The link between amygdalae and blogging

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I am a rock, I am an island. But I’m trying to get better.

The amygdala is a relatively tiny part of the brain. It functions as a sorting station to link other parts of the brain and to send stimuli to the right places. It is involved in the attachment of emotional significance to memory. It is the reason that the smell of cookies makes us nostalgic, the sight of a certain person makes us anxious, and the sound of breaking waves makes us feel calm.

My brain is in the process of retraining. The emotions don’t match the memories. The responses don’t match the stimuli. I am a rock, but not a voluntary one. I am an Island, but there is a referendum underway to reconnect me to the mainland.

Which brings me to blogging. The telling of stories helps us to rewire the brain and reattach emotional significance to the memories we have. The act of being creative helps to balance the tendency to over-rely on logic as a coping mechanism. The act of doing this publicly is cathartic and enormously helpful in bridging that gap between the island and the mainland.

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On Forgetting

I was told at a funeral once
That people live as long as we remember them
Which was sort of comforting

But then I thought – whose funeral is this really
Who has been forgotten by the guy in the box

Great Aunt Betty
Or a someone called Hans
Who hitched across Europe
Or the nameless one who lived alone on the street

Their final passing is unmarked

But what of all the other days?
Whose life ends in my grey fuzz
When I need room to conjugate Sein

So is this how my life will really end
Not with a screeching of brakes and the edge of a cliff
But with an ich bin, du bist, er ist

The Bible in 1,000 Words

During my Bible College training, a lecturer got us to summarise the whole message of scripture in 1,000 words. It was fantastic fun and something I found very useful. I saw that lecturer again this week and enjoyed once more sitting under his teaching. I’ve put that story here for you to enjoy and as a way of saying thanks to Rod Thompson.

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God

On the last day of history God makes this proclamation and declares he has kept all of the promises he once made to a man named Abraham. God’s story is thus complete, and through his story he has made himself known.

When it began, God created the heavens and the earth. He shaped them and formed them and placed a man in them. To Adam he makes a promise: do not disobey me or you will surely die. When the man and his wife listen to the lies of a serpent they doubt this promise. God curses them for their disobedience, but promises that one day one will be born of woman who will repay the serpent for his deceit. Soon after, the children of the man and his wife become the first victims of sin and death. Then it all gets worse from there.

God becomes so grieved over his creation that he orders the waters to swallow up the land. But before this happens he saves a remnant of Adam’s line through the work of a righteous man named Noah. Noah is one born of woman, but he is not the one promised from the curse. Neither is his descendant Abraham, although to Abraham and his descendants many more promises are made.

The promises include these 3 incredible things:

  • God will make Abraham into a great nation with its own land.
  • God will bless the nation and repay anyone who hurts them.
  • God will bless all of humanity through them.

God causes Abraham’s family to multiply. Then, as he foretold, Abraham’s people find themselves in a foreign land where they catch the eye of an evil king.

This king has no knowledge of the promise keeping God and tries to obliterate his people by killing their sons. The people cry out to God, and God remembers his promises. He rescues a rescuer named Moses, and through him Yahweh keeps his word. He repays the king for the evil performed against his people, just as he promised Abraham he would. By the killing of the Egyptians’ sons, he rescues his people and leads them out of the land of suffering.

God leads them to a meeting with him on Mt Sinai and makes many promises to them. He calls them a treasured possession; they are unique and set-apart, and will continue like this if they remain faithful to God. In this promise lie the seeds of future blessings and the seeds of future curses. Israel will either be at peace in the land or they will be exiled.

Once Moses dies the people are without strong leadership. They fail to complete their task of overcoming the peoples of the Promised Land. They live amongst them and adopt their customs. In keeping with his promise, God curses them until they repent, and saves them when they cry out. Despite his faithfulness, God’s people fall further from grace and assimilate even more with the nations. It becomes clear that Israel needs a king.

Through a foreign woman named Ruth, God remembers his promises to Abraham and brings forth a godly king named David. David is God’s new rescuer and through him the nations are subdued and peace prevails in the land. Although he is one born of woman, he is not the one referred to in the curse. God promises him that from his body will come one who will build the temple, and one who will remain on the throne for all eternity. Hopes are high for David’s son Solomon.

Solomon does indeed build a temple for God and brings about such blessing for Israel that even the nations become blessed by him. But, in his weakness he shows that he was just a picture of one who is yet to come, and the blessings are stripped from the nation as God’s children fight over the scraps of a divided kingdom.

Every subsequent king rules over a nation whose hearts are further inclined to evil. Many messengers come and call out for repentance, lest the people cause God to remember his promises of curses and exile. The people are stubborn and the kings are fallen, so God judges the land. Fortunately God remembers his promises to Moses and limits the time of exile to 70 years.

