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“I think” versus “I feel”

In Rants on November 20, 2016 at 7:17 pm

untitledI’ve noticed my students using “I feel” when expressing an opinion–they always used to say “I think.”

I’m a big fan of discussion in my classes–the kind where students read and annotate an article or paper, one that is difficult, but accessible with effort.  Then they discuss the article, from the structure of its argument to its implications for living.

Since I don’t participate in these discussions, we hear a lot of student voices.

It was three years ago that I first heard a student say, “I feel” when expressing their opinion.  I found it jarring–I still do and I don’t like it.

When researching this topic, I found several articles that make the distinction between “I think” and “I feel.” They say the determining factor for which you use is its persuasiveness.  Use “I feel” when speaking to people who are more emotionally oriented and “I think” with those who are more cognitive.  They claim that if your audience is primarily male, go with “I think”; “I feel” resonates more with women.

Perhaps I am naïve, but I am horrified by this instrumental approach to language.

“I think” expresses something different than “I feel.”  And neither is the same as “I believe.”

“I think” means that you are expressing an opinion for which you think there are rational grounds.

  • I think “Arrival” is a profound and beautiful film.
  • I think that “I feel” is over-used.
  • I think ones Facebook feed is a very bad place to get ones news.

“I feel” doesn’t really have anything to do with opinions–you don’t feel opinions.  “I feel” is about senses or emotions, intuitions or perceptions.

  • I feel cold.
  • You said “Fine,” but I feel like there is something wrong.
  • I feel uncomfortable being alone in the elevator with that man.
  • I feel good about the Seahawks’ chances in game against Philadelphia this afternoon.

“I believe” has to do with convictions–“I believe” often involves a great deal of rational thought, but there is acknowledgement that support for your position cannot be reduced to logic.

  • I believe that gratitude ought to be in the list of heavenly virtues.
  • I believe everyone ought to plant daffodils and tulips in November as a ritual of hope.
  • I believe zombies narratives have a prophetic role in our culture.

Feelings are a lot more important than they used to be.

Trust your feelings, Luke.

This sentiment is axiomatic in our culture.  People believe that if they have strong feelings about something then it must be true or valid.

I don’t think they believe it yet, but the primacy of feelings is seeping into the way my students express themselves in classroom discussions.

Feelings are important, but they aren’t the same thing as thoughts.

I think when you think something you should say, “I think” whether or not it’s more persuasive.

Bad Theology in the “New” Doxology?

In Rants on October 9, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Praise 1New doesn’t necessarily mean improved.

This is certainly the case for “The New Doxology” by Gateway Worship.

The first verse of the new one is the same as that of the old one, but they’ve added a chorus.

This recent fad of taking some of the greatest hymns of the Christian faith and adding a little ditty of a chorus, presumably, to make it more palatable to a contemporary audience, is not bad in itself (unless, of course, as the cynic in me wonders, it’s just a cash grab–to produce a popular song without having to go through the trouble of writing one).  We like to sing choruses these days, so it’s fine to write one for the ol’ classics.

But at least make it a good one!  By “good” I mean that it ought well crafted poetically and it should be Biblical.

This is where “The New Doxology” misses the mark.  It has us singing bad, or at least weak, theology.

The original song, published in 1709 by Thomas Ken, emphasizes the extent of the praise that the Triune God deserves as the source of all blessings.  It is a call for all “creatures . . . below” to praise him.  Importantly, “creatures” doesn’t mean animals, but all things that were created.  “Creatures here below” is the entire physical creation–which he called “very good.”   The inclusion of the “heavenly hosts” in the injunction emphasizes that there is nothing that is not called to praise him who made it.  The scope of this particular line is cosmic.

With man’s sin, everything fell, so the Fall is cosmic too.  But God set into motion his plan to redeem everything–a Cosmic Redemption.  Jesus said as much in Matthew 19:28, where he speaks of the “the renewal of all things.”  In Colossians, Paul says that God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20).  We see the consummation of this Biblical theme in Revelation 21:1, with the coming of the new heaven and the new earth.  Genesis to Revelation point to a Cosmic Redemption–not just of human souls, but human bodies as well; not just of humans but of trees and mountains as well.

All this is packed into the old doxology.  But to make the new doxology we’ve added this:

Praise God, praise God, praise God, Who saved my soul
Praise God, praise God, praise God from Whom all blessings flow

In the light of the original hymn, which talks of creation in it’s broadest possible sense, the new chorus speaks of redemption in it’s most limited sense–God is the saviour of a single soul.  If it was a single believer, perhaps we could argue that, as we move from verse to chorus, we move from cosmic to individual.  That’d be kind of cool, but this chorus is not talking about a whole believer, but a piece of him.  The cosmic nature of God’s redemption has been reduced to a single human soul, simply so that we could use it as a rhyme for the word “flow.”

Christ Tomlin is up to much the same thing.  He added a ditty to one of the greatest (and most popular) hymns of the faith, Amazing Grace.  Besides the new bridge showing a complete lack of understanding of how metaphors are supposed to work (the line, “And like a flood His mercy reigns” is a mixed metaphor; floods don’t reign, kings do), he brought back the sixth verse of the song, which had been dropped from hymnals, presumably because of its theology.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine

Here again salvation is limited to the individual; the rest of creation will “dissolve” and “forebear” to do what it was created to do.  It seems to me, if God is only able to redeem human souls from all that he made and called “very good,” the devil will have won and “all creatures here below” can give up their praising, for they are all doomed.

The idea that God saves only human souls to live with him in a spiritual heaven is contradicted by the Bible.  So where does this idea come from if not in the Bible?  Plato.  Plato believed that the physical world was distinct from and inferior to the rational world of Ideas.  When Christianity interacted with Greek culture, the ideas of Plato became Christianized.  The world of Ideals sounded a lot like heaven and we accepted the idea that physical and spiritual things are separate, and we took on the idea that the physical world is evil.  These are Greek ideas, not Biblical ones.

To sing of “The God who saved my soul” we are in danger of reducing God to a mere saver of souls.  Are we perpetuating the pagan idea that material things are not “good.” If so, we are reducing God’s concern, and consequently ours, from all things to just some things.

It was my impression, from listening to many sermons and podcasts of several different denominations, that the reductive “souls only” redemption was fading out.  After all, we no longer sing the old hymns that promulgated the idea.  But we’ve got  song writers stepping in to mess up the theology of a new generation of Christians.

If the good folks at Gateway actually believe that Christ redemption is for individual human souls then my critique still stands for the chorus still contradicts the verse.  For those congregations that believe in a cosmic redemption, please, let’s just use the “old” doxology, or write a chorus that represents the greatest of all blessings–Redemption–in its cosmic scope.

For more on this vision of holistic salvation:

 

Christians Can’t Simply Be Conservative

In False Dichotomies - the lines between, Rants, Why I am not a "Liberal" or "Conservative" on October 4, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Just the other day, I was listening to a pastor casually commenting on social issues, and underlying all his comments was the foundational belief that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative.

I have been uncomfortable with this attitude since I was in high school and have been arguing that on some issues, Christians ought to find themselves agreeing with the liberal positions.    I was recently introduced to the work of Dr. Barry Johnson.   I think he has provided me a way of communicating the dangers of believing that to be Christian is to be conservative or, if you want, Republican.

Johnson says that there are two basic kinds of arguments we find ourselves in.

There’s the kind where either you are right or you are wrong.  Let’s call these either/or disagreements.  In these instances, the purpose of the argument is to establish who is right and who is wrong. Theoretically, these arguments are resolved once the truth is established.

Sometimes we get into arguments where there isn’t a right or wrong answer–both/and disagreements.

For instance:

  • Is social media good or is social media bad?
  • Shall we save or shall we spend?
  • Is it better to development or  to preservation?
  • Action or Reflection
  • “You are either with me, or against me!”
  • Ford or Chevy
  • Liberal or Conservative

It is vitally important that people understand which sort of discussion they are in. When you think you are in an either/or argument, but it’s really a both/and disagreement, you are essentially arguing that inhaling is better than exhaling.

If there is no right answer and people are really passionate about their position, how can we possibly navigate through this minefield?

Barry Johnson has come up with a useful tool he calls it Polarity Management.

Let me use the question, Liberal or Conservative? to illustrate how it works.

I know many people will disagree with me here, but this question has no clear right or wrong answer.  It is a both/and discussion that many have made into an either/or argument.  I’ve placed the Christian view of this question, as I see it, into Johnson’s Polarity Management model.

polariz1The questions we want to address with the model is, “Liberal or Conservative? How can Christians best be the salt of the world?”  So in Johnson’s model we put the two neutral terms on the wings.  Christ told us to be salt in the world; he told us that we are to season, preserve and heal the world.  He also said that if we aren’t salt, we would be cast before swine.  Serious stuff.  On the model I have placed where we are headed, the “Higher Purpose” above and at the bottom, the “Deeper Fear,” or what lies in the opposite direction of the higher purpose.  All Christians, both liberal and conservative, have the same higher purpose and the same deeper fear.

The boxes just above the neutral terms describe the positive side of both options respectively.  On the liberal side we have collective responsibility and individual rights.  These are good things.  When Jesus calls us to be salt, he means that we must do what the law and the prophets have always told us to do: take care of the vulnerable.  In Biblical times, this was the stranger, the widow and the orphan.  If you translate this into contemporary terms it means we take care of the immigrant, the refugee, and the poor, for they are the vulnerable in our society.  This is a Biblical injunction, and if we don’t do it we are in danger of being cast before swine.  The reason we take care of the vulnerable is because of the Biblical view of humanity–everyone bears the Image of God.  The poor and the refugee are dear to God.  For the same reason, Christians ought to be very interested in the protection of individual rights.  These liberals principle is, then, biblical; it advocates loving one’s neighbour.  The liberal position also takes into account the Fallenness of humanity; they predict we will naturally be selfish and so use government action to ensure that our neighbours are loved.

Conservative ideals are also aimed toward saltiness.  Biblically, human freedom is almost as foundational as bearing God’s image, as is individual responsibility.  These conservative principles are also based on true understanding of the human condition, we are good, but fallen.

The lower boxes illustrate the “downside” of over-focusing on one pole to the neglect of the other.  If we neglect the good that we find in the conservative position we may end up in a bad place–as conservatives are very willing to point out.  But if we neglect the liberal ideals we, as Christians, will also lose our saltiness and end up in the eternal pig pen.

What we have, both in the culture at large and in the church, are people on both side of the political spectrum treating the argument as an either/or.  Both sides have an equally valid, alternate view of reality.  It is obvious to both that they are right which makes the other side wrong.  Consequently, problems are not being effectively addressed because to accept the natural solution is to suggest some legitimacy in their opponents position.  So they resist.  And their resistance is legitimate and they know it.

Both sides have an equally valid, alternate view of reality.

 

In an either/or argument, clarity is an asset if right is on your side.  In a both/and argument, the clearer you are the more resistant will be your opponent because it will be clearer to them that you are missing what’s right in front of you–their reality–and they are not wrong.

For Christians to be salt and light in the political sphere, they will have to abandon rigid adherence to just one side of the political spectrum.  They will have to see that there are two legitimate–Biblical–realities at play here.  The conservative Christians need to adhere to the positives of the conservatism, but they also need to respond with grace and generousity toward the negatives of the liberal reality, for by doing so, they may gain the benefits of that position.  In possession of the strengths of both sides, the Christian impact on the world is potentially far saltier than we currently are.

Poop Packages

In Rants on April 24, 2016 at 2:43 am

Dog Poop baggedAm I missing something, or are people complete idiots?

We have decided that we don’t want to have dog poop all over our community.  To this end we expect pet owners to bag the feces of their beloved canine, and dispose of it in a convenient garbage can.  If there is no readily available waste receptacle, we expect it to be packed home and disposed of it there.  Fine.

But not every seems to understand all aspects of this complex  procedure.

There seems to be a number of dog walkers who only understand the first step.  I go walking up my local trail almost everyday and regularly find, beside the sidewalks and trails, neatly packaged bags of dog poop protected from the elements in bright white or neon blue baggies.  If the stuff was just left beside the trail, the rain, sun and snails would erase it from memory.  But inside its protective case, this doggie dump can sit like a monument for months commemorating the site of this momentous movement of digested kibble for the devout pilgrims who pass it on the trail.

I suggest that this dog poop ritual is an all or nothing kind of thing.  Either go through the entire procedure and take the bag home with you, or don’t even start down the road of courtesy–just knock the stuff off the trail with a readily available stick and let nature take its course.

 

 

Sameness or Surprise?

In Rants on November 26, 2015 at 5:45 pm

SamenessMy three most memorable hamburgers are: 1) the Kobe Beef Burger that I eat at the Issaquah Brew Pub every spring with my gaming buddies.  2. The burger I ate at Norma’s in Lacey, Washington, was by no means a gourmet burger, but it tastes great and had that 1950’s diner flavour to it.  3.  This past summer I ate at a hamburger joint off the highway in Redding, California: Bartel’s Giant Burger.  It too was a great burger–it was fast, served in a paper basket, but it was one of my most memorable burgers.  All three of these burgers are very good and all three are very different.

Then there’s the approach to the hamburger that McDonald pioneered.  No matter where you eat your burger, it will be exactly the same.  This approach was obviously extremely popular and Americans believe that difference in hamburgers is a bad thing.

And McDonald’s is exporting this ridiculous idea.  Did you seen that commercial? I ranted about it a while back.

This philosophy of marketing sameness for profit was also found in the beer industry.  Since the lifting of prohibition we were forced to drink just one kind of beer, the American Adjunct Lager.  It’s fizzy, light bodied, has low bitterness and thin malts.  This beer was made for mass production and consumption, not flavour–thank goodness that’s changed–if you want, you can get a wide variety of locally breed craft beers all over North America.

The story of beer suggests that there is some resistance to the homogenization of experience, but we are still very comfortable with sameness.  It used to be that all coffee was the same–cheap and industrial.  The forces of sameness are still at work on us, it’s just that the product is a lot better.  Starbucks is the same whether you are in Seattle or Spain.  A lot of people think this is a good thing–it’s called the Starbucks Experience.   Of course I don’t want a bad coffee experience, but this is not the same thing has having a different coffee experience.

If we homogenize our experiences there is a greater likelihood that we will avoid a disappointing experience, but we will just as certainly avoided an a surprising one.

Is it worth it?

Cervantes and Praise Songs

In Rants on November 1, 2015 at 4:25 am

Praise 1

I find it difficult to praise Him, while singing Hillsong’s “Praise Him.”

I’m reading Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel De Cervantes. I came across the passage today where the Cannon discusses the inferiority of the popular books of chivalry whose authors write “without paying any attention to good taste or the rules of art.”

I’m not sure if the views expressed by the canon are those of Cervantes, but they are close to mine when it comes to much of Christian art, particularly that branch that gives us the songs we sing in church each week.

In this passage from Don Quixote, the canon is speaking of drama, but his comments apply to all art forms, I think, including praise and worship lyrics.  I have made some changes, that I am sure Cervantes would not object to.

The praise songs ” that are now in vogue . . . are, all or most of them, downright nonsense and things that have neither head nor tail, and yet the public listens to them with delight, and regards and cries them up as perfection when they are so far from it . . . . the [lyricists] who write them, and the [worship leaders] who [perform] them, say that this is what they must be, for [congregations] wants this and will have nothing else. . . .

Apparently there is no point to “go by rule and work out [lyrics] according to the laws of art” because these “will only find some half-dozen intelligent people to understand them, while all the rest remain blind to the merit of their composition. I have sometimes endeavoured to convince [worship leaders] that they are mistaken in this notion they have adopted, and that they would attract more people, and get more credit, by [writing praise songs] in accordance with the rules of art, than by absurd ones, they are so thoroughly wedded to their own opinion that no argument or evidence can wean them from it.

