriously enough.

See what happens when you neglect to say God Bless You? Apparently it's "worse than Hurricane Andrew".

Believe it or not, the Church exists to bless the world through God’s presence and power.  Followers of Jesus are to be imitators of His life; imitating the life of Christ means actively blessing those around us with our time, our possessions, our rights, our energy, our abilities, our prayers, our money, our virtue, our Truth, our relationships, our love, and our lives.  What we have been given from On High (love, grace, justice, truth, daily needs) is ours to re-gift (again, a sanctified Seinfeld application).

And so, if someone is in need of a coat, we bless them with the means to buy a coat; or (more perfectly), we give them our own coat and trust that God will re-bless us in return.  If our neighbour asks us to help them for an afternoon with moving some furniture, we lend them our pickup truck; or (more perfectly), we spend all day and night lifting from the knees and trust that God will re-bless us with the time and energy to get our own business finished.  If someone says something we don’t like about us, we hold our tongue against retribution; or (more perfectly), we talk it out with them and defend them despite the gossip.

In other words, when someone sneezes, we say “bless you”.  And then hand them our own personal monogrammed handkerchief.  (People still have those, right?)

This above-and-beyond type of blessing is commonly called “going the extra mile” for someone.  And the phrase “going the extra mile” is a direct reference to a teaching of Jesus about blessing others.  And this teaching about blessing others is in reference to blessing a certain type of “others”: our enemies.

In Jesus’ world, the Romans reigned supreme, and Jewish people were subject to their every whim.  A Roman footsoldier, exhausted during a long march or series of military excursions, could demand a ‘commoner’ to carry their gear for them.  Jesus says, in Matthew 5, that if a soldier demands you to carry his gear for one mile, you go the extra mile and carry it two.  This is significant because the Jews loathed the Romans, and felt no need to participate in their pagan military conquests.  From the perspective of Jesus’ Jewish audience, it would be like a Baptist preacher doing volunteer translation work for jihadist propaganda.  It would sound counterintuitive to first century Hebrew Galileans.  Aren’t they to organize a holy revolution against Rome, and defend Yahweh’s earthly kingdom of Israel against evil influence?  Shouldn’t the Romans be packing our gear across the Judean wilderness?

Several paragraphs up, I described situations in which the relationship is friendly, or at least neutral.  The giver of the blessing is in the position of power; naturally, if someone is asking for something, or in need of something, then they are situationally powerless.  People are generally willing to see the virtue in this, and will sometimes go out of their way to bless others in this manner.

But what if the tables are reversed?  What if the giver of the blessing does so from a position of powerLESSness?  Isn’t it a greater act of love to shower blessings on those who persecute us, harm us, demean us, berate us, and hate us?  Jesus says this in Luke 6:

  • 32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
  • 35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Blessings in the face of injustice and broken relationships; blessings on the razor’s edge of abuse; blessings absent of gratefulness and reward.  It’s an insane teaching, but completely in line with the life (and death) of Jesus.  You bless them above and beyond what they deserve, desire, or demand.  This should be easy for me, seeing as I have very few people seeking to harm, hurt, or embarrass me.  I am, fortunately, incredibly blessed (must have sneezed a lot as a kid) with very few genuine enemies.  And yet the call to bless others abundantly (especially those we disagree with, or who annoy us, or hurt our feelings, or offend our sensibilities) flies directly in the face of my oh-so-human lusts for vengeance, power and comfort.  To be a Follower of Jesus’ Way is to turn cheeks, lay down rights, offer necessities, go extra miles, and embrace the rain that falls on the just and unjust alike.  Our first response to whomever we encounter (sneeze or otherwise), is Bless You, whether we feel they warrant that blessing or not (because really, what have I done to deserve the blessings I’ve received?).  Bless your enemies.  Love them- don’t hate them.  Love them.  Then you will be called children of the Most High.

That means the next time Zoey sneezes while she’s busy telling me off, you will almost certainly hear a (quiet and clipped) “bless you” coming from her Daddy’s lips.

