Thursday, June 29, 2006

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Has anyone ever heard this before? This is one of my favorite ideas. Its basically this; when a bunch of little things that are relatively insignificant on their own get put together they become something amazing as a whole. There are examples of this everywhere. Communities, machines, the internet, music, successful companies, good marriages, and even the church (as the "bride of christ" or the "body"). If you divide any of these things into their individual parts, the functioning capacity is lost. A community only works because each member does something unique to contribute to the well being of the others in the community and by functioning is inevitably contributing to the vision of that community.
Think about melody and harmony. Either one can isolated and experienced on its own but it is hearing them in conjunction that brings them to life. This notion of "harmony" seems to be at the heart of all complex systems. The interesting thing here is that buried within the scope of creating these complex systems is an ability to choose. Certain harmonies are "incorrect" according to the laws of a particular system's theory but there are also many creative variations of "correct" harmonies that allow for choice and "taste." Think about politics (right versus left and conservative versus liberal), economic (capitalism versus communism or socialism), music (the person that loves rock and rap but hates country and classical), relationships (I have feelings for two different people but which one of them is right for me), parenting (I want to protect my children from the evil in the world versus I want to expose them to the evil in the world and teach them how/why to avoid it). This list could go on forever and we all have our personal experiences that shape our opinion of what is "correct" or "incorrect." Our understanding of truth is truth to each of us personally but its crazy how something completely contrary might be "true" to someone else. Are there absolutes in everything? I would venture to say it is more complicated than that. Even within nature there is this seemingly contradictory evidence. Quantum mechanics is one of the most mind blowing fields of study for anyone who thinks nature is absolute and ordered! As each new generation of scientists approach the problems left by the older generation they have to build upon those older notions and begin again where the trail stops. One of the most intriguing things for me right now is to stop and take a macroscopic look into how systems evolve over time. How do new advances in understanding contribute to the direction of reality (remember that only 500 years ago we still believed that the earth was the center of the universe)? In all areas? Where are we going? Why? Who is in control? These questions are hard to answer but they are answerable. The crazy thing is that you and I are all a part of the reason we are headed to our destination. We are at this very moment "ants in the ant farm" "levers in the machine" "melodies or rhythms in the symphony" "binary code in the program" "voters in the election" etc. What is our life about? What are we leaving as a legacy? What are we building with our day to day existence? Is who I am contributing to what I want the world to be?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Its 6 AM and my day is ending. I just wanted to say how much it meant to read your words tonight. I had a very long day today filled with many highs and lows and it was your encouragement and support at the end of it all that reminds me that tomorrow is a new day. I firmly believe that God will never give us more than we can handle, but I think He definitely takes us to edge sometimes. The edge is where you are forced to grow. Forced to make a choice. Forced to face your opportunity to tear out of what holds you back from living freely. Its always your choice. Its evident in the very design of nature. In seeds. In cocoons. In life itself continuing to emerge generation after generation. It is the essence of salvation through death and resurrection. Why is life only truly obtainable through death? (Matthew 10:39)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

So I was going through my comments and getting ready to reply to Tallie (who was in fact the first commenter... thank you Tallie) and I started writing. It just kept going and going but it kind of accidentally tied together a lot of things I have been thinking about recently so I figured it would be insightful to those of you who come to read what I have to say. So here is the comment and answer for you all.

Tallie said, “Hey, it's pretty cool that you started a blog that all of us could read. I noticed that you listed Blue Like Jazz as one of your favorite books, which just so happens to be one of my favorites. A lot of the stuff that Donald Miller talks about in that book is very eye-opening and inspirational. Especially the part about the confessional. Some of my youth pastors actually did that in my senior year of high school (but it didn't really have the same impact because it was kind of too little too late, if you know what I mean.) The Mind of God sounds like a great book, I'll probably read it. Lost is one of my favorite movies as well. Well, I better stop before this becomes way too long, I just wanted to be your first comment on your new blog.”

Hi Tallie, I love Donald Miller's writing too. He has a transparency in his story telling that allows you to learn from his mistakes. That vulnerability is hard to find because nobody wants to look like an idiot even though we are all idiots sometimes. Vulnerability is one thing I have found to be missing in a lot of my experiences with Christian schools and youth groups and churches. It is even more absent from the Christian music industry and I have thought a lot about why that would be the case. I believe that a lot of it comes down to something pretty simple. If your job (ie. the place you earn money to feed your family) is to minister to people and you make mistakes (or "sin") then it makes you look like a hypocrite and takes the power out your position. If you are supposed to be the example of holiness to people, that doesn't leave you a lot of room for error. At the same time, I think we can all agree that nobody is perfect! So here it is, how do imperfect people represent a God that is perfect?

