Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The Brothers Karamazowsky: The Youngest Brother
(Link for the previous Section of The Brothers Karamazowsky.)
The end of the week came quickly. Partly because I had something to look forward to (Pastor Adam Karamazowsky's youngest brother sent me plane tickets) and partly because my kids got ready to spend four weeks with April's parents. I never resented them leaving me this time of year because Texas in the summer is a miserable place to be. I always felt the kids were blessed they could go to Oregon.
I finished packing up the house and storing the boxes with my friend Jake. He said I could stay with him as long as I wanted. As it turned out, I didn't need to stay with him just yet...
It was a short flight and before I knew it, the Gateway Arch was in sight. I had only met Alex once, so I was concerned I wouldn't recognize him. However, I found him before I figured out how to exit through security. All I had to do was follow the running teenage girls who, like asteroids being pulled towards a blazing sun, were converging on a mass of people. At the center was Alex.
I got close enough to overhear him having a conversation with each fan as he signed autographs. He reminded me of his brother Adam, except this was like watching an electrified version of Adam. Adam had made me feel welcome without any distractions. Alex looked like he was doing the same thing with a small swarm of bees.
Alex looked up casually in my direction, smiled, and then went back to the group as if he hadn't seen me. Yet, I noticed the group began to disperse. Nothing appeared to be any different. He was still smiling. He was still conversing. The girls were still grateful for his time.
At first I was amazed. Then, as I heard the conversations more clearly, it occurred to me this was all an act. Alex was talking to one fan about her sister. He talked to another about her dog. I couldn't believe he really remembered the insignificant facts about each of these girls, many of whom said they were so ecstatic to finally meet him.
When there were two girls remaining, Alex began walking and I followed him, looking to the rest of the world like I was one of his adoring fans.
He didn't talk to me until he said goodbye to the final fan and we got in his van.
"Welcome to St. Louis, Erik!", he said as if he was greeting a concert crowd in a large arena instead of one man who was more than twenty years older than him.
"Thank you Alex...and thank you again for the ticket. I didn't mean to put you out...", I replied.
He interrupted, "Not, not, not, not, not...I am the one thanking you! Our conversation changed my life!"
"What? I shared some stories with you and Adam about being an executive..."
Alex laughed. "You shared your philosophy. You shared about 'Atlas Shrugged'. You shared about 'The Matrix'. You shared about CS Lewis. Take a step back and look at the big picture."
"Really? I don't really remember talking about those things. In fact, I didn't think you were paying much attention. I felt like Adam was making the effort to understand what I had to say."
"I remember everything. After that conversation, I...hey, the mall's still open!" Alex suddenly executed a three lane change maneuver and made the off-ramp just in time.
Alex explained he rarely was home and when he was home he didn't get out much. As soon as we entered the mall, I understood why. More people wanted pictures with him on their cell phones. It wasn't just girls this time. Teenage boys. Moms and dads. I was beginning to think I was never going to find out what happened to Adam. So, I just asked him when we were walking again.
"Alex. What happened to Adam?"
"Erik, the real question is how and why did it happen. Take a step back and look at the big picture."
I don't know what caused me to reply the way I did. It could have been the lack of attention I was getting. It could have been he told me to look at the big picture like I was an idiot. Whatever it was, I blurted out, "No. I care about what happened. I don't care about how or why or who or when or..."
Alex stopped and looked me in the eye. Then he said, as calmly and directly and sincerely as I have ever heard anyone speak: "The church failed. Adam got bitter and went into hiding."
"WHY?" As soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back, like the words were on a string and I was in a mad scramble to rewind it with all my might.
The only part of Alex's expression that changed were his eyes. They actually smiled at me as he said, "Now you want to know why and...hey, where's that smell coming from?" and then he walked right passed me to a cookie shop.
By the time I caught up with him, the woman behind the counter had given him a free cookie. I decided to avoid discussing Adam and find out more about Alex.
I asked him about his band "Halley's Comet".
"I don't go by that name anymore. We had legal issues when we tried to move from a local band to a national band."
"What name are you going by now?"
"YOU are Alexander Sky? My kids listen to your music! I've listened to your music. I didn't even know. You must be rich. What are you doing driving a beat up van?"
"That's our touring van...and what do YOU mean by rich?"
"You know. Mansion. Nice cars. Lots of toys. What everyone means by rich. You know, having a lot of money."
"Money is an effect". He said it immediately and almost involuntarily. Then he laughed, but this time he seemed surprised. "I was not expecting that definition from a guy who had read 'Atlas Shrugged'...or the Bible. I thought you were smarter than...hey!" and then he made a hard left into a music store.
I was beginning to get upset at this person who was much younger than me, telling me I changed his life and I wasn't very smart. At least, he was making me feel like I wasn't very smart.
The strange thing was, the only place he wasn't approached was in the music store. I caught up to him as he was looking through used albums. I was frustrated and I decided I was done being polite.
"What exactly did you learn from me?"
"I learned the principles of business from you and your philosophy. I learned money is an effect. It is not a cause. You can't get money as a cause. There is no knob you can put your hand on that once you turn it, money is produced. Ever wonder why your kids and so many other people listen to my music yet I didn't send a limousine to pick you up? I offer my music on the internet and let my customer determine what it is worth to them."
It took me a couple of seconds to process this.
"So, you give away your music?" was all I could grasp.
"No, I offer it to the public and I let them tell me what they think it is worth."
"What if they don't pay you anything?" I replied.
"Then I had better make better music or do something else. My music is not a business. It is a ministry." Then, he paused and looked up as he said, "Do you know the difference between a business and a ministry?"
I did not know how to answer that question. When I thought about it, I felt like they both needed money, so I wondered if there was a difference. I was also tired of being wrong and he was talking like he already knew the answer. I said nothing.
He waited for what seemed like an hour but was only less than ten seconds, then he said, "The reason a business exists is to make money...and how they do it is to provide a product or service. The reason a ministry exists is to provide a product or service...and how they do it is with money. You probably got confused by the fact you have never seen a true ministry."
"I don't know how you got that from what I shared with you. I just...", but he interrupted.
"You shared principles with me. You shared fundamental truths. You pointed me to resources containing these principles in a concentrated fashion. How and why I applied them the way I did, is different than what you did. You gotta take a step..." And then, as if he was struck by lightning or like he heard an alarm at a frequency only he was tuned to, he said, "We gotta go...", and he headed for the van.
As we drove to his home, I told him about my circumstances: my divorce, dealing with the church, losing the house, etc. He would ask me questions but I didn't have any answers. He looked bored with my story, which made the already long drive feel even longer.
We eventually left paved roads as Alex drove up the side of a large hill or small mountain. By now it was night and the path was made even darker by the tall trees. Alex wound his way through the blackness without any effort. In fact, he seemed to be looking at me most of the time.
When we finally arrived at the front of Alex's home, I was not surprised to see it was a log cabin. Actually, it looked like it was part log, part stone, part dirt...there was no rhyme or reason to the place. Part of it even looked like it was underground. The van actually looked to be in better shape than this mass of earth. I didn't even see a door.
Alex led me to the door. He took five quick steps in and immediately turned to face me. What he saw was amazement radiating from every part of me.
The inside was spectacular in its simplicity and organization. The ceiling consisted of exposed rafters. The opposite wall was glass from ceiling to floor. If there was a view, it wasn't apparent. The furniture was handmade. There weren't enough possessions to create clutter; just necessities.
The art on the walls reinforced the impression a group of people had made everything in this cabin. Each person focusing on what they did well. Nothing looked like it was anything less than perfectly made. I felt like I was in the cabin of a pioneer who lived in luxury. However, Alex could see there was something more I was thinking.
Alex said, "The base and frame are made from hickory. I know it isn't the strongest or hardest wood, but nothing else is both stronger and harder than hickory. We used oak for the interior. The furniture is black walnut." He paused and looked at me. "There is still something else you want to know, isn't there?"
"Yes, who is 'we'? Who built this place?"
Alex smiled, "A architect friend of mine who is a fan of Fr..."
I blurted out, "Frank Lloyd Wright!"
Alex had a look of realization, "THAT'S it! I should have known. You are a Wright fan?"
I was. As I talked, Alex gave me a tour, but we didn't get very far. We went from the living room to the guest room. I dropped off my bags, when Alex suddenly pleaded with me, "Teach me something about you and Frank Lloyd Wright!" That ended the tour.
So, we went back to the living room and I told him the story about my desk...
When I became an executive, April wanted to build a mansion. We fought about it until I gave in. Eventually, the only part of the house I got involved with was the desk in my study. I had read about architecture in anticipation of building the house and found myself migrating to stories about Frank Lloyd Wright.
He wasn't looking to build mansions. He built homes connected to their surroundings. As if the earth pushed the home out of the ground, which is what Alex's home literally looked like from the outside. Wright also liked to hide the entrance, which Alex's architect had also done.
When it came time to design my desk, I realized I needed two desks. One to do my paper work on and one to do my computer work on. I ended up designing two interlocking desks that looked like they came from the same "block of wood". The desks were at a 90 degree angle to each other. However, the computer desk could be rotated 90 degrees back into the paper work desk. The pedestal at the end of the computer desk fit into the space your legs occupied when you sat at the paper work desk. I felt it was a desk Frank Lloyd Wright would have built because he believed everything ought to look like it came from one source.
About a year later, April and I went to Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece in Pennsylvania. I was waiting in line at the gift shop when I saw a "toy" on the counter. I picked it up and played with it. It was four pieces of wood connected by a swivel. Each piece moved independent of the other. Each piece was an "L" of decreasing size tipped over 90 degrees to the right so all that touched was the edge of each "L" base. The connecting pin was in the end of the spine of the "L", so the pin looked like it hovered over the counter top.
All of a sudden, I took the second largest "L", rotated it 90 degrees and put it on the counter. I stepped back and it hit me: THAT IS MY DESK.
Here was a toy Frank Lloyd Wright had played with as a child, and I had designed a desk consistent with his background.
Alex was beaming by the end of the story. In fact, he was almost speechless from excitement. Then he said it.
"You are a modeler!"
Alex said, "You are a modeler. You figured out the principles and applied them in your own way."
I tried to disagree, but Alex continued, "Did Frank Lloyd Wright ever make a desk like the one you made?"
Alex interrupted, "Then why did you feel the connection between your desk and Wright?"
I said nothing.
Alex stood up and started pacing back and forth as he spoke, "Don't you see? The same way you took Wright's principles and created your own desk is the same way I took your business principles and created my own ministry. How can you not get that? If you stand back far enough, you can see it is the same thing."
"I don't know. Maybe it is the same thing, but if it is it's just coincidence. It's just being lucky. I don't think things fit together as well as you think."
Alex picked up two large books from the end table and sat next to me. He held up a book in each hand and said, "Do you think these two books fit together?"
He was holding up the Bible and "Atlas Shrugged". Two books in my worldview. Two books because I didn't believe each one covered everything by itself. In fact, these two books needed another book and a DVD to get me most of the way to feeling like I knew what I believed. Now he was asking me if I thought these two books stated the same principles.
"No." I would have been lying if I said anything different.
Alex looked shocked and said, "What did you get out of 'Atlas Shrugged'?"
"It is a story about a woman, Dagny, who is running a railroad in the face of increasingly difficult economic conditions." It was my standard well rehearsed answer.
Alex smiled, then he began, "You need to take..."
"I know, I know: a step back. What makes you think a book about a woman running a railroad fits together with a book about God and Jesus?", I said, openly challenging him.
He acted like that was the exact response he not only anticipated, but desired.
Alex took his time while he said, "Because 'Atlas Shrugged' is a story about The Trinity. Ayn wrote about a character who represented The Creator...God The Father. She wrote about a character who represented The Holy Spirit. She wrote about a character who represented Jesus. The entire book is based on The Rapture. Didn't you get it when she wrote about 'Jesus' being in the Garden?"
"What are you talking about?" I was still trying to take in everything he said.
Alex opened the book to the passage where the character representing Jesus is confronted by a man representing the world (Rearden). Dagny is present and the passage is written from her point of view. Alex read it to me...
"...she saw no sign of struggle, only the skin of his temples pulled tight and the planes of his cheeks drawn inward, seeming faintly more hollow than usual. It made his face look naked, pure and young. She felt terror because she was seeing in his eyes the tears which were not there. His eyes were brilliant and dry. He was looking at Rearden, but it was not Rearden that he was seeing. He looked as if he were facing another presence in the room and as if his glance were saying: If this is what you demand of me, then even this is yours, yours to accept and mine to endure, there is no more than this in me to offer you, but let me be proud to know that I can offer so much. She saw - with a single artery bearing under the skin of his throat, with a froth of pink in the corner of his mouth - the look of an enraptured dedication which was almost a smile, and she knew that she was witnessing (his) greatest achievement."
Alex said, "The character representing Jesus is looking past the temptation of the world in his greatest and toughest moment and taking complete direction from God The Father in order to offer all he has. How did you not see that when you read it?"
I responded, "Do you think Ayn realized it when she wrote it?"
Alex smiled. "I know the answer to that question. It is in another book Ayn wrote called, 'The Romantic Manifesto'. Let me get it for you." He got up.
I sniffed, "I don't need to read a book to give you my answer. Not only do I think she was unaware of it, I don't think she would agree with your interpretation. She said she didn't believe in God."
Alex smiled even bigger as he handed the book to me and said, "Now, you really need to read this book."
"I don't think so", I said as I put the book on the coffee table next to Adam's copy of Brian McLaren's book. "Artists are flaky...and lucky. You are lucky. Scientists aren't lucky. My company made money because we did two things. First, we constantly had a team working on making a better product. Second, we had another team working on how to make the current product more efficiently. We knew what we were doing. You and Ayn don't have a clue what you are really doing."
Instantly, Alex blurted out, "You are a modeler!"
"I don't know what you mean by modeler, but if you're one, then I'm not. Science and art are completely separate. They do not overlap. I came here to understand what happened to Adam..." Alex tried to say something but I cut him off.
"Okay, okay, I'll say it. I came here to understand why and how Adam's church failed and he got bitter. There. I said it. Are you going to give me the answer or are we going to play more games?"
"Take a step back. You're the one on the spiritual journey. Erik, just answer me this: do you think church fits together with art...or science?" Alex was energized. However, I was exhausted and just wanted a quick answer so I could go to sleep.
"Alex, just answer the question. Why did Adam's church fail? Why did Adam become bitter?"
"Do you want the short answer or the long answer?" Alex asked.
I thought about asking for the short answer, however, the last time I did, I wanted even more explanation. I replied, "Both, short answer first."
Alex picked up "Atlas Shrugged" and walked over to the wall with the portraits of him and his two brothers. He said, "Adam followed the advice of Brian McLaren's book and tried not to think. By the time he realized the flaw in that version of church, everyone was fighting and he felt guilty for making everyone's life worse."
While I tried to digest this short answer, Alex almost immediately turned to the page he was looking for in "Atlas Shrugged". What he did next can best be understood if you have seen "The Matrix". In that film, people are able to understand tremendous amounts of information through a probe that is inserted through the back of the brain. Alex stood there underneath the three lights each illuminating the portraits of the brothers Karamazowsky and he "downloaded" two pages from "Atlas Shrugged". Then he put the book down.