 

photo “credit”: Weekly World News, date unknown

Posted in behaviour, Church, explore, friends, Kingdom of God, Life | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

A Life Passed on Labour Day

This morning I watched as a man slipped gently into death, as though it were a warm bath.  It was not violent or morbid.  There was struggle, confusion, hurt, tearfulness, and distress; but there was also peace, tenderness, relief, prayer, and love filling that room of seven bodies & six souls.  As a dear friend told me upon witnessing the death of a loved one earlier this year, the best word for the sensation in the room was “Sacredness”.  It was the first time in my life I have witnessed such sacredness; intimacy nearly to the point of scandalousness.  It was 1:30 am, Monday, September 5th; Labour Day, 2011.

I do not write this in a effort to sensationalize, grandstand, or glorify.  I respect the fact that the emotions I felt during those two hours completely pale in comparison to the difficult feelings that the family so elegantly and wholeheartedly wrestled with.  I refuse to give details, out of confidentiality, but also out of respect for the significance of this morning’s events.  But still, I want to write about it.  The experience moved me thoroughly, as it likely did for you, if you have likewise experienced the immediate presence of death.

There is depth of significance in the fact that this man died on Labour Day.  Labour Day stands as a symbolic transition from Summer, full of green vibrancy, into the cool browns of Autumn.  Creation, full of life, begins to wind down in preparation for winter’s cycle of rest.  That small, dark room carried a heavy autumnal sense.

There are obvious reasons for this.  As we move into the Fall, it’s impossible to miss the effect on the trees.  Over the course of several weeks, they are transformed from pillars of green vitality to mere skeletal frames, their leaves left browning, bending and falling as a testament to both Time and Regeneration.  The trees accept the coming cold, prepare for it with dignity and beauty, and anticipate a time beyond winter’s chill when life will enter them again.

Furthermore, from Labour Day onward, there is a strong sense that the days are getting shorter.  Two months earlier, we had been playing games, enjoying road trips, having conversations, and taking walks well into the late summer dusks.  We were given the presence of the sun until nearly midnight, and we accepted that gift with great relish.  By this time of the year, however, the sunset dazzles earlier; porchlights beckon children home sooner; games, walks and conversations head indoors not long after supper.  The dark of nightime advances, and it advances quickly.  The days get shorter.  We are reminded to appreciate the light as much as possible, and as often as possible.

As time hurries along, our days get shorter.

But one sense of Fall dominated the rest.  Looking up from my chair, I saw his wife and children circled around him, sharing peace, gratitude and memories as though they were gathered around the table of a great Autumn Harvest Feast or Thanksgiving Meal.  The beloved family crying at his side were his finest work, his firstfruits; he had long delighted in their presence when feeling well.  Now, despite the loss of his lucidity, he drew great strength from their presence.  Nourished by his family’s care, he continued fighting valiantly against every choked breath.  There was solemnity and sadness in that room, but there was also thankfulness and thanksgiving, the greatest of the Falltime virtues.

The sense of thankfulness was strong when I first arrived; thankfulness that they could all be with him, thankfulness that his suffering would soon be over, thankfulness for his monumental presence in each of their lives.  But the thankfulness lingered.  It remained with me as I drove home in the dark and greeted my sleeping wife with the longest, most heartfelt hug I have given in a very long time.  It was sourced in a deep Thankfulness that, despite life’s seasonal cycles (both large-scale and small-scale), there would always be Goodness, Life, Love, and a Holy God.

Moreover, there was the thankful reminder that Death, the darkened figure in life’s narrative, would never claim the Victory.  The title of Conqueror belongs to the One who subdued Death; the One Who’s presence in the loss and heartache of that tiny room made it Sacred; the One who promises Life in all it’s fullness here, now, and into whatever eternity looks like beyond us.

On Labour Day, 2011, a life passed in front of me, like a crisp Autumn day.  The sacredness was not missed.

Photo Credit:
Christopher Herwig, http://www.flickr.com/photos/herwigphoto/188034728/

Posted in express, Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Does Anyone Around Here Speak “Empathy”?

I’ll bet you never knew I was a professional translator.  Most of my daily life is spent encountering, analyzing, and translating the behaviour of those around me.  I do this in both my personal and professional realms.  You do this too.

Take this example, from my vocational role as a Program Assistant in Gr. 1:

  • Entire class is sitting at the carpet for storytime; one young boy is spinning circles over by the dinosaur books
  • Chris: “Young man, please sit down and listen to the story.”
  • Young boy: “I am listening.  The baby bird thinks the Snort is his mother, because he’s confused.”
  • Translation: The boy finds it difficult to sit still (perhaps because of some fetal disorder, or upbringing, or sensory requirements, or any of a hundred different reasons).  His best chance for attending to the story is to have his overactive mind spin his little body in circles, giving his mind enough room to focus on the confused baby bird (“Are You My Mother”, anyone?).  My job is to decipher his needs based on his behaviour.  Verily I say unto thee, it was Mr. Lantz who was misguided, not the baby bird.

Or here is an example from my Ministerial vocation, Pastor of Clyde Christian Bible Church; [Please note, any semblance to persons or events in real life are purely coincidental.  Mostly.]

  • Chris is giving a sermon about how Christians get so hung up on rules and regulations and neglect their calling to live lives fully sacrificed to Christ.  Chris preaches this sermon barefoot, as per usual.
  • Chris: “It doesn’t matter what you wear before your God, because God couldn’t care less about fashion.  He is concerned with the cleanliness of your heart, not the cleanliness of your khakis.”
  • Church Member (during coffee time): “Chris, you need to be more respectful during Church services.  When I was growing up, you never wore sandals, never mind bare feet in Church.”
  • Translation: Irony is completely lost on this individual, but there is a point here.  A generation ago, people worshipped God through propriety; my generation prefers openness and (buzzword alert) authenticity.  Neither is wrong, and both are valuable when the heart is geared towards worship.  This parishoner’s behaviour is best understood when seen through a lens of generational differences.

But understanding behaviour contrary to what is usual for the individual is not limited to my job or ministry.  Marriage is a lifelong exercise in trying to understand your partner.  For example:

  • Chris, stumbling into the bedroom at 12:45 at night, knocks several items off the bedside table, making a noticeable crash.
  • Chris: “Oops, sorry babe… were you sleeping?”
  • Angie: “You’re an idiot.  Be quiet.”
  • Translation: While it is true that idiocy levels increase exponentially beyond midnight, what Angie is attempting to communicate is that I was insensitive towards her sleeping needs.  [It should be noted: I get ‘talked to’ far less than I rightly deserve.  She is a pillar of patience and grace.  Hopefully I’m allowed to sleep in that bed, and not the couch, after she reads this.]

Thus, I attempt to translate my wife’s behaviour.  And bless her soul, she has committed to the lifelong adventure of attempting to decode my own actions and intentions; in my case it usually comes down to, “Chris, you’re an idiot.  Be (insert one of the following: quiet/patient/caring/respectful, etc.)”.

But the primary relationships where the cartoon above makes the most sense is with my daughters.  This is true of Zoey, who is prone to tantrums of Godzilla-like proportions, but is also true of sweet little Tegan, who has learned to employ every one-year-old’s favourite means of getting what they desire: The Shriek.  Ask any parent about The Shriek.  It is embedded in our genetic code.  If the toy piggy happens to roll just out of reach behind the treadmill, eardrums must burst.  The Shriek is equal parts impressive and implosive; your brain literally (LITERALLY) begins to cave in on itself in a fruitless effort to find sanctuary.

And yet The Shriek bears an important function; it is primal communication.  All behaviour, whether desired or undesired, is a form of communication; an expression of a felt need.  Spinning circles in class; debating the theological minutae of Church ritual; berating your imbecile husband; audibly indicating to the entire neighbourhood that you are out of cheerios; all of these things are attempts to express what is of value to the individual.  And it is my job, our job, as parents, spouses, co-workers, friends, neighbours, citizens, and Followers of Christ to attempt to understand what exactly is being primally communicated.  And then learn from it… specifically, learn how to love more wholly (and more Holy).

This is a virtue that goes by the name of Empathy.  NOT tolerance, which is the worst name for a virtue ever, as no one ever strives to be tolerated.  As a Father, my goal is not to tolerate Zoey & Tegan.  As a Program Assistant working with behaviour students, it is not my job to tolerate their ourbursts or tolerate their little hurting hearts/minds.  As a Follower of Christ, it is not a divine calling to tolerate the sick, the hurting, the corrupt, the other worldviews, the other lifestyles.  NOBODY WANTS TO BE TOLERATED.  We want to be heard, to be valued, to be appreciated.  And to hear someone, and to value someone, to appreciate someone, in all their goodness and all their brokenness, is to Empathize with someone.  And, as I’m learning in my vocation, my ministry, my marriage, and my parenting, Empathy is the first step in moving towards that ultimate goal: God-Honoring, Selfless Love.

