Sai Guru Deva (or: An overdue homage to four handsome young men)

I woke up this morning staring at my “Abbey Road” album cover poster. I listened to “Good Day Sunshine” on my iPod, and I put on a Magical Mystery Tour shirt. Now, for fear of being ostracized by the Evergreen community for being too mainstream, I’ll assert my hipness: I do listen to bands you’ve never heard of, I own vinyl, and sometimes I even wear plaid. But my roots are with the Beatles, and most of the time I think I owe any of my good taste and creativity to them.

It started when I was 9. I looked over my parents’ shoulders as they read the paper and saw a picture of four very handsome young men. “Who are they?!” I asked. My poor parents must have thought they had failed as guardians and educators. “Well, they’re the Beatles!” they said. “Who are the Beatles?” I asked. Again, faces of dismay.

“They were a band when we were growing up, but they’re still very popular.”

“Were they bigger than Britney Spears?” (In retrospect, that moment may have been one of the lowest points of my life.) Their faces of dismay turned into faces of disgust. Britney Spears was pretty much the only contemporary pop star I knew about; I listened to music my parents listened to (motown, 90s adult contemporary like Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks) but didn’t ask questions about who they were or to what era they belonged.

“Yes. They were much bigger than Britney Spears. They still are. They were bigger than Jesus.” My dad probably smirked as he said that, but I would have no idea what it meant ’til years later.

“Well, were they any good?”

My dad probably hesitated a bit. He would have wanted to remain loyal to the memory of the Beatles, but he knew in fact that some of their material was mediocre at best.

“The best,” my mom said.

Someone gave me a homemade CD copy of “1,” (still a bit obscure in 1999) and it was well-loved and scratched within a week. I didn’t know what the song titles were, so I made the track list up myself. When I checked them perhaps years later, some of them, like “Yesterday,” were spot on. Others were called things like, “Blue Suburban Skies,” “Christ, You Know It Ain’t Easy,” and “Back to Where You Once Belonged.” I pinned the original picture from the paper on my wall. And I started asking questions.

Suddenly all I wanted to know was about the music my parents listened to when they were growing up. Then all I wanted to know was each story that went with the songs. First they told me where they were when the Beatles arrived in the United States, where they were during that first Ed Sullivan TV show. That continued with every other “parent-era” icon I discovered: Hendrix, the Stones, Van Morrison, Heart, Supertramp…

But it’s with the Beatles that I’ve developed some of the best memories of my own. They’ve brought me closer to some of my best friends, and they’ve made me realize some of my worst friends. My best friend back home was Em, who was new to my school in 8th grade. Even then I think I knew that she would become a great person, but I never knew she was going to be my friend. By the end of week one, she had somehow proven her astounding knowledge of Beatles trivia, and I was not to be outdone. I swore she was my rival. That was the year my grades started to slip, and I focused on academics less. I’m not blaming the Beatles… but maybe it was the fact that I started making flash cards for their notable recording dates rather than my science class. Anyway, by the end of week two of knowing her we were best friends. I guess if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Eventually my passion led me to disassociate myself with some so-called friends. In 10th grade, this kid came up to me and said that his pastor had told him not to listen to the Beatles, and that they were un-Christian. Then he handed me a packet of quotes and song lyrics and famous musicians that his pastor (or something) had deemed sacrilegious (or something). It included some admittedly incriminating quotes by Metallica and Kurt Cobain, but there were also some lines by artists like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. James Taylor and Joni Mitchell! “The secret o’ life is enjoying the passage of time” and “bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air”?!

At the time, I vowed never to listen to or intentionally befriend someone who didn’t like the Beatles, but later I realized it was bigger than that. I vowed never to listen to or intentionally befriend someone who was so literal and narrow-minded. I think I’ve done pretty well, with a few exceptions, but that’s not the point. Some people aren’t literal or narrow minded, and they just don’t like the Beatles like I do. And I’m friends with a few of those people, and I’m ok with that. They can snigger or shake their heads at the numerous Beatles posters to which I wake up every morning, and I’m ok with that.

They can say that “All You Need Is Love” is too contrived and unimaginative, but I can still love it and deeply appreciate the fact that it begins with the French national anthem.

They can say that “Good Day Sunshine” is too simple and too cheery, but I can still listen to it every Groundhog day, especially if there isn’t 6 more weeks of winter.

They can say that “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” is irreparable and condemning damage to the reputation of what might have otherwise been a great band, but I can know better. The character in the movie “Pirate Radio” called The Count says, “there will always be poverty and pain and war and injustice in this world but there will, thank the lord, also always be the Beatles.” I can guarantee you that more people in this world have listened to the Beatles than have read even one passage of the New Testament. That’s not sacrilegious; that’s fact. And that gives me more hope that there may not always be poverty and pain and war and injustice in the world than to know that there are approximately 2.1 billion Christians in the world. Sai guru deva.

Sai Guru Deva (or: An overdue homage to four handsome young men)

Declaration of Faith

This is an essay I wrote for my senior high school lit class. The prompt was to write our “creed.”

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Man’s mindscape in the dawn of time: questioning everything from his five fingers to why his fish died. From how to balance on his two feet to why plants grow, or even why he’s alive. Questions flood man’s mind–some questions have answers, but some will still remain mysteries thousands of years later. Grappling with potential answers becomes man’s main priority. Answers form the basis for his faiths, because he has the need to believe something.

It’s inevitable that at some point, man will discover new things that nix his original theories. Man will have to reform his beliefs according to these new ideas, because some instinct tells him that it is reasonable for his faith to be at least somewhat based on fact. 

Faith is a very personal topic, unique to every human being. But even so, we use external conflicts and situations to strengthen our beliefs. Our spirituality is shaped by the events and people around us all the time, and therefore it would stand to reason that it is constantly changing. Part of change is the process of doubt. True faith can never exist without doubt.

When someone is able to justify and defend his or her beliefs, it conveys the impression that those beliefs are powerful and well though-out. It also usually heightens the sensation of wanting to agree or disagree, which fuels argumentation and so continues a cycle of conflicts that strengthen one’s faith, as well as one’s doubts.

A period of doubt and questioning will lead to an even stronger feeling of faith. Once a person answers his or her own questions, wouldn’t they feel stronger, like their ideas were more powerful? But each phase of doubt is harder to overcome, because with the maturity of answering questions and even more (and more important) questions and responsibility to answer them. This, I believe, is the natural process of gaining one’s own unique faith. Every person has to go through it personally.

Faith has no reason or strength without a background of doubt. People need the balance of doubt to reason their way to faith. Doubt gives man the least sense of security of any other aspects of faith, so of course men would want to avoid it. But actually, doubt and questioning give and unmatchable power to a man’s faith. Men always have the choise to accept doubt, but most will ignore it, thinking that it weakens them or gives less meaning to their faith. In fact, it’s the opposite. Doubt offers more depth to a man’s understanding or journey to understanding religion or the possibility of a higher being.

It is part of human nature to doubt, argue, and solidify one’s own beliefs by any means possible, with the help of other people and situations. Having faith is part of human nature as well, but I believe that people don’t want to go through the process of questioning to achieve true faith. They feel that questioning would weaken them, or they’re afraid of the answers they may arrive at, or they’re afraid of not finding answers.

Also, I think that Christians play a big part in making questioning taboo. Many Christians believe that when people question their own spirituality or ideals in faith, it’s really the devil trying to tear apart their religious beliefs. This is wrong mostly because questioning is not evil in any way. But even if this is so — if the devil exists and is trying to break people’s faiths — it only makes it more meaningful when people overcome doubt. People might feel like they’ve defeated an inner demon. Regardless, regaining answers and beliefs should lead to an even more powerful level of spirituality.

Questioning never ends, so perhaps the time of strongest faith that humans ever have is at death. Even though there are very few people who claim to understand death, many have ideas about what happens when we die or about the possibility of an afterlife. Though these beliefs are mainly shaped by religious teachings, some are influenced by raw faith, strengthened by doubt.

The most faithful people are characterized by not only their moments of weakness, but also by times of undying love. This could mean love and optimism for mankind, or a vision that includes peace and happiness for the world. These people are also very well-balanced in their journeys through doubt and questioning, and strong in their beliefs and faiths. When people recognize that faith and doubt are inseparable, is becomes much easier to realize their full spiritual potential.

Declaration of Faith