Wrestling with Van Halen and a Different Kind of Truth

I was scanning the headlines of my new favorite website Grantland when I landed on a review of Van Halen’s new album. Just seeing “new” and “Van Halen” in the same sentence has tremendous stopping power for [people of a certain age.] My relationship with the band has been quite a journey. Not long after I became a fan of the original Van Halen in the mid 1980s they broke up to become “Van Hagar.” Even though I didn’t immediately like this new edition it was OK because I could listen to all the original band’s releases from 1984 and before over and over again on my JVC car stereo. (It was one of those after-market deals. And it actually did go to 11. It was so loud one night that it caused a passenger to vomit. I did feel bad, but that was epic.)

And not long after I bought in to the new version and Sammy Hagar as a wonderful extension of Eddie’s lead guitar, they started naming their albums with clever mixes of letters and numbers—which always seemed so un-heavy metal like to me. There were other un-heavy metal things going on as well. Eddie was playing keyboards. There was a video in which he played his guitar with a drill. (Really?) Sammy looked close to 50. The whole thing was just getting too confusing so I let Van Halen go.

But then Sammy left. Like many fans of the original band, I was captivated by the rumors of the brothers Van Halen hooking back up with David Lee Roth. “Could life and the universal order be so kind as to allow us a second round with the original Van Halen?” I thought. The answer was “no.”
But now. Now all indications are that Van Halen is giving it another go and that’s what Chuck Klosterman over at grantland.com is currently wrestling with. That is, he is wrestling with his own reaction to this event: the return of Van Halen and their new album A Different Kind of Truth. Even though it shouldn’t, we are always surprised when we are forced to face the fact that we don’t really love the things we thought we loved; that the things that made us feel so alive at one point in our lives don’t have the same effect now. I love the way he ends his review—a good one, by the way, that you can read by clicking here—posted below.

I’ll be as straightforward as I possibly can: I don’t know what I’m trying to express here. My feelings are mixed to the point of being meshed. Going into A Different Kind of Truth, I unconsciously suspected my takeaway would be, “This is a bad album, but I love it nonetheless.” My actual sentiment is closer to, “This is a good album, but I just don’t like it, no matter how much I try.” And I’m disappointed in myself for feeling that way, somehow, which only proves that the things I understand most will always confuse me forever.

There is something very familiar between and behind the letters and words of Chuck’s review. There’s an acquaintance of a sort. There’s a pathos. It goes beyond how the music shapes us and more into how the music continues to inform us through what it is, but also what it isn’t, not only about who we are, but also who we are becoming and who we once were. It reveals profound things to us, that is, if we’ll pay attention. Although certainly a different kind, truth in this case emerges when Van Halen attempts to become what it no longer is while we at the same time ask it to be what it can no longer be. It’s in these places where we truly discover heart, or what most people mean when they use the word “me.” And maybe even truth at some level.


American Treasures: 10 for the Ages

Audrey Hepburn, 1929-1993

The idea of the “American Treasure” has been a part of our vernacular for a long time. Traditionally, these treasures have been expressed through places like Yellowstone and the Smithsonian. There are those who would conclude that television shows like “M.A.S.H.” and “Leave It To Beaver” are on the list of American Treasures as well as a movie like Gone With The Wind. Alec Baldwin, in a recent “SNL” episode, even labeled himself an American Treasure. (Maybe some day. He’s actually closer than you’d think.)

The idea of the American Treasure is best described as someone who embodies some aspect of the American spirit in terms inventiveness, inspiration, or sheer magnitude or cultural force. For the sake of this post, we’re dealing only with individuals who, perhaps for a generation or maybe longer, defined something about us collectively. An American Treasure, taken in this way, comes to  represent something closer to our collective heart as a culture while at the same time explaining things about ourselves through their existence that we could not have otherwise articulated.

