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Nothing New Comes From Normal

I’m not crazy about being uncomfortable. But my doctor told me that, if I don’t exercise to the point of being rather uncomfortable, I get weaker and risk a shorter lifespan. Some level of discomfort is needed to build up muscle, especially as we get older (and the natural discomfort of physiological development is not really a thing).

If I’m not intellectually or socially uncomfortable, I’m barricading out different ideas. Maybe I’m not dealing with the reality that there are folks who don’t see things as I do, and that their perception does affect my life and I will need to decide how to respond. Maybe I become dismissive of all their opinions, and avoid ideas that I should actually think about in order to have a more complete understanding of given situations myself.

In the early days of social media, there was a great hope that it would be a place where people with different perspectives would actually have discussions with each other, and that it would be the starting point of a new and invigorating democratic discourse.

Since then, we’ve discovered that we have a tendency to gravitate toward people who already agree with us, and that the tightest and most rigid clusters of people are those who tend to feel most insecure and most judgmental, usually at the same time.

So sometimes I may have to disrupt my routine or consider what it might be like to live in and with different circumstances. Because if I don’t, I learn less, my relationships become increasingly vulnerable as my understanding of reality becomes increasingly inflexible and deluded, and I fade away into a weak sort of fantasy life rather than a robust engagement with life in all its dimensions.

The word ‘spiritual’ has become something of a euphemism for impractical, deluded, and disconnected. It should be about a wholeness of perspective and an internal capacity to deal with reality with an empathetic outlook and a clear sense of personal identity at the same time, established in a confidence in authentic love and a belief in freedom. If we build walls to keep others out, the ultimate result is a kind of rot that diminishes our own capacities to be fully human.

Here are the lyrics to my song “Nothing New Comes From Normal” (not yet released).

Every day
starts the same way.
Become something of a ritual.
Take a hot drink to a screen,
check news and messages for me,
and on and on as usual.

Our routines provide us with a feeling of security.
They define our normal.
But does the comfort that we feel
make our experience unreal?

Nothing new comes from normal.
Things get strange before they change.
Nothing new comes from normal.
There’s a discomfort that’s essential.

I don’t hear the voice that calls
when I have my headphones on.
Is my soul soothed or controlled
by the siren of the song?

Almost everything is good in its own time.
But am I mesmerized by chime
of pentameter and rhyme?

Nothing new comes from normal.
Things get strange before they change.
Nothing new comes from normal.
There’s a discomfort that’s essential.
Nothing new comes from normal.
Nothing new comes from normal.

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The Circle Is; About Life in Community

I’ve had the privilege of being included in a First-Nations-guided talking circle. Though a talking circle is led through the presence and example of an Elder, it doesn’t have the feel or structure of hierarchy. Since all have the ability to speak and to be heard, a talking circle feels like democracy in action. There’s a built-in sense of community.

Being Mennonite, the idea of community is familiar to me. Community isn’t a monochromatic experience, though. It’s interesting how sometimes community feels natural and nurturing, and other times feels imposed or even excluding. I believe that the strongest communities are those that have lots of room for diversity and even maverick perspectives. Very homogeneous communities that are based on conformity to a narrow set of norms may seem strong, but can they really be adaptable to new situations, or even truly recognize the all the factors/individuals that affect/enrich their lives?

I wrote The Circle Is as a way of exploring the attitudes and expectations we bring to community, and also to express some views of what community could be at its best. The metaphor of the circle felt like a good way to hold it together thematically.

Here are the lyrics;

The Circle Is

Some enter the circle like a roundabout,
They come in only looking for a way out.
Others have it spinning like a top
They don’t go anywhere, & they never stop.

Some see the circle as a hurricane,
Where our lives get destroyed by the weather.
Some see the circle as a great big blender
Where everyone gets stirred together.

We see the circle as a safe place,
Where each can look into the eyes of another.

God knows, we’re always walking in lines,
Standing in boxes that go up and down.
Everything is organized
so we can be efficient, So we can get around.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended,
Where healing can take place.
We need a circle – we can serve each other –
A place where the juices of our souls can be replaced.

