Divine Distortion: Part 1

THIS IS A TWO PART POST: Had too much that I wanted to say.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

~ 1 Corinthians 13:12

Amy and I just got back from an event filled weekend spent with her family in “Modest-ah” California, the hometown of George Lucas and Jeremy Renner. I have to admit that I do find it pretty amazing that two such talented people came from Modesto considering that there are more tractors and cows than there are people ; ) Although I definitely lived near some rural parts growing up, the flat farmlands, the twainy accents, and the Middle American past times are all a bit foreign to me. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just foreign to me. Now don’t get me wrong, even though I’m a total “city slicker”, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest so I’m no stranger to the outdoors and rural towns, I just prefer to have evergreens, mountains, and REI’s close by (or in other words, not meadows, dirt hills, and Bass Shops). Even in spite of being out of my comfort zone, I always find getting up to Modesto a great way to unplug the electronics, rest, and spend quality time with family. Leading up to the weekend though, I was having a hard time feeling excited about going, because I had just spent two weeks feeling sick and lying flat on my back (for the most part), but it ended up being one of the best times Amy and I have had up there. We celebrated a wedding of one of Amy’s cousins as a well as a birth of a beautiful baby boy by another one of Amy’s cousins. I’ll be the first to admit that It hasn’t been the easiest time for Amy and I to be joyful for others this past year (especially things like weddings and babies, two events that represent promise for a joyous future), but what this weekend taught us is the importance of the practice (or discipline) of what I like to call “Divine Distortion”.

My favorite Distortion Pedal from when I played guitar (back in the day)

Distortion doesn’t usually have a positive association. No matter the context, the word always means “twisting awry”, whether it’s the act of distorting a image, the truth, or a sound. For me though, when it comes to music, “distortion” has a much more positive association. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest during the 90’s created an opportunity to witness a phenomenon that was once in a lifetime. I’m, of course, talking about the birth of “grunge” music and even more so the rise of “alternative” rock. Guitar distortion is the token sound of these genres. Listening to bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, and Alice in Chains opened my eyes to a whole slew of music, artists, and ideas that I otherwise wouldn’t have ever known. As a result, music has played a crucial role in my life. It has challenged and expanded my mind, it has gotten me through hardships, it has connected me deeply with others as well as with the divine creator himself. There’s nothing like a crunchy guitar and a screechy voice though to get me pumped about life. The irony of which being that a lot of this music dealt with “dark subject matter” and sometimes used “vulgar” language (uh oh). Ask someone who didn’t grow up around it or with it and I guarantee that they’ll say that they hate it (and I apologize if you feel like this applies to you…I do have a point, so just keep reading…btw even my own wife isn’t a huge fan of a lot of the stuff I loved growing up…she doesn’t like the screaming and screeching even though she grew up during the same era).

I believe that these bands were misunderstood as much as they were adored. Nirvana especially is an example of this. Now let me be clear about something, Cobain killing himself was in no way even close to being an admirable act; but just to give you a couple quick anecdotes about what I’m getting at. My brother Josh was a huge Nirvana fan and the day Cobain committed suicide, Josh’s girlfriend at the time freaked out because she couldn’t get a hold of him (keep in mind that this was well before the ubiquity of cell phones and the internet). She thought because Josh was such a fan, that he may have taken his own life because he was so grief stricken over the loss. If you knew my brother, even during his long haired days, you would think that that was the most absurd and convoluted thing you’ve ever heard. He happened to be listening to Nirvana with some buddies, certainly mourning the loss, but nothing crazier than that. This girl definitely had a “distorted” view of my brother because of his passion for music. During that same time actually, Josh, rocking the long (ginger) hair and wearing the token Grunge outfit (flannel, ripped jeans, etc) went to church one day and found himself being strip searched and cavity checked by Secret Service. It turns out that then president Bill Clinton happened to be in attendance that day, but again these agents (although probably taking the right precautions) had a “distorted” view of my brother simply by the way he was dressed (which was a very common style during those days…especially in Seattle).

