Sunday Soliloquys: With Love

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I am about a quarter of the way into my Jordan Year, and for the most part I have been challenged in ways that have both enriched my convictions and shattered my sense of security.

As much as I hate believing it, my grandmother, the woman who helped to raise and care for me, the woman who I eschewed other opportunities to be present for, the woman who by the very nature of her presence has made some of my worst moments from this past year bearable, is dying. She has no chronic illness, not one cancer, or ALS, or dementia, or Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, but is dealing with a multitude of minor setbacks and illnesses that have, over the past four years, robbed her of her ability to walk and move freely and that have made her immune system very weak. Although the death blow has not happened yet, the elephant in the room will be, when will God call her home. I hope not for some time, but everyone is preparing for it. Half-heartedly, but preparing nevertheless. That has shaken my sense of security.

On a brighter note, I’ve felt more love and appreciation from my students this year than I did last year. I’m not quite sure what it is, but the feels are much more present. I could handpick a few students that embody this, but I could’ve done the same last year. This year, regardless of the class period, there seems to be a fuller understanding of belonging or at least feeling appreciated, wanted, accepted. I might be exaggerating, but for the sake of thinking of the positive, I have to go to those lengths. To illustrate the kind of thing that I am talking about, I’ll quote a student that I had who was switched to a colleague’s class roughly five weeks into the year. The student said: “I miss this class. I mean Mrs….. is a good teacher, she teaches and explains things, but she’s just not Mr. Rafi”. I can’t put my finger on one thing, and I cannot say that I am a highly effective, world-changing teacher through both academic and personal content, but there is something to say about the cultures that I have been able to build, especially this year. For better or for worse, I am proud of that.

A major reason why I called on the idea of love in the title of this soliloquy is because, while I have strong love and support from my family, and definitely feel some level of love within the classroom, I feel that love is something that is missing in my life (I know, I know, first world problems). Two of the most prominent young rappers in Chicago, the larger than life Chance the Rapper and the low key sage Mick Jenkins, released albums that at their core are about love this year. And as this year draws to a close and I think about what I want for Christmas, all I can think about is love.

I want love that is not limited by rules and regulations (not that I would ever touch a student). I want love that goes deeper than political ideology and “wokeness”. I want love that goes deeper than family. Love that goes deeper than friendships. Love that goes deeper than spouses, significant others, partners, playmates, etc. My religious brethren might call for the love of God, but what I truly want is a love that aspires to be that agape, godly, unconditional love. A love that isn’t bound by relationship (mother to son might aspire to be agape, but it is based on who you are to each other).

I want a love that persists even when I can’t begin to say that we’re friends. I want a love that isn’t sustained by seeing each other everyday or every week. But I also don’t want a love that has to be re-kindled by seeing each other. This is a paradox beyond paradoxes. This is a love that cannot exist. But instead of aspiring to replicate God’s love for his children (again a relationship), I’m calling on myself to strive to find love that has never been seen or experienced. A form of love that there are no songs for. A form of love that is not written in scripture. Instead it is merely written in the winds of the world when that group or couple or person existed.

If I fail to find that form of love it’s ok. I’m shooting for the center of the universe with this one. But even if I fail to make it that far, I also must pledge to better appreciate the love that I do have. Deep, unconditional, agape, or shallow, conditional, relational.

I have a group of friends, most of them know each other, who I consider to be my sisters. I’m trying to at least, if I don’t find that superunnatural love, to grow that manufactured family. But that’s for another day.

Thanks for allowing me to rant. I’ll be back next week with more random thoughts that come to mind.

Peace,

Rafi

 

Sunday Soliloquys: 4 Your Eyez Only

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Dead tired and trapped by the ever looming work week, I return for another Sunday Soliloquy. Unlike last week, where I had something that was very clearly and presently on my mind, this week I’m a little less impassioned. However, I do feel like there are some music related things that I can talk about.

This past weekend, J. Cole’s fourth album 4 Your Eyez Only was released and, for the first time since 2013’s Born Sinner, I stopped everything to listen. Well, actually I didn’t. I heard some clamor and some whispers from a variety of people who wanted to praise the album or call it good, but I didn’t hear the right hype. I wasn’t hearing the kind of hype that would make me ignore the hype and listen to the album as it is. That finally changed when I began to talk to my closer friends about it and hear that they weren’t quite sure how to feel about the album. My brother said to him it sounded like a mixtape. One of my friends found that it was very different than what he’s heard from Cole before. Mixed hype signals make for positive listening experiences and Cole’s album is no exception.

I won’t spoil too much, but just know that 4 Your Eyez Only is a periodic sentence in the form of a rap album. It may take two listens and a re-listen to understand where Cole is coming from. Lyrically the album is well done and takes on a similar tone and presentation to the highlights of Forest Hills Drive. Production wise it feels about the same. Sonically, Cole is in his lane and has advanced further up it. There isn’t a banging of well-known production styles and no “if Young Metro….” taglines. In more ways than one, the album is quiet and intimate. Its the kind of album that you listen to with a close friend or partner in lieu of a Netflix movie or documentary. It requires your attention, which is something I didn’t fully give it in my initial two listens (I was grading). However, I will admit that as critical as I am of J. Cole (he’s got the ability and intellect to push all of the boundaries lyrically but has admitted to choosing relatability and simplicity for the sake of popularity (and financial gain??)), this album was actually a major improvement.