I am reading a book right now called “The Secret Message of Jesus” by Brian McLaren and one thing that really stood out to me was his observation of the power of weakness. Check out this quote from chapter 8, “What if the only way for the kingdom of God to come in its true form-as a kingdom “not of this world”- is through weakness and vulnerability, sacrifice and love? What if it can conquer only by first by being conquered? What if being conquered is absolutely necessary to expose the brutal violence and dark oppression of these principalities and powers, these human ideologies and counterkingdoms-so they, having been exposed, can be seen for what they really are and freely rejected, making room for the new and better kingdom? What if the kingdom of God must in these ways fail in order to succeed? What if our only hope lies in this impossible paradox: the only way the kingdom of God can be strong in a truly liberating way is through a scandalous, noncoercive kind of weakness; the only way it can be powerful is through astonishing vulnerability; the only way it can live is by dying; the only way it can succeed is by failing?

This vulnerability is clearly woven into the message of Christianity but somehow not into the practice. Personally, my greatest spiritual breakthroughs have come through exposure. Confession in a sense. Not to a priest but directly to God. In that fragile moment of vulnerability where I look into the face of God and say that I messed up. When no one else knows. That is the most powerful thing I have ever felt. If you believe in God, then you probably don’t have a problem believing that God knows you aren’t perfect. But for some strange reason I try to hide my own imperfections from God and others and even myself. But those moments of truth cut me open in a way that is good.

I don’t like it when people (myself included) complain about problems without offering some kind of solution. The world is clearly full of problems and they are easy to point out. So here is my feeble stab at some kind of beginning of an answer. Actually, its more like a question. All answers have to begin with questions. For example...496 (if you can tell me why this is the answer then I will take you out to dinner when we play your home town)

How do you mix a lively hood that is based upon upholding standards of righteousness with imperfect people? I think it is a system that is destined to fail. What if the “church” was never supposed to be a powerful institution in the earthly sense? What if the message of this belief was in fact designed to be lived (the way that Jesus lived it with his disciples) instead of preached? What if the reason Jesus used parables (metaphorical stories) to communicate the meaning of the Kingdom of God was because in order to really understand it you had to experience it through life? Through relationships? Though hope and wonder and love and loss and tragedy and violence and peace and suffering? Through getting into the trenches and LIVING? Its no mystery to me that God uses the word Father (something that can only truly be understood through the human experience) to describe his love for us. I haven’t even personally experienced fatherhood but I can only imagine what it means and feels like to hold that tiny life in your hands that was created out of true intimacy with the woman you love and to know in that moment the meaning of unconditional love. Isn’t it funny that Jesus, the person the Christian faith is based IN AND ON, earned a living as a carpenter before changing the world? How ironic is it that people in positions of spiritual guidance have been removed from the most common life experience we all share; a job?

Now please hear me out. This is obviously an oversimplification and there are probably several counter arguments racing through your mind right now, but before you type them out... think about it. Was church (or ministry in general) ever designed to be a business? Or was Christianity established by the founder himself as lifestyle of relationship and pursuit of KNOWING God with other people IN the daily grind of life?

