The Statues Can’t Speak

It’s becoming clear we’re in the throes of a national crisis. And the conversation surrounding race and racism has completely nullified all other conversations. It’s not in the spotlight – it is the spotlight. It’s the sociological filter of every piece of communication, new and old. Perhaps there is still a presidential race going on, but we’ve forgotten. We’re facing a collective reckoning, or at least participating in some part of one.

In the course of the past week, I may have been exposed to the Corona virus – so as I await test results, I’m doing a lot of thinking (and scrolling on my phone). The internet never ends. It’s not like reading a book. And we’re searching for answers, trying to put forward summations that don’t exist. The “truth” about what’s going on, the “right position” doesn’t really exist. This is way too complex.

At the forefront of the conversation is the debate about what to do with old white people. What to do with the dead, white founders of southern universities; what to do with statues of the Confederate war heroes; and even what to do with Flannery O’ Connor. Pieces of granite who have been fondly celebrated for decades find themselves smashed, painted over, or draped in flags burned in effigy. Some call it cancel culture. If a historical figure or piece of art can be shown to be racist, it gets “cancelled,” thrown out.

Generally, I’m on board with removing Confederate statues.Why commemorate those who valiantly fought for such an evil way of life? Through I get the sense that isn’t all they were fighting for. The rather obvious problem is “when to stop.” If society of America past and its citizens operated from an openly racist framework, it’s only plausible to rip up every piece of granite older than 100 years. And then you could root out the CEOs (just happened to Crossfit), and down the chain.

It is a logical progression so long as the question of racism dominates all other concerns. Our charge against men and women of old is their sin of racism; they judged themselves to be superior and used their power to hold down other people. They played God an took dignity as if it was their’s to take – they judged life and pronounced the fate of people groups. They said If you are not white, you are not human, or are less human, etc. They took the seat of the judge, made themselves God.

The irony is of course readily apparent. Contemporary society has chosen one variable, racism, and judged our ancestors by their failure or success on this test. Lives, even history itself, have been subjected to our judgement. We have become God, drawing lines through anything that fails the test. Virtue has been stripped down to one criterion, “Was this person a racist?” And if they were, they get axed. We have become gods ourselves, little despots in their image.

It only leaves me to wonder what criteria our children and grandchildren will judge us by. When I’ve been laying in my grave a few decades, or heck, made into a statue, why will I be hit with graffiti? Perhaps for my treatment of the poor – I ignored beggars and contributed to systems which kept them destitute. Or my treatment of women: I had a wife whom I forced to prepare my food (or maybe I “got married” at all). I drank coffee harvested by underpaid laborers. More likely, it’s something I can’t recognize because it’s such a part of my sinfulness.

Our country is in the throes of reckoning. Perhaps it’s one we need. Our white ancestors deified themselves, played God, failed horribly to love one another, and created systems which held their neighbors to a low status. And while we raise the gavel and give them the blows they deserve, I find myself glancing over my shoulder.

If and when our descendants come for us, we’ll be just as helpless as these statues – standing there still as stone, unable to ask for the forgiveness they need.

And I wonder what they’d say if they could.


curses of our fathers

Every time a murder happens which is touted as racially motivated, many of us re-enter the conversation about racial relations in America. Maybe it’s a conversation we should have more often – hopefully it doesn’t take killings to get us to the table.


History.com says slaves were brought from Africa to America for use around 1619. And then the enslavement, buying, and selling of black people was abolished by a law set forth around 1865. White people stole Africans from their homeland and bought and sold them as property back in America. Effectively, they took a people with dignity and brought them into a new society where they were made non-human. White America removed the humanness from African people openly for about 200 years.

It’s been about another 200 years since black people have been reclassified as people, not property. Abstractly, you might say we’ve now spent more time classifying African-Americans as people than we have as property used to make money. White Americans have played God – taken life and tried to give it back, stripped dignity and tried to restore it, trampled a people and tried to raise them up. But dignity is not mankind’s to give and take away. And if you spend 5 minutes insulting someone, removing their dignity, turning them into an object to be used for your gain, it’s going to take more than 5 minutes to make peace with what you did go, to make the consequences go away. For 200 years whites classified blacks as inhuman property. And then another 200 years having decided they’re actually human after all.

