Pressure to perform vs. thankfulness, OR “check your privilege” vs. “count your blessings”

I scribbled the following down after reading the intro to Alan Jacob’s excellent newer biography of C.S. Lewis, The Narnian.

That Lewis wrote many of his books – much of his best work, amongst constant interruption and surrounded by family challenges, is of great interest to me. On the one hand, it means that “I have no excuse” for not producing and exercising creativity when I am (seemingly) surrounded by them. But from that analysis comes just more pressure to perform and despair upon reflection. But is there another angle to this story? Yes – one of gifts, one of grace. Despite all these things, Lewis was gifted a great many things by God, even in the midst of endless trial and tedium. From one view, he was a brilliant self-made man. From the other side, someone who, whatever his talents, had all of his best things pretty much just handed to him.

I have often felt the latter about my own successes. The year I received a raise that nearly doubled my income as a young man, I did not feel like I deserved it or had striven toward it, but rather that it had fallen in my lap. My wife has stuck with me though I don’t deserve her affection. I feel that I have been given very excellent and interesting children, through no doing of my own. I think I have substantial wealth and freedom in my current career and home, but where did it come from? Because I kick so much ass? Nothing of the sort. Whatever ass is being kicked, the boots are not my own, though I sometimes mime the swinging of my feet.

Upon reading this, someone may spit out a curse followed by a comment about how I should perhaps be “checking my privilege”. But that’s in fact, in a sense, exactly what this is. I think the flip side of the coin engraved with “check your privilege” reads “count your blessings”.

The moment when music production is demystified

As a teen in the mid-nineties, I spent several years imagining myself to be a recording musician. The centerpiece of my activities was a massive Turtle Beach sampler/synthesizer full-size add-on card in my PC with a whopping 32 megs of expansion memory. I met a group of folks online in a seedy IRC chat room with similar ambitions and who traded pirated sound bank CDs in the mail since everyone’s dial-up internet was much too slow at the time. One of the discs I was able to collect and experiment with was a popular collection of drum loops called Liquid Grooves.

About this same time is when I first began listening to Celtic music. Maire Brennan had just released a new solo album, which I quickly ordered on (long before it was bought out by Amazon). Listening through it, something sounded familiar. Yes indeed – several of the tracks were built on samples from Liquid Grooves. It was one of those key memorable demystifying experiences when you see how the sausage is made behind the scenes of some piece of art. “Hmmm, maybe producing music is not quite as mysterious as I thought.” I said to myself. Forget all this talk about genius and inspiration. If you can break it down into small enough pieces, it doesn’t seem so daunting or impossible. It’s just hard work to do well. If it made sense for an internationally respected singer to use a stock drum loop instead of write and craft an original percussion part and hire a drummer (or drummers) to play it, well who was I to argue? It sounded good.

Jesus the communicator considering his audience

Both of the following passages were gospel readings in the lectionary this past month. In both of them I noticed a curious element – God’s immediate awareness of who was listening to him and his on-the-fly adjustment of his speech to better communicate to them.

Mark 8:31-33
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

John 12:27-36
But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

In the first passage from Mark 8, Peter takes Jesus aside and chastises him. Perhaps Jesus is about to reply to him in a more gentle or private way, but when he looks around and sees the disciples right there listening in, he switches tactics and rebukes Peter openly with the now famous “Get behind me Satan!”. It’s remarkable when Jesus talks like this as its not the usual mode we see in the gospels. But here he decides to make more of a spectacle and we are told why. It was the context of who was listening in. I think we can conclude that if Jesus had been sufficiently alone with Peter, his reply would have been different. Context matters.

In John 12, we find one of only three times instances where God speaks directly and audibly from heaven. Afterwards though, Jesus lets the people know, “Oh, by the way, that voice wasn’t for ME. I didn’t need to be reminded or assured or anything. It was for YOU all standing around listening. So pay attention!” Apparently, Jesus felt the need to clarify things for the people listening, lest they jump to a wrong conclusion (e.g. “angels are speaking to him or something”). It depended on who the audience was.

Jesus’s words are now dry ink on the page and the canon of scripture is etched in stone. Does God then still adapt his words to each of us today? I think so. The Holy Spirit does this when we meditate on his word. He brings certain things to the forefront. He guides us to skip over parts that may distract or confuse us at the moment. We probably don’t even realize when this is happening. I believe this kind of selective awareness when we read the bible does not originate entirely within our own psychology, but is actively directed by a third party – the third person of the Trinity. If Jesus were physically here with us in the same room in a conversation with us, he would do the same thing – adjust his words to best fit the listener and the situation.

Robot Coffee in Tokyo

My oldest son and I were in Japan last week and got to have coffee served to us by a robot. I’ve posted the video below. Now the technology itself is nothing impressive and robots with similar abilities have been around since the early 1990s. BUT, it was still fun to interact with one in the wild!