On the way to dinner last week I threw out this question to my family: Who would be your top 10 American Treasures? It got fun real quick. My daughters started texting friends so we had to establish some ground rules shortly thereafter. We tried to keep influential political figures off the list. If the Founding Fathers were fair game, after all, the list would fill up very quickly. I lost Teddy Roosevelt in this ruling and the family lost JFK. The most painful result of this decision was omitting the genius of Abraham Lincoln. We also realized that we had to make some kind of distinction between “iconic” and “treasure.” Even though the line between these two ideas is admittedly blurry, we decided that a lasting image does not a treasure make. This put Marilyn Monroe’s place on the list in jeopardy. Also, after some debate, we concluded that even though the people on our list of American Treasures do not necessarily have to be born in America, they must be quintessentially American. And so, Julie Andrews, please accept my sincerest apologies. (That one is a heartbreaker.)

And so in no particular order … here is our list. Let the debate begin:

Walt Disney – No one left a larger footprint on the Twentieth Century and no single individual outside of our Founding Fathers and a handful of other leaders has had a greater impact on how we understand ourselves as Americans. Whether that’s good or bad is another debate. Apart from the movies, technology advances, theme parks, and television shows, Disney’s place in this pantheon results most from the frontier spirit that emerges from practically everything he did. He both re-invented and re-imagined the pioneer mentality for multiple generations of Americans. Walt then and now coaxes the deepest dreams out of all of us. You could call it fantasy but that wouldn’t make it any less real. If I were ranking this list I think both MLK and Walt would contend for the top choice.

Audrey Hepburn – This is the reason we made the “American born” rule. We forget that Hepburn walked away from Hollywood, for the most part, in her prime. In her post-Hollywood life she devoted herself to many social causes and left an impact in whatever she did. Even though she never weighed more than 103 pounds, her “weight” was off the charts. She dominates every scene she’s ever been in. Fragile, yet somehow the possessor of an indelible strength, I think Hepburn reminds us that beauty is always worth fighting for. But she also reminds us that her kind of beauty will always maintain its own address.

Elvis Presley – This was a tough call in the icon vs. treasure debate and I’m not sure we got it right. But, really, can you NOT have Elvis Presley on this list? He hasn’t needed a last name in more than 50 years, he is perhaps the single greatest contributor to American popular culture, and he defined “cool” for an entire generation and more. And, just like the others listed here, his impact continues to reverberate through time long after his passing. And then there’s the mythology and the music and that 1968 “comeback special.”

Ernest Hemingway – We threw around Steinbeck and Fitzgerald as our literary representative and both are American Treasures for sure. We went with Hemingway because the man is so much more than the product. Epics like Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls along with the short story collection, his African adventures, contributions to global affairs, and the Paris years make “Papa” an easy choice. A boxer, athlete, and writer, this guy remains a tour de force of American passion, sensitivity, and brute force.

Steven Spielberg – Movies has always been a big part of our culture and a significant contributor to how we see ourselves. But the maker or E.T. beat out other movie makers like George Lucas because he has entered so much more in the ledger of Americana. Forces like Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg remind us how magical it is to believe.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – The idea of being free is so uniquely American to me and no one embodied the tension in and the fight for freedom more than MLK. “I Have a Dream” and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are absolutely inspiring. People like King come along once … once. And then they belong to the ages. MLK endures as a reminder of the power of the human heart as an engine for change.

Superman – The family wasn’t all that fond of this one so I had to use one of my bullets as the actual writer of the post to keep Superman on this “first ballot” list. Superman represents everything Americans want to believe about themselves. That he comes out of the comic books and movies means that he never gets old, he never changes, and he never stops fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Even today Superman—perhaps more the idea than the persona— is the single greatest influence on American masculine culture. And when (or if) we lose this we will be in big trouble. That you can’t have Superman without Krytonite will always be both a powerful and provocative truth.

John Wayne – A latecomer to the conversation. I’ve never been a huge fan of his movies, but we felt like we had to have a male actor. Gable, Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and even Tom Hanks were mentioned … but c’mon. This one is easy. John Wayne almost always played the guy you wanted to be. If size matters then John Wayne is the biggest of the big. He speaks plainly. He comes close to being an allegorical representation of American values. He is western. He even played football at USC for crying out loud. He is throw-back. And he is in every way an American Man. And it all started the minute he got on that stagecoach. Thank God for Superman and John Wayne.

