Can Modern Dances Possibly Get Worse?

pexels-photo-341858On Friday night, my wife Teresa and I attended the world’s largest cake fight, held at the UCCU Center at UVU. When I saw the banners advertising the event, I was an instant sell. Teresa and I had also attended what was, at the time, the world’s largest water balloon fight at BYU. It was glorious. So I didn’t have to think twice about the lovely prospect of standing in the midst of a thousand cake missiles. We even purchased premium tickets so that we would have the privilege of being the ones to hurl the cake.

I admire the people who made this event happen, a service to the community that was undoubtedly a labor of love. And what a labor it must have been to clean up such a mess! By the time the last wad of cake was hurled, the floor was covered in a thick, gray sludge, so oily that one could slide around. As we evacuated the building, covered in frosting, everyone had a smile on his face, and it was clear that such a celebration of life had made the world a better place.

Having said all that, I wish to expound on the horror that preceded the bliss. This is in no way a criticism of the good people who put this wonderful event together but of a broad, societal phenomenon. I wish to speak of what is now termed music and dancing.

The event started at 8:30 PM. The official description was vague, so only upon entering the building and speaking to some of the coordinators did we realize that the cake fight wouldn’t take place until midnight. While this was disappointing, our children were spending the night at their grandparents’ house, so why not enjoy a good three hours of dancing?

When we entered the indoor stadium, however, we found the music off-putting. The DJ was blasting heavy … gangster stuff. While I ask you to pardon my ignorance of the proper terminology, I think you can imagine a grinding, distorted bass, relentless boom-booms, and angry, shouting, male vocals. Somewhere in the vicinity of rap, hiphop, and dubstep, these in-your-face slams, blasting at ear-splitting decibels, could have a certain appeal … under the right circumstances … for a limited time. While not our cup of tea, we could at least enjoy moving our bodies to a common beat until something more in line with our preferences came along. After all, there were still three hours to go, and with such a vast world of music to draw from, we looked forward to the classic hits, the jazz, the slow dances, the party songs, and maybe even a little country.

Only the boom-booms just kept going … and going. Interesting to note, over the course of the evening, I don’t recall hearing a single instrument. Every sound was synthesized. Every vocal was pitch-corrected and heavily processed, almost robotic. The sounds were disheveled, chaotic, crazy. When, on occasion, we made out the lyrics of the current angry gangster … they were horrible: rude, profane, sexually explicit, degrading to women.

Though Teresa and I were only inches apart, the cacophony was so loud, we soon grew hoarse from shouting to each other just to talk. We had to get away. Moving to the other end of the stadium wasn’t enough. To find somewhere quiet enough to think, we had to go to the end of a hallway, into a stair well, und up a few floors. Even there we weren’t free from the omnipresent thumps of the bass, but at least we could talk.

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As we passed the time, a lot of people would go up and down the stairs, and we overheard conversations. One was about all the “grinding” that was going on in the dance. In the tight crowds, men were forcing themselves against the dancing women in front of them. Lovely.

From time to time, Teresa and I heard the beginning of something we actually wanted to dance to. A-ha’s “Take on Me”, Europe’s “The Final Countdown” or the Champs’ “Tequila”. We ran back into the stadium and started busting out our swing moves. But within seconds, the merciless DJ’s would corrupt the classics by mixing in more boom-booms and … gangster stuff … until the songs were nothing but the latter. Teresa and I would then walk back out, deflated.

In our defense, the music wasn’t really danceable. It sounded as if it was made by drunken chimpanzees banging on garbage cans. How were supposed to move to such chaos? I mean, no one else was really dancing. They were just doing their mosh thing like a throbbing amoeba.

I know I must sound snobby. But believe me, I tried to dance to this stuff. Wanting to experience the rave culture, I spent many songs in the midst of the moshing crowd, waving my arms, hopping up and down, and trying, whole-heartedly, to submit myself to the gods of fornication. But I just couldn’t find the appeal. I realized, then, why older generations have never been able to connect to modern music. (And yes, clocking in at a whopping thirty-four years, I was one of the oldest in this crowd of young, beautiful college students. There were a few older couples at first, but when they discovered what the night was about, they took off running.)

The reason that older generations struggle with embracing popular music is because they know too much. We know that there used to be a thing called chord progressions. It used to require instruments to make music. In the days of yore, vocalists used to sing, and lyricists were required to have something to say (besides about sex). All in all, the music was supposed to move the listener, inspiring them with emotions (besides anger and … well … sexuality isn’t really even an emotion). When one reached the end of a song, there used be a sense of conclusion, catharsis, progress. Music didn’t have to be “cool.” It could be warm. It could make people feel good. You could move to it, because it had a sense of direction.

As Back Eyed Peas apply put it:

“They don’t want music,
They don’t know how to use it.
All they want, a boom boom boom boom.”

I found myself staring at the man on the stand, the DJ, who was throwing up his gangster arms before the moshing crowd. “Should we turn it up?” he would shout. “You want more?” Unfortunately, there was no real way for the crowd to express themselves. Whether we shouted, “Yes!” or (as I did), “This music sucks!” The cumulative effect was always the same: more noise. And that was all the validation the DJ needed.

This is why I’ve always hated DJ’s. They have too much power. They alone can subject the minds of hundreds to their bombarding whims. And they just seem so spineless, religiously pandering to the latest consensus of what’s “cool.” I’m sure there’s good DJ’s out there; they just seem to be few and far between. And on this trying night, there were, in my book, three exceptionally bad ones.

As the event appeared to be a competition between them, each was bent on outdoing the other with louder, crazier, and even more in-your-face gangster stuff. And nothing but gangster stuff. The music would frequently cut out as the DJ’s would shout, “One, two, three, four!” But what were they counting toward? It was just more boom-boom.

Boom-boom!

BOOM-BOOM!

During one of mine and Teresa’s first escapes from the hysteria, we were in an elevator with other people. I wanted them to hear me as I made disparaging remarks such as, “I can’t imagine hell sounding any worse than that.” Or, “Each one of those songs crucifies Mozart anew.”

When we were in private, an embarrassed Teresa chastised me. “What good are you doing?” she asked.

I replied something to the effect of, “Does anyone actually like this stuff? Or do they just accept it because everyone seems to think it’s cool? It’s the crowd mentality at its worst, an instance where democracy fails miserably and none of us are as dumb as all of us. The only way to cut the circle is if we speak out. Then maybe others will too. We need to make it cool to express how terrible this music is. I know we’re not going to make a difference, but it’s the principle that counts.”

We had a long talk in the car. While Teresa agreed with me, she didn’t want to be in public with me if I was going to act like this, and in the end, I agreed to keep my feelings to myself. Reluctantly (because it was freezing cold outside), we went back to the dance.

But as the evening progressed with more of the same booming torture, Teresa began to lose it too. With a look of exasperation, she started doing interpretative dances of the crazy sounds, her eyes open wide, her teeth barred, her fingers outstretched. Like the freaky gangster dancers, she got in my face as if hexing me. It was funny. At least it should have been. The whole evening was so sardonic, it was hard to figure out why no one was laughing at the irony of it all.

Toward the end of the long wait, as I was half-heartedly moving my body to the boom-booms, Teresa reached her snapping point. She apologized for chastising me. “You were right,” she said. “People need to speak out against this.” Then, as another gangster man shouted more sexually-charged lyrics, Teresa said, “All I can hear are giant penises. I want to castrate them. All of them.” When, at last, the cake was distributed, she threw it at the crowd with unbridled fury. She said it was very cathartic. In fact, her arm still hurts from throwing a little too hard.

I’m going to end with a quote from my upcoming novel, Gideon Versus the Gods of Cool:

“Gideon imagines it takes a guitar to make that noise, though it certainly doesn’t sound musical. If not for the agonized scream of a human voice – or something that resembles a human – the sound would be indistinguishable from radio static.

“Meanwhile the adherents to this bizarre noise look on in reverence.

“Gideon wouldn’t mind them if they didn’t force everyone to submit their minds to their hellish droning. As is, the relentless noise beats upon him like crashing waves. There’s something alive in that sound, a demonic creature trying to pound its way into his skull.”

As Mozart put it, “Music must never offend the ear, but must please the listener, or, in other words, must never cease to be music.” Unfortunately, it seems, they no longer play music at dances.

On the positive note, I can’t imagine how popular music could possibly get worse. Surely, having hit rock bottom, we’re at a turning point, and future musicologists will refer to our time as a dark age (not because there’s a shortage of good music but because the crowds are too inane to appreciate it). If you’d like to hear less Eminem and more Mozart at public dances, if you also believe that the word dance has lost its meaning and that our swing-dancing grandparents would scoff at this societal breakdown, this reductio ad absurdum, then please share this article.

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Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel Triforce

fdf2ca21ee17c380a0975a681d47c833Here’s my Sunday thought. Much as been said of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but what, exactly, is it? One answer can be found in 2 Nephi 31:

“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost …”

But what is the way? What is the doctrine? The answers are in the preceding verse, but I wanted to read it in reversed order to stress how important this preceding verse is. It contains three essential principles:

“Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ [(one) faith], having a perfect brightness of [(two)] hope, and a love of God and of all men [(3) charity]. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”

Nephi tells us that the “doctrine of Christ” is not an exhaustive work of rules and commandments but three simple principles. I’d heard before that faith, hope, and charity are good virtues to have, but not until reading the scripture yesterday did I make the connection that these three virtues ARE the gospel. Imagine with me a triangle, which we’ll endearingly call the gospel triforce. According to Nephi, it’s not enough to just exercise these virtues, we must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,” so in the center of this triangle we’ll put the face of Jesus Christ. And there we have it: the complete, encapsulated gospel.

It’s not hard to see why faith, hope, and charity are good things, but why must they center around the man Jesus of Nazareth? Have there not be many good prophets, wise men, rabbis, shamans, pundits, and imams who have taught these same principles? What makes Jesus so special? And is not the idea that he is the only name by which salvation comes narrow-minded, tribalistic, and old-fashioned? I will attempt to answer these questions.

First I’ll discuss the principle of faith, which, as Nephi describes, is not just faith in anything but faith in Jesus Christ. This immediately begs the question: why should we put our faith in Jesus, a Jewish carpenter, whom, as far as the secular world is concerned, lived on the other side of the planet and died nearly two-thousand years ago? Is putting faith in such a person not the definition of insanity? To anyone who would ask this question, I would respond, “Have you read Jesus?”

As far as we know, Jesus himself didn’t write anything, but his disciples recorded his life and teachings, and attempts to prove that Jesus never existed are no longer taken seriously by historians. What is fair to ask, however, is whether the gospel narratives contain Jesus’ true, unadulterated teachings, and whether or not the events described within them actually occurred. On these points, it does not appear that current science can confirm or deny their absolute veracity. For example, while there is overwhelming circumstantial evidence to suggest that Jesus was actually resurrected … the idea of resurrection is so far-fetched to the secular world that, understandably, they cannot accept it. However, this does mean that there is a better explanation for what happened. To me it seems like a divinely-instituted stalemate, where the burden of proof cannot be assigned to any one party but is placed on the individual reader, as if Jesus himself is saying to each and every one of us, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

We could respond, “You’re a great spiritual teacher, who I may or may not be interested in following, because I’ve got my own spiritual teachers, thank you very much.” Or, like Peter, we could say, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Which camp are you in, and how can you discover which idea is correct? Jesus of Nazareth is either the Christ, the Son of God, the only way to salvation, as he himself said, or he was just another Jewish rabbi, and we’re a bunch of wackos for putting our trust in a dead guy. Hence my question, Have you read Jesus … seriously read Jesus? You are not only judge and jury, but your soul is on trial, and the stakes are eternal, and therefore you must consider the evidence.

I, of course, cannot read Jesus for you, though for what it’s worth, I can share my testimony. I love the words and stories Christ. Here is a man who single-handedly takes on the evils of the world. He’s bold, yet kind, powerful, yet merciful. He sees the good in lowly fishermen and looks right through the facades of kings and priests. His wisdom is profound if not otherworldly, and he practices what he teaches even while forgiving those who crucify him. Yet he’s the one in control, his sacrifice an unparalleled act of courage and love, not defeat. The bad guys cannot catch him. The doctors cannot out-think him. He inspired thousands, who inspired millions, and whatever he did, it so profoundly affected those who knew him, that they gladly walked into the jaws of death for his sake. These are facts. If Jesus, whose words depict the most honest man I have ever read of, is not who he says he was, then where did this unparallelled endowment of light and truth come from? There are no words that can inspire me like the words of Jesus.

Of course, not everyone perceives his words as truthful, as his gospel was not designed to be forced upon us. Each one of us must choose what we’ll do with this fruit. Some find it sweet and precious, others find it bitter and common. Though the question at hand is not only whether or not the fruit is sweet but what the long-term effects will be for those who make it a regular part of their diets versus those who do not. As demonstrated by the lives and examples of his disciples, I believe we can find further and quantifiable proof that it is good for us to put our faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, all hope of another world aside, look what faith in Jesus Christ could do for you now. And if you like what you see, what’s left to lose?

