Happy July 4th Weekend Ramblings
Yesterday was July 4th, so my wife Tara and I traveled to my parents’ house to meet some of our family, eat a lot of BBQ—I smoked a butt, several slabs of ribs, and some sausage yesterday; all excellent mass-building, strength-inducing foods—and play a tournament of “washers.”
On the way to my parents, Tara and I listened to XM radio, as we usually do. My listening preferences are heavy metal and/or alternative music. Hers are stuff a little more mainstream—pop and country. She tolerates, even likes, some alternative music, but doesn’t care one whit for metal, and so we decided on a compromise by listening to “the Pulse”, a station that plays some pop music and some radio-friendly alternative. I immediately changed stations, however, once Maroon 5 started singing one of their recent releases, and one of their more popular hits.
“I thought you liked Maroon 5,” Tara said. She was slightly annoyed, I think, that I managed to change the stations with such swift speed. Perhaps, she thought, if my hands can move with that much quickness to switch over to “Alt Nation”, I am perfectly capable of moving with more speed when she asks me to take out the trash, or to wash the dishes, or to do any one of the more mundane tasks around the house that we balance between the two of us.
“I used to like Maroon 5,” I replied, but did not offer anything in the way of an explanation.
Apparently, an explanation was what she was expecting. “What do you mean used to? I like them, especially if it allows me to think about a shirtless Adam Levine.”
“I stopped liking Maroon 5 once their sound changed. Now, the people that like them are the same ones that like mainstream pop crap, or the television show Glee, or who think that soccer is a sport Americans should actually try to enjoy.”
“There’s nothing wrong with liking Glee, or soccer for that matter.” She was annoyed now.
I thought about that for a moment. “There isn’t anything “wrong” with enjoying Glee or soccer. Entire countries enjoy soccer, countries that I’m particularly fond of, such as Greece and Russia. But I don’t enjoy soccer and I don’t enjoy Glee, and, the truth is, the kind of people that enjoy watching Glee, or enjoy the music of Britney Spears—or whoever it is that has replaced her as the pop queen of crap, maybe Miley Cyrus?—aren’t people that I tend to associate with. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those people, but that’s not me.” I paused for a moment, then continued, “I guess you could say that I like things that a lot of alpha males tend to like. I enjoy heavy metal music, lifting heavy weights, arm wrestling, and the taste of cold craft beer. Along that same line, from a spiritual perspective, I like Theravada Buddhism, Zen, and, of course, Orthodoxy—three religious traditions that understand the importance of the ascetical along with the mystical.”
My wife, of course, knows all of these things about me, so she just sort of shrugged and didn’t say anything else.
I didn’t say anything else, either, but I did start thinking about some of what I had just said. My wife was, of course, right. There is absolutely nothing “wrong” with people who like Glee, or who like a lot of the current popular trends in music, movies, or television, but there is a lot of stuff in popular culture that is more than just a little bit shallow in our age of post modernity. America, for instance, has become, in many ways, a vast array of anti-intellectuality. To make it even worse, our current culture says it’s actually “okay” to be anti-intellectual. Apparently, as long as you can tweet it, then it holds just as much relevance as anything tweeted by more knowledgeable, better informed individuals. Sorry, but if your opinion is based on ignorance, it doesn’t matter. Which is to say, that not everyone’s opinions do matter, whatever they may think to the contrary.
Perhaps what annoys me, then, about a lot of current pop music ( or books, television, and movies) is the fact that it tends to be a bit shallow, and therefore enjoyed by relatively shallow people. Movies, for instance, are a perfect indicator. If I’m not mistaken, last weekend the latest Transformers movie became the biggest opening weekend movie of the year. I am almost ashamed to say that I was one of the people that saw it—I took my sons and one of their friends. It was just as horribly, awfully stupid as I expected it to be—the acting was so bad that Mark Wahlberg was apparently playing the same character that he played in the movie “Ted”, which is riotously funny, by the way, if you haven’t seen it. But the people in the movie theater seemed to be having a good time. There was some clapping in a few parts, and quite a bit of the moviegoers seemed to think that the “jokes” in the movie were actually funny—such as Wahlberg calling his daughter’s boyfriend “Lucky Charms” because he’s, you know, Irish. Afterwards, I heard several younger kids say that it was the best movie they had seen all year—it was incredibly loud and a lot of things were blown up, which apparently equates to “best.”
Now, there is nothing “wrong” per se with enjoying that movie, but that doesn’t make it good. And the truth is that the average American doesn’t seem to understand what actually makes something good. The average person doesn’t understand great art, literature, cinema, or religion. Instead, they often seem to settle for shallow substitutes.
What makes things worse is that there are people who think the things I enjoy—picking up heavy stuff, listening to heavy metal, arm wrestling other strong, muscled men, and drinking beer—somehow makes me, or other men who really enjoy one or more of all these things, shallow, as well.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, there are shallow people who do all of these things, but that doesn’t make the thing itself a shallow endeavor.
Some of the most intelligent, cultured men I have ever known have been bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen, or just average lifters interested in the art of getting big and strong.
Throughout history, many of the greatest warriors have also been philosophers. (We should all of us lifters strive our best to be warrior-geeks, which is how my wife often describes me.)
Which kind of, sort of brings us around to the last thing I mentioned to my wife in our short conversation: the religion cum philosophies of Theravada, Zen, and Orthodoxy. If you have read this blog for any length of time—or bothered to read my profile—then you will know that I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity. It, along with Theravada and Zen (I was Buddhist before I was Orthodox), are the only three religions that I ever chose to practice. (I was raised Southern Baptist by my parents, but had no actual choice in the matter.)
Orthodoxy appeals to my ascetical/warrior mentality. It is something that you do instead of just talk about. It is filled with a long history of ascetical/mystical saints who chose to live their lives in caves and cells, devoted entirely to the art of spiritual warfare. For these reasons, and many others, it is the only form of Christianity where more men convert to it than women.
The reason I enjoyed—and still enjoy—Theravada and Zen was for much the same reasons. Both of them cut the bull in order to get down to the nitty-gritty—the art of simply following the breath or shikantaza, just sitting.
And, of course, once again there is nothing “wrong” with people who practice other forms of Christianity or Buddhism. But if I were to practice something else, I would not be true to myself, or to others whom I love.
For now, I suppose this is all I have to say on matters some of you may not even care about—but if you made it this far, I hope you, at least, found something of merit in my rambling. It is 4th of July weekend, after all, and hopefully we didn’t achieve independence just to become a nation of anti-intellectuals who no longer understand the values of hard work, understanding great art, or entering into the depths of things.
 For those of you who don’t know, “washers” is a popular game for us native Texans. It involves boards with holes in them, and washers that you attempt to toss into the holes. It’s similar in vein and spirit to horseshoes.
 My favorite band, hands down, is the alternative band The Killers. For metal, my moods tend to swing, but currently I find myself listening the most to Avenged Sevenfold, Volbeat, Nothing More, Gemini Syndrome, and (probably my favorite) the Christian metal group Demon Hunter.
 The latest strength sport that I have taken up is arm wrestling. My 15-year-old son and I arm wrestle with a local team of arm wrestlers about once every 3 to 4 weeks, and my training has recently changed some in order to accommodate this, but I’ll save arm wrestling training for another post.