Muhammad Ali – Probably the one I would fight the least for, not only does Ali teeter on the icon vs treasure line but he was also a draft dodger. We left him on our list because of his brashness. What’s more American than telling everyone what you’re going to do and then going into the ring and doing it. With your fists. And I’ve got to add that watching him suffer from Parkinson’s and that magical moment at the 96 Olympics goes a long, long way toward his place on our list. Ali’s “last third” of life attests to the fact that Ali continues to fight—continues to fight battles more epic even than Manila.

Billy Graham – There are the great photographs of Graham in counsel with American presidents going as far back as Eisenhower. There are the crusades that led to thousands if not millions of conversions. There’s Graham the statesman and Graham the human being and Graham the husband and father and humanitarian. But he finds his way onto this list due to one singular fact: No one has kept our nation in adherence to our “one nation, under God” pledge more than he has. Across the generations and the wars and the adversities, no one has played a more significant role in maintaining our moral compass more than he has.

By no means is this complete and I even have some reservations myself. Missing are any artists like maybe Georgia O’Keeffe or musicians like Springsteen and maybe Mellencamp. With nine men and one woman I’ve got to think we could have done a better job with balance, but we really didn’t run our vetting through any of these filters. Instead we just relied on the overall impact on our own ways of thinking, living, and believing.

We Bought a Zoo: Because Sometimes Crazy Is Just What We Need


Matt Damon and Cast

We Bought a Zoo is a good movie. I just listened to Filmspotting‘s list of top 10 movies of the year and you won’t find We Bought a Zoo there or probably any other list of the critically acclaimed. (Of course I’ve only heard of a handful of what they did mention.) And it shouldn’t be. The plot is simple and even predictable. Damon is effective in the lead and Scarlett Johansson redeems recent performances, buy neither blows you away. Thomas Hayden Church is the hammy pessimist. John Michael Higgins and Elle Fanning are show stealers. And it works. It’s good. Sitting there in the theater it hit me that, with the over-dramatic, computer generated, and suped-up special effects, the art of the good and pleasant movie is somewhat lost these days. We Bought a Zoo is just … good.

We narrowed our list of potential movies to Sherlock Holmes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and We Bought a Zoo. I don’t know how you go about making the decision at your house, but for us deciding which movie we’re going to watch gets tough once we get the decision down to three. It came down to this: Cameron Crowe. He struck magic with Jerry Maguire. Hit Oscar with Almost Famous. Became iconic with Say Anything. Entered the vernacular with Fast Times. And struck a profound chord with Elizabethtown. Suffice it to say, Crowe is one of our favorites. And even though it felt like he didn’t really know how he wanted to shoot this movie or where he wanted to insert those great lines of his, he’s still Cameron Crowe and he can still bring it. In We Bought a Zoo Crowe creates more than a few magical moments.

What was best about We Bought a Zoo, though, was much simpler. Our world is anything but certain these days. The economy remains a mess and lots of us are upside down on our houses as a result of another bubble gone “poof.” It can and is hard for a lot of people stuck between stagnation on one side and inability to act on the other. Damon’s character, Benjamin Mee, is facing a circumstance that should resonate with all of us. Far from a passive type, Mee is living an adventure when we are first introduced to him. But then he is invited into a greater adventure by the Larger Story of life. He responds by taking a chance. He takes a shot. At its heart, We Bought a Zoo is about a dad that responds to life’s call and does something right. When faced with one of tough life decisions, he chooses to act.

Our decisions in these moments are not always the right ones. But the important thing, it seems, is to make a decision; to take your shot. And that’s what Benjamin Mee does. He does something many would call crazy—and they would be right. But in taking his shot Benjamin Mee is taking ownership of his life and the future of his family. That’s always a good story. Agonistes recommends We Bought a Zoo as a show of support for the people that make good movies.

An Alarmist’s Response to Media

I joined Facebook more than two years ago. I initially resisted it—actually, I just didn’t understand it so therefore saw no real value in it. But in my work it became clear to me that it was something I needed to do. Not a big deal. And I loved it. I loved finding friends from my fraternity days and catching up with them. And Facebook allowed me to find friends from my Navy days that I otherwise would probably not have ever found. High school, of course, and in the early days it was a way to share pictures of my family, what we’re up to, and trips etc. for close friends and family eg. people that care.

Twitter came later. At first Twitter seemed to be everything that was bad about Facebook rolled into one single technology—minus any of the good. It came off as self-indulgent and narcissistic. Over time, however, it has proven to be a great tool for not only communicating with and within networks but also for getting news—real-time, lightning fast news—from other communities and affinity groups.

And so here we are, I think, at a place that seems logical for pushing “pause” and considering what all of this means. Shane Hipps, author of Flickering Pixels and The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, wrote an article last year for Relevant Magazine titled “Is Facebook Killing Our Souls?” I encourage you to read it by clicking here. Yes, this is an opinion piece but Hipps makes some great points— specifically how it can create a minor split between who we are and who we think we are—and I would add, who we want everybody else to believe we are. Another interesting observation he directs at Twitter. Twitter, Hipps assesses, “begs me to step out of the stream experience long enough record it.  The affect is that we are no longer present in any of our experiences.  We are living as unpaid journalists who chronicle life as it passes by.” To me, this is just frightening at some level.

But I wanted to expand his thoughts to include other forms of media, namely television in its various forms and smart phone technology. Just last night my daughter was flipping the channels and we landed on a television show called “Turtle Man” in which two Kentuckians were capturing possum in a whiskey distillery. (Agonistes can’t make this stuff up folks.) The show is not lacking in entertainment value. But relative entertainment is far from the point. Closer to the point however is the number of hours of reality television programming available to us—and sports programming, domestic entertainment, movies, and people just … being people. There was a day when (1) there were only 4 or 5 channels (2) then there was a day when there were around 30 channels (3) and there was a day when television actually ended. Remember that? The “TV Day” typically ended with the national anthem and then it either went black, went to fuzz, or to some random number with circles around it. (Which, when I think about it, is a little weird.) I remember trying to explain to my daughters how TV would end at the end of the day and they just couldn’t grasp it. The point is that it ended. It said, “Go to bed.” The day of TV ending is gone and the day of absolute media saturation has come.

And smart phone technology has, at least in my case, allowed me to become subject to the tyranny of the trivial. That is, I will break from a conversation or train of thought to ask Google what it is that I’m trying to remember, the weather, what movies are playing, the score of a ballgame, my texts, emails. Years ago I was in a telephone conversation with a guy named Leonard Sweet. Len is a very smart person and in our conversation, not so ironically talking about technology, he said that according to Moore’s Law a person would essentially be able to download his or her brain by 2020.

Admittedly I didn’t understand what Len was trying to tell me then. I didn’t understand, that is, until I asked Google who played second base for the 70s Boston Red Sox during a conversation with a friend of mine. And that’s when it hit me that I was counting on Google to remember for me. The smart phone is different from regular search engines that are really electronic encyclopedias in that they are with us all the time. So what happens, when over time, we continue to lean on a Google app for our memory instead of … our memory for our memory? What happens to muscles when they don’t get used? We are definitely moving into new territory.

This is most certainly not a rant against television, computer technology, social media, or smart phone technology. These are all useful tools—very useful. What it is, though, is something like a question: When is it too much access to information? Or maybe better put, at what point do we get to a point at which we become something less than what we were created to be as living beings?

It’s all so fascinating. If not early adopters, my wife and I have usually been in the second wave of technology adoption. That’s due in large part because of price. But in the last few months I’ve noticed media in its various forms and information accessibility saturation creeping more and more into the most sacred space of my mind. Shane Hipps makes some valid points, but he’s also right in that technology—progressive technology—isn’t going away. We need to learn how to manage it else learn how to say no. Agonistes also believes that there is a technological danger zone at which something can surely be lost.

