“I am not here to merely argue about the perplexities regarding theism or philosophy, but to be a light to the world and to reach out to those who long to be a part of that light.”
Who said this? Dietrich Bonheoffer? The Dalai Lama?
This fount of spiritual sagacity is Criss Jami, a 25-year-old, African-American writer and skate board designer (when he’s not brooding deeply over the state of the world and mankind).
I haply discovered the words and works of the young poet-philosopher while researching some bookish activity. Curious about the obscure writer sandwiched between Shakespeare and Plato, I found Jami a pleasant surprise and a reassurance that thinking in America hasn’t shuffled off to oblivion.
A true philosopher-progeny, Jami’s pearls of literary wisdom on anything from envy to patriotism are strung across the Internet in prodigious breadth and number. The website Goodreads alone hosts more than 200 weighty pronouncements from his poetry and essays.
If his name wasn’t attached, readers could be excused for assuming they originated with any number of long-dead luminaries and not the owner of Killosopher Apparel.
For instance, “Confidence is like a dragon where, for every head cut off, two more heads grow back,” is neither Confucius nor Lua Tsu but original Jami.
And, “The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.”
Any votes for Benjamin Franklin?
Jami’s Christian faith splashes across his life with a contemporary and approachable touch.
Writing in a lyrical, non-academic manner makes his work more accessible for non-believers.
“I like creating things that any person can enjoy,” Jami says, “rather than shielding my work from those who do not already understand the beauty of Christ.”
Jami uses music, art and poetry hoping to “reach immeasurable levels of communication” with an audience that won’t use logistics, scholarly writings or apologetics.
Inspired by songwriters, musicians and rappers less than classical poets, some of his work was originally written for bands.
“I like Kevin Max’s perspective and eccentricity, Ville Valo’s romance and melancholy and Eminem’s rhymes and wordplay,” he explains.
Jami’s variation of lyrical poetry uses an intro/summary (at times in different languages) followed by verses and choruses. For an extra challenge, he tosses in advanced rhymes, reversing words and making as many puns as possible. His goal is to be so crafty with words that he is “envied even for his pains.”
Jami’s first book “Salomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile” picks up affairs of the heart and psychology of relationship from classical, mythological and biblical perspectives and was partially inspired by a passage from “The Four Loves” by C.S. Lewis.
On the onset, “Salome” wanders through human territories but the author holds out for the last step: “God, when invited, fills the void of any unrequited love; hence loving is how one is drawn closer to God no matter its most horrific repercussions.”
Being the unpopular, introverted outcast in school caused Jami to gravitate toward writing and poetry as “a means of having a voice” and strengthened his faith and resolve. God became his best friend in solitude as he made observations like this on rote teenage rebellion: “True rebels hate their own rebellion. They know by experience that it is not a cool and glamorous lifestyle; it takes a courageous fool to say things that have not been said and to do things that have not been done.”
Jami is a natural philosopher, drawn to Christian apologetics and philosophy as a youth. C.S. Lewis and Augustine were childhood favorites, and Kierkegaard inspired him with his warning, “The greatest danger for a young man is not to take the risk.”
One of those risks is being a free-lance philosopher, which doesn’t make most career lists. Dropping out of George Mason University and going it on his own was a risky act for a philosophy major, whose ranks generally teem with academics. Discouraged by the constant question, “What can you even do with a philosophy major?” he decided to pursue his own version through the arts. It’s an idea that naturally suits him.
Jami considers himself as existentialist philosopher, or one who bases his theories at least in part on personal revelation and experience. His second book “Venus in Arms,” plays out emotional battles of personal advancement against peer pressure and the outside world.
“The paradox is the war itself – God uses the battle as a part of our ultimate amelioration,” Jami explains.
God used philosophy to develop “faith, perspective, understanding, courage, conviction, confidence, imagination, constructive evangelism and apologetics” in Jami’s life. It became more of a lifestyle than just a major. Claiming that philosophy is like the father of poetry. he cautions that without self-control, philosophy “can stroke the ego and turn a man cold.” Poetry comes to the rescue in Jami’s vision, maintaining “beauty and balance.”
While Jami speculates about the deep logic behind motivations and ethics of men, he shares at least one thing in common with many of his generation: a cynical lack of confidence or total disinterest in politics. Observing the professional liars and “craftsman of destruction ” on all sides, his response is to reject the democratic process. Jami considers voting a form of “bigotry,” where the majority imposes their values on others, which may be mathematically true. But he hasn’t thought out nor come up with a better alternative.
He claims “people play the card (voting) only when they feel that in doing so it conveniences themselves.” This is something Jefferson warned about and more a sign of our times than indictment of elections. On this one point I’d sharply disagree with our young philosopher, but at least he’s thinking.
If Jami could fit into any political construct I’d vote for libertarian. A classical free-thinker, he dismisses the clichés and mantras of society.
Everyone pretends to be free thinkers, he says, but beware the open-minded where “everything is permissible except a sharp opinion.”
Jami exhibits traits of conservative pessimism, but reinvents it: “Seeing the glass as half empty is more positive than seeing it as half full. Through such a lens the only choice is to pour more. That is righteous pessimism.”
Although Jami hasn’t immortalized all his thoughts in book form yet; the scope of his subjects leaves room for several volumes.
An average teenage boy could identify when he speaks of humility as honesty over flaws so that he could openly admit, “Yes, I stared at her booty,” or, “Yes, I search for loopholes in song lyrics so that I can listen to music I like.”
From the mundane to sublime, he also posits on classical philosopher’s arguments such as, “Can an unlimited God make a square-circle?” or, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?” (Epicurus).
Jami’s role models are those with a prophetic perspective, who leave legacies for the next generation. His heroes are motivated by truth, self-sacrifice and personal authenticity, rather than the Nobel Prize.
“God favors men and women who delight in being made worthy of happiness before the happiness itself,” he states.
Jami shares that since leaving college in 2010 his life has been “like surfing through Lorentzian wormholes in outer space.” Discouraged, rejected and reduced to sleeping in a car in 2010, he asked God to “do whatever it takes to turn me into the man that he wants me to be.” Jami believes he is living proof that faith rather than credentials can take you anywhere (citing 1 Corinthians 1:27) and that he “would be a fool to regret any of it.”
Criss Jami, poet, philosopher, essayist, designer and Christian thinker, I expect great things from you in the future.
“Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.” – TheKillosopher