“I remember saying one day to one of these obstinate fellows, ‘Tell me, do you not recollect that a few years ago, there were three [songs sung in the churches] of these kingdoms, which were such that they filled all who heard them with admiration, delight, and interest, the ignorant as well as the wise, the masses as well as the higher orders?'”

“‘No doubt,’ replied the [worship leader] in question, ‘you mean the “Blessed Be Your Name,” the “10 000 Reasons,” and “Revelation Song.”‘

“‘Those are the ones I mean,’ said I; ‘and see if they did not observe the principles of art, and if, by observing them, they failed to show their superiority and please all the world; so that the fault does not lie with the public that insists upon nonsense, but with those who don’t know how to [write] something else.”

The song that inspired this post is Hillsong United’s “Praise Him.”  I’m not qualified to judge this song musically, but I think I know a formula when I see it–it has that progression that almost all of the popular praise songs have these days. My problem with this song is the lyrics are so general.  I will commend its writers that the clichés they employ are at least on the same subject, but they aren’t really about anything except there’s lots of praising going on.  There is nothing in the lyrics that engage either the mind or the imagination. Without this engagement, even if the music is really excellent, the experience is, at best, merely emotional.  Under these conditions, my worship experience is about as meaningful as watching clothes tumble in the dryer.

I believe that we should bring God our best–not just our best music, but our best everything–this includes our lyrics.

I leave you with just a few lines of Josh Garrels’ song “Colors” which are about praising Him.

So let all the creatures sing
Praises over everything
Colors are meant to bring
Glory to the light

Bible Altered by Homosexuals and Satan Worshipers?

In Rants on July 15, 2015 at 7:16 am

BibleI’m on summer holidays so I have the luxury to scan my Facebook feed before I get out of bed. This morning, my peace was disturbed by an incredible post. It said:

PAY ATTENTION PEOPLE!! I’m sure you know that NIV was published by Zondervan but is now OWNED by Harper Collins, who also publishes the Satanic Bible and The Joy of Gay Sex.

The NIV has now removed 64,575 words from the Bible including Jehovah, Calvary, Holy Ghost and omnipotent to name but a few…

The NIV and ESV and other versions have also now removed 45 complete verses. Most of us have the Bible on our devices and phones.

Try and find these scriptures in NIV or ESV on your computer, phone or device right now if you are in doubt:

Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 23:14; Mark 7:16, 9:44, 9:46; Luke 17:36, 23:17; John 5:4; Acts 8:37…you will not believe your eyes.

. . . There is a crusade geared towards altering the Bible as we know it; NIV and many more versions are affected.

I feel compelled to respond to these claims.

“The NIV has removed [some] words from the Bible.” From which “Bible” were these words removed? This is an important question, but the answer is not clear. I think it likely that they are talking about an older translation of the Bible–the KJV seems likely (the KJV is the standard of comparison at this site which uses similar numbers)..

I did a quick comparison between the NIV and the King James Version. The KJV contains “thee” 2736 uses of the word “thee,” 4599 uses of the word “thou,” and six uses of the word “pisseth.” Are these the words that the NIV has removed and are evidence of the “crusade geared toward altering the Bible as we know it”?

Translations do not come from previous versions of the Bible (paraphrases do and ought to be treated accordingly), they come from materials that are as close to the original sources as possible. These are translated into some language, like Modern English, Swahili or Spanish, etc.  One could accurately say that a Spanish translation of the Bible has altered 100% of the Bible, if by Bible, you meant the King James Version. Does this make the Spanish Bible less valid than the KJV? Does it make is a “crusade toward altering the Bible”?  My point is, the NIV did not add, take away, or alter any part of the King James Version of the Bible.  They translated different source material using a different philosophy of translation and wrote it is a different style.  It is completely appropriate to question the materials, philosophy and style of a Bible translation, but it is completely illegitimate to criticize its differences to other translations.