The reconciliation, rebuilding, the restoring of personhood does not happen fast. And probably it’s not white people’s to give back anyway. But how long will it take?No one knows. But we must acknowledge these kinds of things are not flipped on and off like light switches, or by strokes of pens on bills of Congress. And pleas to get over it or stop pretending like racism still exists after all this time are not a good way forward. What is a good way forward? Perhaps not assuming our opinions are obvious conclusions – stopping to listen, to read other perspectives, and to look at our own actions. How have I acted a reconciler? What am I doing to reverse the curses of my fathers?

Impeachment Questions

I used to think of really smart people as walking encyclopedias. But I’ve come to believe that’s entirely wrong. Really brilliant people are more like very powerful calculators. They have the capacity to consider a question and produce a good answer. Instead of a huge collection of facts stored and waiting to be regurgitated, these people have minds which have been trained how to think, how to reckon with conundrums, how to articulate insightful conclusions to difficult matters. And this is a much nicer way of framing the situation; after all, who likes to memorize stuff?

It raises the question, what of those like me who don’t know very much about how to think. What of us who’s calculating ability is still rather small? If wisdom was rote memory, we’d just have to set out memorizing. Wisdom isn’t that easy. It stands to reason that, on the whole, the answers put froth by those who haven’t developed their ability to think will be mostly useless to anyone else.

And this is why we ought to be grateful for the impeachment, for new movies, for controversy, for the events transpiring daily. They provide us with new things to think about, new problems to be reckoned with, new space to articulate answers. The point of our answering is not that we’ll get it right – let’s be honest, who among us really knows anything about the impeachment? Have any of us formally studied constitutional law, been privy to the crucial conversations, read the academic literature? Almost certainly not. The point is that we enter in the conversational space and become something more for having been there. And if that’s the goal, to become more through communication, then I’d wager it’s not a waste of time (entirely) to be in the comment threads.

If the goal is to persuade the other to see the truth you are adamant you’ve attained, it’s probably a waste of time. When you come to the table looking to educate the other and “win him over,” treating him as an “it” instead of a “thou,” it’s doubtful you’ve become anything more for having been there.

Personally, the end of the impeachment hearings begs a reflection. What was gained or lost over the course of the hearings? And forget what it means for the country, forget what I think actually happened on a national scale. I can pretend to know, but I don’t. But I can observe what happened up close. My friends view me differently now than they did two weeks ago, what’s changed? Was I graceful? Winsome? Arrogant? Helpful? Honest? Humble? Have I become more through my interaction with current events? How have I treated the other? How did I react in victory? Defeat? Perhaps these sorts of questions are more worthwhile than some others I tend to dwell on.

Did I make the most of the impeachment hearings? Did my presence in the conversation glorify God? Was I neighborly across the channels? The proceedings are over, but the words I’ve written and spoken have shaped a new reality, for me and for others. Am I proud of my contributions to this newly constructed place, albeit a strange place: where presidents stand trial, it’s seventy degrees in February, where I’ve spoken more to that raging idiot on Facebook than some of my own family, where people like you read stuff like this, and where the young can speak freely. What a wonderful world.


“Since the will extends further than the intellect, I do not contain the will within the same boundaries; rather, I extend it to things I do not understand. Because the will is indifferent in regards to such matters, it easily turns away from the true and the good; and in this way I am deceived and I sin.”

– Rene Descartes (Meditations of First Philosophy, 58)

lead me from the wire

*image by Lisa Kew

In Communication Ethics, our final paper required us to evaluate a communication act within the church – I chose the mentoring relationship. I’m think this is the most time and energy I’ve ever put into a writing project.

As I spent countless hours researching and writing it, I would love for you to read the paper and tell me your thoughts (I’ve included the PDF). However, I would also like to offer some of these thoughts in shorter form.


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I think entering into communication with another is something like stepping out on a tight rope, a high wire.

In our communication, we offer ourselves in some way. And when you offer yourself, there is the potential to miss and be missed.(I hesitate to say “miscommunication” because I don’t really know what it means).

When I have a conversation with my best friend, I am can easily offer myself wholly, or at least mostly. I might make a fool of myself, but the stakes aren’t very high. You might say the wire isn’t very high off of the ground. If things go south, I can step off and tight rope and go on my way, not much the worse for wear.

But what about when there’s farther to fall? What about when I’m asked to speak in front of the whole class, or the whole church, or the whole city? The rope seems to have gotten higher – there is suddenly much farther to fall. And herein, I believe, lies the choice. Do I walk on out, or do I compromise the routine for my own safety? Do I use the balance bar to help me walk, or lower it to the ground for a walking stick to prop me up?

It seems to me the best communicators (speakers, mentors, pastors…) are those willing to keep walking out on the wire without looking down. They are faithful regardless of how high the tightrope gets and how far there is to fall. And fall they will. No one nails it every time. Why else would pop stars lip-sync?

Part of being a great communicator is to stop caring about what the audience thinks. You must love the audience while totally disregarding their opinion. If a speaker’s primary concern is a positive response from the listener, it is certain he will change his message to get the response he wants. He’ll say what he knows will get the amens, the applause, the adulation. And he has not loved his audience, he has loved what they can give him at the expense of the truth.

I have seen people who did not come to be patted on the back, applauded, or congratulated. They came to serve and to love, unwilling to distort their words to gain favor. It is a difficult thing to accept, that the worth of our work is not dependent on the yield. That is not the capitalist model. We are taught, from the time we are old enough to grasp a dollar bill, that if what we’re doing is producing good results, then it must be worthwhile. And it isn’t so.

Jesus told parables that confused both the crowds and the disciples (not by accident). “On hearing [the teaching], many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ . . . From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6) Jesus allowed people a choice, he did not manipulate or coerce them. He could have made a lot more converts by telling the stories more clearly, or just giving clear advice. But the point was to communicate the words given to him, to obey his father, not to get applause or trophies.

In the context of mentoring, or really leading in general, I think those who are mentoring or teaching must be willing to really make themselves vulnerable if they are to love those whom they are serving. It is not enough that they are older, or more popular, or have more experience. To be in relationship with people is to encounter them with your whole being, not a part of yourself. It is to realize that none of us are yet fully formed, completed.

It takes humility and courage to encounter each other truly, with our whole selves, to walk on the wire – but it’s what we need from each other.


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The full paper can be read here: Manifesting the City of God in Mentoring Relationships


you are not enough

The crucible ended on Wednesday, or maybe on Thursday when the professors had to have our grades finalized. And finals week was mercifully over.Over the course of finals, I kept thinking about a billboard I drive past sometimes. It says something like, “the task ahead of you is never greater than the strength within you.” And I’ve never been sure what to make of it. I tend to think it’s all wrong.

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I’ve never been to boot camp, but I don’t think that’s the thought process going on. And I’ve never done a triathlon, but I don’t think the billboard works there either. And I have never played in the fourth quarter of an NBA finals game . . .

In all of these contexts, one must rise to the occasion. And if you come out alive, victorious, you leave with more than you started with – you have encountered something, overcome, and become more. You are pushed to the very edge of your ability, and then a little bit farther. Reached your limit, and then surpassed it. The strength within you may not be sufficient, but in the crucible, you might be stretched into more than you were. In the struggle, we can become.

I believe that’s the point of finals week, and really all of those other things too. If it wasn’t, why would we cram all those exams into two days? If it was just about getting information, we could just read some books over winter break. Perhaps we are given things which we are indeed not enough to face. And here, despite the promises of the billboard, we can grow. Perhaps this is the space for the Spirit to make us into that which we would become.

The Internet Shapes Mindset

How does the internet change the way you think and process things?

In the following six paragraph paper, I argue that as the context of our personal life changes, our behavior and goals will change as well. I also reflect on the why Instagram and posting on this blog are not altogether healthy.

*I send my posts via email. If you would like to join that list, please let me know.


The Internet Reshapes Context and Mindset

            We contextualize our lives more broadly than ever before. We have always seen ourselves as part of a communal mesh. In the past, this community consisted of those living in close proximity. The people with whom we had the most interaction were those living closest to us. In the twenty-first century, a large portion of our interaction is with those geographically far removed from us, perhaps people we have never met face to face. As internet users, the context in which we view our lives has broadened significantly. Our horizontal story line still only spans about a century, but its breadth has widened exponentially. Our potential for inhabited contextual space dwarfs that of our ancestors.

