This is the last in the collection of reflections I wrote on Twenty One Pilots while I was traveling a few weeks ago. I had a stretch of quiet free time and a sense of the muse, so I went with it.
I would like to share a poem that I wrote. It flowed out of my meditation on the irony of social media’s capacity to foster an isolated generation. That meditation was inspired by a TED video a colleague sent me, called Alone Together, on the isolating dynamics of social media, as well as by the Twenty One Pilots’ song, Kitchen Sink.
The vision of this poem flooded my mind the moment I heard Kitchen Sink’s final line, that pulls its author back from the brink of isolation. The sudden change of course is heralded by the the shift from a weary and eerie cry, “Leave me alone!” to a more insistent but equally eerie, “Don’t leave me alone!” The song’s solitary quest for meaning (represented by his private understanding of the metaphor, “kitchen sink”) in a sense affirms the uniqueness of our dignity as an individual and meaning-making person. Indeed, each person’s experience of their inner life is incommunicable. But there is a temptation in this gift, the danger of moving from an inner solitude of the heart to an external isolation from others and inner fragmentation without being in touch with the common good of shared meaning. The singer is, however, rescued from this threat of isolation as he opens out in the last lines of the song toward a quest for the shared and public meaning of human existence. Though we never want to submit our unique individuality to the uniformity of a “copy and paste” culture, we can only truly affirm the depth of our uniqueness when we are able to join our inner life to others’ inner lives in a community and communion of truth and love — becoming one mind, one heart (Phil. 2:2-3). We are persons only in relation to others, and that interrelationship requires a real presence to those who are with us in real-time and real-space — and not just virtually. I recently thought, 3 John 13-14 could be the motto for a redeemed digital culture:
I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together mouth to mouth [stoma pros stoma].
The final cries of the song — “Oh!” — let us know this man’s struggle is an ongoing story, still lived out from within a culture increasingly Alone Together.
First my poem, then their song.
Today lives are lived – they say – connected,
webbed, networked, yet vivisected;
bound to a thousand friends, all-intersected
we believe, profess ourselves inter-affected;
yet, powered down we fall into deathly isolation
overtaking our illusions of loving relation, as we,
adrift on shifting sands, fragmented bits of meaning
swaying left, right, split by unbridgeable leaning,
our dialogues turn dark, unilateral, soaked in profanity
cooling us cold, into silicon embers, an LCD humanity
incapable of being within, indwelling another view
— killing the graces of inter-meaning faces —
shrink-wrapped into bundles, purveying anesthetized insanity.
For unto oblivion are our softly lit faces, gently distracted
by a fast-paced semblance sense of having interacted,
only to realize our subdivided soul had been subtracted.
Sadly weeping, we fall down and tumble to solid earth
only from there reclaiming our Height, our inalienably dimensional worth
grasped first in the moment we saw a humanly divine Face at our birth.
From earth, praying on knees bent on, upward reeling, crying out
piercing through azure Skies capped without ceiling,
feeling my heart bleeding, precisely incised by paschal healing.
O Christ, twice born as Face from Face, leave me not now left alone
locked in hopeless dissipation, faceless, and roll back this heavy stone
O Fisher of all nations, freeing me from my tangled Nets, together-unrelated,
insulated, refrigerated, always agitated in a mind ever more disrelated;
in a mind dulled, driven by the senseless quest to be alleviated
from pallid meaning; my shallow swamp of self-syndicated gleaning
masking fitfully an inner pine for One whose love is joy all-beaming;
joying precisely because this One is at once the thrice intersected We,
always and for all ages on ages, an interfacing, all-loving Three
forever toward Another, Facing forever and forever eternally
all for me
in love alone
Okay, now hear 21P here: