Saturday, August 26, 2006

THESE PENS, Chris. These pens!

This, my friends, is the Pilot Precise Grip Extra Fine Black.

It is the finest writing instrument that can be purchased, at any price, anywhere in the world.

I discovered this pen at the beginning of last school year. Walmart sold them, in packages of 3 for $4.63. These pens saw me safely through Real Analysis, Abstract Algebra, Theory of Probability, Combinatorics [may its name and memory be erased], Complex Analysis, and Stochastic Processes.

These pens were true friends throughout the long nights of homework. They have a comfortable grip, a sharp point, a smooth ink flow, and ink that doesn't smear or puddle. Professors learned to dare not question my habit of doing HW and exams (!!) in pen. On the rare occasions I showed up in class without one, I had to go back to my office to get the spare. Last year I purchased 11 in black, one red, one green, one blue, one light blue, one pink, and one purple. (There was one 5-pack in there).

Then the day came earlier this summer when I went to Walmart, and lo, the pens were not there. And I went again later, and they were still not there. And then I went to a much larger Walmart, and they were not there either.

Then I officially Lost It and told Nate, "I WILL drop out of graduate school if I can not purchase these pens before school starts."

And I searched Ebay, and they were not there. And there was great Weeping.

And finally, they came up on Ebay, and for a great price too- $9.99 for a dozen!!! (Plus $4.10 for shipping.) And lo, there was much Rejoicing. They arrived today. :-D

If I, you know, happen to DIE this semester could someone at the funeral slip a few in my coffin for me? Thanks awfully,

Neb :-)

PS Why are you all staring at me like that??? Isn't $14.09 worth it for some peace of mind? A girl NEEDS something comforting once in a while, and this beats crack cocaine.

PPS I can't resist. Here are some more pictures. Pardon me if I drool a little:

Those are some mighty fine looking pens, aren't they?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Postlude and New Beginnings

Thanks to all of you who read the Rich Mullins posts. I know they were long, and of course they were really written more for me than for you, in the sense that if you aren't familiar with the music it's not going to be as meaningful. But it was so important for me to write them. So thanks for reading. :-)

Tomorrow we have TA orientation all day long in the Math Dept., and then classes start Monday. I'm trying to figure out scheduling and transportation and such. My textbooks are here, pens are on the way from Ebay, paper and dividers have been purchased from Walmart, and I even got a more comfortable office chair from Staples.

It should be a good year. :-)

the rich mullins entry- PART II

"It feels so good to write it," she said, "to let out these things I've thought about so long. But it's so hard. Writing this is the hardest thing I've ever done."
"You're always saying that," I told her. "Last spring you said that every homework assignment you did was the hardest thing you'd ever done."
"Yes," she said, "and when I say that, I'm always right."

I need some coffee.

So, something very special happened in my senior year of high school, but I'm not going to tell you about it.

I went to Wheaton College in August 1997 and by then, it didn't come as a surprise to find out that Rich Mullins had not only given a concert at Wheaton the previous spring, but had spent some time, you know, hanging out on campus and talking to students and getting to know people. His musical, "Canticle of the Plains," had debuted in Edman Chapel, and he had done some interviews for our campus radio station. There were non-freshman students wandering around campus who had been to these events and seemed rather... unfazed? I got the leftovers, the scraps... little tidbits of information were cherished, even when they sounded kind of negative. Some students were apparently offended by things he had said. I wasn't surprised. (Or maybe in the interest of full disclosure- I might have been surprised then, but I'm not anymore.)

One Saturday night in September, as I was on the phone, the other line beeped. It my mom. "Did you hear about Rich Mullins?" she said. From the way that she said it, I knew right away.

He had been in his jeep with Mitch McVicker in IL. They lost control of the vehicle, and Rich was ejected onto the highway. A truck swerved to miss the jeep, and hit Rich instead. He was 41.

At the time, his death didn't hit me quite as hard as it might have otherwise. I was distracted, only a few weeks into my freshman year, busy with friends and homework and activities. Still, my heart was very heavy. I knew that this marked the end of an age in my life.

I briefly considered (and discussed with Vivian?) hitchhiking to one of the large memorial services in IN or Kansas or Tennessee, but the responsibilities of college pulled too strongly. My head won out over my heart. There was a memorial service on campus for him- after all, many of the students had known him personnally- and I went, and I think I said something which probably sounded foolish. I can't remember what it was. Maybe I just stood up and recited the lyrics of one of his songs, I don't know. But I needed to speak.

Around this time I met a tall, strapping youth who lived on the other side of the dorm. His name was Nate and in October, he got up the nerve to ask me out. One evening, when we had only known each other a short time, we spent a while wandering around downtown Wheaton. And lo, there was a Christian bookstore, so we went in. And after we had been looking around for a long time, I noticed something- a poster advertising a birthday party for Rich. And slowly it occurred to me that the date listed was today. And slowly it occurred to me that the time listed was RIGHT NOW.

And we asked the store owner and he said sure, it's upstairs, you can go on up.

So we ventured upstairs into a tiny, dimly lit room where a band was playing for a handful of people. The band was called This Train and I think they had been on tour with Rich in the previous year. I do not remember much of what they said or played, but one song stands out clearly. They said that Rich had never really been happy with the recording of "Elijah," either on his first album or on Songs. They said they had done a new arrangement of it and played it for Rich, and he had told them, "Yes, that's right. You got it exactly right." And they played it for us.

For once, the timing of my life was pretty good. (Except by that point, Rich was already, you know, DEAD.)

Sometime after this (I think it was the following fall, but I'm not sure- time plays tricks on you as you get old), I flew to Cincinatti and Vivian drove there to meet me, and we went to a Rich Mullins Memorial Concert. I think Mitch McVicker was playing, but I can't really remember. What was important was that they were playing his songs, and that experience, for me, was like his funeral. I cried the entire time and I think maybe Vivian did too. But it wasn't the sobbing kind of crying that precludes all other activities; it was the kind where you can pray and sing and cry, all at the same time, and your face ends up very, very wet but your heart ends up Clean.

And I remember going back to Asbury with Vivian, and she took me to the fields where the horses were, and we sat outside together and sang his songs. That place was such an oasis of peace at a time in my life that was a little troubled. I still have the pictures and somehow, you can see the peacefulness in the air.

And sometime even after that, I have no idea when, I could look it up online but it doesn't really matter anyway, I remember getting in the van with Vivian (it must have been in Houston, so it must have been in the summer), and putting in a cassette called The Jesus Record, and knowing it would be the last time that we ever had the experience of listening to a new Rich Mullins album for the first time. And we just drove and listened, and I cried, and I have to say that I don't think I've ever listened to that album since without crying, at least a little bit, and if you catch me on a good day I will start to cry if you even make me think about it. Because what happened was that only nine days before he died, Rich was somewhere (a church maybe?) with a piano and a guitar and a little cassette recorder, and he played nine songs that were to be on his next album. And after his death, his friends and former band members found this recording, cleaned it up as best they could, and released it, together with recordings of other Christian musicians singing the songs in the studio.

And I don't even begin to know how to tell you how perfect this album is. He didn't have a band, or equipment, or even the hammer dulcimer that first made us listen, but what he had was the Truth, because everything he said in those songs was the straight truth about Jesus. This album reminded me what it means to thirst for the Truth, to thirst for Jesus, and the lyrics, many taken straight out of Scripture, helped to quench that thirst. How perfect that his final album was so rough around the edges, so unpolished, so lacking in everything that the world considers important and complete in everything of the economy of Heaven. Rich was, after all, a Raggamuffin, and it seems so fitting that his final work should echo that. If he had recorded this album in the studio I just can't imagine that it could have been so perfect. Because in its rawness, we can see its beauty.

The last three songs are a more perfect culmination that I could have ever imagined. When I heard them for the first time, I think I can remember thinking "How can anything this perfect actually be on this earth? How can we be this blessed?" "Heaven in His Eyes" is (in my opinion) the best music he ever wrote. Apparently he had written it a long, long time ago, I think even before his first album, but I guess he had been saving it. And "Nothing is Beyond You" has the best lyrics he ever wrote, because, really, I don't think he wrote them at all, I think they're all straight out of Psalms. And "That Where I Am, There You May Also Be" was a happy song. It was a song about being in Heaven. "It's time for me to go back up."

In the years since college, I've gone in and out of listening to his music. Now that the crust of earth in his lyrics is sealed with the gold of heaven, his songs seem all the more sacred than before, just a bit too shiny for everyday use. I can't read the last chapter of his biography, about Heaven, and I probalby won't watch this live concert video from Ebay for a long, long time. For the stuff of earth consumes my life and occupies my time, and so I listen to lesser things while I lift weights or go walking or drive to the grocery store. My tastes have expanded and I listen to U2 and Riverdance and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Copeland and Dylan. But at some point along the way I realized that all the music I listen to has something in common, something that I first came to love in Rich's music, and that is Passion. Maybe it doesn't matter so much if you're singing about Ireland or Africa or rivers or mountains or war protests or fickle women, but you'd better believe in what you're singing, you'd better sing with passion.

Still, I come back to his music- sometimes at the strangest of times.

A few weeks ago, I went on vacation with my family to Tennessee, and we took a break from listening to the disturbing coverage of Israel and Hezbollah's war to listen to some music. As we drove through the mountains we listened to a CD called "Here in America," which was released a few years after his death. This album consists of songs done live in concert, interspersed with Rich's comments to the audience- some funny, some profound, some just a little bit odd. Right before he sang "Be With You," he said something like, "How beautiful are the mountains of Tennessee! I just love 'em. But if it would make some commie happy to blow them up, they might as well do it, because God says they're all going to crumble anyway."

"And when my body lies in the ruins
Of the lies that nearly ruined me
Will you pick up the pieces that were pure and true, and breathe
Your life into them, set them free
When you blast this cosmos to kingdom come
When those jagged edged mountains I love are gone
When the sky is crossed with the tears of a thousand falling suns
As they crash into the sea,
Can I be with You?
Can I be with You?"

And I can remember further back, and the longer I hold still the more I can remember, until it overwhelms, to remember sitting on a little ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon and listening to "Calling Out Your Name" (which was about the plains of Kansas) eleven times, and visiting Witchita in high school (where he lived for awhile) and looking for his church and his favorite sandwhich shop and a statue called "Keeper of the Plains" while listening to "Cry the Name" (which is about the canyons of NM/AZ), and I can remember being 13 and driving through the mountains somewhere North and listening to "The Color Green," and I can remember being very, very Young indeed, and swinging on the swing in my backyard, the way the sunlight dappled through the branches of our big maple, the most beautiful backyard in the world, and singing "If I Stand." And I can remember being in high school, being lonely in 9th grade and hearing "Hold Me Jesus" and being comforted, and being somewhat older in high school and listening to "One Thing" and "Somewhere" and being very, very Happy, and I could keep gonig forever with this but now it is not Time yet. Someday it will be.

And just a short time ago I read "Surprised by Joy" by C.S. Lewis, for the second time. I had forgotten what he said about joy. I think maybe if you asked Mr. Webster or Mr. OED or, they would tell you that Joy has something to do with Elation or Happiness or Blissful Contentment or Satisfaction. But that is not what CS Lewis said. He said Joy is really that stab of aching longing that comes in those rare moments in which we can almost taste the Higher world, taste it while feeling ever so acutely that we live in the jarring disconnect of a world fallen and broken and impure. For joy is really Frustration- the frustration of getting only a hint or glimpse or shadow of the Real World- the realm that is the object of our best and truest desires, the realm that is truly our Home. But without those hints, without the sweetness of those glimpses, we wouldn't have the strength it takes to press on.

I love CS Lewis because he actually says the things that were so deep in my heart when I was 12, when it was so impossible to find the words for them. It is a relief like no other to read someone else writing exactly what is in your heart. I'm going to leave you with a quote from his sermon, "The Weight of Glory," because he says it so much better than I could ever hope to:

"In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call in beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordworth's expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out itself to be a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things- the beauty, the memory of our own past- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us....

And this brings me to the other sense of glory- glory as brightness, splendor, luminosity. We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough. What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more- something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.... That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods.... They tell us that "beauty born of murmuring sound" will pass into a human face; but it won't. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in."

Rich got In. :-) And someday, God willing, we will too.

Love, Neb

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

the rich mullins entry

"It's time to write it," she said. "Look at it this way. Think of your life backwords, starting on the last day. Don't you want to have more time to spend with it? It's time."

I just bid on ebay and won. It's a concert video from summer 1997 in Lufkin. I paid a little too much. But how can you put a price on it now?

Do you want me to start at the beginning? Are you sure?

When I was 11(?) and Vivian was 13 we liked Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. Their lyrics rhymed and they played things like the piano and the guitar. They were also normatively groomed in photos on the cover of the cassettes (yes. cassettes.)

On our local Christian radio station we heard something New, there was this guy playing a hammer dulcimer. (intentional run-on, that; settle down.) We were intrigued. My dad bought the album. There was some guitar and piano too, of course, but this hammer dulcimer was like nothing I had ever heard. This music was Alive. Also, the meaning of the lyrics was not always immediately apparent. They were, as we say for lack of a better term, Deep. They kept one thinking for awhile. The album itself was entitled "The World as Best as I Remember It, Vol. 1," which (at that time, at least) seemed intriguing. Also, this guy, this Christian singer? He had long hair.

So we pretty much fell in love right away, Vivian and I (and my other family members too) in, as far as I can tell, exactly the same way because our behavior was pretty much the same. Rich Mullins became, in the very truest sense of the word, Sacred music to us. Why do we call some of the old musics sacred? Like Bach? Because they are so much bigger than us that they can't be taken out by those foolish tendencies we have to oversimplify, sentimentalize, or simply "move on." If that is the right definition of Sacred, then this was it. There were unspoken Rules, things that were so true and so obvious that they would never need to be said- you didn't talk while listening. You just Listened. As a matter of fact, I can remember relatively few actual conversations about Rich Mullins because we simply didn't need to talk about it or him. It was too Real for that.

"I can't do it," I said. "There's just no way I can do it. Even if I started now and worked on this every day for the rest of my life, it would never be complete, it would never be finished, it would never be right. And of all the things that could happen, that would be the worse- to write about this poorly."

Vivian and I bought more albums and kept listening. We got newer albums and then went back and got the older ones. We listened so many times that most of the lettering wore off the cassettes and we had to identify them by the tiniest of marks, like secret symbols legible only to the members of our peculiar fellowship. Radio occurrences, especially songs on albums not yet obtained, were precious. At some point the internet was invented and we discovered that, indeed, there WERE other folks out there who realized that this music was something different, something beyond... although not all were quite as passionate. I excitedly emailed one supposedly dedicated fan with a list of my "favorite" Rich Mullins songs, a list that I think included no less than 3 dozen of those illustrious titles. He emailed back and said that I needed to "get out more."

In the summer of 1994, right before I started high school, my youth group went on a week-long missions trip to Tse Bonito, New Mexico, to do volunteer work on the Navajo reservation. We took a seemingly infinite bus ride to reach this tiny out-in-the-desert town (which wikipedia, that ever-trustful reference, reports as having a population of 262 in 2000). Upon arriving, I was in for a bit of a shock. First, I heard the local pastor/missions director say ever so casually, "Rich Mullins was here a couple of weeks ago,"

(and in case you can't tell by this point, my head immediately screamed on the inside RICH MULLINS WAS HERE TWO WEEKS AGO!! THIS IS REALLY BAD TIMING!)

but then the REAL shock came by what he said next. He said that Rich was PLANNING TO MOVE THERE SOON. (Only he said it like, "And he's planning to move here soon... nice weather, isn't it?")

After they scraped my flattened and limp body off the ground, I walked around a little dazed all week. Somehow I was saved from the bitterness of the irony of the situation by some kind of divine grace. This came to me as a comfort, a metaphor for life: of course I had missed Rich Mullins. The creation continues in labor until now. All is Frustration, etc. It seemed to make sense to me, in its way. That's just how life is, above all, intricately and exquisitely frustrating. But this was an idea that would grow to fruition as the years went on.

(Before you laud my precocious maturity, I should mention that I did give outlet to my strong emotions on the matter by asserting calmly, confidently, and repeatedly that really it was no problem if we had Just Missed Rich Mullins, because I was, in fact, going to Marry him when I grew up. This embarrassed my sister to no end.)

At some point in these years, can't remember exactly when, I called our local Christian radio station. Did they have an address for Rich Mullins? They did! I wrote him a letter, I told him everything, completely poured out my heart, and sent it off to Witchita. It came back a week or two later, address unknown.

And then the day came when there would be a concert, a concert near Houston! And of course we went, and I think, like a little child at Disneyworld, I can't really remember anything from that concert because if I did remember, my mind would shine so brightly all the time with the memories that I would be blinded from the inside out. I'll tell you, in the spirit of Total Insufficiency of this discourse, that the concert was Good. The internets inform me that this event took place on Sept. 22, 1995, if that information is significant to any of you. But what I really want to tell you about is what happened right after the concert.

There was going to be an autograph session at a local Christian bookstore! So we begged and of course our parents couldn't say no to a request this big, even though it was already late. So off to the bookstore we went, and got in the amazingly long line. And waited. And... waited. The problem was that Rich and the other musicians hadn't even arrived yet to get the line started. Finally (around midnight I think), our ever-patient parents suggested that we just couldn't wait any longer, we needed to go home. I think Vivian was greatly disappointed, but I was not. I? I was a child resigned to the disappointments and shortcomings of this ever-frustrating world.

But Then. Just as I crawled into the tiny corner of the backseat of our ginormous van, I looked out the window and saw... I don't know quite how to say this... the back of Carolyn Arend's pants, like 2 inches from my face. You see, Carolyn had been in concert with Rich, and she had been wearing a very... distinctive pair of print leggings or stirrup pants or something (remember, the early 90's were quite recent) with a design that couldn't be forgotten. AND I WAS LOOKING RIGHT AT THEM.



(a moment of silence)

So there he was, in the flesh, and he said hi to us, and we were all just kind of stunned. And then we needed to find a pen so he could autograph our liner notes, and we looked for a pen, and RICH MULLINS WAS STANDING RIGHT THERE AND WE COULD NOT FIND A PEN. So he was very polite and nice, I really have no idea what he said, maybe something like "did you enjoy the concert?" and we said yes, still all frantically searching for a pen. And after a minute he was like, "Well, I guess I'd better get in there..." and at that very instant my mom or dad managed to find a pen somewhere in the van, and he wrote what he always writes, "Be God's." And then he went on.

I don't think I said anything to him, because, you see, I didn't really care about getting his autograph. I didn't want his name in ink on a piece of paper to oogle over, I wanted to talk to him, not for a minute but for an hour, or preferably for a day or a few days, becuase it would really take a long time to say what I wanted to say. What did I want to say? I wanted to say, "Thank you for transforming my spiritual life. Thank you for writing songs that give words to all these feelings we have about nature and the beauty of Creation and the glory of the Creator, these feelings that are always so locked inside of me, so pressing to be expressed. Thank you for not giving pat answers and cheap ideas in your lyrics. Thank you for creating beautiful music to go with them. Thanks for being who you are." Those aren't things you can quite get out, standing in the parking lot at midnight.

I just remembered. He was barefoot in that parking lot.

I have to go to bed but you've waited long enough for this entry, so I'll post this and then there will be a part 2.

Love, Neb