According to digitalinformationworld.com, internet users spend about two and a half hours per day on social media. If we are deeply immersed in social media, it follows that we will view ourselves within that landscape, as a character in that context. Abraham Maslow quipped, “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” And if you hold an Instagram account, the whole world is a picture to be taken, edited, and captioned. The real power of social media is perhaps not the consumption of our time but the alteration of our mindset. It hones our focus on image and aesthetic, and it rewards us for achieving its goals. Rather, we reward each other with nods of approval, likes and upvotes.

I have found the internet affects the manner in which I write. Since I was about fourteen, I’ve written for pleasure. Yet I’ve noticed, especially lately, that I don’t write as freely as I used to. I compose with the awareness that if I like what I’ve written, I might save it to post on my blog. I find that the potential for an audience actually changes the way I write as well as the things I write about. Regarding the advent of the printing press, Elizabeth Eisenstein writes, “The increased recourse to silent publication undoubtedly altered the character of some spoken words. Exchanges between members of parliament, for example, were probably affected by the parliamentary debates.” The knowledge that our words have permanence, that they will not disappear after an echo, changes the way we speak and how we think about speech altogether.

While the internet broadens the scope of our acquaintances, it makes us less likely to speak with family and neighbors. Yesterday, the NCAA announced their decision to approve the compensation of college athletes for their name, image, and likeness. When I got this news, I wrote a post asking my social media community what they thought about it, as well as stating my own dismay concerning the decision. If not for the internet, I might have gone down to the living room and asked my dad what he thought about it – or called a friend to have a conversation with him about it. The internet increases the number of prospective contributors to our conversations but also moves the space of conversation to a place we cannot physically enter.

“Honor the world by observing it truly and writing about it with humility” writes Walter Wangerin (Beate not the Poore Desk). When we roam about, phone in hand, waiting for something to capture and caption, post and be complimented for, we are not observing the world truly. And when we sit down to compose with the hope of getting quantifiable affirmation, clicks and web traffic, we are not writing with humility. The internet puts within our grasp the power of Solomon who took for himself a thousand concubines. How many could he love faithfully?

The internet has made artists and writers and speakers and preachers of us all. But to whom has it made us neighborly? It tempts us to process our experiences through the eyes of another. It rewards us for caricaturing ourselves for approval. Neil Postman describes the Athenian idea of leisure saying, “a civilized person would naturally spend his time thinking and learning” (The Disappearance of Childhood). In American culture it seems the ones considered most civilized are those with the largest inhabited space. The internet has moved us from desiring power inside our own minds to presence in the minds of others.


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the reason i write

I’ve written 85 WordPress blog posts over the course of about three years. And I’m finally starting to understand the point of it.

In class, we’ve been discussing different approaches to communication as laid out by a guy named John Peters, a longtime professor at the University of Iowa. He describes communication as happening from one of two frameworks: dialogue or dissemination.

Dialogue is what Socrates did. It’s very back and forth, but it demands a return. If I speak, I want to make sure that you get it. I want to make sure there’s a return for my investment in the conversation. Ideally, at the end, you’ll believe the same way that I believe. It’s like the parable of the workers in the vineyard who wanted everyone to be payed only for the amount they’d done. Successful communication happens when you respond favorably to what I tell you.

Dissemination is what Jesus did (especially when teaching the crowds). It’s not back and forth, and it doesn’t demand anything from the audience. When I speak, I am speaking as truthfully as I know how, but it’s not important that you get it. I am not trying to manipulate you into believing the same way I do. I don’t depend on your approval or your applause. I care deeply about you as a person, but not so much about what you think of my speech. I speak not because I have an answer to give you, but because I seek an answer. Successful communication happens when I speak in pursuit of the truth.

When I stared writing on WordPress, I did so mainly as a place to put pictures. Images are safe, people don’t look down at you for pictures (as much). And then I started moving toward more word based posts. And words are not as safe. Words are charged with opinions, beliefs, eloquence (or not so much), and style. It was intimidating. I was always asking myself, “Why are you writing? You don’t really have much to say..”

