Saturday, July 27, 2013

On Bon Iver, Ecclesiastes and Rob Johnston, Part 1

So...let's start with my initial inspiration for this post. Watch this:

If you happen to follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook (which I kind of assume is how you found my blog) then you know about my love/hate of Bon Iver. I guess it is actually more of a love/jealousy thing when you get down to it. Their music just blows me away. I don't understand how they are creating this sound. So beautiful. So melancholy. Somehow still makes me happy.

Bon Iver is the latest in a line of bands/musicians that captures this thing that I have called melancholy joy. I think we all have those songs, bands, movies or books that we know are expressly sad, but still somehow bring us joy and even hope. For some it is that cathartic movie that you watched alone at home every Friday night after that break-up. For some it is that album that expressed your grief after you lost someone special. Though they are sad, they still somehow bring immense comfort and joy.

Some examples for me are the movies On a Clear Day and Lars and the Real Girl, and musicians Chris Thile and Joe Purdy. In a sense these are my textbook examples. It's easy to understand when listening to a song like The Beekeeper or I Love the Rain Most what I am trying to communicate. Both of these songs demonstrate a pang of loss in the midst of hope...or reverse that. Either way. let's scroll back to Fall quarter 2006. I got wait-listed for Theology and Film with Dr. Rob Johnston. I was excited, because somehow I got in. I got the syllabus and was taken aback a little bit. It had to be a typo. There was no way that we were going to read Ecclesiastes every week...twice. Yeah, we had to read that depressing book twice a week. I just didn't get it.

But Rob communicated something in that first class that has stuck with me ever since. And it is one of the starting places for this post: Ecclesiastes is one of the most relevant books for today's society. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we live Ecclesiastes...and that is not as depressing as it sounds. So, here's the deal. This, in my mind is the first part of a two post series about two juxtaposed thoughts on our identity as humans that seem irreconcilable, but are both nonetheless true. More simply? Here are two thoughts that can't seem true at the same time, but somehow are.

Before this gets too's a bear playing a trumpet!
Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them? - Ecclesiastes 3:19-22
All go to the same place. All come from the dust. All return to the dust. This is human existence. We all live. We all die. Everything we work toward is then entrusted to others. In other words, as we all know from Ecclesiastes, and is quoted above: everything is meaningless. And we can and should somehow be okay with that.

So, above I posted a Bon Iver video. The reason being was this line: "And at once I knew, I was not magnificent." That lyric has been sticking with me for quite a while. There is something expressly profound about proclaiming the normalcy of our human life. We are not that special. We are not all that talented, all that unique. We are human, just like those around us, just like those that came before us, just like those that will come after us. We just aren't all that different.

Before I came into contact with Bon Iver this same idea was communicated through a Fleet Foxes' song called Helplessness Blues. Here is a little video of that song. I can't really vouch for the video quality, but you can at least hear the song:

The first line is, in my opinion, quintessential melancholy joy:
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
The realization that everything special about you is somehow just not true is tough to stomach...but at least the Fleet Foxes communicated it beautifully. It somehow makes it more palatable. There is in this humble lyric of resignation a recognition that it is still okay. It is fine to be normal. It is fine not to be a "snowflake distinct among snowflakes." It is fine to be part of the greater part of Earth and her cycles and not somehow not be one of the movers and shakers who changes everything.

At the end of the day, my life is not that special. At the end of my life I will return to the dust. All I have is to enjoy this meaningless life. Or as it says in chapter 8 of this biblical text, "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun" (verse 15). 

So, in summary, there is nothing better for me to do than enjoy this meaningless life that is not all that unique. There is nothing better that will come about than to somehow enjoy my labor, eat, drink and be merry. My soul will be all the better for acknowledging that there is nothing that great about me. Somehow a thought so depressing, so melancholy so anti everything that I was raised to believe is truth. My life is very much meaningless.

No comments:

Post a Comment