IN TEARS & IN TENDERNESS (Some thoughts on the verse, “Jesus wept.”)

In Tears & TendernessJesus Wept 2

by: bill mallonee

Ever since I was very young, maybe 5-6 years old, I have been obsessed with death. I sensed “it” early on. The notion of the cessation of Life and one’s personality was repulsive, cauterizing and harrowing. I don’t know how I “internalized” so much of it in my thoughts, impressions and nightmare-ish images, but I did.
Life was supposed to be Saturdays, no school…and freedom

Let’s face it: You get older, Health diminishes. Love seems to fail. Life sputters out, sometimes in horrific ways; It all adds to the helpless-ness and fear. Mortality, finitude, lack of permanence. Whatever one chooses to describe it with, one most days, it all seems bleak & relentless.
“Every thing dies, baby, that’s a fact…” ~ “Atlantic City”/Bruce Springsteen

I know the religious narratives, Biblical and otherwise. The stories we have, whether based in history or myth, are typically ones of beauty with beautiful endings.
Yes. They help one “stare it down.” For fleeting moments they bring some joy and assurance. But (on most days) my faith is weak if there at all. I still shudder at the prospect of death.
…but maybe a little less.
And here’s why…

“Jesus wept.” John 11: 35
It’s the shortest verse in the Bible.
I remember an Easter week story in the Bible. (I have Dr. Francis Schaeffer to thank for this insight.) The scene is the one where Jesus is brought word that his good friend Lazarus is very, very sick. Interestingly, even oddly, He waits a few days before heading out to visit Lazarus. He even informs his disciple/friends that Lazarus has died. But, he also tells them to have some faith. “Wait,” he basically says. “The ‘Last word’ on the subject hasn’t been spoken yet.”

Jesus arrives at the tomb. Lazarus has been dead for 4 days. He stares at the stone sealed over the entrance as was the practice in ancient times. He is oblivious to the murmurings and goading of his detractors who are also there. He is lost in memory, the loving memories of his friend.
Now, here’s the curious thing:
The Greek text says something that have been translated as “Jesus groaned in spirit,” that He was “troubled.”
But the explanation (exegesis) that I have heard says that He was angry.
It is a moment that draws one up short.
Groaning with anger.
Angry at death,
Angry at loss,
Angry at grief,
and all that it is robbed from his friend, from us.

Angry at all that is absurd.

To me, it was and still is, explosive.
Think about it: The Son of God. (Or whatever name you wish to ascribe to Him)…is angry.
Angry at death.
Angry at a universe that is brutish, cruel and without explanation

There is more to come here:
If all the claims about Him are true, what follows is the most pure, loving, & transparent gesture ever made by a human being on this earth.

The Bible says: “Jesus wept.”

The shortest verse.
And the one with loudest bombshell of Grace.

Got it? Has it registered?
The weeping Christ feels the same way about death…as you do.
No dressing it up.
No “dumbing it down.”
No minimizing the horror or futility of it.
This is something to weep bitter, angry tears over.
“Jesus wept.”
It is an overwhelming display of tenderness.

What does this mean?
What does it mean to have the Son of God weep at your graveside, at my graveside?

It, at the very least, means this:
You are not alone. You are not alone in your anger at death;
Not alone in your fear of death;
Not alone in your anger of all that goes lost, unfulfilled, unfinished when death shows up;
Not alone in your anger even at God for “allowing” such an atrocity/interruption/tragedy to happen.

“Maybe one day, baby, everything comes back…” ~ B. Springsteen

There is no glossing it over or prettifying this life.
Sermonize it, eulogize it, Oprah-ize it…
We all, one way or another, “leave the party” too soon.

Holy Week.
Is it symbolic for all of this journey we call Life?
If, so, here’s what you can bet on:
Take up your cross, so to speak. That cross of your human existence.
You can count on be your heart being broken…a million times.
You can count of your dreams being dashed;
You can count on your best intentions being ignored or, worse, misunderstood.
You can count on losing those who are nearest & dearest.
You can count on knowing loneliness on a first name basis.

But count on this as well:
You are not alone.
Something always seems to be “lurking” at the edges of our days, even the darkest of them.
A “last word,” perhaps?
I find this sort of “incongruity” a quiet witness to the truth of the faith.
The bad news comes first, before the “good news” makes sense.

The human-ness of Jesus.
So utterly perfect that He can grieve perfectly the loss of his dear friend, be angry about it…and still be Lord, God, Savior.
He doesn’t offer explanations as to why evil exists.
In tears and tenderness He just weeps at Lazarus’tomb.
And I suspect He weeps at every tomb.

So, how does this affect you and me in the here and now?
Easter is often offered to us in a sanitized, neutered version. Complete with bonnets, new dresses, colored eggs and bunnies. Nature rejoices. There’s a lot to be said and celebrated about the energy of God’s Love within the life force.
Still, I think, we are lulled into missing the point.

Easter, as the Bible tells it, is the grittiest of the Church’s remembrances.
The events of Holy Week are a crystallization & distillation of all that can “go wrong” in the world…and within our lives.

Holy Week’s pages are filled with accounts of friends who “pledge allegiance.”
Loud, self-inflated boasters who say they’ll follow a friend even unto death.
And then they don’t.
And when given their chance to be courageous arrives?
Their cowardice manifests itself from every word & deed…

Holy Week’s pages are peppered with feckless & conniving “climbers” who will sell a friend out just to save their own skin and possibly get ahead.

Easter’s sad pages are also filled with folks of good heart;
They haul bodies off of bloody instruments of torture and death. They try and bestow what little honor is left on a Body so disfigured by human hatred & violence that It’s hardly recognizable.

Good folks (or at least aspiring to be so) who heard the most astonishing words ever spoken to humankind.
Just like we do every Sunday morning.

In Scripture, Easter week is filled with “Good-Hearted,” “Nodding-In-Agreement,” “I’ll-never-sell-you-short, Jesus,” people who cut and run at the first sign of confrontation or challenge.

We do it all the time. It’s a big club.
We’ve made it an art form.
And so, one of Easter Week’s lessons is simply this:
Be not deceived.
You are not made of such stern stuff.

And because of that, Jesus wept, as well.

He has reason to weep.
He is weeping still.
Weeping at all of the vain glories we chase after.
Weeping at the 2 bit, cheap idols we “buy” and cling to.
Weeping at all the betrayals we’ll no doubt tally up as we live out our days.
Weeping anew at the war machines we create and surround with rhetoric like “patriotism,” “national interests,” and “Glory.”

All in the name of concepts that annihilate Life.

He’s weeping still at the harsh words, judgements and criticisms we thoughtless cut each other to pieces with, often in the name of His religion.
Weeping at the love & kindness & compassion we withhold from one another.

Jesus. Weeping. Endlessly weeping. Perpetually weeping

He weeps at every tomb, even now,
I suspect, in some way, He is weeping at our own tombs.
The ones we will one day enter.

The Lord of Life, The Son of God.
Closer than a Brother.
You, dear lost, lonely, sinful, scared traveler…are never alone.

Limitless in His mercy, grace and consolation.
Tears are one of those things, He has never run out of.

You will hear His voice, just as Lazarus did.
You’ll shake off the shroud of death, and perhaps, with stumbling steps, move into the light & towards that Voice.
New skin. Radiant as a new-born baby.
And, falling into His arms, you will recognize that voice of Tenderness & of Love Itself.

And you may find some of His blessed tears on your new suit of clothes, as well.

“On Getting Outta Dodge…and Arriving Someplace Else”

04DDABILL11_3(Bill Mallonee photo by: Chip Fox/Philadelphia Enquirer)

So, about 5 years ago, Muriah & I moved to the State of New Mexico. 

You grow your hair long. You buy a hat.
 You blend in…
Everyone’s got a story out here and time to tell it.
Best learn to listen…

It’s a State of extremes, really. Extreme beauty, what with the high desert Rockies and Sangre de Cristos range, and the low desert with it’s barren-ness and stark beauty. 
It’s beauty and cultural diversity have attracted artists from all over; There is a primitive-ness in everything from the art to the architecture that is enthralling, compelling and humbling. 
It all speaks of things unseen, substantial, immovable; Spirit emanating across ages and time. 

Folks who make the pilgrimage, leaving the security of their city/metro/suburb life, to these wilder territories may find their interior compass thrown out of whack…or they may find in such territories something of a long-lost friend. Again, the extreme responses. 
Nature is a beauty out here, overwhelming, immense. The play of light (long a favorite variable of visual artists) against the desert topography, is a constant menagerie of colors, tones and textures…

But, in the long run, the desert surrenders no explanation. Such a land owes you nothing. You either find your place in it’s hallowed-ness with a certain reverence; Or, failing such an epiphany, head back perhaps to the more familiar cadences of metro life.
 I suspect, whether you stay or leave, you will always be changed. Humble-hearted but with spirit enlarged.

Other extremes? Well, those are darker ones. The vestiges of poverty are evident everywhere. (When we first moved here, we found multi-million dollar homes being sold by Sothebys parked right next to hovels along the Canyon Road District in Santa Fe, one of the most noted art districts in the world…)

We’ve never seen so many roadside crosses. Brightly and lovingly decorated monuments to loved who died in automobile wrecks. I’m pretty sure NM leads the nation in alcohol related traffic fatalities.

It’s only been officially a State just over 100 years, but in many ways it’s a land that time and opportunity has continued to pass by. (Our current silly governor has recently extended ridiculous rights to mining companies, an ecologically destructive act and equally short-view solution to NM’s un-employment);

The long, & often sullied histories of multi-cultural forces fighting for dominance are evidenced everywhere, as well….and folk’s remember. Whether it’s Native Americans, old guard Spanish, Latino, courageous Mexican migrants seeking work or the hippie artist influx of the 70’s, there’s a certain “learning to live together and make the best of it” that we’ve found profoundly encouraging. Today, the “new agrarians,” the organic farmers and free-range ranchers are making their presence known.
 Slowly but surely. 