"Are you ready for the long answer?" he asked.
I was speechless because I knew I was about to see the performance of a lifetime and he knew it too.
"Mr. Clesia, do you see why I'd give three dozen modern artists for one real businessman? Why I have much more in common with businessmen like Ellis Wyatt or Ken Dannager - who happens to be tone deaf - than with writers like Mort Liddy and Balph Eubank?"
Alex turned and talked directly to the portrait of Adam.
"Whether it's a symphony or a coal mine, all work is an act of creating and comes from the same source: from an inviolate capacity to see through one's own eyes - which means: the capacity to perform a rational identification - which means: the capacity to see, to connect and to make what had not been seen, connected and made before. That shining vision which they talk about as belonging to the authors of symphonies and novels - what do they think is the driving faculty of men who discovered how to use oil, how to run a mine, how to build an electric motor? That sacred fire, which is said to burn within musicians and poets - what do they suppose moves an industrialist to defy the whole world for the sake of his new metal, as the inventors of the airplane, the builders of the railroads, the discoverers of new germs or new continents have done through all the ages?"
Alex then looked at me.
"An intransigent devotion to the pursuit of truth, Mr. Clesia? Have you heard the moralists and the art lovers of the centuries talk about the greater example of such devotion than the act of a man who says that the earth does turn, or the act of a man who says that an alloy of steel and copper has certain properties which enable it to do certain things, and it is and does - and let the world rack him or ruin him, he will not bear false witness to the evidence of his brain!"
He took a step towards the coffee table.
"This, Mr. Clesia, this sort of spirit, courage and love for truth"...(Alex then held up Adam's copy of "A New Kind of Christian") "...as against a sloppy bum who goes around proudly assuring you that he has almost reached the perfection of a lunatic, because he's an artist who hasn't the faintest idea what his art work is or means, he's not restrained by such crude concepts as being or meaning, he's the vehicle of higher mysteries, he doesn't know how he created his work or why, it just came out of him spontaneously, like vomit out of a drunkard, he did not think, he wouldn't stoop to thinking, he just felt it, all he has to do is feel - he feels, the flabby, loose-mouthed shifty-eyed, drooling, shivering, unconcealed bastard!"
Alex threw the book at me, nearly hitting me. Yet, I knew he meant to throw it exactly where it went.
"I, who know what discipline, what effort, what tension of mind, what unrelenting strain upon one's power of clarity are needed to produce a work of art - I, who know that it requires a labor which makes a chain gang look like rest and a severity no army-drilling sadist could impose."
Alex then turned to the portrait of the middle brother.
"I'll take the operator of a coal mine over any walking vehicle of higher mysteries. The operator knows that it's not his feelings that keep the coal carts moving under the earth - and he knows what does keep them moving."
Then, Alex turned to face me.
"Feelings? Oh yes, we do feel, he, you and I - we are, in fact, the only people capable of feeling - and we know where our feelings come from."
Alex looked up as if in thought.
"But what we did not know and have delayed learning for too long is that nature of those who claim that they cannot account for their feelings. We did not know what it is that they feel."
Then he looked down in resignation.
"We are learning it now. It was a costly error. And those most guilty of it, will pay the hardest price - as, in justice, they must. Those most guilty of it were the real artists, who will now see that they are first to be exterminated and that they had prepared the triumph of their own exterminators by helping to destroy their only protectors."
Alex then paused. He took a deep breath and slowly turned to deliver the final line while looking me directly in the eye.
"For if there is more tragic a fool than the businessman who doesn't know that he's an exponent of man's highest creative spirit - it's the artist who thinks that the businessman is his enemy."
In the moments that we stared at each other, I could see he was exhausted.
"The explanation rests...Goodnight, Erik."
I began reading "The Romantic Manifesto" that night...