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Tuesday
Dec092014

White. (How Did I Get Here?)

I am white.  In fact, I am so white that my mother used to give me small doses of Antihistamine when I was a child because it drew color into my cheeks.  It is a common understanding amongst my friends and family that I have the ability to repel sunlight, a skill that leaves me neither Coppertone tanned or Lobster red.  I simply arrive at the beach and then leave having not a single change in pigment or shade.  No tan lines.  I haven’t always cared about being white.  It hasn’t been a focus for me except in the limited moments when I found myself lost in some inner-city neighborhood or when I inadvertently scared African children who had never seen someone with my skin color set foot in their village.  Aside from those experiences, I have never had to give much attention to the color of my skin and so I have not had to give much thought to how I have been privileged because of it.

But this is a moment in history that cannot be shrugged off.  We cannot simply coast along and disregard our implication and influence in the effect and affect of those whose skin color has kept many forms of freedom and equality at bay. 

To be blunt, this is not a conversation I want to have.  This is not a topic that I want to address.  It is not something I can speak to with much life experience anchoring the points I make.  But I have read enough, and listened enough and have kept my eyes open long enough to offer a perspective that may be helpful to some.

I will attempt to keep this as brief as possible, as I know the way you operate.  No one likes to read long essays.  We live in a culture based in 140 character conversations, emoticons, and Snap-chats.  And life is becoming faster and more disposable with every text. Even if McDonald’s earnings are down a significant 5% this fiscal year, we still value brevity over quality.

I’d like to start at the beginning.  White western culture has been a fly in the ointment of equality for centuries.  History whether revisionist or not has not been able to fully hide the fact that white people have always thought a bit too highly of ourselves.  And we have historically established some pretty asinine ideas about bone structures or heights or facial features or skin colors that mean a person is more valuable than another.  We should not think for a second that we have ever embraced the concept of equality with any true fervor.  The closest we have come is best exemplified in the famous quote from Benjamin Franklin, “All men are created equal… some more than others.”

The genocide that took place between once peaceful and intermixed tribes in Rwanda began decades before when the Belgians enforced their colonial hierarchy of value and separated the tribes based on the length of the nose and structural features of the faces of tribes.  They basically came in and started a system of marginalization that grew until 1994 when more than 100,000 people were mutilated and hacked to death in less than 100 days. 

That was only one example of how whites have acted on our perceived sense of superiority over other races.  I am going to step out on a limb and indict the white man as acting superior when we offered small pox contaminated blankets to the natives in that historic Thanksgiving season.  In the name of freedom and the ability to worship God in our own way, we enslaved and dehumanized everyone else.

It was not simply the act of establishing a human hierarchy between other races that was problematic.  It was the mindset that we had thinking we even had the right to step in and declare anything of the sort.  Who were we to make such judgments?

Who are we to suggest that a person, because of their skin color, is expendable, or useful only to our own ends, or for our own means?  We have skated by never having been accountable to those questions. 

Let’s continue with historic slavery.  We live somewhat enlightened these days, and most white people believe that slavery was cruel and wrong.  We have watched The Color Purple, Roots, Glory, Amistad, 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained.  The portrayals we observe on the screen leave us little elbowroom to argue the positive benefits to humanity that slave culture provided.  It was evil. 

The modern civil rights movement that has ebbed and flowed over the past 50 years has taught many of us that our ideas about color have been grossly out of balance.  Our white supremacy reared its face in the form of lynching’s and burning crosses and dignity stripping assigned water fountains, bus seats, schools and restaurants. 

And although most of us are quick to see how wrong things like segregation are, we are slow to understand and acknowledge the long lasting structures and systems that are resting faithfully on the inhumane foundation of racial inequality that we, the white people of the world, benefit from every day. 

It is a hard pill to swallow.  No one wants to look in the mirror and see a racist staring back.  But lets face it.  We might as well admit that we are recovering racists because when we don’t, we are simply committing another act of racism. There is no way out of this one.  

It isn’t that we outright embrace ideas of racism as it has historically played out. …at least the majority of us do not.  It is that we fail to acknowledge and break the constructs of racism that have and presently are giving us the upper hand compared to those it oppresses.

To put it crassly, lets say there is a torrential rain that causes the land to flood.  We escape the floodwaters because we live in a house that was built on top of other houses inhabited by people who have drowned or are presently drowning.  It’s complicated, and also very simple.  We have two choices. We can either continue to live in the house enjoying the benefit of our safety without acknowledging the people who drowned and are currently drowning to give us our safety.  Or we must choose to undermine the foundation and bring light to the people who are suffering under the weight of our safety.  This would mean that we would probably get a little wet. 

White people benefit every day from foundations of racial inequality that exist in the form of job opportunities, educational, geographic, and economic opportunities.  It also plays out in the fears and prejudices that hold influence over the institutions of criminal justice and trickles down to homeowners associations.  

I spoke with an elementary school student recently.  I asked him for his perspective on black people in his school.  He said that the black people were not as smart as the white people.  This seemed like a harsh and probably unfounded statement, but for the sake of conversation, I let it stand.  “Do you think, if given the same opportunity and set in a more common environment that the black kids would be just as smart as the white kids?”  His response to that question was utter silence.  I could tell he was just thinking about all the layers that had to be uncovered to answer that question with more than just a hopeful positive. 

White people are so free we have to create cages for ourselves.  We set our own boundaries.  We make up things to fear.  We develop the knee jerk reaction of being offended.  But honestly, we get to live where we want to, shop where we want to, apply for jobs with an unbridled trust that we actually have a good shot at landing it.  We can trust that our police officers are there for our protection.  We can lean on the banks to give us loans without the threat of overwhelming and impossible obstacles.  We are not immediately perceived as suspect when we enter a gas station or shopping mall.  These are things we take for granted as white people.  I know I do. 

Being white has its inarguable privileges.  It always has.  And even though I strongly believe that opportunities are made and not just taken thus there is a bottomless well for the making and seizing, the harsh reality of life is that we function as if opportunities come as a result of taking away opportunities from someone else. 

Social constructs being what they are, it will take generations to identify and demolish the racially perverse systems that we live with.  And that all begins with the acknowledging that they exist, and that we have benefitted. 

I have heard so many of my white friends flippantly ask why black people can’t move on and get over it. ..As if the very same structures that have given them opportunities and security have not and are not balanced on the other end by ambient and present oppression.

As Mel Brooks said, and Tom Petty sang, “It’s good to be king.”  But every king knows the weights and balances that keep everything working to their advantage.  And it is time that we remove ourselves from the racial throne and look carefully at our foundations, histories, and lifestyle.  We have been given an opportunity to choose love for all humanity.  We have all been handed a pen to write the next chapter of world history.   Do we continue to live out of our ignorance or do we accept that we are implicated in the history of oppression and inequality and find a healthy forum for repentance and reconciliation? 

I won’t turn these musings into a pep talk.  The issue is too complex and although it began on the surface with a judgment based on skin color, it is a matter of hearts and souls.    So at the very least, even as we roll our eyes at looters and violent protestors, take some time making an inventory of what you hold dear.  List the ways your life is beautiful and free.  Ask yourself the question David Byrne posed in the 80’s… “You may ask yourself… “How did I get here?”

Monday
Dec082014

Advent...

Waiting.  We need not give too much of our attention to the percentage of our lives spent in the state of waiting.  We know it is a lot.  It is more than a visceral or present function.  Waiting is an ambient and consistent tone, the eternal ringing in our ears that often we are deaf to, but occasionally aware that it does not go away. 

We are waiting right now.  It is, quite possibly, the very thing, like the tension of a great story that keeps us moving forward.  I might even suggest that if there were no waiting, there would be no living.  There would be no hoping. 

It seems to me that the escalation of abuse, racial discrimination and violence, war, and suffering does not seem out of place.  When we enter the season of Advent we must raise our eyes up to see if whom we are waiting for is coming.  The view before us, is undoubtedly obscured by things neglected or unacknowledged.  We see the world with such clarity.  If what we wait for is peace, love, and understanding, we will see more vividly, the places, the people, the acts that say, “It is not here yet.” 

It draws our hearts and minds to lament.  The human heart with its enormous capacity for holding pain and suffering, in its broken state, cannot hold everything.  It cannot deal with the weight of watching a man die at the hand of police brutality just as the mind cannot organize the puzzle of racial discrimination and hatred that set the acts into motion over the bleeding of hundreds of years. 

In the absence of a path filled with light, or a compass, or a plumb line, we must lament.  We must wait.  Advent is a time of careful and thoughtful attention to the way the world is and the way the world should be.  It is a time of wonder about things we cannot describe and yet long for with every beat of our hearts.  Advent is a time to let our imaginations stride the sacred space of bridges not yet built across the chasm of where we are and whom we are to where we could be and who we could be.  

And we do hope that this point in the history of all things will be brief.  That it will be followed by a time, as C.S. Lewis might have imagined, that is much more like Christmas and much less like winter.  While we wait, while the days of Advent unfold, let us pray for those we do not understand.  Let us pray for those whose very existence provokes us to act less humane.  Let us be mindful that our story is not the only one with pain and disappointment.  May we continue to speak hope to one another through the simple acts of kindness and respect that we perpetuate even if they seem futile and disconnected. 

