Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It's a Hard Drive's a-Gonna Fall

Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. I was happily typing away on my computer keyboard in my office at work, listening to music I'd stored on iTunes, when all of a sudden a grinding noise interrupted my enjoyment of Half-Handed Cloud or Andrew Bird or somesuch. My hard drive crashed, and all of my music crashed with it.

I'm smart, so they tell me: I store all my working documents on the network server, so a hard-drive crash is a professional inconvenience moreso than a total calamity. When asked whether I lost anything important, I quickly responded no. Then I thought about it, and realized that I lost all the music that I've downloaded or uploaded to my computer. That doesn't affect my work, but it sure did affect my mood.

I use iTunes, but I don't have an iPod. I didn't think I needed one, since I could play songs on my PDA, which incidentally exploded on me a few weeks ago. So while I've bought my share of music from iTunes, and downloaded my share of music from artist websites, and burned my share of CDs from my collection onto my hard-drive for convenience's sake, and organized my share of playlists for the listening convenience of my networked-in coworkers, today I find myself sitting in silence, with nothing but the memory of much of my music.

Now, then, comes the task of rebuilding, which involves revisiting the relative significance of what I've stored in the past. What attracted me to these songs in the first place? Do I repurchase songs like "Freeze-Frame" by J. Geils Band or "Common People" by William Shatner (with Ben Folds and Joe Jackson), or were they simply indulgences that I ought to now forgo? Do I track down Ben Kweller's website again so I can get his songs for free, or do I bite the bullet and pay the money to support the artist? Is the studio version of Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble" adequate, or should I go looking again for the live version? And do I really like Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional enough to pay for their music, or should I be grateful for the time I had with their free downloads and leave it at that?

The genius of iTunes is that 99 cents seems like a pittance, a song purchase the sort of impulse that's not worth resisting. Why should I not buy "The Connection" by Phish or "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones? They take up so little space and they bring me such pleasure! Not to mention what they do for my reputation: I am legitimately regarded as eclectic by virtue of the diversity of artists included in my playlists. But do I have to have them: there's the question. If I do, then my music--and all I've allowed it to say about me--has taken possession of my person, and I have become an idolator.

I'm reminded of the rebuilding of Jerusalem's temple, recorded in Ezra 3:
All the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.

The new temple would be as nothing compared to the original, a fact that caused legitimate lament for Jerusalem's elders. But for those who were young, the wreckage of the old temple--not the temple itself--was all they had known, and so this new temple was a fresh start, bringing with it a new sense of possibility for each and everyone gathered. They cheered, and rightly so: the laying of the foundation of the second temple marked the beginning of a new era of the people of God, one into which eventually the Son of God would come.

What purpose, then, would the old temple now serve? It holds a legitimate place in the cultural memory of the Jewish people, and a significant place in the canon of Jewish and Christian scriptures. But the temple itself was dead, and the elders of Ezra's day--to have any future hope--needed to let it die.

There was a point, in fact, in Israel's history when the temple began to hinder the faith of the people of God. Jeremiah spoke bitterly on God's behalf:

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!" If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. (Jeremiah 7:4-8)

Jesus challenged the cult of the temple as well in his own day: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days!" (John 3:19). He was speaking of his body rather than the building, but that was the point: God is bigger than a building, and when we think otherwise, we've allowed the building--or our reputation, or our possessions, or whatever--to take possession of us. We've made these things into gods, and so we've become idolators.

Maybe that's overstating the case. But while we're inclined to legitimately mourn the end of something, there's a way of understanding that same moment as the beginning of something new, and to dwell on the end is to subvert the new beginning. Our posture toward the world ought to be creative rather than reactive.

I still "don't like Mondays" (the Boomtown Rats--check it out), but for now at least I'll live without it. In the meantime I'll look forward to cobbling together new playlists and exploring music afresh. In the process, maybe I'll catch some hints about what new things God might be creating in me.


Pete Juvinall said...

You ought to take a look at 'Paper Route' - saw them @ Cornerstone this year and they were darn entertaining. Kind of a more electronic Coldplay.

Craver Vii said...

Remind me to never let you around anything electrical. Oh wait, I don't have any of those gizmos... nevermind.

Unknown said...

You had "I want to be sedated" and "Freeze Frame" on your iTunes and I never knew it??? Oh, Dave, I'm mourning our networked loss, too.

But, yes, I will look forward to the rebuilding and sharing in your temple journey

And, thanks for getting me started me on itunes with you :)

Web said...

Ok Dave, this may be a bit cynical, but your situation reminds me of a joke:

Jesus and Satan have a discussion as to who is the better programmer. This goes on for a few hours until they come to an agreement to hold a contest, with God as the judge.

They sit themselves at their computers and begin. They type furiously, lines of code streaming up the screen, for several hours straight. Seconds before the end of the competition, a bolt of lightning strikes, taking out the electricity. Moments later, the power is restored, and God announces that the contest is over.

He asks Satan to show what he has come up with. Satan is visibly upset, and cries, "I have nothing. I lost it all when the power went out."

"Very well, then," says God, "let us see if Jesus fared any better."

Jesus enters a command, and the screen comes to life in vivid display, the voices of an angelic choir pour forth from the speakers. Satan is astonished.

He stutters, "B-b-but how? I lost everything, yet Jesus' program is intact. How did he do it?"

God smiled all-knowingly, "Jesus saves."

Found at http://computerjokes.net/128.htm

Pete Juvinall said...

Got into far too interesting of a discussion this morning at Denny's over 'Technology as Idol' in a bookgroup I'm in at church.

Tech is a bit of a harsh mistress; it can be subdued but can easily creep up as an idol when you're not looking.

You made me want to do a bit of a search through my collection for those type of albums (ones that are just there...not really enjoyable) and delete them.

David Zimmerman said...

Here's a song to listen to while you do that:

"Burn down the mission
Burn it down to stay alive
It's our only chance of living
Take all you need to live inside"
(Elton John & Bernie Taupin)

We might consider ourselves "functionally idolatrous" (akin to functionally illiterate) if we reach a point where we need tech to function (where we don't know how to wash dishes, for example, because we have a dishwasher, or where we can't discern which way is north when our GPS konks out on us), or where we can't articulate our mood or convictions without reference to a song lyric. Religion serves a similar idolatrous function; the Buddhists get around it by saying, "If you find the Buddha, kill him." Under Christianity, of course, we did kill our Buddha, and he rose again--which makes Christianity that much more distinct. Maybe it's like Tolkien's "true myth": Christianity is the "true idolatry."

Oh, I hope I wasn't being sacriligeous just then.

Pete Juvinall said...

O.k. later in the afternoon report; I'm about 200ish songs deleted and about 1/4 of the way through my collection.

The nice thing though is that I'm finding a ton of stuff that I've missed.

I totally put that Elton John song into my shopping cart though. I love it and a fond memory growing up was watching the 'Live from Austraila' video - having that song and backing it with a symphony is just wonderful...

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