Empathy is difficult.  It involves seeing a world perhaps in a way you do not see it.  I do not need to spin in circles to be able to listen to a story (usually).  I do not necessarily understand this need, but I value the child who has that need, so I step out of the classroom norms to allow that child to learn as best they can.  I do not value (and do not believe God values) the concept of “Sunday best”, but I understand the desire for excellence and propriety in the presence of a Holy God that motivates those who do this.  It is worship, and I will celebrate that, though I do not see it that way.  I do not enjoy being called an idiot, but sometimes (uh, yeah… sometimes…) I am completely self-absorbed, to the disservice of my wife.  Seeing the situation from her perspective allows me to do better next time.  And I prefer to retain the use of my ears, but if my daughter has a need, I would want her to tell us what that might be.  And hopefully she learns to do it in a way that doesn’t interfere with aircraft radar.

These are all low-grade acts of empathy.  But, joined with Truth, Grace, Justice and Love, empathy is the only way I can take the plank out of my own eye to compassionately and carefully deal with the specks in the eyes of those around me.  It is the only way I can get past the judgment and the bigotry and the self-righteousness that clings to me like body odour.  And it is the only way I can devote myself with any degree of selflessness to the people in my life.  By understanding (not condoning) and listening to (not finger-wagging at) and valuing (not labeling) those who are hurt or broken; and then (and ONLY then) attempting to correct backwards behaviour; by entering into their world in even a simple way; we are beginning to love them.

I know this, because I’ve been taught since I was little that this is exactly what Jesus did for us.  The Divine Empathizing- the Incarnation.  Adulterers, rioters, the horribly diseased… all were treated by Jesus in this manner; hear them, affirm their sacred worth, then command a change.

The thousand foot mutant in the comic needs to be heard.  Maybe if they stopped launching helicopters at his head, and instead found an ultra-industrial dose of pepto bismol, there would be a lot fewer rampaging monstrosities in their world.  And… (look into the camera, smile gently) in our world as well.

 

Comic Source: “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC)”, by Zach Weiner
http://www.smbc-comics.com/?db=comics&id=42#comic

Posted in Angie, behaviour, Church, express, friends, Kingdom of God, Life, Parenting Misadventures, society, Tegan, Uncategorized, Zoey | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Zoey: An Early Diagnosis?

“Daughter, you wear my name/Those are my eyes, keep them raised”
-Jakob Dylan, “War is Kind”

If you’ve ever wandered past the Lantz household in South Central Clyde between the hours of 7:00 am and 8:00 pm, there is a strong likelihood that you’d have heard the following: shouting, screaming, begging, shrieking, slamming, pleading, bargaining, yelling, hollering, and, if you listened closely, the sighing sound of wanting to give up.  This is primarily due to the fact that our oldest daughter, Zoey, can be exceedingly difficult at times.  And by “at times”, I mean at any given moment during the day.  Her behaviour wavers from brick wall to barracuda to banshee, all the while performing Cirque du Soleil-style feats of acrobatic tantrums.  Every parent will tell you that their child behaves this way; every parent can tell you horror stories that will have you running to the nearest vasectomy.  But Zoey is different than most.  She is more consistent, more intense, and more difficult in her behaviour than a typically developing two-or-three year old.  And this is coming from a person who works full time with students coded by the medical/educational system for extreme behavioural delays.  Spend an afternoon with Zoey, or ask anyone who has, and they will tell you the same thing: something is up with our little girl.

To be honest, it has been difficult on us as parents.  Is it something we’re doing?  Angie and I are a parenting team, unified and energized in our desire to raise our daughters well.  But are we somehow contributing to her harsh behaviour?  Is it something we’re doing wrong?  It’s enough to draw consistent tears from Ang, and the stress may very well explain my ever more noticeable hair loss.

More than our own parental consternation, however, is the pain of seeing our daughter hurting in a world of constant fights and frustrations.  She is socially unpredictable, which strains even her most caring relationships.  She is easily triggered, forcing an ugly barrier to play and learning.  And ongoing stress can have long-term physical drawbacks to her appetite, digestion, and cardiovascular system, among other bodily ailments.  We want help for her; we want to know what is causing this, and what we can do to help her journey out of it.