The circle is a bowl that holds
Nourishment for our souls…
…a turbine on a hill that makes the most
Of the power of the wind that blows.

Some enter the circle like a roundabout –
they come in only looking for a way out.

We need a circle, we need a safe space,
Judgement suspended, where healing can take place…
Judgement suspended, where healing
can take place.

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(I Want to be) Like Democracy

Sir Winston Churchill is supposed to have said “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others”.

What he meant by that, of course, is that while no political system is perfect – each has its advantages and disadvantages – he on balance actually preferred democracy. Chances are that he was responding to criticism of the British Parliamentary system of democracy, and his reply was somewhat sarcastic or sardonic.

I wanted to write a song that would discuss the relative benefits of democracy, but would not be limited to a kind of memorization tool for school. I did write the song so that it could possibly be used in class, maybe introducing some political systems ideas to the class in a different way than through note-taking or the more traditional forms of educational introductions to ideas. The song would ideally also be able to stand on its own. So I thought maybe I could use democracy itself as a kind of metaphor.

Like political systems, people also are not perfect. Sir Winston Churchill wasn’t, and I’m not either. But as it happens, the ideals behind modern liberal democracy are also ideals that I hold dear – openness, accountability, human rights, sharing power, freedom…. And, of course, ideals require some sacrifices. Sharing power means giving up one’s own notions of power; it means not always being able to have your own way. These sacrifices are worthwhile, though, because of the greater importance and priority of the ideals.

I have released my song ‘Like Democracy’ in several versions, and in various ways. There is the latest, commercially available version, which can be heard on Spotify or Napster or Tidal or Deezer or YouTube or various other streaming services, and which is also available for purchase via Amazon or iTunes and other digital music distribution services. There is another version of Like Democracy available for upload right on this site (under the ‘Educational’ tab, choose ‘Curriculum Songs’ from the drop-down menu), and another one on my YouTube channel. The lyrics are available on this website too, just below the website recording of the song.

On this website, also on the ‘Educational Tab’, there’s a Question Sheets Related segment in the dropdown menu that also uses the song Like Democracy for exploring ideas related to human rights, specifically the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For me, the main significant lines in Like Democracy are

“I wanna be like democracy,
Give my friends a chance to reach the top.
Sometimes things might go wrong,
Sometimes people let you down,
So then I also wanna have a way to stop.”
This brings out the political idea of power being in the hands of the people, rather than in the hands of a leader. Also, on a personal level, it is about both trust and a willingness to change.

2. “I wanna bring out the best in people,
I wanna know about the worst.
I wanna blend love, mercy, and justice,
And the right kinds of hunger and thirst.”
This is about how the idea of sharing power politically, along with providing freedom, gives people the opportunity to come up with new ideas and contribute to society and each other.
On the other hand, it is about how an open society with a free press and political opposition parties provides accountability. True democracy is only viable when people know what their choices are.
On a personal level, it’s about honest relationship and caring. “The right kinds of hunger and thirst” is a spiritual reference to a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” – in other words, for right and equitable living in authentic community.

And finally,
3. “And I would take love over fear,
Even at the risk I might get hurt.
No true affection in the voice
Of one who hasn’t got a choice,
So I’ll give up control or even lose my shirt.”

One of the ways in which dictators maintain control of their societies is through the use of fear and force. The idea of choice is frightening to dictators, because they perceive any action which represents ideas different from their own as a threat to their power. Real democracy encourages choice. It allows for different ideas to emerge, in the hope that a full discussion of possibilities can result in ultimately better decisions being made, even if there are some difficult moments in the meantime.
On a personal level, I too want to be willing to take risks in relationship. Coercion and love are different things, and it’s the real thing that I’m interested in. So since there’s “no true affection in the voice of one who hasn’t got a choice,” I have to be willing to take loss if what I really want is love. It can’t be coerced.

I first wrote ‘Like Democracy’ around 10 years ago. It’s still one of my favourite songs of all those that I have written.