Waiting is not easy.  It is not easy for anyone.  And we are all waiting.  What will we be about?  What story will we tell?  What star will we point to?  What ways will we serve those within arms reach?  What will we do while we wait?

May your Advent be lightened by the weight of hope. 

-Dan  

Friday
Apr252014

Reset. (context...tangent...apology)

Last week, Jars of Clay performed at a music festival in Australia. As part of the programming of the event, the festival offered various breakout sessions and panel discussions on a host of topics that might be interesting to the festival attendees.  I was invited to sit on a panel discussion about moral behavior and the church.  The question we were presented was, “Does the western church’s focus on moral behavior undermine the church’s ability to love?”

On one side of me sat the head of a lobbying group that fought against the legalization of gay marriage in Australia.   On the other side of me was a Christian street evangelist.   I was immediately aware that I had not given much attention to the dialogue about gay rights.  I knew it was a focal topic for many people in the church, and that it was a major issue in the growing partisanship of American politics, I just had not had the opportunity to think about it much. 

During the panel discussion, the question was asked of the lobbyist, “Why not legalize gay marriage?”   His response sparked my curiosity.  He said that gay marriage was a slippery slope into other forms of marriage ie:  polygamy, marriage to animals, etc.  He also said that it was harmful to children to be forced into a situation without a father, or without a mother.  He also spoke of the sanctity of the traditional marriage model and how it could be diminished. 

It was a lively conversation, and in the end, I don’t think we reached much of an answer to the question of moral behavior and the church.  I did walk away with quite a lot to think about.  I had so many questions about gay marriage.  With so many angles to consider and so many layers to unfold, it was overwhelming, and so I did what most people do, I got distracted and forgot about it.

Two days later, I was on an international flight traveling back to the U.S.   I should have been sleeping, but the time reversal’s effect on my body kept me awake, and so I caught up on a few movies.   The one that stirred my soul, more than Anchorman 2 or American Hustle was 12 Years a Slave. 

The film had such incredible storytelling and superb acting that gave faces and souls to the men, women and children trapped in slavery.  The thing that continued to swirl around my mind was a scene when one of the slave owners was quoting scripture to slaves.  He was using the words to drive home a point about his supremacy over the slaves, and the wrath they would face if they were disobedient.

He was mis-using scripture to back up his acts of oppression toward another human.  He was using scripture to back up his idea that slaves were less than human, and so should not be given the rights of humans. 

I would not say that the issues of slavery, which are tied to color and race, clearly mirror the issues of gay rights.  But for some reason, all the questions I had surrounding gay marriage came rushing back.

I sat on the plane and thought about the hard questions I would have to ask myself in order to find my way toward a healthy dialogue about gay rights.  If gay men and women were being oppressed, not having an opinion in the matter seemed equal to the acceptance of systemic racism by way of silence.  The common quote, “What is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” came to mind.

Having grown up in the Christian church, I have observed and perpetrated many acts that originated out of fear.  In my career as an artist, musician, and storyteller, I have attempted to illuminate fear-based behavior in the church.

I have attempted to provide questions that could lead to a more love based approach.   This has meant taking a careful and often critical view of contemporary church behavior and culture.  At times this has led me to unproductive and unfair assessments of the church culture.  Other times, it has helped me navigate around unhealthy environments and practices that could have caused me to hurt people.

I wanted to figure out if I had a blind spot.  Was I buying into a form of oppression? 

Or does the legalization of gay marriage actually undermine traditional marriage and the biblical view of how we are called to live our lives?

So… yes, the implications and applications of answers to these hard questions are staggeringly important.   And my engagement of the issue of just under 3 days left me very under equipped to answer my own questions.

 

So that was the background and motivation behind my latest Twitter conversation. 

 

(A TANGENT + EXPLANATION)

 

Why Twitter?  Like most people who use it, I have found that 140 characters is incredibly limiting.  I have to constantly re-sculpt and re-fashion my words.  I am constantly chopping and simplifying my statements… and for that very reason, it keeps me and others from just vomiting opinions into the middle of the conversation. 

I have liked the limitations because some people, me included, like to write doctoral dissertations that cannot possibly be helpful in a live and organic dialogue about an issue.  The format is quick, and it is inclusive.  It is also the only space I know with such a vast collection of different people with different perspectives. 