God tells a man named Daniel that we must wait for a further 4 centuries before everything Yahweh has promised comes together at last, then a baby is born…

Jesus, called the Messiah, is born of a virgin and heralded by a new Elijah. He becomes what everyone has failed to be: he is the perfect man, able to resist Satan’s temptation; the perfect Israel, able to persevere in the wilderness; the perfect Moses, able to give new law; the perfect prophet, able to perform all miracles;  the perfect king; able to conquer his enemies; the perfect priest, able to teach all scripture; the perfect servant, able to suffer in silence; and finally the perfect sacrifice, able to atone for all of the sin in the world and reconcile people with God. God accepts Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus chooses a people and gives his work over to them to complete – but first he sends a helper.

When the Spirit of Christ is poured out on believers, God’s anointed Apostles proclaim his favour in every language. Every blessing becomes available to all nations of the earth. By the will and purpose of God, the message of forgiveness spreads throughout the earth. No nation is untouched and though the people of God suffer many hardships, they are helped to remain faithful.

Before the narrative ends, God gives a picture to a man named John. Just like it was for Daniel, it is a message of the following years. When the people of earth will fight with the people of God and suffering will mark the passage of time. Yet the story has already been told. God keeps his promises and his Son will return. God will create again and everything will be made new. God will once again walk amongst us, and he will be our God and we will be his people.

 April 2010

 

Dying Embers

There comes a time in every fire
When everyone accepts it will die

There is zero volition to fetch more wood
No tender desire to feed morsels
Into the voracious gob

But we remember how it burned
It’s etched in orange starform in our eyes
And steeped in acrid glub in our noses

One person will always stay
To watch orange turn to black
Unwilling to part with the life they begat

So the embers dance unkowingly
In and out of existence
Like Schrödinger’s cigarette butt

I’m there at that point
Poking the heart in the hope of sparks

But eventually I realise
I stink of smoke
There are tears in my eyes
And I’ve burnt the end off my stick

The Perfect Poem

I love poetry.

Especially pieces ripe with rhythm.

This poem by Maya Angelou is the one I keep coming back to. It has everything I like about poetry, and teeth. Drenched in a shared history, reworking Paul Laurence Dunbar; it cries a pain that isn’t my own, but resonates somewhere deep. I declare it my perfect poem.

Caged Bird
By Maya Angelou

 

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
מרנא תא

 

My Mistake

003f40f5.jpgPart of the songs that changed who I thought I was thread.

Lying in bed listening to a portable CD player (the absolute newest and fangledest gadget at the time) was where I first heard Split Enz. I was 14.

There was something so playful about the combination of brass, polka-esque rhythm, and the Finn brother’s velvety voices that made me laugh out loud.

Having thought of myself as a metal head, I was genuinely shocked to enjoy something so light. Perhaps the colloquial affinity to some kiwi blokes helped me across the line.

Split Enz opened up several new avenues. Madness came first, with Our House, and were acceptably cool because they featured on an episode of The Young Ones:

Rick: Do you lot know "Summer Holiday" by Cliff Richard?
Suggs: You hum it... I'll smash your face in.

I also fell in love with Hothouse Flowers and still sing along to Don’t Go. There was something disarming about how Liam Ó Maonlaí looked just like Rowlf the Dog from the Muppets when he played the piano.

Having been primed by these artists it was hardly surprising that National Express by The Divine Comedy became my anthem of the noughties. Having then looked into the origins of the Ska sound, I have become a closet fan of reggae – exemplified by Bob Marley’s Redemption Songs.

The Final Countdown

Part of the songs that changed who I thought I was thread.

The flagship song on the first album I ever owned. I remember going to town on a Friday night and buying the cassette with my own money. I was 11.

There’s something about that riff in the intro, the emotive build-up and the explosion of the chorus. It made me feel like an explorer.

Camp men in leather and make-up could lead one of two ways. Sadly, Europe were a gateway drug into the entirely contrived world of soft-rock. I went from them to Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Poison, and Whitesnake.

Down I descended through Mötley Crüe, Guns and Roses, and AC/DC; before bottoming out with Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden.

I wore black jeans and black t-shirts. I didn’t cut my hair. In my bedroom at home there was an old valve amp and a 5′ tall JBL scoop speaker that I could sit in.

These bands were angry in the same way that I was angry (pointlessly). These bands had cult followings that I was proud to be part of.

Eventually the amp and speaker were given to college thrash-metal band who were required by the Nelson City Council to practise in a concrete toilet block in the middle of a sports ground, but I had already moved on.

Songs that changed who I thought I was

The last time I was asked what kind of music I liked, I shocked the questioner by stating blandly: “I don’t like music.”

Her response was to gasp and say “nooo, that’s just wrong.”

The truth is, I did once really like music. Over the years the joy of everything has waned and I find myself resistant to all forms of noise and mental clutter. I realise this is probably less than brilliant, so I treated myself to a Spotify Premium account this Christmas. It was more significant than I expected to reconnect with music that I remember from my youth.

Sometimes we hear a song or piece of music that causes us to stop and reevaluate how we think the universe works. In this series of posts I’ll be travelling back to the songs that were significant enough to change the music that I loved. Share your lists in the comments; mock mine; get involved :).