Let’s look at the specific words that were identified by the Facebook poster as having been removed:

“Jehovah” accounts for 7 of the 64,575 words that have been removed from the Bible (which I am assuming to mean the KJV).  It is necessary for us to understand where the name Jehovah comes from. One of the Hebrew names for God was the tetragrammaton YHWH which was Romanized to JHVH. The term “Jehovah” was likely created by cramming the vowels of another name of God, Elohim (or ELOAH), between the Latinized name for God. The God of the Bible was never referred to by anything remotely resembling Jehovah.  It is no more appropriate to call Him by Jehovah than it is to refer to me by the name Annette Funicello. The NIV uses the capitalized “LORD” to designate the name YHWH and the term “Lord” for adonai.  I think that these designations add clarity to the names for God and this is a good thing.

“Calvary” is the Roman name for Golgotha which is the Aramaic word for “skull.” Are we really arguing that we should use the Latin name rather than the Aramaic name for the place Jesus was crucified? How does dropping the Latin name in favour of the Aramaic name show that the newer translations of the Bible are being twisted by a malevolent homosexual agenda?

Holy Ghost was changed to Holy Spirit — is this scandalous? I imagine the change was made because the term “ghost” has different connotations that might create a lot more confusion to modern readers than the term “spirit.” Are we seriously arguing that this change is some subversive plot of Satanists?

The one time the term “omnipotent” is used in the Bible was changed to “Almighty” by the NIV. How do the forces aligned against the church benefit from this change?

Matthew 17:21 — Jesus has just cast out a demon that the disciples were having some trouble with and he says that “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” The newer translations of the Bible do not included this verse because the older and better manuscripts of Matthew do not include it. In Mark 9:29 which recounts the same story, Jesus said, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” It is likely that a later copyist of the book of Matthew added these words from Mark and also added the word “fasting.” The newer translation are likely closer to what Matthew actually wrote.

Matthew18:11 — The same issue as above. Matthew23:14 — The same issue as above. Luke 17:36 — The same issue as above.  Luke23:17 — The same issue as above, and again, the meaning of the text is not changed in the slightest.  John 5:4 — The same issue.  Acts 8:37 — The same issue.  Mark 7:16 — The same issue.

Mark 9:44 — The same issue here too, but an interesting difference. Older manuscripts have the words, “the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched,” only in verse 48, but the newer versions repeat this line in verse 44 and 46 as well. The NIV goes with the older, thought to be more accurate, version, which only records these words one time in verse 48.  I find myself wondering, how the suggested malevolent agenda of Harper Collins is advanced by including this phrase one time rather than three.

There is some legitimate discussion about whether or not the translation philosophy of the NIV is the right one, but the accusations leveled against the newer translations of the Bible in the Facebook post that I read this morning are completely inappropriate.

The devil is attacking the church in many different ways, but we do nothing but serve his cause if we manufacture attacks where none exist.   The good people at Zondervan and the experts responsible for the development of the NIV have dedicated their lives to provide Christians with an incredibly powerful tool for understanding God’s word. That all these life times of effort can be brought into question by one post, which took about 10 minutes to write and then shared on Facebook 60, 631 times, is very concerning to me. How much does the devil delight in groundless attacks on Christians by other Christians?

There is no conspiracy to alter the Bible.  Harper Collins is only interested in profits–in order for that to happen all their small publishing companies need to make products people will buy.  Thus, they are interested in what the NIV people are interested in–the most accurate translation of the Bible that they can produce.

If you want to post anything on Facebook, complain that no room at all for conviction in a world governed only by profits.

 

Diamonds don’t burst inside us and wildfires don’t search or sing.

In Rants on February 9, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Praise 1Barrak Obama said in his Inaugural Address, “As we consider the road that unfolds before us…” (2009).

This is an error called a mixed metaphor; they can be funny.

Cher reportedly once said, “I’ve been up and down so many times that I feel as if I’m in a revolving door.”

Here’s a healine: “Ahmadinejad wields axe to cement his position” (Independent, 14 December 2010).

OK, they aren’t hilarious, but they are amusing in appropriate places.  I don’t think we want them in our praise and worship songs.

“Like a rose, trampled on the ground you thought of me…”

“Like a flood, his mercy reigns . . . ”

There is such beauty and power in language, and to neglect them in one of the most important language acts in which a human being can participate is a problem.

