Monday, March 01, 2010

The Beauty of Boredom

I'm not so sure that God is concerned with being entertained.

                    -Rich Mullins

Jack Neely, one of my favorite hometown writers, hit nearer to the head of the nail than I've heard in a long time. He questioned the eatery surplus that befalls Knoxville, wondering if it was not time for another form of mid-afternoon entertainment. If you pick up the local daily paper or turn on the news, you'll certainly feel the dam-burst of theft, rape, and murder. It washes over you from the front page to the obits, until you become voyeuristic in order not to feel everyone else's pain. But turn the leaves of the local alt-weekly (once independent, now incorporated), and you find another sort of medication. It seems a bit more hopeful, more grounded in possibility than in pessimism. So what is your alternative? Well....uhm, food. And music. And pictures, and then food. Then music. Lather, rinse, and repeat. As one who is a songwriter, photographer, and to my friends and family, a chef, I have more red flags arising in my mind when someone tells me that I did a good job than when my work is ignored. True, it is partly because I am too inwardly focused, crafting golden calves out of my own self-examination, but I'm also concerned. More than for those close to me, I am concerned for my city.

It's disconcerting that Jesus grouped people together by towns. Woe to Korazin! Woe to Bethsaida! And he goes back for more in Revelation, picking apart the churches across Asia Minor for their overall failures, desiring not for each man to learn the languages of love, but for them to sing together, desiring that they should raise a chorus. Along the concrete veins of Knoxville in autumn, if you chance upon a quiet second between passing semis, you might catch the strains of a cacophony pouring out of some maple where the flocking birds have paused on their south-bound road. Each spring, they split their ranks and mingle with strangers from next door, all singing different tunes. But in the dying seasons, they find their kind and pour out a single overwhelming concerto. So, if we are of a kind, what is our symphony?

Music is a way of life for me, as are words and all the arts thereof. To say otherwise for any man is to wish him unto misery. In a society that is crafted of words, in a creation that was sung into existence, we can't forego these fabrics. But when did they become ends unto themselves, as they are in my town? I suppose it is true everywhere, otherwise all our media oddities - i.e., YouTube, reality TV, Entertainment magazine and its ilk - wouldn't have the scrapings of a market. Otherwise, art for art's sake has to find another reason. I don't know if it's a Western bent, but I suspect that it feels just as good to be entertained in every other corner of the globe. What might we be trying to avoid?

Again, I love music. My wife will recount for you the silly mess I become when I see a Renoir up close. And, being American, I love food. But the art of all these things isn't meant to distract us. It is meant to focus us. You don't have to be entertained. Like man is made from dust, there is a wealth beneath every mundane moment, a possibility in every awkward pause.


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