Life is risk. My favorite author, Frederick Buecher, likens it to “whistling in the dark.”
I get that…
Still, I’m lucky in many ways.
I get to pick up a guitar and see where the next set of chord progressions will lead.
I’ve always written songs as a way of making sense of the journey.
They were a way of “saving myself.”
So far, so good…

Resources? There are very few now. The resources of labels, managers and booking agents have long since vanished for me. 
But, after 60 plus albums, I’m still here.
(You learn that you never needed “their permission” to be who you are, anyway.)
God’s Mercy & Love is the only explanation I can muster to account for such a schooling, for such a ride.

I spent a few years deciding whether or not to leave the illusionary industry called “the record business.” We band (Vigilantes of Love) had some success, I suppose. It all feels like a freak-show in retrospect; an attempt to make “fools” happy. Most of the folks I met there were tin-eared, thinly-veiled capitalists who would have been more adept at selling used cars. 

This all took place shortly after said former band imploded amidst all the great ink spilled on us. Critics darlings. We made 15 albums over a decade and notched 180-200 shows a year during that same span. It’ll change you like nothing else I’ve ever encountered, for good and ill.
But our point of contact with “the biz?” It was all a ruse.
In the end, we were broke, shell-shocked, abandoned and disowned by so may entities it was funny anymore. An album called Audible Sigh attempted to romanticize the pain. It was followed by a trippy, jangle-y guitar album called “Summershine.” 

All for nothing. Nothing for all. 

You cherish the memories. You drink too much. You celebrate the heroism of your talented bandmate/friends )
…and then get out.

It was easy to walk away from the superstructure that was supposedly there to aid our stability.

Sometimes one really does have to “get the hell out of Dodge.”
So, i did…

But, them my departure became something of a quest.

A quest for a kinder, more truthful, authentic art; 

Less artifice, more truth-telling.
In the first 2 years, “post departure,” i wrote & released 130 original songs recorded on a 1 track DAT player. (It was the only recording device I had)

But, my “departure,” included another component: It was also a fleeing the artistic snobbery of hipster-ism. 
I am willing to admit that my perceptions here may be wrong. I can only say what it seemed like.

Sure, there are poseurs everywhere. (Every artist would admit they started that way, if they were candid.)
 But, the self-aggrandizing, dynamic of “scenes,” driven by their journalistic oracles with their navel-gazing mentalities often confuse artistic truth with “that next-big-thing,” or the weird, or the avant-garde.

Honestly: i want to be fair. I want to be humble.
So, in my case, allow me to at least say it “felt” like such self-appointed “inner-circles,” “gatekeepers” and “powers-that-be” were an obstacle that was insurmountable.
And, more importantly, they had little to do with true art.
Let’s forget all of that: Let’s just say i’m wary of the mob-mentalities.

So, where am i now?
Now, that I’m figuratively a million miles “outta Dodge?”
The high desert of northern New Mexico. Such a different world.
Sometimes you have to retreat, to fall back to find a truer self.
At least that’s been my journey, thus far…

The hair? Still long, but the beard is greying.
The hat? Good and broken in.

We’re poor & broke, most of the time. But, we’re happy.
Sure, we push back a lot of a lot anxiety, but who doesn’t?
I think we might well be in a new dark age.
But, we’re all in this one together.

Making the songs & the albums, the art continues to bring joy.
If the work isn’t it’s own reward then, I don’t know what is….
The necks & fretboards of both my 1969 Gibson J-50 and my Gibson 1947 ES-125 are wore done, the finish gone.
Like some old museum pieces or burial mound artifact, they call to me when I walk into the old casita that houses our small studio.
I raise the blinds, let the morning sunlight cascading off the Sangre de Cristo mountains fill the room…Inspiring. Coffee’s hot.
Here we go…

Just one more thing before I close out here:

It’s funny. There are so many voices that tell you how you could have/should have done it differently. 
But, I usually doubt such voices.

Given our all-too-human perspectives, how we were formed and nurtured, it seems unlikely (to me anyway) that different outcomes are possible;
Given the variables that are present within us and without, I’m not sure things aren’t “just the way they were gonna be.”

Like Ma Joad tells her daughter Rosa Sharon in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

”A million things could happen, but only one thing ever does…”

And so, to my mind anyway, all that might be left to do is to find something to rejoice over.
 Something to praise God for.
Go tell someone precious to you that you love them;

I also think that means wrestling with God (like Jacob) and being able to “take Him to task,” (like Job) for an explanation, an answer when all hell is breaking loose…

The songs? the music?
They continue to come forth.
Like some kind of dam breaking. 

They fill my heart…
No, it ain’t much of a future.
But, right now, it’s enough.
~ bill mallonee