Driving Thoughts (pt.2) – The Matrix, the Counting Crows, and Anne Lamott

I have a friend who set aside a time to blog every Saturday. Sometimes he would blog at other times, yet he disciplined himself to write at a set time every week. I think I will try to do that for Mondays.

I recently drove from Portland, Maine to Charlotte, North Carolina. 16 hours alone on the road gives you plenty of time to sing yourself hoarse to “Joshua Tree.” It also provides a wee bit of time to poke through the recesses of grey matter and see what sets to scurrying. I want to explore briefly returning to life in America through the lenses of “The Matrix”, “Counting Crows”, and Anne Lamott. These are three diverse thoughts, yet please stay with me, as I think they tie together in the end.

Before I started writing this morning I read a post from my friend, Corrigan, who works in Haiti(http://apparentproject.blogspot.com/2010/10/begging-and-dancing.html), and it caused two reactions. First, “yep, he’s on to something, but how can I write in light of something like this?” Second – and after more reflection – “This actually goes along with my thoughts on ‘The Matrix,’so maybe I will write.”

A striking scene occurs near the beginning of “The Matrix” in which one of the characters – Cypher – decides he has had enough with ‘real life’ and wants to get plugged back into the Matrix. While he plans his betrayal he says, “I don’t wanna remember nothing. Nothing, you understand?” As I thought about this quote I expanded upon what this character could really mean. “I want to go back to a life of distractions – a life in which I don’t have to live mindful of the realities of this world. I wish I didn’t know better. What would life be like if I never truly felt or truly saw? What would life be like if I could only live distracted like others – oblivious (or at least pretending to be) to the real world around them?”

In ways different and at different times along this journey I ask myself similar questions. What would life be like if I didn’t see the homelessness and could let it fade into the background of city life? What would life be like if I could tune out domestic disputes down the street by turning up the T.V.? What would it be like to walk into a grocery store…or turn on the hot water…or look at a closet full of clothes… and not think of people around this world with so little? What would it be like not to feel guilty spending money thinking, “Is this really necessary, or should we not buy this and give the money to Haiti, or Cambodia, or education, or the food bank, or…?” What would life be like if I could watch the news and not care? oh wait, I don’t. I didn’t intend to start out that way. Somehow I taught myself to skim the BBC or watch the news with casual disinterest or calloused cynicism. Even so, I know that I can’t return to a life disconnected from a hurting world. At times I want to turn up the radio or T.V. and drown out the world, only to be confronted with real world. I watch movies or T.V. knowing the story is false and the people are just actors and actresses, yet what the story represents are real stories of joy and pain. How do I live in between the faux and the real? – between the joy and the pain?

As I drove around Maine last week I stuck in the Counting Crows for some distraction. A line from a song reminded me of some time spent with a friend a couple of weeks ago. We ranted, raved, problem-solved, and imagined a world in which the Church stood up and acted – a world in which the majority of people who claim a faith actually allowed their beliefs to change their lifestyles – a world in which he and I would actually do something… The line: “‘Round here we talk like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs…” Our roar gets covered up by the bills, the new T.V. series, the game, the need for cable or dish, the need for more, the coupons, the flyers, the junk mail, the real mail, the telemarketers calls, the good causes, the political spewing on radio, t.v. and bumperstickers…
Our roar gets covered up, so maybe we try to roar again. At times we roar ourselves hoarse. Other times we roar quieter and quieter into disinterest because there’s no use, right? We forget that our roar actually can make a difference. We wanted the roar to route the complacency of the wildebeest, and more often than not we end up trimming our mane and rolling in the dirt to look like wildebeest. If you can’t beat them, join them, right?

It reminds me of the scene from “Dead Poets Society” in which the teacher has the student stand upon the desk and sound his barbaric Yawp. Amidst the jeers, snickering, and giggling, the teacher encourages the student to give voice to the poetry of his heart. It does not make sense at first as he goes on about a “sweaty-toothed madman.” Yet this moment transforms the student and grows courage in him both to speak the truth of his convictions and to allow that truth to effect the way he lives.

This leads to Anne Lamott. In her book “Traveling Mercies” she describes a time when she struggled to pray. As I sat with my friend a few weeks ago, amidst our diatribe we shared of times when we could only pray like Anne.

“Lord, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Help me. Help me. Help me.”

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