Jermaine Cole is the rapper who, while technically gifted, was never good at extended concepts throughout his albums. He came to underground fame with “sideline stories”, but used these more as a cover for his story as an artist than as a table of contents. You couldn’t listen to or read song titles and lyrics and REALLY see the sideline story come to life. Born Sinner, while a good album by all means, suffered from much of the same. Cole could collect the songs, some of which that dealt with the theme extensively, but struggled to tie his own authentic life into this concept very fluidly. 4 Your Eyez Only is the album that J. Cole wished he could’ve made five years ago. This is an album that pushes the boundary of what we’ve been looking to as concept albums, just like Kendrick’s seminal work to date To Pimp A Butterfly…did.

While there are surely concept albums that take on personal things, I am hard pressed to think of a concept album that so purely and innocently became a concept album. 4 Your Eyez Only is an album that tells the story of someone else’s life (now that I think of it like The Mars Volta’s Deloused in the Comatorium), but at the request of the person FOR someone else. In a way that is magical and is, again, extremely authentic, J. Cole has created an album to spread life lessons without preaching. And the subject of the album asked for it to be done.

In a role that surprisingly suits him, Cole plays the biographer for someone else’s life throughout the entirety of his album, choosing only to rap from his own perspective on a few rare occasions. In a beautiful twist, Cole creates a rap album for someone who neither had the words, the ability, or the time to say these things himself. And that’s real. That’s authentic. Essentially, Cole is Alex Haley. His subject is a Malcolm X, one who never was able to truly act upon the redemption that he found. And in an innocent pursuit, J. Cole has done something truly monumental.

People may not bump it on every speaker or sing its highest praises, but to me, this personal rap album is the greatest album that J. Cole has made. In making it, J. Cole has done something that no other rapper on his level has done AND J. Cole has found a way to leverage some of his greatest strengths. Is it replicable? Perhaps not. However, for the time being, Cole has all eyez on him.

Peace,

Rafi

 

 

 

 

Sunday Soliloquys: Civil Discourse

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Hello, internets. It’s been a little more than a year since I’ve posted on this blog and, despite many people surely not missing or knowing that I exist, it’s good to be back. I’ve contemplated the best topic to discuss for a few months…but honestly, I felt like I really just needed to start writing again for the sake of doing so. As a result, here I am!

In an effort to hold myself accountable and post regularly, quality or not, I’ve decided to make a blog segment called Sunday Soliloquys. For the less informed, a soliloquy is an aside in theatre, where a character expresses his thoughts or feelings aloud, generally to himself (and the audience). Basically, in this segment, I’ll be doing brief comments and thoughts about things that have been crossing my mind recently.

Today I’ll be talking about civility in discourse. Hope you enjoy, and as always, feel free to share, like, comment, and email me thoughts!

So, to get to the point…why do we need to have civil discourse?

When having a discussion with anyone, we hope that our points and concerns can be expressed and heard AND we can adequately present counterpoints and concerns to the people that we are having our discussion with. Regardless of what our beliefs may be, we expect this level of civility to exist because that ties directly into our freedoms of expression and speech, which are, as many recognize, tied directly to our first amendment rights. However, in the social world that we currently live in, this need for civility in discourse (and this expectation) is presenting our news media and the rest of our public sector some very distinct challenges.

What happens when, in a civil discussion, one or both parties do little more than falsify or present assumptions or generalizations as if they are facts? What happens when, unlike in a school house or dinner table discussion, this discussion is broadcast to millions of people? Many people have grown accustomed to the notion of civil discourse as the “reasoned” presentation of multiple sides of an issue, where, much like in a debate, both sides have equal representation and should be permitted to make their points without being discredited on the basis of their position. When two people, or parties, approach each other to discuss an issue,  neither side should be presented as inferior or less credible on the basis of what their beliefs are. However, what many people seem to be missing is that, while people do in fact hear what people say through some sort of biased lens, people label different sides of an issue as less credible because of what they perceive to be as flaws in the general argument that is being made. Although you might feel that your audience or your “opponent” in this debate or discussion is discrediting or ignoring what you are saying simply because of your label, more often than not, no matter how fallacious, they are doing so because of association.

I am openly liberal (except for when I’m working). I recognize that many people will make assumptions about and discredit the things that I say because of that. This is negative in general, but is totally acceptable if the specific thing I am saying IS FALSE or IS NOT CREDIBLE. I have occasionally shared false news, false information, or misleading information, which was not credible. My liberal bias lead me to do so (accidentally of course). In response, several of my friends, regardless of ideology, pointed this out. I either rectified the situation by deleting the post, or by commenting my apologies for spreading this false information. During our discourse, they pointed out the invalid points that I was making OR the invalid evidence that I was using, which I thought was valid due to my own personal bias. I am not a totally unethical or non-credible person because I used this false or misleading evidence, but my argument at the time, on that topic, WAS FALSE and NON-CREDIBLE.

Pointing out the invalidity of an argument, or requesting for additional evidence or clarity when hearing an argument doesn’t mean that you are discriminating or directly discrediting the person’s total beliefs. It just means that in the case of that particular argument, you are trying to differentiate between false or misleading evidence/information AND true/credible evidence/information.

As a society, we must work harder to divorce an argument from a person. Instead of just listening to the words that people say, do background research and ensure that their evidence and commentary is credible and based on fact. Even if something sounds logical based on your own experience, make sure that it truly is logical and isn’t based on misleading or fallacious evidence and reasoning.

Thanks for letting me air that out. Stop through next week!

Peace,

Rafi

(PS: this was inspired by Tomi Lahren’s recent appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. You can check out the clip here: