Thursday, July 12, 2012

This blog is dead

Hey everyone I now have a new website/blog. Check it out here: If for some reason, you are reading this, good job. But I don't imagine anyone really is. I have decided to kill this blog since it has really just been limping along like a sad old dog that needs to be shot. I've replaced this blog with a new, shinier one, a website even, that makes me look more professional. This year I really am going to keep it updated. At this new blog you can find all of my new writings, poetry, and selection from a book I'm working on about planting a church in Salt Lake City Utah. Thanks, Levi

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ten Stories

On May 15th mewithoutYou released their new album “Ten Stories.” For many old mewithoutYou fans the album is a welcome return to their former raucous sound. Their previous 2009 album, “It’s All Crazy, It’s All False, It’s All a Dream, But It’s Allright” was a strange departure into the land of Danielson like sounds, featuring a plenitude of folk songs by frontman Aaron Weiss about animals, one might even say, too many. “Ten Stories” still includes the animal references and fables (the entire album focusing around a circus train crash in Montana in the late 1800’s) but refocuses on the sound of mewithoutYou at it’s best—shouting, hard drum beats, and heavy guitar. Make no mistake, if you like the sound of the previous album, there’s still a couple songs for you, like “Grist for the Malady Mill,” “Elephant in the Dock,” and “Cardiff Giant,” (the only sub-par song on the entire album) but largely the album returns to a more natural mewithoutYou sound. Lyrically, mewithoutYou has never been better. Aaron Weiss’s lyrics are complex, poetic fables, but still retain a fairy-tailish simplicity. The poetic wanderings of Weiss’s continue to make mewithoutYou what they are today. At once confessional and mystic, concrete and wandering. The best song on the album is undoubtedly “Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume,” which not only highlights Aaron’s lyrical genius, but brother Michael’s and Kleinberg’s guitar skills and Mazzota’s wonderful drums. There’s even a Sausurre reference to the sign and signified in the song for the nerdy English majors out there (don’t worry about it). “Provisionally eyed, practically alive,” Weiss sings “Mistook sign for signified, and so sins have tried to run him off a cliff like Gadarene swine.” The other great songs are “February 1878,” the circular “All Circles” and “Nine Stories.” If only the whole album sounded like “Fox’s Dream” and “Febuary 1878.” But Aaron has mentioned that he is tired of writing angsty songs his grandma can’t listen to. Understandable, but in many ways the angst is missed, and I’m still waiting for an opportunity for Michael Weiss, Greg Jehanian, Chris Kleinberg and Ricky Mazzotta to really hit it hard and go crazy, like they do on their live shows. “Ten Stories” is not quite like “Catch for us the Foxes,” and it is certainly not “A>B” but it is a much-welcomed return to what makes mewithoutYou great. The band has been around now for ten years and went their separate ways after “It’s All Crazy,” only to come back for “Ten Stories.” The distance they spent apart and their recent reunion and commitment to each other heavily characterize the album. As Mazzotta says, “When we came together to make Ten Stories, it was spawned out of being apart for awhile, home with friends and lovers, pursuing other interests and naturally gravitating back towards one another through sound and space.” The album also features amazing artwork by artist Vasily Kafanov.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

M. Ward's Wasteland Companion

New article for the Chrony. Check it.

David Cross on Healthcare

David Cross and Healthcare David Cross wants to ask a simple question. On his latest comedy CD, Bigger and Blackerer, the comic (perhaps most widely known, for better or worse, as “Tobias” from Arrested Development) he hits on topics ranging from eco-friendly saran wrap, to Mormonism, the Tea Party movement, to the healthcare debates, or excuse me, the healthcare “yelling’s,” as he calls them. While vehemently ranting against the ignorance of those in the Tea Party movement, he pauses: “Here’s a simple a simple question. Where are the Christians? Where are the @*#$%@ Christians!” He goes on to say that isn’t taking care of other people when they can’t do it themselves a basic Christian belief? “You take care of people who are suffering,” Cross recounts with regards to his knowledge of the Bible. He continues by saying that he finds it hard to believe that after Jesus got done with the Sermon on the Mount he allowed equal time to the CEO from Blue Cross Blue Shield. While it could be easy for some to write Cross off as a crass comic only interested in tearing “religion” down, could he have a point? The fact that Christians today are as political and active as ever when it comes to things like abortion, Hollywood, Homosexuality, the “secular” culture of the left, etc., why have we remained largely silent on healthcare reform debates? If anything, the remarks I hear about healthcare reform from Christians have everything to do with their idea of “government” rather than say, the Sermon on the Mount. It is almost exclusively about “big government” and “taxes” rather than Christian charity or virtue. It seems the major issue has become taking care of ourselves, rather than helping the poor amongst us. “Why is healthcare reform bad?” Because it will raise taxes, increase government, etc., people will say. But if you ask say, “Why is abortion wrong?” you will get, “Because it is a morally wrong action.” If you ask what’s wrong about an illegal immigration policy that favors immigrants, many Christians will tell you, “Taxes, the economy, jobs, etc.” Very little of it has to do with what, let’s say Leviticus, says about welcoming the foreigner and stranger among you. The debate for Christians has turned almost entirely political, rather than Biblical. For some Christians, it seems legislating morality is fine as long as it agrees with their Christian Agenda, but as soon as the government starts legislating things we don’t agree with (i.e. healthcare reform), it’s not the laws we are morally opposed to, but “big government.” Is it about morality or government? Or both somehow? It seems some Christian’s are fine with “Big government” as long as it legislates those things they agree with. In this case it’s a moral issue. But often times as soon as the government enacts legislation with regards to those things we don’t agree with, the issue often becomes about “government” rather than morality. So I would ask the question, for Christians is healthcare reform a moral or political debate? I would argue that healthcare reform is a moral debate and therefore, an issue we need to look towards the scriptures on, rather than joining whatever political side it is we’re on. The moral argument against this reform is that we are individually responsible for ourselves and if you don’t have healthcare it’s your own damn fault. I guess the question is, is this true? Or does David Cross have a point when even a secular atheist like him can look at the Sermon on the Mount and remark that Jesus wants us to take care of others, regardless of whether or not they deserve it? Now the Christians for healthcare can be in just as much danger of overindulging politically. If the government legislates what one might call “a biblical virtue,” this doesn’t mean our responsibility is “off” and finished. As Christians we should always “love one another” regardless of what any government might legislate or not, so whether or not healthcare is universal, we are biblically mandated to take care of the needs of other, much like the Acts 2 church. As Christians we can’t simply let the government decide what the “right” action is. We are to live the way of Jesus, at all times. If abortion were suddenly deemed “morally wrong” by the Supreme Court, the fact of whether it is right or wrong, doesn’t change by the decision of a government. If this were the case, Christian morality and absolute truth would be completely subjective to the current government or culture’s morality. Our first priority is to Christ and his church. If Christians are really going to stand against “big government” than why are they also the ones who want the strictest and stringent laws against crass movies, music, etc., along with harsh laws against immigration, abortion, euthanasia etc. What is it? Is it Christian virtues we are championing in regards to healthcare? Or is it the fact that we don’t want to pay taxes? Are we concerned about morality or our wallets? True Kingdom living or political issues? It’s true that many people, including myself, are paying a considerable amount of taxes to the government that we may never see back in any way, shape, or form. And so though I am opposed to the systems of government that abuse money and power, there are also times when it matches up with Christian beliefs. But whether it does or doesn’t isn’t the point. The point is not politics. The point is Jesus, and how he taught us to take care of one another. It seems that the Christian has the unique opportunity of functioning both under and in the government. We can support what systems of government support Kingdom values and resist those that do not. Why does the idea of “justice” never seem to come up? Such as “What does justice look like in American society for those who can’t afford healthcare?” Opponents will argue that in order for “me,” (me, who works hard, me who pays the bills,) to pay someone else’s hospital bills would be to encourage laziness and this goes against Paul’s teaching that “the person who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.” But what is the opposite? The opposite is a Darwinian, survival of the fittest model, and is this the model that Christ taught? Regardless, if Christians are going to be anti-government with regards to healthcare reform, they shouldn’t do so under the guise of biblical morality, when the concern is really about taxes. If Christians are going to be for healthcare reform, it doesn’t get us off the hook of taking care of the poor and needy. In either case in this debate, our political and American allegiances seem to trump the Kingdom of Heaven. Maybe not. Maybe some people honestly believe that Universal healthcare is morally anti-Christian. But for the rest of us, when a person like David Cross can look at Christians (a largely political group these days,) with regards to an issue like healthcare and say “Where the fuck are you?” Something seems off.

The Raw Honesty of Louis C.K.

