13 February 2008

It's okay to feel a little broken

Dear Drummers,

Recently I discovered this hot new singer, Bon Jovi. Okay, he’s not new, he’s one of the kings of the 1980’s big hair bands who has survived and kept maturing. But I was in a sustained trance for the entire 1980’s and missed all the pop music of that decade. That may have been a great blessing, by the way.

On his newest album, Lost Highway, Bon Jovi sings a song with amazingly simple lyrics: “It’s okay to be a little broken/Everybody’s broken in this life...” I’ve been listening to this song constantly for three weeks now. (Listen to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vj00ncx-X6U)

When I worked in the liberal Christian world, this was also a guiding image, that we are all broken (and that through Jesus we are made whole again, or healed). This phrase, “we’re all broken in this world” was tossed about constantly. It irritated me because it smacked of original sin – the idea that because of Adam’s disobedience of God, we are all born broken, or infected by sin. This is a horrifying theology to me in so many ways. If this is a topic of deep interest to you, I point you to Mathew Fox’s book Original Blessing. It can change your life.

So I’m in the car with my 3 ½ year old, Ethan, listening to a different Bon Jovi Song, what my son calls “the new Yeah-Yeah song.”


We stop in front of the house and he asks if we can listen to the rest of the yeah-yeah song. I want to say no because of all the practical reasons – its dinner time, I’m tired etc. But I say yes and we sit in the twi-lit car as traffic on our busy street rushes by and I reach back and hold his tiny smooth hand and we listen. I look back at him and he has a slight, calm smile on his face and there is something radiant about him – not because he’s my child but because he’s a human being listening with great calm joy to music – such a distinctly human act, to stop your life for a moment to allow the ephemeral to wash over you. And I think, “No. HE is not broken, not yet.” And of course I know life will break him in many ways, and I know that he will most often be broken by other human beings, and most often by those who he loves in one way or another. This is how it goes. So original sin may be a bad theological conclusion to why life is so hard, but there is no debating that we get broken and battered by life. It reminds me of what Frederick Buechner said: Be kind to everyone you meet because everyone you meet is carrying an enormous burden. Everyone who walks into our little drumming room is carrying an enormous burden – I try to remember this.

And it reminds me of the passage from Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet:

You have been told that life is darkness,
and in your weariness you echo the words of the weary.

At work someone had a really bad day and they sent out an email to the whole staff essentially shaming everyone for a mistake that was really the responsibility of a couple of people, including me. Here is how we spread our brokenness, yes? – we broadcast it to the wind in hopes of removing it from ourselves? This is so human, and so common. How often have I spread my brokenness to others, through malice, or anger, or trying to unload my disappointment or fear, or by sheer clumsiness?

In the shamanic cosmos as I understand it, we are not born broken because of disobedience, and then saved by Jesus (and obeying the church fathers). We are not broken throughout life until we are reassembled in glory after death, making this entire world simply a torturous bus stop. In shamanic thinking as I understand it, we are indeed broken by energies that come to us and break us, or eat at us, or sicken us, or block our flow of energy which we need to grow green and fruity and fragrant and colorful. These energies can be called spirits, or curses or many other things. And this makes sense to me because it matches my experience, and perhaps sometimes these are free floating spirits but most often they are generated by other human beings and sent into the world to eat.

All religions have their cleansing ceremonies. The Christian ceremony of the Eucharist – the eating of the little round cracker and drinking of the wine – is a way to ceremonially bring the power of Jesus into our body to cleanse us of the disease of original sin (in the catholic world) or remind us that God’s enduring love saves us (in the liberal Protestant world). These are effective for many people. We have our Eucharist cracker too – it’s called the drum. We don’t eat it, we whack on it and it makes us dance, to shake loose the spiritual barnacles eating our hull.

Over the years I have found that winter is a time for cleansing ceremonies – at the last drum we focused on resentment and blame. We’ll continue our string of cleansing ceremonies this week by whacking and shaking. I leave you with the complete passage from the Prophet:

You have been told that life is darkness,
and in your weariness you echo the words of the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,

And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,

And all work is empty save when there is love;

And when you work with love
you bind yourself to yourself,
and to one another,
and to God.

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