Rebirth of the Cool

In 1957, Miles Davis released an album entitled Birth of the Cool. I’ve always been a fan of jazz and Miles Davis. It wasn’t always just the music, as good and soulful as it is. But when you were around jazz it was like you felt this sort of sophistication, a touch of class. You’d always see Miles in those pictures with his sweatshirt or blazer, big cheeks blowing the heck out of that trumpet. You’d think it was cool.

But is that all there is to being cool?

As I thought about it, I realized I could not quite wrap my head around it. This concept called “cool.” What does it mean? What’s the formula? Who determines this thing? Shrug. The only thing I knew was that being cool had some significance and meaning to society. As Donald Miller wrote in Blue Like Jazz, if you knew how to make something cool you’d be able sell it to anybody and make it big.

I used to think cool was somewhat like that Rebel Without a Cause bad boy who rides his motorcycle in his leather jacket, hair tossed back and eyes hidden behind aviators as he cruises against the wind. He runs into trouble with the law, smokes Marlboros till his lungs burn out, and knows all the ladies by touch. Is that what cool is? A call to remake ourselves into a new sort of James Dean?

For a long time I thought it was. But as I’m getting older, I’m starting to see the futility in that sort of thinking. What clothes I wear, what car I drive, what music I listen to, what house I live in–nobody will care about any of that 50 years from now. But how will they remember me?

It seems as life progresses, it gradually becomes more classical music and less like jazz. Don’t get me wrong. It still has its moments, with its funky improvisations and what have you. But with age comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes bills, debt, mortgages, husbands, wives, kids and calendars. All that requires good orchestration, balanced measures and rhythms. It becomes less cruising down PCH and more “I need to trade in my bike for the big red minivan.”

That idea used to scare me. Until I saw the beauty in this sort of cool, which involves sacrifice, commitment and love for others. Cool started to look like that man who is working 50 hour week shifts, slaving to ensure hot meals for his family of four and a solid roof over their heads. Cool is the single mother with low income who spends her free time–whatever left of it–helping her son with his science fair project. Cool is the young single who devotes his Saturday nights to serving at the homeless shelter when all his other buddies are out having a drink.

Isn’t that the stuff good stories are made of?

The great thing about jazz is that it is all about freedom, going where the music is taking you in that moment. It plays whatever is on the heart, however raw and unwarranted.

You might lose some of that in classical. Maybe sometimes you feel restrained. Strings are going off when you want brass. The cello isn’t getting its solo. And there’s never enough cowbell…

But I dare you to look beyond. Seek the beauty in harmony, orchestration, direction. Wait for the crescendos.

Jazz will always have its solos, but you are gaining a symphony.

In the Zone

Have you ever lost yourself in a moment? A place or time or person in which that was your sole and driving focus? You didn’t think about how you smelled or looked or sounded, and you were just absorbed into that song or scene or play?

I have. It is a great feeling. Some people call it being in the zone.

I was talking to my good friend Josh about this (residuals from our previous conversation). He shared with me a quote from Vin Diesel (of all people), something which his character said in The Fast and the Furious. “I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Nothing else matters […] For those 10 seconds or less—I’m free.” He feels unrestrained and lost in the moment when he’s on the road. That’s kind of how I feel sometimes when I’m playing basketball. Or writing some inspired poetry or prose. Or when I’m engrossed in a great film.

Then it made sense to me how that applies to the idea of worship.

When you are truly worshiping, in that divine moment, you lose any hint of self and shed yourself from any worldly distraction–you become free. You wrap your mind and heart around something greater. In the ocean-like depths and grandeur of a gigantic God, your entire being just becomes so consumed with the Spirit that nothing else matters. Not your job. Not your health. Not your bills. It’s only God then. It’s only God…and it’s sublime.

It’s funny (in a twisted sort of way) how the gifts we were given by God to enjoy and worship Him end up being measuring sticks for ourselves. Our talents and passions by which we can give of ourselves to God somehow get bent to reflect our worth and value onto others. They become twisted by our pride and greed for glory. And it is never enough.

But when you stand before a huge canyon or stand atop lofty mountain splendor, you don’t think about yourself. You literally feel really small, and you are lost in the vast surrounding of God’s creation. It is at this point that you have decreased, so that the telescope of your heart is able to magnify the grandness of God.

Ironically, it’s moments like these when I feel the “biggest”–the most joyful and satisfied.

So whether you eat or drink or climb a mountain–whatever it is–lose yourself in it. Once you have lost yourself, you gain freedom. Once you have freedom, you are drawing closer to the heart of worship.

We Speak Diplomacy

Last week I saw some spoken word performances on TV that were pretty inspiring. I think it can be a powerful form of poetry with the right content and delivery.

Last night I went to bed with some thoughts in my head, and they came in some nebulous form of spoken word. So I took to my pen and pad. Here is my published form of spoken word (it’s still better spoken for delivery). It’s about war and freedom.

*****

We speak diplomacy in the land of the free
but thoughts are costly, look what they bought me
a space between these lonely walls, cell block four,
caged victim of these mental bars.
They tell me bend don't break, but broken is the state
of my soul that states I'm in no place to negotiate
when hate is what they perpetrate, the weapon that fuels
men and women equally skewed to retaliate.
We all tryin' to talk but ain't none listenin',
so we exchange blows for ideas, I'm guessin'
the war's goin' on but it's not found in the foreign
but in the altars of our hearts and that's where we're losin'.
Extend your hands, brother, but why you close 'em?
Fists clenched speak of battle, that's the cry of children
screamin' "get, get, get!" so we fell another,
blood for diamonds or for oil, and so we toil
as with the curse that came with the first murder.
Drop your weapon, unclench your fist,
first know that my hands extend not to take but give.
Open are my palms, like alms for a beggar who knows
he is but dust and ashes, and the ground from which he has risen
is the ground to which he shall return, but dust and ashes.
I speak diplomacy in the land of the free
where Martin built a movement that moved as did Luther,
ninety-five theses but the main one is this,
where love and freedom ring,
the people shall taste truth with a kiss.