When I was growing up, I once heard my pastor that God didn’t have a sense of humor. Humor, he said, was based on imperfections, and therefore nothing of God could coincide with anything less than perfection. Whatever the theological reality of this statement may be, humor is indeed based on the imperfection of life. And there is no man who knows imperfection better than Louis C.K. The Boston born actor, director, and writer, has been hailed as the best stand-up comedian of today. He gets his title not from magazines or media outlets, but from fellow stand-up comics. His show Louie on FX has been critically appraised and he’s written and acted in movies with the likes of Ricky Gervais and Chris Rock. What Louis C.K. does best is unearth the façade of decency we live under and delve into the darkest workings of the soul. His act is crude, depressing, and self-deprecating, but it is also touching, raw, and incredibly honest. C.K. will get on stage and talk about anything from masturbation, to his recent divorce, from his own self worth, to raising his two daughters. The common claim about C.K. is that he says what we’re all thinking, but are too afraid to say. The reason I can’t but help love Louis C.K., even though it may not be the “cleanest” act in the bunch, is that on the one hand, C.K. can get up and do a show about how incredibly depraved he is, and in the next breath enable you to laugh at the jacked up world in which we live. In many ways he is merely a mid-forties struggling parent who loves their kids very much. There is a contrast however, between the rude and crude Louie and the real life incredibly thoughtful soul. If you merely watched his act, you might think the guy was utterly depraved, as I guess we all are. However C.K. recently gave away three fourths of the million dollars he made on his latest stand up act. He released the show on his website (it’s still there) for five bucks and after it did really well, he decided to give a fourth to charity, a fourth as bonuses to the people who made him make the video, a fourth to cover expenses for the video and the website, and a fourth for him and his girls, which he claims he will do “terrible things with but none of that is any of your business.” On his website he makes an almost prophetic statement about money, saying, “I never viewed my money as being ‘my money’ I always saw it as ‘The money.’ It’s a resource. If it pools up around me than it needs to be flushed back out into the system.” This contrast, between crude comedian and a generous, aware soul, gives Louie’s comedy something other comedians don’t have, personal exploration. It’s easy to take pot shots at religion or politics as many comedians do, but it’s much harder to be almost unbearably honest with yourself. Yet, Louie never strays too far into the cruel. Most comedians would rail against their ex-wife, but he has yet to do so, claiming in one interview that it’s her privacy and he doesn’t feel right exploiting that. In a world of bi-partisan divides and moral failings of pastors caused by a lack of honesty and confession, it’s refreshing to hear something as confessional and raw as Louie’s comedy. Writer Joel Lovell said it best in an interview with Louis C.K. in GQ, “There's a deep anti–moral-hypocrisy vein running through C.K.'s work, which is organized as much as anything around the idea that to not speak openly about our capacity for ugliness is to further enable it.” Read More