A Few Thoughts on The Demise of Guys

Lets assume for a moment that Philip Zimbardo is accurate in the conclusions that he draws both from these statistics and as these statistics relate to his own research. I guess you could argue that boys have always been like this and so have men. Because I think that people tend not to change a whole lot I could go along with that … partially. But lets table that for the time being and respond simply to what Zimbardo is saying.

He opens up this discussion by citing it as fact that men are flaming out academically, wiping out socially with girls, and wiping out sexually with women. (Women, do you agree?) Throw in a fear of intimacy and a high level of social awkwardness and Zimbardo has made his opening case for the demise of guys. Even though it’s got to be more complicated, he sums it up by saying that men now prefer an asynchronistic Internet world to the spontaneous interaction of social relationship—I’m not totally sure that this is limited to men. This leaves men vulnerable to something he calls “arousal addiction”. That is, the constant need for something different. (Got to admit, that’s pretty interesting.)

So here’s what Agonistes thinks. Psychology, analysis, and the like can get us only so far, as valid as it is. We can sponsor research and draw conclusions that can address many of the issues raised in Philip’s introduction and be successful to a greater or lesser extent. What needs to happen, simply put, is that we need to expect more from men. Extended adolescence is the plague of postmodern masculinity. And, yeah, today’s world is definitely hard. For sure it’s a difficult place to navigate. But these circumstances should call out the masculinity, not suppress it.

The Tribes or Groups so common today (call the Friends Effect), the opportunity keep relationships at a distance, and the asynchronistic Internet world that Philp Zimbardo mentions have all, one way or another, provided men a place to hide-out. But so does the rescue. Entitlement programs, bail-outs, and political promises don’t exactly ask men to exercise the muscles of greatness. Instead what it asks men to do is … just wait. Hang out. That’s what the beer commercials suggest. And how many times have you heard a man’s mandatory”cave time” referenced. (Is that really what we need?) In other words, we need to our own “man on the white horse.” So essentially what you’ve got is not so much the demise of guys, but a generation of men that is yet to be “activated.”

So I’m reading a book called King Warrior Magician Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Maculine. It’s a different kind of read and—admittedly—over my head most of the time. It’s somewhat liberal (it is psychology, after all) but interesting in an on-again-off-again kind of way. The most interesting point the author has made—at least to me—is making a distinction between Boy Psychology and Man Psychology. There are healthy expressions of each, of course, but what left the most significant impression was the fact that without an initiation of some kind—some event, rite of passage, or ceremony—Boy Psychology remains for the most part in play and goes unchecked. The authors hypothesize that Western culture is by and large void of these initiations. Events like going off to college, military basic training, and athletics have saved us from absolute ruin I guess. Without a rite of passage of some kind, though, the mature masculine is never realized as Boy Psychology remains a man’s primary driver, ranging somewhere between the extremes of “high chair tyrant” and “weakling”.

This all says to me, unless the man is called out, the mature masculine will never step into the role our culture needs from him. Hard economic times have the ability to call out the mature masculine if we allow it to. Staring down adversity and dealing with the challenges at hand can conjure the man from the boy. Confronting life with all its nuances and unpredictability instead of retreating to the cave—that can call out the mature masculine as well. And yes standing face to face with someone of the opposite sex, as Zimbardo puts it, that gives off “ambiguous, contradictory signals” summons the man as well. But the industry—sports, TV, gaming, media to name a few—as Zimbardo says, has become very adroit and keeping men on the proverbial couch … and the mature masculine dormant. Our failure, however, lies in not calling the mature masculine into play and allowing (even encouraging) the boy into a life expectancy beyond what is healthy and normal. Maybe we don’t have so much a “demise of guys.” But maybe what we’ve got is actually a demise in expectation. And maybe men haven’t changed over the years, as we are tempted to conclude, rather the cultural environment has changed dramatically.