There are wonderful songs that we sing in church where every line is worship and revelation: “Blessed Be Your Name” and “10,00 Reasons” are examples of such songs. But for one line, “Revelation Song” comes close.

Then there are those songs that trade in cliché, clunky diction, vague purpose, awkward syntax and mixed metaphor.

They are not usually all bad. I can usually sing them without too much discomfort, but is this something that should happen in communal worship? I often feel as if I am too critical, but I cannot reject what I know about the potential of language as a vehicle for worship.

What am I to do? Get off my high horse and realize that to heaven even Mozart sounds inferior to a toddler banging on his 8 note Fisher-Price piano? I do try. I try to focus on the one we are there to worship. I try to look past the lyrics to the intention of the writer. I try to absorb the sincerity of the singers that surround me. Sometimes I just block out the sounds and talk to God. Perhaps, I should be more than content with this, but I love to sing–and it’s a powerful and symbolic experience to participate in communal singing.

Is any of this the responsibility of those who write praise and worship songs?

My theory is that the priority of many (not all) song writers is to engage the heart of the people during worship sets.

I have a theory as to why: many song writers encounter God by music through the heart, so they write songs that would bring them into worship, but this one approach is too narrow.  Not everyone enters worship through the same door.

The best praise and worship songs are not reductive they engage the heart, mind, soul and body. The best songs have a specific focus and therefore unity, the sense is communicated through carefully selected words and often echoed in the music, syntax and diction aren’t forced and sometimes surprising, figurative language is effective: it has a deliberate effect.

The mixed metaphors are funny when someone says, “It’s like pulling hen’s teeth.” But they do get in the way of some people being able to praise and adore the most high God.

The song “Multiplied” has two in the first verse:

Your love is like radiant diamonds

Bursting inside us we cannot contain

Your love will surely come find us

Like blazing wild fires singing Your name

God or a Caricature?

In Devotional, Rants on February 7, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Atheists rightWhile this certainly isn’t true in all cases, I find that most of the young people that I know who are walking away from God are not walking away from the actual God, but from a Modern or Western, watered-down imaginary representation of him–often the god of caricatured “fundamentalists.

Good, but the thing I wish they’d realize is that there’s more distance between this false conception of God and God as he really is than there is between a cheese dish served by Alain Passard at in Paris at Arpège and an ad for Kraft dinner in an old magazine in my doctor’s waiting room.

If you are rejecting God, you need to know who you are rejecting.

I must start with the disclaimer that I don’t really know God as he is, nor does any human being, but we get some hints from his creation and between the lines of the prophets through whom he spoke and most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the cosmos we see that God is as creative as he is powerful. And he must like human beings a lot because he gives us all sorts of good things: love, food, sex, sunsets, beaches, oranges and wine.

God is perfect justice. I will admit that this is a bit of a stumbling block in our culture of tolerance. We don’t like a God that draws a clear line between right and wrong and then judges the wrong. This is but one attribute of God, but he’s a lot easier to walk away from if we imagine it’s the only attribute. This is usually only a stumbling block to those who experience no true injustice. Consider all the crap that some people have to live with at the hands of others; then the God of justice moves from an embarrassment to a necessity to get up in the morning. It is definitely wrong to machine gun children, or to rape teen aged girls and string them up in a tree to taunt their grieving, and helpless father or to force women and children into sexual, or any other kind of, slavery. You know people do this, right? If one’s life is filled with this kind of injustice, justice isn’t so easy to dismiss and the God who is justice isn’t so easy to reject.

He’s also perfect love. Yeah, I know. Perfect justice AND perfect love? How to you put those things together? Well, if there truly was a God, I think it’s reasonable to expect that there’d be some things that would be, intellectually, a little hard to grasp. He knew it was hard to grasp so he showed us what it looks like–his son on the cross–he judged Jesus as if he were us (justice), and then he treats us as if we were Jesus (love). Perfect justice and perfect love is right there at the cross.   It’s pretty clear that he will do anything and everything to bring you into a relationship with him. Everything, that is, except force you to be in a relationship with him.   That’s perfect love.