Every time a couple gets married, two single people die. Leslie Knope-Parks and Recreation People in Salt Lake will use the word “show” to describe multiple events, usually only two or three of which are actual “shows.” Movies, concerts, plays, poetry slams, etc., are bundled up in the title of “show” as an all-encompassing “event.” So today, in Utah fashion, I guess you could say we as a community are going to a show. Today is the day of our first wedding as a community. My roommate Mike is marrying his girlfriend Dani after nearly four years of dating. Josh is ordaining the wedding and I am a groomsmen along with a few others from our church. It’s all very exciting. For the bachelor party we shot guns in the desert just beyond the Salt Flats. Afterwards we had dinner at Nate Stoltenows’s house and proceeded to go drinking at The Republican and My Ex-Wives Place (actual name of bar, which I believe is named after the owner received the bar in a divorce settlement.) Though Mike and Dani didn’t necessarily meet and grow up through our church, they have been a huge part of it from the beginning and so it is a blessing (in the most non-cliché sense of the word) to celebrate their oneness, their physical manifestation of the union of Christ and his bride. This wedding marks the first of many for the summer. I’ve already been to one in April, next week Dan and Laura are getting married in Portland, Tim and Steph are getting married in New York early September and I have two other friends who are getting married in other parts of the country. Oh! To be in your early twenties! Weddings when you’re single are the happiestloneliest of times. You are very happy, excited, but sometimes, not all the time, you feel a slight twinge of loneliness because you are not married, maybe not even close. I think that’s why the movie Bridesmaids did so well this year. I think many people have a hard time watching other people join their lives together when they find themselves approaching their late twenties, early thirties, and still have no one. The wedding was held at The Point, a ballroom on the sixth floor of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which is, remarkably, shaped like a point. The room’s walls are made of glass and offer a near three hundred and sixty degree view of the entire Salt Lake Valley. The whole room funnels into a triangle shooting straight between the Wasatch mountain range on your right and the Great Salt Lake to the left. At first, we all thought it was weird to have a wedding on the top floor of a cancer center. It felt disrespectful, irreverent. But maybe dark places, places of death, can also hold places of light and life. Maybe the people who built the Huntsman Cancer institute knew this. Or maybe they just wanted to make money. Either way, the view was incredible. As I stood with a glass of wine watching the sun set upon the Great Salt Lake to the west and bits of pink splash the white tops of the mountains to the east, I realized I had never been happier to live in this city. Perhaps it was the booze talking, but it felt like a big deal considering I spent the two weeks before repenting for my lack of love for the city. But tonight, tonight I love this city. Call me a sucker for emotion, for sensuality, call me drunk if you will, but I love this city. The wedding was great. There was good food, good friends, meaningful speeches, and a deep sense of respect and thanks to the God who gives us these things. Towards the end of the night, about ten of us left to decorate Mike and Dani’s car in the garage below. Josh and I went to observe. After ten minutes the car had more penises and crude words written on it than anything I’ve seen in public. Josh and I washed our hands, hoped the grandparents wouldn’t be coming outside. I hang out with a lot of people who disagree with the very concept of marriage. They have no desire to get married. They’ve seen their parents’ marriages fall apart and sometimes even their friends and feel that marriage no longer works. Some think of it is a failing traditional moray of archaic family structure. Some think of marriage as a social construct, unnatural to the natural world. They think we should be free to love anyone and everyone, have multiple consenting partners and live in the same primitivesque way as animals. But I still I think all of us want intimacy. I think we even desire jealousy in relationships. The next afternoon Kyle talked about jealousy at church. We are still in Exodus as a community and are walking through what it means for a new community to come face to face with this God who has rescued them out of Egypt. We have seen the attributes of God as provider through manna and water in the rock; we have seen God as a God of abundance, rather than scarcity. And today we see God as entering into a covenant with this new Israelite community through the Ten Commandments. I think it’s important to understand God as a God who does not promise to take care of the Israelites if they follow his commands. He has already taken care of them. God does not give them rules and say, “If you hold up your end of the bargain, I’ll hold up mine.” God is already, has already, held up his side of the bargain no matter what. It is through these “rules” that God helps us understand his character and attributes, our identity as a set apart people and our relationship to each other. And ultimately, these rules shows us how utterly incapable we are of keeping them. It brings us close to our need. Sometimes reading through the Old Testament can feel as if God forgot to take his medication. In the Old Testament we see an angry, jealous God reminiscent of Al Pacino on PCP. This is the God who smites Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, okays genocide, and wipes out entire nations of people. He is wrathful, He is powerful, He is Zeus with lightning bolts. A God who smites those who get to close to the ark, who makes people wander around in deserts for forty years. Who allows Israel to be taken captive by neighboring empires on multiple occasions. They deserved it. A God wipes out humanity with a single flood and decimates all who get in his way. In the New Testament we meet a God who is loving and gracious, forgiving and compassionate. This God loves sinners and hangs out with homeless people. He accepts you for who you are. Both of these Gods are one and the same. The Just and the Loving. The Jealous and the Gracious. It is hard to make sense of. Some people preach a gospel of the righteous, indignant God. These are the street corner solicitors, the proud pissed off preachers. They push God into your jugular because God is angry with you and you are going to hell. God is a God of fear, awe and respect. He must be appeased. You are sinful and if you do not repent you will go to hell. Others preach a gospel of love and grace. They hang out with the disenfranchised doubters, the scandalous sinners and speak that God is love. God is a friend and Jesus a lover of the broken. They will tell you that you can do nothing to earn God’s love for you, it is a gift to accept, a drink to indulge. And both are, to some extent, accurate views of God. God is righteous and loving. It is a hard paradox to accept for me. It seems contradictory that God would simultaneously love the whole world and condemn it for its sin. That God would call us his enemies and then die on the cross for us and call us friends. The New Testament seems to contradict the Old Testament and vice versa. Both show different, but equally true sides of God. In the New Testament you meet this guy Jesus who says that you should love your neighbors, he even says that you should love your enemies. Not just love them, but go out of your way to help them. Walk two miles rather than one. To repay their evil with good. He even says that if someone tries to take something from you, give them more. If someone hits you, let them do it again. If someone asks for your coat, give them your shoes too. But one day Jesus makes a whip and starts to drive people out of the temple. I’m not sure if he hit anyone, but I’m pretty sure this is not considered pacifism. Then there is the whole thing on forgiveness. He says you are supposed to forgive. No holds barred, no exceptions, just forgiveness. No matter what. The idea of forgiveness contradicts the idea of justice. You don’t get what you deserve, there is mercy and compassion. What is unfolding between the Old and New Testaments? It seems like God was a little angry, had a few, and then got real friendly with us. When did God transform from a football coach to my grandma? My old roommate’s stepdad was an alcoholic. The guy was a jerk, but when he drank, he would just get real friendly and start handing out money. It seems that God is the same sometimes. One minute he’s drinking and the next he is handing out money. If there is one thing the Bible is not short on its paradoxes. One story says one thing and then another says something that appears to be entirely different. Jesus says in one passage that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, implying that we should put down our weapons and stop fighting. You start to get a little teary eyed and hopeful as Jesus speaks about peace and love and how there is another way to live. Then later He says that He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Wait, I thought Jesus wasn’t into swords? Didn’t He tell a guy named Peter to put his down? But you can’t deny that God is a Jealous God. To some people that doesn’t sound right, but we all know that if Mike came back from his honeymoon early with another girl we wouldn’t all say, “Well, that’s Mike!” And when Dani came back, fuming, furious, eyes of fire sort of angry, we would probably support her in her wrath. She would be justified in her anger, in her jealousy. We all want to be desired. We all want a to enter into a relationship with another person who is solely committed to us. Which is why marriage is a beautiful thing. I usually try not to think about marriage at weddings, because then I’ll get to thinking about how I’m not married and probably never will be and will remain single, frazzled, stuck eating ice cream on a yellow couch like Liz Lemon. I always feel horribly selfish when I start thinking about myself at weddings. Here I am, to celebrate someone else’s life, and all I can think about is how none of the bridesmaids are single. Really! None of you are single! However, living with a family helps block up some of my romanticism. Jeremy and Emily will be arguing in the next room about something, while I try and watch Harry Potter with the kids, but I can’t watch the damn thing because Avianna and Alidia are climbing on me as if I am a fake tree in the monkey cage at the zoo. Then Alidia farts on me. I hope it’s dry. Marriage is hard. Having a family is hard. I’m glad lots of people told me this so that I am no longer disillusioned. Right now I am starting to feel nostalgic about high school relationships. It seemed simpler. You liked someone, they liked you. There was no conversation about what your five year plan was, your past relationship baggage, or where this relationship was going. Or no, scratch that, you knew where this relationship was going; it was going to last forever! That’s where it was fucking going. When I was a junior I dated a girl named Becca. She lived in Evergreen. She had long curly hair and made purses out of Capri sun packs. We would make out all day in parks, like one of those disgusting teenage couples you probably snicker at now. When she left at the end of the year to move to Hawaii with her family, I thought I might die. I didn’t, luckily, but I remember the next time I saw her and how different it felt. We both went to college, had life happen to us. A year and half later we caught up, and I realized that things would never be like they once were, both of us flying through the summer night air as if we were invincible. We were adults. I dated another girl named Mackenzie. She lived in Littleton. We used to work at Christian summer camp together. One night we were sitting on her couch when she threw a pillow at me. I knew what this meant. Eventually we kissed. Next week we hung out again. We kissed this week also. Then I was idiot and didn’t call her for a while, and before I knew it, she was dating some other guy. But those were the best two nights I ever spent with a girl. We would take late-night trips to the park by her house. Go down the slides. Push each other on the swings. Now, it is the biggest regret of my life that I didn’t call her, well, that and possibly the burrito I just ate. However, I’m glad to be where I’m at, well, most days. And since taking a break from dating, I am genuinely excited about the next girl I will intentionally date. It could be a month. It could be five years. But when it happens, it will be good. It will not be forced. It (hopefully) will not start out with me feeling lonely and desiring a warm body to hold. As we all left the wedding that night, you could feel the summer air start to roll in off the desert. It reminded me of the first night of summer, the first night of the year when you can stand outside in a t-shirt and feel comfortable, warm even. I am glad that God gave us seasons. And I am glad that Salt Lake has them. I guess I’m trying to appreciate the one I’m in.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On The First Man Who had Insecurities About the Size of his Penis

I need…something…something to cover,
an animal, or a log, a leaf! Yes,
a leaf, but what kind?
Banana or fig perhaps? Or palm, from a palm tree I mean,
But there are holes, slits, why

am I so worried
about slits
on the leaves?
And where is Eve?
She must not come
Not here,
Not now,
She cannot see

But why?
have I got to hide?
I feel like hiding everything,
In cabinets and safes with locks,
Deadbolts. Chains, alarm
systems, only
the best will do.

The sky splits open, the earth
feels like a tent with the roof ripped off,
A volcano, the apocalypse, a hurricane
breezy and vast,
small. I feel small.