Lately, my perspective has shifted concerning why I write. And for that matter why I host a podcast or just speak to people in general. It is NOT first and foremost because I have something to say, not because I have knowledge that you need to have, not because you need to believe like I do. I write to articulate my own journey toward the truth. I write as an act of seeking, speak as an act of searching. My communication is my path towards truth.

And I think this is why it’s valuable to read blog posts, to listen to people tell you their story, to have breakfast face to face. It gives us a chance to flesh out our own stories, to articulate our steps forward. I first started to realize this when I began meeting with my mentor. We would have breakfast every other Thursday in the same restaurant booth. And he really never gave me that much advice – but he listened so well. He gave me a space to lay out my situation before another person and make the best sense of it I could. I always walked away feeling so refreshed.

Earlier tonight, I talked for about an hour with an old friend in a dark parking lot. And a few minutes ago I read a rather un-insightful blog post. I think that both were potentially worthwhile acts of communication. From the context of dissemination, communication is done as a pursuit of truth. And if people are blessed along the way, then it’s an even greater thing. The professor teaching the class I referenced says that he’s taught this material many many times, and the year he teaches it without learning anything will be the year he finds something else to do with his life. He teaches as an articulation of his own pursuit of truth.

We ought to listen to each other. And, 86 blog posts later, I thank you for affording me that kindness.

The Lord’s Day

After church, someone in the circle brought up the age-old question, “So what are we allowed to do on Sunday anyway?”


Being a student requires me to read and to listen to lectures for many hours each week. What follows are not my own ideas – but a condensed version of reading from Peter Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” and today’s lecture on creation by Dr. Wanner.

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Work and Rest

To understand rest, we must understand work. God works for six days, creating a flawless (yet imperfect and incomplete) world. On day seven God is enthroned over all he has made, and he hands the work of creation completion over to us. With the charge of authority and creativity, we are told to keep creating and bringing order to the world – and in this God delights. Today, there ought be no distinction between “my job” and “God’s work.” Regardless of our occupation or position, Christians must approach their daily tasks as work to bring the world closer to completion. It is our purpose. The rest of the world does not participate in this sacred work, striving only towards their own gain. And from this good work we are also called to rest.

Scazzero writes about two ways in which God invites us to rest, the Daily Office and Sabbath keeping. These two practices are “an entirely new way of being in the world…[they are] ropes that lead us back to God in the blizzards of life.”

The Daily Office

The Daily Office might be different from your devotions in that it doesn’t fill you up for the day, so much as ground your being; it centers your focus on God. It is a time during the day set aside for the Lord, a time to be with him. There are monks who stop seven times a day to practice the Daily Office:

Vigils: 3:45 a.m. (middle of the night)

Lauds: 6 a.m. (predawn)

Prime: 6:25 a.m. (“first” hour)

Sext: 12:15 p.m. (“sixth” hour)

None: 2:00 p.m. (“ninth” hour)

Vespers: 5:40 p.m. (“evening”)

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Scazzero encourages that we set our own time and length (anywhere from two minutes to forty-five minutes). “The great power in setting apart small units of time infuses a sacredness into the rest of my daily activities. The Daily Office, practiced consistently, actually eliminates any division of the sacred and the secular in our lives.”

This elimination of sacred and secular is something I long for. I want to grow into a frame of mind where every moment is holy, and I no longer see the work of God as separate from my daily tasks. This is what the Daily Office helps us do. “At each Office I give up control and trust God to run this world without me.”

Sabbath

To observe the Sabbath is not to rest our bodies in hope we will accomplish more in the long run. Sabbath is choosing to stop being productive, a rest where we lay down our work and trust our Father to provide what we need.

So what are we allowed to do on Sunday? Scazzero says, “Whatever delights and replenishes you.” Sabbath is about trusting God enough to stop being productive and taking time to delight. “Sabbath delight invites us to healthy play. ” After all, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

It’s also important to note that not everyone’s day of rest can be on the same day of the week. So we don’t have to feel guilty about forcing others to work. That is between them and God. Paul says, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.” (Romans 14:5-6).