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Express-sing the Inbetweens

Sure, celebrating big moments & mourning big losses really is important. But every moment is worth our awareness, and all of life should be lived fully.

Songs often are about our high points and our low points. Part of what I hope to do is express those emotions that are in between the extremes.

There’s a risk of confusing action or drama for meaning. Sometimes I think I get bored and try to find a way to make a fresh storyline for my life. I don’t think I’m alone in that… in our fast-paced world, we develop a taste for drama like wild predators develop a taste for blood. Action and the high and low emotions help us to avoid or forget our true anxieties and existential concerns.

So what I want to do is bring out the middle colours of emotion – like doubt, hope, concern, caring, anxiety, dissatisfaction, contentment. Maybe if we can more fully express the range of our emotions, we can avoid leaping from one extreme to another too. Maybe we can more fully live our lives in the day-to-day, and feel alive doing it – or at least have a greater acceptance of ourselves and our emotions because we are more able to name our experience.

My songs ‘I Don’t Know What I Want’ and ‘When I’m Dissatisfied’ are two of those in which I try to express some of those midpoints; indecision, regret, and discontent that seems to arise for no reason.

The lyrics for those 2 songs follow. First, “I Don’t Know What I Want”.

I don’t know what I want
Many good thing pass me by
I don’t know what I want
Many good thing pass me by
Hope something’s still out there
When I make up my mind

Well, it might have been love
Maybe just infatuation
…but it might have been love
Hope someone will have me
In the fullness of time

Maybe should have said yes
Maybe it just as well
Maybe should have said yes
Maybe it just as well
I don’t know what I want
I don’t know what I want
I don’t know what I want
…many good thing pass me by

The ‘No Regrets’ slogan irritates me at times. Maybe I’m the only one. I realize that it’s supposed to be about living to the fullest and not being afraid to make mistakes.

But I think the idea of denying any regret also kind of denies that what I do has impacts on other people, and that sometimes those impacts could be more positive. That’s where I carry regret – when I know that things I have said or done were self-serving or ignorant. Of course I don’t want that regret to paralyze me and lead to inaction, because that could only compound harm or fail to serve the good.

So yeah, ‘I Don’t Know What I Want’ is about having that regret and uncertainty, and being in the moment of it, and recognizing that sometimes the loss we experience comes from not taking the opportunities that we had when they were offered, and those missed opportunities affect ourselves and others too.

When I’m Dissatisfied

When I’m dissatisfied
I can’t find a reason
No matter what I try
There’s no pleasin’ me

I get anxious and impatient
Though I have no place to be
And my family starts wondering
What’s going on with me

When I’m dissatisfied
When I’m dissatisfied

When I’m dissatisfied
I can’t find peace
Every song on the radio
Sounds like noise to me

When I’m dissatisfied
I’m dying by degrees
I get soul-weary, tired
And I’m filled with apathy

When I’m dissatisfied
When I’m dissatisfied

Seldom do things seem to matter

Often time feels blah at best

Nothing ever really seems to
Change the east or move the west

Then I try to mix it up
Try to get out of my rut
Do different things, change my routine
Try to move myself, but

When I’m dissatisfied
I am dissatisfied
When I’m dissatisfied
I am dissatisfied

… I think ‘When I’m Dissatisfied’ is worth my time to sing because simply expressing discontent is sometimes enough for me to feel a bit better. Also, it’s a song that doesn’t blame anyone or anything for the fact that I’m feeling a bit grumpy or a bit off. Sometimes a person just feels off, and that’s okay, and it’s probably better to recognize that and accept it than to look for a scapegoat for that sense of discontent.

So to sum up, I believe that if we come to better understand and express the daily emotions that we feel in all of their complexity, we may ultimately feel more at peace and content. Forging such a connection to our emotions – a kind of spiritual connection, I believe – may help us to avoid the pitfalls of seeking more drama or action in a misguided quest to fill the void we feel when we don’t understand the root of the emotions that we have.

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