Now, the draw back to Twitter as a discussion format is that it is sometimes hard to find the nuance in a persons post.  And in my case, I think I’m communicating one thing, but what comes out is entirely different…. In my haste to get the next idea out, I wrote things that were unnecessarily combative. 

For example, In my latest conversation on Twitter, I knew that the immediate response to questions about the gay community would be about whether gay sex was wrong or right.   I do think this is a part of the issue, but I wanted to talk about other areas, and having just been on a panel discussing the ways the church’s focus on moral behavior undermines its ability to love, I didn’t want to get stuck on the “moral right or wrong” part and stall any ability to talk about other aspects of the issue.   So I wrote:

 

@Scribblepetomus:

“It is perhaps less important to know what is “right and wrong” morally speaking, than to know how to act toward those we consider “wrong.” 

 

“I don’t particularly care about Scriptures stance on what is “wrong.” I care more about how it says we should treat people.”

In the heat of discussion, I communicated poorly and thus unintentionally wrote that I did not care about what scripture said.  Thus, the tsunami hit.  It was picked up by bloggers and written into editorials before I could blink.  And rightly so, people were shocked and offended by my statement dismissing the value of scripture.  I got it. And possibly, I got what that combination of statements warranted for response. I should’ve chosen my words more wisely.

 

I care about what scripture says.   It matters.    

The second round of poorly chosen words surrounded the clarity of scripture.  I was trying to communicate that although we often say, “Scripture is clear about this or that,” the very fact that so many people disagree or have alternate perspectives or interpretations of scripture, means that we have to move beyond simply quoting a scripture to prove our point.   We have to dig into the scripture and help translate it and offer context. Simply quoting a scripture can stall out a good honest dialogue.

 

But what I wrote was:

 

“Never liked the phrase: “Scripture clearly says…(blank) about…”

Because most people read and interpret scripture wrong,  I don’t think scripture “clearly” states much of anything regarding morality.”

 

Yeah…. That was definitely not my intended point.  This was also met with a great amount of negative feedback. 

 

So, that said, Twitter is a great place to share selfies and a horrible forum for discussions and a bad place to communicate under the fog of jetleg...which leads me to this:

 

(MY APOLOGY)

In my questions and dialogue with people on Twitter, it became evident that the issue I had chosen to discuss was far too personal, nuanced, and deeply connected to faith and our human condition to honor the amount of wrestling that others have done on this topic.  And though they were my questions and it was a dialogue provoked by me, it bled into the Jars of Clay world, and my other band mates felt people’s dismay, frustration and the projection of my views and ideas back on to them. It is not theirs to shoulder. 

It was a poor choice of venue on my part.  I chose some of my words poorly.  And I was unable to moderate the conversation in such a way that it kept everyone’s views with a shared validity and civility as I had hoped.    And so, I am not going to continue the conversation on that forum.  I do apologize for causing such a negative stir. 

In the coming days, I will begin posting some questions on my blog (www.danhaseltine.com, and even doing some interviews around this topic, as I believe there can be healthy dialogue and better understanding even if there is not shared agreement.  I am dedicated to being a life long learner.  With a full heart- Dan

Thursday
Nov282013

THANKS

To everyone who has entered in to the conversation about faith and art, to everyone who pushed back against the urge to judge someone else, To everyone who walked Inland this year, To everyone who made a choice to give lavishly and help friends in Africa and The Philippines, To everyone who came and sang along with us in bars and theaters and fairs and churches, To everyone who encouraged me to walk with confidence down the creative path I walked, To everyone who has looked harder at the world and thus entered it with compassion and grace, To everyone who helped Jars of Clay and The Hawk In Paris rise above the noise, To everyone who steps into the light and exposed their human story, that others may be free from shame and guilt, To everyone who made the world a better place whether by thought, word, or deed....

 

THANKS! - Dan

 

 

Tuesday
Nov052013

THE HAWK IN PARIS (a primer)

If you have been following me on Twitter(@scribblepotemus) or Facebook (Dan Haseltine Music), you have heard about The Hawk In Paris.  It is a collaboration between Matt Bronleewe, Jeremy Bose and myself. 

Many people are curious to know why such a project has to exist given the creative outlet that Jars of Clay has been over the past 19 years.  So I thought I would take a moment to give some context for this project, how it evolved, what it is, and what we hope to accomplish through it.

 

The Beginning:

Matt Bronleewe and I met in college, and it was only a short time after meeting that we began working together on studio projects.  In fact, Matt was very influential in the formation of Jars of Clay, as his thumb print is all over almost all of the songs written for the self-titled Jars of Clay debut record. 