Jesus Christ is more than a man, he is a movement, a legacy, an ideology. And central to this ideology is the idea of the flesh submitting to the spirit, of putting off the natural man and becoming a saint. Jesus not only taught us but showed us how to do this through his many examples of will-power, which led to his divine power. From his humble birth to his even humbler death, marked by a forsaking of riches and constant service, he showed us that worldliness (i.e. wickedness) never was happiness. He showed us that no amount of outward ordinances, generous contributions, large phylacteries, or hems on our garments are of any value if the soul isn’t right before God. This is an idea worth sharing.

But Jesus is more than an idea. He’s a man. His physical birth, life, death, and resurrection showed the world that God is not some abstract idea rooted in Greek philosophy but is a literal being with body parts and passions. What more, Jesus taught that each one of us is a god in the making, and that, therefore, what we do with our time on this earth is of tremendous consequence. As if that weren’t enough, he commanded us to be perfect, even as he and his father in heaven are perfect (3 Nephi 12:48). Jesus Christ is the way because he was perfect, and any way that does not require perfection of us will ultimately fall short of our goal of exaltation, because “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Nephi 10:21).

Of course, none of us are perfect, and that presents a problem. We are in need of mercy from one who can lift us beyond the broken rungs of our spiritual progression. And who could we trust to do this but one who has, himself, mastered this perilous ascent? At this critical point, no prophet, hero, or teacher – or anyone who has not gone the full distance to perfection – could be adequate. Through his conflict-ridden life and his ultimate trial in Gethsemane, Christ learned and demonstrated more than any man that evil, sin, death, and the destroying powers are real, but that we, like him, through him, can and must overcome. He commanded us to follow him and continue his works and promised us that divine witness and power would attend those who courageously did so.

I have felt this divine witness, and it is my testimony that if anyone is worthy of our faith, it is Jesus Christ. Some might argue that no one’s worthy of our faith, but unless we’re completely stagnant, we can’t help but put our faith in something or someone, whatever ideal we aspire to become. Personally, I don’t believe that the question of faith or no faith is an option, only where we’ll put our faith.

Once you believe, as I do, that it is not only good but essential to put faith in Christ, we naturally come to the second principle of the Gospel triforce: hope. Of all the major wise teachers who have come and gone, by their own traditions, Jesus is the only who is even rumored to still be breathing. With the doctrine of his triumphant rise from the tomb comes a bright universe of endless possibilities. We learn that good will, indeed, conquer evil, that life will conquer death, that love is eternal, and that joy is boundless. In Christ’s own words: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). We have hope in Christ, because only he has conquered sin and death and opened the gate for us to follow. I do not know how this works any more than I can fully comprehend the miracle of how my wife and I created our children. But there they are in God’s own image, and similarly, I’m content to take it on faith that, somehow, Christ has made possible a second birth for all of us.

As King Benjamin put it, “… ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you” (Mosiah 5:7). When we put our faith in Jesus Christ as we would in a kind, protecting, and powerful father, we needn’t fear death. We needn’t fear opposition. We needn’t fear. Christ is hope.

And having found faith and hope, having tasted from the living waters, it becomes pretty hard to go back to regular water, which leaves us thirsty in the end. If we’re to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ,” as Nephi puts it, we must not only have “a perfect brightness of hope” but “a love of God and of all men.” Charity, the third point of the gospel triforce. This charity comes naturally, because having found purpose in life, seeing light ahead of us, and comprehending the great plan, we can’t help but feel God’s love for us and love him back, and when we’ve found this love, we can’t help but feel joy, and when we feel this joy, we can’t help but want to share it. As Joseph Smith put it, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” (History of the Church, 4:227).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t about a mystical connection with deity, a checklist of ordinances, an elect membership, or a free pass to heaven. It’s about becoming like Christ, doing his works, and renewing the whole world through his goodness and love. It is our mission to not only save ourselves but to help build the kingdom of God and assist in the salvation of all of our brothers and sisters. When people have found faith, hope, and charity in Christ, they can find peace in lions’ dens. No opposition is too great. And only when we’ve found this faith, hope, and charity is Zion possible, because these virtues are the foundation for integrity, accountability, duty, service, and equanimity. No government program or police state could ever shape from the outside what can only come from within. The world is in desperate need of disciples of Christ. Without them, we are all ripe for destruction. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just to prepare us for some elusive heaven. It is the way of eternal life, which has everything to do with right now.

As Jesus himself put it, to which I add my testimony, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).