I was asked about possible solutions by a reader not too long ago. I think when it comes to reversing the demise of guys the solution can be relatively simple: guard the ground that’s been won and take back the ground that’s been lost. Consider this in light of the issues raised by Zimbardo.

Finding a Place for The Help

 A friend asked me this week, “So did you like The Help?” We’re all used to the question. It’s a familiar entree into a discussion about a particular movie—or it can also be an opportunity to give a short answer and move on. It comes as no surprise to you that most of the time I already have a position in mind before the question is asked. It’s just what I do. But where The Help is concerned, when I looked at my friend, ready to give an answer, I was unable to answer the question. I couldn’t answer the question because I’m having a difficult time responding to The Help, written and directed by Tate Taylor and based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett.

The Help is a very well-crafted movie. The stakes are high—survival, identity, even life and death, the story compelling, and the characters are strong. The photography is sufficient but director Tate Taylor seems to get enough out of his ensemble cast to make up for a lack of memorable shots. (But with emotionally charged material like what we’ve got in The Help, the “Don’t blow it” rule is definitely in play.) There are several really good performances but I thought Cicely Tyson (Constantine) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly) were the most powerful. It’s also worth noting that I enjoyed my first Emma Stone experience and thought Viola Davis was effective in her role as Abileen Clark, the impact character that tends to drive the story. With ten nominations for Best Picture these days … who knows. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see The Help make the list in February. This movie feels important.

So I guess you could say that, yes, I liked the movie for its artistic and cinematic merit. Its content, however, left me a tad disconcerted. The Help is one of those films that rolls the proverbial snake over to reveal its terrible underbelly. The snake in this case is 1960s Jackson MS. And the underbelly is the servile industry of Jackson’s urban elite—or maybe its middle class. Regardless, there is a gentile crowd whose insensibility is on display as perhaps the most natural and subtle form of depravity I  can remember seeing on the big screen. As a result I’ve had a really difficult time taking a position on this movie. On the one hand I believe that it’s healthy and productive to revisit even the most painful moments of our past. There are lessons both to be learned and remembered. On the other hand there is a part of me that very much wants to put issues like those raised in The Help to bed once and for all.

And then there’s the tension that emerges from the nature of this fiction. I’ve got to give Stockett and Taylor credit for their creativity. Technically speaking, The Help had a touch of Renaissance drama story-within-a-story to it that gives it a classic vibe. I love what this kind of presentation asks of its audience, too. But a message this strong and sensitive needs more spine than mere fiction has to offer. In other words, writers don’t have to work hard to make a community, people group, or in this case entire region look bad. It’s easy. Accordingly I really wish this story wasn’t made up. And then I catch myself thinking that and feel ashamed because the better thing to wish for is that it never happened. I think maybe that the net effect is that  it feels less than honest to me. Not that Stockett isn’t justified or that the ethos is inaccurate—because it definitely is true of 1960s South and most likely still true to a greater extent than what anyone cares to admit today—but that these nameless and faceless individuals deserved their own voice. Not Stockett’s. This is not criticism of the author or her craft. It’s just commentary.

As a child of the South I’m familiar with the peculiar servile industry The Help uses to advance its plot. I can remember adults of my early adolescence working alongside black women of the day. It seemed benign enough to me. I certainly do not remember any uncomfortable moments and do not recall the tension that is definitely present in the movie. And that is what bothers me. William Faulkner’s Quentin Compson concluded that his Aunt Rosa told him the story of the south over and over because “we breathe the same air.” Collectively, the South has come into a unique ownership of this problem. In the end The Help isn’t about what’s going on in the movie or what may or may not have happened in 1960s Mississippi or any kind of statement that may be made about today. In the end it’s a movie about honesty and dishonesty. It is not about understanding, but an effort to understand. Or as Kathryn Stockett has posted on her web site:

But what I am sure about is this: I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially the 1960’s.  I don’t think it is something any white woman, on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck, could ever truly understand.  But trying to understand is vital to our humanity. 