When Jars of Clay left college to pursue a career in music, Matt stayed behind and finished walking down the college path, and although we continued to be friends, we did not reconnect until we joined forces on the first Plumb record.

Once that record was completed, our creative paths divided once again, and we did not work together again until, on a whim, Matt called me to see if I wanted to write and see what happened.  I have long been a fan of Matt’s work as a producer and writer, and jumped at the chance to reconnect.

So we gathered one afternoon in his studio and wrote the skeleton of a song called, “Curse the Love Songs.”  Our intention was to write without any parameters or genre guardrails.  It was a grand experiment, and it almost worked. 

After writing the song, we lived with it for a few weeks.  I have a distinct memory of walking around the streets of Seattle with the song playing over and over on my iPod.  It was just voice and piano at the time. 

Matt had been collaborating with Jeremy Bose for some time, and we both wondered what he could bring to the song.  So we sent him the track and asked him to develop the idea further.  The result was a cinematic dreamscape that set the stage for the melancholy tone of, The Hawk In Paris.

Jeremy Bose was also a college friend whom I had worked with on the original versions of Like a Child, and Lovesong for a Saviour on the FRAIL demo.  Jeremy actually played flute and recorder on those songs.  So it was equally wonderful to reconnect with him.

I had heard he had become a music genius, a mad scientist of sorts, and was pleased to find that this was true.  So the three of us formed and began writing more and finding some footing as we stretched ourselves to become The Hawk In Paris.

 

So, what IS the Hawk In Paris?...

If you want a musical or genre classification, we are calling it, “dark pop music.”  And it is the result of trust, passion, and creative innovation.

Matt and Jeremy and I have a chemistry that yields electronically grounded, intelligently crafted pop music with a melancholy thread woven through it.  It is just what happens when we gather together. 

Our collective musical histories that span folk, electronic, classical and arena rock from the 80’s mix together and the sound it makes is The Hawk In Paris.

Our motivations were simple.  We just wanted to work together and see if we could enjoy the freedom of working on music free from any of our normal “day job” limitations.  We had an empty canvas, or an empty music hall. 

When I listen to the songs, I smile because they represent a part of me that has largely been untapped.  The songs come from a deeper place, and a younger place then most of what I write.  I love pop music.  I love it as an exhale.  The records of my youth, Abba, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran…etc, all had a chance to have influence on these songs, and I like hearing their echoes in the music.

I have always stood by my single criteria in songwriting, which is to never lie.  I write songs about everything, sex, love, broken hearts, dancing…etc, and write what I know.  It serves me well in the writing of The Hawk In Paris.

The music is free of mission.  It is free from listener prejudices that have stilted quite a bit of my music over my career.  It is a chance to begin something new and something inspiring as I reach 20 years in the music world.

 

What do we hope to accomplish?

Well, the first thing we hope to accomplish is to release the album into the world.  We have been working on this project for nearly 2 years.  The songs have evolved and have finally found their place on the full-length record, “FREAKS.”

In the last 2 years, I have made two records that I am exceptionally proud of.  I have two records that speak well of my creative vision, and execution.  One of those records is, INLAND.  The other, “FREAKS.”

We don’t have any particular message that we want to get across to listeners.  We want them to exhale and enjoy the music.  We want them to become wrapped up in the production and cinematic quality of the sound.  We want them to be able to have pop music that isn’t lowest common denominator sludge. 

We are not naïve to the fact that music doesn’t really sell anymore.  It is telling that 37% of all records that release on iTunes sell only 1 copy.  Do we still want to sell records?  Absolutely.  We do because we believe in the listening experience. We believe that artwork and sound and poetry can change the way we see the world.

Since we no longer have record companies and big budgets for marketing, we rely almost entirely on word of mouth.

We even started a Pledge Music Campaign to give fans some tools to tell their friends about the project, and make bigger investments into the art of The Hawk In Paris.  We hope it works.  As I write this, we are holding at 74%, and we only have about a week to complete our funding goal.  If we don’t make the goal, things get much more difficult. 

We are a self-funded, self-made, self-promoted, marketed, designed, delivered business.  There are no safety nets.  Only  us.  Only you.

Other goals:  We would love to hear this music accompanying film, helping to draw emotion into a scene in a movie trailer or a powerful scene in a television show.  We want to hear this music in the clubs, and convertables in the summertime.  We want this music to find it's way into your world and draw a bit of nostalgia and life back into your environment.

So… I hope this helps give context into what we are doing.   If you want to get involved, it would mean a great deal to us.

Here is how:

www.pledgemusic.com/projects/thehawkinparis  or visit: www.thehawkinparis.com

Thanks -Dan