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I love how Scazzero compares Sabbath to a snow day. In the south, we get about one snow day every year. Everything stops – school is cancelled – work is cancelled – the plans you had are cancelled. And what do you do? You do whatever you want. You go out for a late breakfast with friends. You make a muddy snowman. You lay on the ground like a child and make angles. God offers us a snow day every week, even if July, if we’re up for it. It’s up to us to lean into to the concept, and it’s hard because the rest of the world never stops.

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A snow day is a free day. There aren’t lists of things you cannot do. So I say, imitate your heavenly father. He moved from six days of work to enthronement and rest. Likewise, take a day to enthrone yourself on the ole armchair and put down the good work you’ve been doing. The snow soon melts, and Monday always comes around.


Donald Trump and Country Music

I like to think that I have logical, well developed reasons for liking and not liking the things around me. Yet when I really examined why I prefer what I do, the answer was not what I expected –  it was a little disappointing to be honest.

Donald Trump and country music have always held a special place in my heart alongside black olives, paper cuts, and other things I don’t like very much. But until recently I’d only assumed I really knew the reasons why.

Country Music

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Music is a an important part of my life. I love to listen to music with my brother Luke who has a great sense for good songs. We enjoy the same kind of stuff. Genre is hard to describe, but it’s something like light, alternative rock. The other day we were listening to “High as a Kite” – Weezer by Weezer, and he said that song, that sound, was the best summation of the music he liked. Mine might be “Up & Up” – Coldplay. Whatever the case, it’s a far cry from the pop-country played on the radio.

Country music actually affects my mood – I just really don’t like it. And I thought that it was the content, namely the lyrics. I thought that the reason I found it distasteful was because the songs were written poorly, or about things I thought were stupid. Being a person who tries to write songs here and there, I pay a lot of attention to words. And for a long time I thought that was the reason I hated country music: it’s bad writing.

But when listening through a playlist I recently made, I realized that I didn’t know what any of the songs were about – I didn’t even recognize the lyrics. When I sit at coffee shops to do homework, there’s almost always music playing. If a song catches my attention, I’ll let my phone listen to it, then screenshot the title and comeback to it later. This was how I made the playlist, and it became obvious that I didn’t screenshot these songs because they were good lyrically…you can never hear words well in coffee shops. So it wasn’t the words at all.

I concluded that I dislike country music (and like other music) largely because of the vibe. All the songs on that playlist were songs I liked because of how they were sang, and how they were played. The vocalists are generally not aggressive, or overbearing, or arrogant. The song sounds like something I can trust. They fit my vibe: mellow, thoughtful, poetic. In country songs, I don’t hear those things that I like. So in the end, it was more my tastes than anything that told me what was good and right in terms of music. I still believe the music I listen to is far superior and more worthwhile than country, but perhaps the reason I think so is different, less arrogant even.

Mr. Donald Trump

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I also like politics. When I went to Tri-County Tech, I was part of a club that mostly just met in a classroom to talk about current events. While there, I took a philosophy class in which we read “The Republic,” a book written by Plato about two thousand years ago. In it, Socrates describes his ideal leader, the philosopher king. This ruler is one without falsehood, who refuses to accept what is false and has a love for the truth. He isn’t money-loving or a boaster. He is graceful, high-minded, a friend and relative of truth, justice, courage, and moderation. (485-486). It makes me happy inside thinking of this kind of leader.

In my mind, Mr. Donald Trump is a country song. He too puts me in a bad mood. I fell in love with Socrates’ idea of the philosopher king, and this is clearly not Mr. MAGA. His speeches, his Twitter, his campaign jargon about “making (and now keeping) America great” almost make me nauseous. He is not intellectual – he is not mellow – he is not personable or well spoken. I think we could have picked a better face for our nation.

But when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I don’t actually know very much about Mr. Trump’s ideology or policy. I’ve heard his talking points (build the wall – make America great – get better trade deals), but I have very little idea what most of it means. I don’t know what it actually means to have him as our president, what he actually wants to do, or what he is actually about. Perhaps then it’s not so much his content, his policy. Just as with the country music, I am deeply opposed to his vibe. I don’t like how he says things. But from another mouth…who knows?

Conclusion

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The bad taste that Trump puts in my mouth is not simply because I have studied his policy and found it wanting. It’s because I’ve heard him speak, read his words, and found them extremely distasteful. That’s not how I would speak at all. And I don’t like country music on my radio. That’s not how I would sing at all. But I’d wager that my decisions to like and not like things are about as reasonable as those who do prefer country music and Donald Trump.