Angie is already doing some fantastic groundwork to get help.  She attends parent classes, socializes Zoey, and seeks out pertinent literature, not to mention the fact that she has dedicated herself as a fulltime Mom-about-home, making her available to our daughters all day long.  Moreover, Zoey is already registered for C-PREP, a local preschool readiness program for students with developmental needs.  This is a program I happen to believe in strongly, for several reasons; Angie used to work in C-PREP, we see the blessing it has been for our lovable nephew, and our good friend (and excellent role model) Trish is the cornerstone leader of the program.  We are excited for the social growth it will offer Zoey, and it will avail her to specialists who can give her (and us) professional help.  But still the questions linger, and the extreme behaviour only gains strength.  Which led Angie to book an appointment with a local doctor specializing in children’s behaviour.  We are very glad we went.

After spending time with us, and seeing Zoey at her most stubborn and reactive, the doctor was able to make a couple of early diagnoses:

  1. It is likely NOT a part of the autism spectrum.  Autistic children typically live life in worlds of their own creation, and find it difficult to connect.  Zoey has obvious attachment to Angie and I, and as the Doctor observed, she actively manipulates situations to her desires, a trait not characteristic to autism.
  2. It is LIKELY (I emphasize this because of her age, the limited time our specialist spent with her, and an understanding of the fluid-like nature of medical diagnoses) a form of moderate-to-severe Anxiety Disorders, making it difficult for her to cope with change and disappointment.  This seems to fit with a great deal of her negative behaviour.  Our specialist said several times that she has obvious indicators for severe issues with anxiety.
  3. There is also LIKELY a degree of Obsessive Compulsiveness, as well as several expressions of Sensory Issues (Zoey reacts strongly to loud noises, among other things).  Much of her behaviour can be traced back to forms of these disorders (is that the right word? Disorders?).

How do Angie and I feel about these (VERY) early indicators?  Frankly, a sense of relief.  No, we are not out of the woods yet, nor have we found an excuse to hang her misbehaviour on.  We did not book appointments so that we can sit back and say, “See!  She’s messed up!  Now let’s excuse ourselves from parenting, since we can let her do whatever she wants!”  Far from it, obviously.

Rather, there is relief in the fact that we know what we can focus on to get her help.  These are behaviours that, with consistent practice, divine patience, and full-hearted compassion, we can navigate together with her, and maybe even outrightly overcome.  With specialized help, Zoey will be bombarded with care… and I think that’s a good thing.

She is still very much a child, our beautiful little girl, and we want to free her up to be the happiest, safest, friendliest and imaginative-est little girl she is capable of being.

And honestly, from a selfish point of view, there is validation that we are combatting something bigger than ourselves.  It is valuable to hear confirmation like this; it refocuses and encourages you.  Hearing this news was like hearing God say to us, “you can do this.  I will strengthen you.  Keep it up.”  And we intend to.

Hammin' it up, early morning style. Note: she somehow managed to avoid inheriting Daddy's snaggletooth.

Zoey is so much more than a collection of behaviours.  Although we will have no problem whatsoever with saying “our daughter has _________ or __________”, because we know this will allow us to help her in the long run, we refuse to see her solely through the lens of whatever delays or disorders she may bear.  These are not labels.  She is not an Obsessive Compulsant, or a Collection of Anxieties.  She is Zoey, a name derived from the ancient Greek word for “life”, which was what Jesus promised to those who sought Him.  We are learning more and more that “Life” is a fitting name for Zoey: not only is she full of abundant Life, but she continually reveals to me the beautiful and difficult nature of my own Life.  I have learned how my Father sees me (His child, who misbehaves far more than any three-year-old) in the way that I see my own cherished Zoey.

Life is more than the sum total of our setbacks, delays and disorders.  Zoey likely has these things, but that doesn’t mean she is these things.  How do I know this?  Because if you ever wander past the Lantz household in South Central Clyde between the hours of 7:00 am and 8:00 pm, there is a strong likelihood that you’ll also hear the following: laughing, playing, running, dancing, giggling, leaping, exploring, reading, counting, tickling, pranking, tea-partying, telling stories, asking questions, and, above all, if you listen carefully, the satisfied sigh of Life and Love personified.

Life and Love (and Athabasca Falls)

Posted in Angie, anxiety, behaviour, C-PREP, contentment, explore, Life, Parenting Misadventures, Uncategorized, Zoey | 8 Comments