So if you are going to walk away from God, walk away from the one who heals the sick and blesses the poor, away from the one who eats with prostitutes and then lifts up those that are abused and seats them at the best seats at his table. The one who will bring justice to those who use people like objects and to those self-righteous folk who already have everything that they are going to get, away from the one can only woo you to him with the sacrifice of his love, and who loves you so much he won’t force you.

5 Practices for the Restoration of Confidence of Despairing University Professors

In Rants on January 24, 2015 at 6:04 am

ProfessorwithinI was saddened to hear that there are still professors that inform their student at the beginning of the semester that that they don’t give As. It’s sad because it seems as if little has changed since I sat in my undergraduate classes and heard exactly the same thing. How long will this go on? That these men and women, who have studied so long and so hard–who have given their lives to the education of young people, would be brought so low as to toss in the towel on the very first day of class. The degree of their despair is so great that they resignedly suffer the humiliation admitting to their students that they will not be able to teach even the brightest of them. I for one will no longer stand by and do nothing. I will modestly propose 5 practices which might bring some hope and dignity to these beleaguered scholars. Each is a component of effective pedagogy and engaged assessment and the cumulative effect will be more learning, which means higher marks–hopefully not a few As. If your students aren’t getting As, try:

  1. Clear expectations: these usually fall under the categories of knowledge, skills, intellectual habits (and, if you are in a liberal arts university which still understands its historic raison d’etre, character). These must not only be clear to your students, they must be clear to you, for everything you do hangs upon these learning objectives. You can’t point to those six objectives you put on your course syllabus; these are certainly expectations, but you have more, lots more, and students need to know what these are as well. Perhaps your students’ poor performance is simply because your expectations have not been clearly communicated.
  2. Appropriate expectations: Perhaps you are confusing appropriate standards with low standards. As are not a designation of perfection. Perfection can never be achieved, not even by a professor (the editors will back me up on this). An A represents excellence at a specific level.       When it comes to writing, I teach English 9 students pretty much the same thing as English 12 students–I teach both how to write using strong controlling sentences, correct MLA documentation, manipulation of language, sentence variety, transitions, the conventions of Standard English, and a lot more. The high standards by which I assess each is different because an appropriate standard for grade 12 is not the same as that of a 9th grade student.       Perhaps you are a better teacher than you think you are. Perhaps your students are earning much higher scores than you realize because your expectations are inappropriate for the level of the students with whom you are working.
  3. Modelling excellent work: You may understand exactly what you want for an essay, or a lab report or a chapter review, but they don’t.  This can be quickly remedied by showing them examples of excellent work. Show it to them and ask them to articulate what makes it exemplary. Perhaps the reason your students aren’t getting As is not your due to incompetence, but because they don’t really know what A work looks like.
  4. Helping students to understand their specific academic failings (and strengths). Very little learning can occur when students are locked into self-fulfilling generalizations like, “I suck at essays.” Real growth occurs when they understand that the reason they are getting Cs on papers is because they underutilize transition words within paragraphs, but they excel at academic voice.  How do they come to be aware of this valuable information? We go back to numbers 1-3 above, and possibly add some peer review to the mix.  By doing this, students know exactly where to direct their efforts for improvement, and improve they will.
  5. Assess your effectiveness: You can’t just ask the class, “Are you with me?” and assume that because the keen one in the front has nodded assent that you have taught anything. There are a plethora of methods to check for understanding, but for heaven’s sake don’t count them for marks. At this point, these are more an assessment of your teaching than their learning. By using some methods to daily assess how well you’ve been understood will save you the tremendous disappointment of discovering after the final exam that you’ve been completely ineffective as a teacher.

These are some of the practices that I have found that translate into more learning–higher marks. Importantly, these are only the first step, for they will only help you’re A students get As. That’s the easy part. You will you need even more skill to help the C students to get Cs, but let’s save that for another day. For all you university students. If one of your professors is discouraged and has told your class that there will be no As, feel free to forward them my 5 practices.