So, my apologies to all of my comment posters. I kept wondering why people were commenting on Zach's and Rob's but nobody was commenting mine. Well, it was because all of your wonderful comments were just hanging out waiting for my approval... sorry. My self-esteem has been restored and I look forward to plunging into this with you. By the way, my 15 year old sister, Alison, is returning tonight from a two week camp where apparently she met this 16 year old dude who has two college degrees in math and physics and read "Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" at the age of twelve. My self-esteem has once again plummeted.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hi, sorry its been a couple of days. This writing session is going so well and I can't wait for you all to hear this new music. I believe we are going to be playing one of the new songs on this next tour so you will a little taste of what's to come.
On a personal note, I randomly got a season pass to an amusement park here in Virginia called Busch Gardens. A couple of days ago I was on my way home from the studio and everyone I wanted to hang out with was either busy or not interested in making the drive out to the park. So being the ever determined roller coaster enthusiast, I decided to make the 45 minute drive by myself (yes... sad I know) to ride a couple of rides and unwind. It was a beautiful evening and even though there was only an hour left before closing, I figured it would be just enough time to get my thrill on and head to my favorite sushi spot (Sushi and Spice in the CNU village)(if you ever want to run into me, I probably eat there 5 times a week). I approach the park entrance at 7:50 and as I get my pass scanned for entry I notice a lot of people leaving.
"This is great!" I think to myself. "Less lines."
Then a shock wave of horror washes over me and I turn to the lady who has just ushered me through the gate,
"What time does the park close?" I say.
"8." she says.
"Suck." I say.
I ran off to the nearest roller coaster to catch at least one ride in the final ten minutes. I chose a huge coaster called Appolo's Chariot and got into line right before they closed the entrance down. (On a side note, some of you may recall several years back this particular ride made the national news in a tragicly hilarious story. Busch Garden's was unveiling Apollo's Chariot and they had the misguided notion that it would be cool to have Fabio... yes THE Fabio show up dressed as Apollo himself in a classic Greek toga and be the first person to ride. As it turns out, in front of all the cameras there to capture this monumentally unimportant event, the ride makes its first descent and a giant bird hits Fabio right in the face. So golden Apollo returns back to the station a bloody mess and is extremely pissed. See attached photo. It was probably the best coincidence the Busch publicists could have hoped for though because it became the running joke on every late show.) This is one of those rides that it pays to wait for the front car. Obviously the line is longer but depending on the tempurature outside the wait is worth it. Since I was one of the last ones into the line and this was clearly the only ride I was going to get on, I decided to wait it out. The time past pretty quickly and as the line dwindeled down I noticed that only four people were in front of me. By this time all of the other lines had emptied out and it was just the five of us in line for the front car. As you can probably imagine the front car only seats four people. As their train entered the station and they climed on board, the guy who was opperating the ride spoke over the megaphone thing and actually laughed out loud. As I stood alone in the line, he said that in all of his years of working there this was the first time he had ever seen one person in line for the last ride of the day. I laughed with him at the ridiculous image I must have been, all scraggly with my crazy unkept beard and hair alone in line for a roller coaster. But then I climed into my front seat and rode alone in silence as the sun set over the park. It was amazing.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hello to anyone who might happen upon this. My name is Jacob Marshall and most of you probably know me from my work in the band Mae. It has been an honor to have so many people interested in what we are creating and for those of you who have expressed interest in why we do what do, hopefully you will find some answers here.
First, let me say that what you read here are my personal thoughts are not intended to represent the thoughts or oppinions of the other members of Mae. While we share many of the same beliefs, passions and perspectives, we also disagree on certain things. I believe that this occasional disagreement is a very healthy bi-product of the collaborative process and I encourage you to check out their blogs for a more detailed look into their personal thoughts.
Second, I have found that interaction with people whose opinions are different than mine has only helped me in a positive way. If you agree or disagree with anything I say, I welcome interaction with you and invite you to be a part of the process of pursuing some answers me. To find the "good" answers you have to ask the "good" questions. I look forward to finding better questions through my interactions with you.
Third, the ridiculous title for this blog comes from an amazing book called "Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas R. Hofstadter. The term contracrostipunctus means "a study in the layers of meaning." I have found that the most rewarding insights have come from noticing a deeper meaning carefully woven into form of something. Whether it is music or art or literature or science or history or faith, the things that mean the most to me come alive with a certain fire when I go from knowing to understanding. In the same way that I could recite the alphabet well before I understood the way that those letters were a means to organize and communicate ideas, feelings and truths, there are many facts that I have known about without really understanding why it was important. I love the question "why" and my life is dedicated to asking it in every arena I find myself.
Finally, I will probably say some things that are relatively controversial in these posts. I don't intend to be offensive and I would appreciate if feedback was mutually respectful. My goal in all of this is to explore life with you and address some things we might take for granted and see if we can somehow make it better.
So here is a list of books music and movies that I have enjoyed (maybe not agreed with completely but definitely been inspired by) and this will serve as a jumping off point to let you know a little bit about me.

1. "The Mind of God" by Paul Davies (most influential book I have read recently)
2. "The Secret Message of Jesus" by Brian McLaren
3. "A Generous Orthodoxy" by Brian McLaren
4. ""Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas R. Hofstadter
5. "Philosophy in a New Key" by Susanne K. Langer
6. "Telling the Truth: the Gospel and Comedy, Tragedy and Fairytale" by Frederick Buechner
7. "Blue Like Jazz " by Donald Miller
8. "Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit" by Daniel Quinn.
9. "Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life" by Leonard Mlodinow

1. Good Will Hunting (my favorite movie)
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Garden State
4. The Devil's Advocate
5. The Power of One
6. The Matrix Trilogy (especially the "philosophy and science of the matrix" which is in the box set)

TV (I only watch tv on dvd so I am always behind...)
1. The Sopranos
2. Entourage
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm
4. Lost

Music: (overarching inspiration)
1. Beatles
2. U2
3. Police
4. Sigur Ros
5. The Dissociatives
6. Kanye West
7. Kenna
8. Days Away
9. Elliott Smith
10. Fire Theft
11. Frou Frou
12. Lovedrug
13. Mew
14. Nine Inch Nails
15. Radiohead
16. Rage Against the Machine
17. Travis
18. Incubus

Website that rules: (click the watch program link and enjoy)