I think it goes without saying that we live in a world that definitely distorts (the bad kind of “distortion”) a lot of things. Whether it’s facts and figures by our politicians and leaders, beauty and priorities by marketing and advertising, or even the plain ol’ news as it’s delivered by the media; this can all make it pretty hard to discern things these days. What’s right? What’s wrong? What’s off? What’s on? Who’s Cheech? Who’s Chong? etc. This is especially difficult for those of us with Cancer. There are so many ideas out there on how to “cure” it and keep it at bay. “We” all ask each other how should “we” discern and decide these things?

I would suggest that the first step be to change the “we” to “I” (or to “you”…point being to go from the plural to the singular). As I’ve said in previous posts “I” am the hero of “my” story or “you” are the hero of “your” story so if you are getting caught up in the “we” or “our” then “you” or “I” are already starting the “distortion” process. Instead of saying what should “we” do, say what should “I” do. The point I’m making here is that it’s important to think about the way you (or I) “frame” things or in other words the “point of view” you create for your (or my) story. “We”, even though it may not be your intention, creates a mindset of deference, while “you” or “I” creates a mindset of self respect. Again in the context of Cancer, the disease is like a snowflake, every form of it is unique and no one form is the same (just like you or me…none of us are identical), it only belongs to the person who has it. My Cancer is very different than your Cancer, so what may work for you may not work for me. Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t consult with others when it comes to discerning things. What I’m saying is that when it comes to the truth I think it’s very important to “frame” things in a singular manner. Let me also just say that I do not believe that truth is relative, there are too many fixed laws in nature to think otherwise, but I do believe that the ways in which one receives truth is definitely relative and unique to each individual.

Anyway, back to Nirvana; someone could certainly say to me (and many did when I was growing up), “You shouldn’t listen to that stuff. It’s dark, depressing, and if you’re not careful it could get you in trouble.” First of all, I think we can all agree that it’s super fun to get lectured (obviously kidding), but secondly, I completely disagree with the fact that their music was dark and depressing, in fact I would say that a lot of their music was actually quite funny and satirical, even more so I think a lot of their appeal was in the fact that their music came from a deeply personal and authentic place, but I can understand that it may be hard to see that through all the “distorted” guitar and singing/screaming.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s never helpful to react in a visceral manner especially when feeling challenged or attacked by someone (although I’m not always perfect at it, I thank God everyday for that perspective, as I’m a pretty passionate and emotional guy). In the situation of this person questioning my taste in music, I would hope that I could take a step back and try to discern what they are trying to say to me. My first step would be to ask myself what does this person mean by “Get in trouble”? I can assume within the context that they mean that I could potentially go down a self destructive path as opposed to staying on a more straight and narrow one by allowing myself to be exposed to such “dark” and “depressing” stuff (even though I would really like to say, “Back off! It’s MY path and thank God for free will, Amen?”) but after dissecting their question even further, I can discern that it’s coming from a place of concern on their part. By accepting that as their intention, I hopefully can then gently explain my reason for choosing to “consume” this particular “product” that concerns them. To me, my explanation would be pretty simple, I would say that Nirvana was there for me in hard times in ways that others couldn’t (like for instance when my dad died). In fact, it was groups like Nirvana and other “controversial” bands and artists like Radiohead, Tupac Shakur, Rage Against the Machine, and Sex Pistols as well as “controversial” filmmakers like (gasp) Tarantino, Kubrick, Scorsese; “controversial” writers like Stephen King, Bukowski, Kerouac and others that met me where I was at and were there for me in the ways I needed at the time. I think this is mostly because they were creating their art from an honest and authentic place. They were willing to go to that dark place for me so I didn’t have to actually experience the depths of my own despair, I could experience it through their art. I could feel how deep and dark the cavernous holes are that I could potentially fall into if I didn’t stay vigilant, simply because these artists were fearless and honest enough to go there themselves. I can proudly say that in spite of what I exposed myself to growing up, I have thus far avoided a self destructive path and am proud of the man that I’ve become (let me add, that if you’re someone that has had to endure any of that in your own life then you are a saint to me).


Much Love,


MRI on Wednesday June 13, 7:30 AM