It’s not to say that there are no right answers when it comes to music and politics, only that it’s all too easy to claim the moral high ground without really considering what has led you there. As the Dude would say, “It’s just, like, my opinion, man.” And sometimes I forget that.

What Is “Old Town Road” About Anyway?

I recently became fascinated with “Old Town Road,” which has topped charts and become a sensation. I’d heard it played several times before I looked up the lyrics and was somewhat shocked. But the longer I thought about it, the more curious I became. And I came up with three ideas of what this song might be about.

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A Good Ole Cowboy Song

The obvious, first listen interpretation is that it’s just about a cowboy hauling horses around in a trailer. He’s trying to get to “the old town road,” and he’s ready to ride him some horses. It’s got Billy Ray Cyrus; it mentions horses, a porch, wrangler jeans, hats, boots, bull riding, and a tractor. This is just a trap artist trying to work in as many feel-good, pop-country vibes as he possibly can.

A Really Shady Song

Secondly, I thought that this song could be really shady, everything meaning something else. This guy has got him some “horses” that he can’t wait to “ride” until he “can’t no more.” He’s got “lean” in his bladder (a drink that involves mixing prescription cough syrup, codeine, and promethazine). He states, proudly, that he’s cheated on his woman. His life is about “bull riding and boobies.” So this cowboy is pretty…less than noble.

A Protest Song

Lastly, I thought that maybe this song was written as a jab at hip, redneck culture – that it was taking a shot at pop-culture “cowboys.” I listened to a Broken Record podcast episode where Malcomb Gladwell interviewed David Byrne about protest songs. Byrne notes that sometimes these protest songs are big pop hits that no one understands. “They’re made in such a way that they blend in with other music…if you didn’t listen to the words, you might think it was a love song or a big pop hit…and then you listen to the lyric, and you realize Oh, this was about something else.

You don’t even know how badly I wanted this third one, the satire idea, to be true. That this song could have been a mockery of pop-cowboys, only to become the anthem of pop-cowboys, would have been wonderfully ironic. The vocals sound like a mockery of the southern drawl. He boasts about his black boots, matching hat (from Gucci), and a pair of Wranglers on his booty. He’s “riding on a tractor,” his “life is a movie” (about bull riding and boobies). He even croons, Can’t nobody tell me nothing, can’t tell me nothing.(that’s a triple negative).

I thought, maybe he’s just writing a song to make fun of rednecks who can’t be reasoned with cause they just want to ride their horses and wear their garb. No one could actually write a song this stupid and be taken seriously. And now it’s become an anthem of the ones it’s making fun of. How fun!

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And it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. Gladwell’s podcast talks about a song by the punk band Black Flag called “TV Party.” According to Wikipedia, it was “a satire of boredom, drinking, and America’s obsession with television.” The song was supposed to be making fun of people who just wanted to sit around and watch TV all day. It said things like, “I wouldn’t be without my TV for a day, or even a minute, I don’t even bother to use my brain anymore, there’s nothing left in it. What actually happened was that crowds loved it – it was an anthem. They just wanted to scream about having TV parties.

After several days of wondering about the true nature of “Old Town Road,” I looked it up. And I found a video of Lil Nas X himself explaining the song. I was really disappointed. He said,

“It’s about getting to a better place than where you’re at and saying ‘forget you’ to everyone who doesn’t want to see you there…The horse is a symbol of not having much. Cause when the car came in, the horse is like obsolete. The old town road is like a path of success.”

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He was serious the whole time. My hopes about this song being clever were dashed against the rocks of how incredibly pathetic our collective tastes can be. This song is actually about a cowboy who just wants to make money and cheat on his woman and wear Gucci. It turns out Lil Nas X bought the beat for thirty bucks from a guy in Europe, and he got the music from a Nine Inch Nails song (34 Ghosts IV). Essentially, he wrote a pretty ridiculous poem, paired it with some stuff other people made, posted it on Twitter, and became a sensation. This world is a strange place. Good luck with your newfound fame, Lil Nas X. But I had really hoped for more.