Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All I Need

All I Need - Bethany Dillon (mp3)
Flowerparts - Bob Schneider (mp3)

You're all I need.

Two teenage girls sang a song with that line in it at church this Sunday. It was a pretty enough song, probably originally by some contemporary Christian band, and the two girls did a fine job with the vocals. Unfortunately, when one is in a particularly cynical and dark place spiritually, then cynical and dark things can bloom from even the harmonics of hopeful teenagers.

They were singing about God. God is all they need.

Part of me wishes to hell that were true. Part of me wishes life could be so simple as narrowing down our needs to God And Nothing Else. Get rid of all the distraction. All the detritus. All the inessentials. And all that would be left is you and the one thing you need: an omnipotent, omnipresent, all-loving deity who cannot be seen, who cannot be touched, who cannot be held.

If all I needed was God, I could have managed an altogether different life. No aching need for that wacky notion known as a "soul mate." No overwhelming yearning to be a father. No longing for the acceptance of peers or even a need for friendship. Altogether different notions of success and mission.

And those two girls. They would be so much better off if all they needed was God. Their bodies would not be their enemy. They wouldn't fight-- and primp -- tooth and nail for the acceptance or approval of drooling boys. Shows like Gossip Girl would never make it past the first three or four episodes, because we'd all be too busy watching preachers and gospel programs.

The other part of me, though... finds the notion of needing nothing but God very unpalatable. I'm admittedly working in extremes here. I guess there are people out there who can say "You're all I need" and mean it only in the good and healthy religious sense. I guess there are people out there who say this and aren't part of some Yellow Deli or People's Temple collective.

Most of the people I know who truly sing this and believe this and try their damnedest to live this are... um... Truth is, they're probably better off. I can say they're clueless, or they're disconnected, or they're naive, or they live in a very unstable glass house of fantasy. And it's mostly true. But none of those things are in and of themselves all that awful if you're bound for Eternal Glory, right? So what if you don't fall in love and have a family or find your passion in things beyond hymns of praise or Holy Scriptures? We're just here for a few minutes in comparison to that afterlife. No big sacrifice if you keep it all in perspective.

Maybe I'm a believer who's too far gone. I need much. I find myself enraptured by the easy brilliance of this scene from The Jerk. Although we don't all need stuff in quite this literal a way, the scene is just one more reminder that all great comedy captures a pearl of truth:

We can't need just one thing.

We're not capable. Sure, we want to believe we can, because if we could just narrow it all down, life would be so much simpler and less messy that the one we're stuck in. AllMusic.com claims more than 400 songs include the words "All I Need" in the title. I'm thinking of making a song called "All I Need is a Unicorn," because both notions are equally fantastical.

When I try to imagine singing "You're all I need" about any one person, or any one thing, or even God, it gets kinda icky and scary. I need lots of people. Some of them are specific people, and some are in the abstract, but I need them all. I need people I haven't even met yet, people who might not even have been born as I write this.

The words "You're all I need" conjures notions of addiction, and not the kind of addiction that gains you favor in Heaven. I think of alcoholics and compulsive gamblers, of overeaters and exercise freaks, of unhealthily-obsessed lovers. I think of people who have lost perspective, and maybe some of their grip on reality along with it.

Even the most devoted of childless spouses end up buying a puppy or tackling separate careers. Even the most dedicated and devoted parent yearns for other ways to find meaning. And 99.9% of religious folks have needs beyond food, water and their Creator regardless of whether they can admit it to themselves.

Maybe this is the devil on my other shoulder whispering in my ear. Maybe this is just one more sign I'm in big f*#kin' trouble when I die. But I yam what I yam. I've spent most of my life trying very hard NOT to be so completely focused or obsessed with a single thing that the other important stuff in my life fades out. I'm kinda proud that, so far, I've managed this goal quite nicely. Life has always felt more like a never-ending mixtape than a longplay version of "Every Breath You Take."

We're on a big, cool planet with billions of cool people. Wouldn't it be a crime not to need as much of the good parts and as many of the right people as we can find?

After all, this is my Father's world. Right?

"All I Need" is from Bethany Dillon's So Far... The Acoustic Sessions and can be found on iTunes and Amazon.com. "Flowerparts" is from Bob Schneider's third studio album, The Californian, available only on iTunes.

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