Simply Enjoying the Dance

One of our family’s favorite shows is So You Think You Can Dance. And we’re not alone. Even though it dipped in popularity a little this year, it was still a strong top 20 program during the summer months when television viewing is at its lowest. It has won 7 Emmy’s, 5 of those for Outstanding Choreography.

I’ve written about it before here, but So You Think You Can Dance is, if anything, a celebration of the human spirit. My wife and I are often compelled to remark, “Dancers are the happiest people EVER.” Even though the temptation to compare SYTYCD to other similar shows such as American Idol and Dancing With The Stars is certainly in play, they really couldn’t be more different. While Idol and DWTS are “made for TV” cheese with little to no substance, So  You Think You Can Dance only addresses and perpetuates the art of dance. These guys know they aren’t going to get rich quick so they—the judges, the contestants, the choreographers—are engaged only for the sake of advancing their art form. And even though I got dragged kicking and screaming into its viewership, I am admittedly drawn by the show’s sincerity as well as its simplicity.

We just recently watched the finale during which the last 4 dancers/contestants are whittled away in 15-20 increments down to the champion. Surprisingly, this year’s finale was a little disappointing. There was one particular performance in which the dancers clearly failed to meet the standards of the choreographers. (I do know more about dance now that I ever thought I would have. Good thing? Only time will tell.) At the end of course, the dancers were all smiles. The camera shot turned to the choreographer, whom I expected to express at least a degree of frustration or disappointment or both.

The SYTYCD choreographers have become my favorite “characters” on the show. After watching several seasons and developing would-be relationships with each one of the regulars, we’ve become somewhat familiar with their work. What’s generated the most wonder, however, is how these creators conjure the dance from their own imagination and experiences, show the steps to dancers they’ve only just met, work intimately with them as they impart their vision and their art, all before taking their seat with the rest of the audience as the dancers give life to what was just days earlier only an idea—if that’s the right word. Watching their physicality and facial expressions as they sit in the audience, I’ve wondered aloud what it’s like for the choreographers to trust someone completely with the dance they have created. Just sitting there. Surely there are steps missed, personal touches both added and taken away, or even a complete mis-interpretation of it all.

That’s what I expected to see on the face of this choreographer after this particular what I would call “disaster” in the finale. But it wasn’t. The choreographer seemed just as pleased as she would have had the dancers hit every step, showcased every nuance, and bared all the heart she expected. “It must be the nature of choreography,” I said to my wife, both of us noticing the same thing. “Maybe it’s not about hitting all the steps just right, getting it perfect.” Fair enough.

Because I’ve been taught to pay attention; to note those things that move us, strike a personal chord, and even haunt us, I continued to wonder why I find the choreographers so interesting and the relationship between the dancers and the choreographers so fascinating. For one, they share the dance. One creates the dance but at some point steps back and allows the dancers to put their own touches on it. What emerges from the relationship is a shared art that allows the unique giftedness of each dancer to shape the performance. Second, it’s about intimacy. Not the kind of intimacy that is all over the sit-coms, magazine ads, and feature films these days; rather, the kind of intimacy that edifies, builds, and creates. It’s the kind of intimacy that allows both the dancer and the creator to be known to one another. This is the kind of intimacy that requires effort and, yes, even work. But will always end with something beautiful even if all the steps are not hit exactly right.

And lastly I feel that there is something divine in the nature of the relationship between the choreographer and the dancer. Not necessarily in their relationship, but in the nature of their relationship. Because God is infinite the list of metaphors and illustrations for our relationship with Him is just as endless. But there seems to be an aspect of God as Choreographer—a Choreographer for our lives as a dance. He creates the dance. He knows our strengths. He gives us the steps. He enjoys the intimacy and teaching. He shows us why we fall and helps lift us back into motion when we do. But when the time comes, I can’t help but think that He always enjoys watching us dance. Our responsibilities are multiple, but at the top of the list has got to be (1) pay attention (2) bring everything you’ve got. And don’t forget this “what if” question: What if you don’t have to be perfect?